“We are people of God’s peace, which we receive by the Holy Spirit who infuses our lives with Christ’s love for the world,” is the summary statement of our next Pathways class, on Sunday, October 28. We will begin that day to look at the second of MC USA’s Three Renewed Commitments: “We are called to extend God’s holistic peace, proclaiming Christ’s redemption for the world with our lives. Through Christ, God frees the world from sin and offers reconciliation. We bear witness to this gift of peace by rejecting violence and resisting injustice in all forms, and in all places.”
This commitment to Christ’s way of peacemaking is so important and needs such effort at renewal, not only because it is a feature that helps define and distinguish Anabaptist and Mennonite belief and behavior. If we were mostly or only concerned with defining and distinguishing ourselves from fellow Christians in history and around the world, that would itself not be peace-making. It would be of a piece with today’s identity politics and resurgent tribalism, which is at the root of so much violence. This commitment is so critical, I believe, because it is so central to Christ, his mission and his message. The peace he offers is nothing short of our inclusion into the overflowing live, love, holiness and harmony of the Trinity.
The world and the wider church need the contributions, the perspectives and the examples of historic peace churches like ours, in part, because God and the church are so often (and rightly) associated in the public’s mind with violence, whether the overt violence of the Crusades, the Conquest of the Americas, or the Inquisition, and the current sexual abuse crisis, or the more subtle, structural violence of church collusion with political and economic structures of oppression, exclusion and exploitation. Immediately following the terrorist attack on New York City on September 11, 2001, many people and pundits claimed that religion, revelation, God and belief in God were not only inevitably and inherently sponsors of violence, but constitute themselves a form of violence, one at the source of all violence. It didn’t matter to them which God or which religion was behind the Twin Tower attacks, or which version of it. If true, that would make of even the Amish co-conspirators with Al Qaeda. But sadly, there are just enough examples in history of what the critics said for them to be right, in a limited, selective sort of way.
“And Jesus wept.”
Those 16th Century Anabaptists who rejected violence, even in self-defense, were breaking with over 1000 years of Roman and Eastern Orthodox church teaching that had justified war, against those labeled “infidels” and “heretics.” They did so not because they believed in some inevitable movement of history unfolding progressively toward peace and justice, but because they wanted to return to the simplicity of the gospel as first taught by Jesus and the Apostles. They were for peace because they were for Jesus, rather than being for Jesus, because he is for peace (in whatever way one might conceive it).
To prepare for this coming Sunday’s class, please read the following Bible passages: Isaiah 58:1-12; Micah 6:6-8; Isaiah 9:2a-7; and 2 Cor. 5: 17-21
Think also about examples and expressions of violence in our culture and community, in addition to war and militarism. Where, with whom, and in what ways do you see God’s peace also finding expression in our culture and community?
In what ways are you called to be “a channel of God’s peace?”