When should we insist on peace and nonviolence?

In the past few months, we’ve discussed how to handle churches that stray from their nonviolent roots, why we should refrain from commenting on situations we don’t know in-depth, and why those of us in comfortable lives should hold their tongues when people in uncomfortable lives outside of North America use violence. Yes, that’s a simplistic way of saying it, but it’s a decent summary.

My question is, when should we insist on peace and nonviolence? When should we, as people committed to the peacemaking roots of our church tradition (and not because it is our tradition, but because we believe it, too), stand up and say, “Nope, I’m not going to let this get watered down”? If a person with a U.S. military background comes into our churches and says, “Don’t tell people in Palestine not to throw rocks when people point guns at them,” how do you respond? Should we insist on peacemaking and nonviolence for ourselves but decline to comment on how others live? Can we live in church fellowship with those who say otherwise, and if so, does this mean asking them not to promote their beliefs in our churches?

I spoke with a pastor earlier this morning who said he notices Mennonite churches in this area losing touch with the reasons to believe in peace. We don’t have a draft compelling our young men to go to war or find a way out of it, he said, so we get caught up in our cushy lives. (At least one other YAR probably knows who this pastor is, but I wasn’t thinking at the time, “I want to post this on YAR,” so I didn’t get permission to use the pastor’s name in this venue.)

A Palestinian man who lives in Bethlehem, Israel, will soon visit my area on a speaking tour. From what I’m told, he will talk about why he believes in peacemaking and nonviolence for his homeland, and why he has hope. If a U.S. Christian believes s/he should not comment on the violent situations in countries far removed from his/her experience, how would s/he receive someone like this Palestinian man? “Hey, I’m glad to hear you say it, but I won’t openly agree with you because my opinion doesn’t and shouldn’t matter”?

Yes, I’ve asked a lot of questions. I don’t have very many answers. Maybe some of you do.

Comments (6)

  1. Dan S

    For me, it isn’t what we say about nonviolence that is problematic, but what we fail to say *in addition* to nonviolence.

    For example, if the only thing we have to say in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is that Palestinians should not throw rocks because it is violence, then all we are doing is allowing injustice to be perpetuated, because we aren’t doing anything to address the underlying reasons why Palestinians want to throw rocks or why Israelis point guns at them.

    I think we should advocate for nonviolence, but we need to be willing to engage with the entire messy problem and its context, rather than just the flashy endpoints where violence happens. So, no, Palestians should not throw rocks, but more importantly, we need to advocate for a Just solution to the occupation of Palestine, so Palestinians don’t feel the need to throw rocks anymore.

    And, it might be that we simply don’t know enough to have anything meaningful to say. For example, if people are hungry and steal bread, we recognize it as wrong at some level. But if the only thing we say is that stealing bread is wrong, and don’t address the larger question of why people are hungry, then it might be better to not say much until we have better solutions to offer, instead of merely condemning the hungry for stealing.

  2. IndieFaith

    Making my return to the Mennonite church as a pastor (with a number of years being spent in Anglican and Baptist churches) I have wrestled in fresh way with the question of peace. In a recent sermon on unity I used the passage from Ephesians 2:14-22. By the time I was finishing my sermon I realized that I traveled further in articulating my theology of peace then if I would have sat down and explicitly approached it. Sometimes peace has to come in sideways. I don’t have much time further articulate but I would also suggest Chris Huebner’s (prof at Canadian Mennonite University) recent book, A Precarious Peace.

  3. John Ballard

    It is vitally important that the peace churches retain their identities with conscientious objection. In this period of the so-called “all-volunteer” military the need is more compelling than ever because when the draft resumes — and I am covinced that the day will come — a solid support system for those who registering as conscientious objectors will be needed once again.

    I was drafted as a CO in 1965 and served the normal two years on active duty in the Army Medical Service Corps. Most people never know the facts about the draft and what it means to be clasified 1-A (conscription material, Army), 1-A-O (CO in uniform) or 1-0 (CO in civilian capacity). There are no CO’s in any other branch of service or any Army MOS other than Medical Service.

    This basic information strikes most young people like a fireign language but it is literally life and death information when the time comes. And there is much, much more to be learned. Not everyone is good material to become a warrior, and (sadly) not everyone is a good candidate for registering as a CO.

    The peace churches have a compelling duty to keep the sparks alive, ready to light the fire when the need returns. And it will.
    (That’s a peaceful twist on “keep your powder dry.”)

  4. db

    I’ve been thinking about this question in the broader sense – when should we insist on ANY theological point? How do we live and interact with people who might believe differently? Certainly there’s some case-by-case assessment that must occur, but what should be the framework for deciding when to speak?

    in my opinion (as John Ballard stated) the peace churches need to retain their identity as places that encourage conscientious objection to military service. I would say that this should come up in the context of defining the church as an institution separate from the countries where its members reside.

  5. Ben

    It is interesting to me to see how extremely foreign the idea of being peaceful really is. I am a teacher in an inner-city school and when I tell my students that it is never ok to hit/hurt someone even if the other person started it they look at me like I have lost my mind. Maybe it is just because I am such new convert to peacemaking I don’t know but I think that we really need to be all out about peace because it is so if we aren’t then many people may never even give thought to the subject. Maybe that is just my midwest US perspective because peacemaking and non-violence never even enter the minds of most of my peers.

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