Raber vs. Unruh, both from BCMC

Only once in Kansas Mennonite history did two members of the same church congregation compete against each other for the same state political office.    In 1970 Merrill Raber ran for the state legislature against Ernie Unruh, who had been in office since 1951 for nine two-year terms.   Raber and Unruh were both members of the Bethel College Mennonite Church (BCMC).

Unruh had served as an Air Force pilot during World War II.  He was proud to be one of four military pilots from his North Newton church congregation.  He claimed that he was “not ostracized in any way by the pacifists at the church.”  He owned and operated a gasoline station on Main Street between Newton and North Newton.   Unruh was a Republican–the party that supported free enterprise and private property.  Republicans, in his view, were farmers and family men who held strong moral values.  The Democrats were for liquor by the drink and for gambling.

Unruh served on different committees in the legislature, including the powerful Education and Ways and Means committees.  In general, he did not take roles of strong political leadership or advocacy.  Nor did he hold major positions in local Newton government.  His involvement at BCMC was limited to attendance at worship services.

Merrill Raber was employed at Prairie View Community Mental Health Center in Newton.   He was a conscientious objector to war and had served with Mennonite Central Committee in Akron, Pennsylvania.  He was active in the BCMC, especially in the congregation’s organizational and leadership issues.  His work at Prairie View brought him into contact with leading local citizens.  Tom Reid, a probate judge, nudged Raber into more active involvement with the Democrat Party.

Although Unruh had been in the Air Force and Raber lacked a military background, they maintained a cordial relationship in the 1970 campaign.  They appeared on candidate forums together.  Raber was personally committed to diversity.  He was proud that members of his church congregation supported both him and his opponent.

Unruh won the 1970 election by a narrow margin of 211 votes.  Raber assumed that most members of the BCMC congregation had voted for him rather than for Unruh.   The election result showed Unruh’s political vulnerability.  Two years later, Richard Walker, a Bethel College graduate and member of the Methodist church, defeated Unruh in the Republican primary and was elected to the Kansas legislature.

Raber went on to a long-term active role in Harvey County Democrat politics.  In 1972 he attended the Democrat Party national convention in Miami as an alternate delegate.  He then became chairman of the Harvey County Democrat party when the supporters of George McGovern gained a majority of precinct committee members.  Mennonite activists, opposed to the Vietnam war, led the McGovern faction.   Under Raber’s leadership, Mennonites were more involved in local Democrat party politics than ever before.



Muslim-Christian Dialogue

IMG_1126Ziya Nur and his family hosted us for an overnight visit in Izmir, Turkey.   The purpose of our tour was dialogue between Muslims and Christians.  This family told us that the things Muslims and Christians agree upon are more important than their differences.   If we become friends, we can appreciate what we have in common.

Ziya is a mechanical engineer, a devout Muslim, and a generous contributor to Hizmet, the movement of moderate Islam that sponsored our tour.   The red book on the top of the bookcase cabinet is the Koran.   It has that place, Ziya told us, because it is above all other books.   In the bookcase is a thirteen volume set of the sayings of Mohammed with commentary.  There are also two volumes that explain the meaning of dreams.   If I have dreams of Adam, according to this Muslim source, I must have committed a sin.   In 2008-9 Zia and his wife, Munteha, made a “hajj” trip to Mecca.  They have been stricken by recent news about the deaths of people on their own trips to Mecca.

Ziya reads the works, and listens to speeches by, Fetullah Guelen, founder of the Hizmet movement.   Guelen says the ideals of tolerance, peace, democracy and inter-religious dialogue are grounded in the Koran.  It is impossible to be both a Muslim and a terrorist.

Can a Christian be a terrorist?  One wonders if the American pilots who bombed the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan are Christians.  How can we include such events into our dialogue with Muslims?  Where is our common ground of positive humanity?

The Hizmet movement has a benevolence arm that provides aid for refugees that have fled from Syria.   They say they can provide food and temporary housing for some 200,000 Syrian refugees.  This is an impressive effort but a small number of the three million total refugees.

Meanwhile back in the United States President Obama decided that the U.S. would take in 10,000 Syrian refugees.   Kansas Congressman Tim Huelskamp responded with an anti-Muslim alarm.  “Statistically, how many of these will be radical Muslims who want to wage jihad on Americans?” Huelskamp asked.  How sad that many of our politicians, and ordinary citizens, are afflicted with fear, prejudice and hatred.

One wonders if Huelksamp has any Muslim friends.  It would be good if he, and other Kansas politicians, would be able to go on a Hizmet tour to the Middle East and learn to know some genuine peace-minded Muslims like Zia Nur and his family.