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SOTM #5: To Swear or Not to Swear (an Oath)

July 6, 2010

The 6th installment of our SOTM series (from 6/27) concerned Jesus’ teaching on avoiding oaths. I did not teach on this subject at our church community (on vacation); our Associate Pastor presented the message that day. This topic is one that is addressed in our Mennonite Confession of Faith, so I’ll post this statement first:

We follow the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition, which has usually applied Jesus’ words against taking oaths in these ways: in affirming rather than swearing in courts of law and in other legal matters, in a commitment to unconditional truth telling and to keeping one’s word, in avoiding membership in oath-bound or secret societies, in refusing to take oaths of allegiance that would conflict with our ultimate allegiance to God through Christ, and in avoiding all profane oaths. (Commentary on Article 20: “Truth and the Avoidance of Oaths)

Is taking an oath really so bad? Perhaps the intent is to focus on our words rather than the oath? How we are using our words: do we take our speech seriously enough to be consistently truthful? Is there a reason you need to specifically swear an oath that your words are true? What should we make of it then when you don’t swear? Words are important, and we should strive to be truthful in all of our conversation (and in our relationships). Instead of taking an oath, the way we live our lives should be the proof of our truthfulness. I think the idea is to see both our words and our actions as vital to our life and witness, desiring to be consistent.

Another type of oath, however, can be an issue for the follower of Jesus: national oaths of allegiance. This time of year in the US can be a tricky time for those of us who love our country and appreciate the good things it stands for (acknowledging that it also falls short in certain ways too), yet feel that we cannot pledge oaths of allegiance to any nation/state. The reason is to make certain that one’s allegiance is solely to God and to the Lamb (Jesus Christ). It’s a choice to emphasize our ultimate allegiance in this way.

Now I realize that not every Christian feels this way about national oaths, and the purpose of this post is not to demand that you change if you feel differently (it’s best to come to a conclusion like this of one’s own conviction, so that one can truly own it). I definitely respect those who differ on this subject and value your opinion (and in my own Mennonite congregation there is a spectrum of views on this subject).

But a question to think about: Could taking national/government oaths of allegiance be problematic for the follower of Jesus in any way? If you are part of a faith community (or a pastor), how do you navigate varying viewpoints on this issue within your congregation?

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