For this coming Sunday’s Pathways class (November 4), we will continue our discussion and discernment around the second of MC USA Three Renewed Commitments: “Witness to God’s Peace,” specifically, the statement: “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 Sunday’s focus statement, on Receiving God’s Peace, says: God’s peace is not a work we achieve; instead, it’s a gift we receive. Jesus Christ is that gift– the One who we receive through the Holy Spirit. We are called to open our lives to God’s
redeeming peace.”

To prepare, read Ezekiel 34:25-31 (compare with Matthew 9:36) and Isaiah 11:1-9

Then consider: What do you do that opens you up and makes you receptive of the peace that God promises?

Who helps you experience and receive God’s peace, and how?

But first, we’ll consider and discuss the question that came at the end of the last class (October 28): What do we do about members who have done (or are doing) military service? That question is pertinent to Zion MC’s experience, both past and present. Because my own experience with it is so varied, and has defied any one-size-fits-all response, we will take time to consider the following 4 scenarios:

Case study 1: Virgil has returned from active duty with the Army in Afghanistan. He remains eagerly active in the National Guard and the VFW and helps at the local recruitment center. He has recommended military service to youth in the church. He continues attending Zion Mennonite Church because it’s where he grew up and has family and friends in it. He also is pressing for an American flag in the sanctuary, and “a hall of heroes” exhibit in the foyer with the photos and names of current and previous soldiers in the history and families of the church, with information about their ranks, commendations, and tours of duty. He is vocal in his opposition to the Mennonite peace position, and says, “That really has to change if we are going to protect the Christian faith and our way of life against those who would threaten them and us. The only way to peace is through sufficient military strength. Peace activism and peace theology are understood by the bad guys as weakness, and only invite war.”

What is the ministry response of a peace church in this case?

Case study 2: Sandra has returned from active duty with the Marines in Afghanistan. She says it was a mixed bag; she learned much about friendship, discipline and organizational skills, plus how to pray and depend on God in rough times, like whenever the Drill Instructor was shouting obscenities into her face. But she is also having to “unlearn trauma and hierarchical thinking.” She signed up because she saw no other way to get money for a college education, since her family was poor and her high school grades were so low. Otherwise, no “ra-ra” for her, nor any VFW 4th of July parades in full uniform. There is one year left on her tour of duty stateside, during which she works as a maintenance mechanic for a local National Guard outfit. She’s learning an employable skill that way, too. Once that year is up, she says, “I’m outta there and off to college!” She wants to remain active and a member with Zion Mennonite Church, because it’s her home church, and where her family attends, and she participates in things like Bridging Cultures, The Canby Center and the Canby Pregnancy Center. She is neither hot nor cold for the Mennonite peace position. If an intruder or a rapist came after her or her family, she says she’d put her hand-to-hand combat training to use. Otherwise, she won’t argue for nor advocate against the Mennonite peace position. In fact, if ever she marries and has kids, she’ll dissuade them against joining the military, mostly because of the incompetence, the abuse of power, and the sexual harassment she experienced in the service. “Work hard in school, and you’ll have better options than I ever had,” she’ll tell them.

What is the ministry response of a peace church in this case?

Case study 3: Mike has returned from active duty with the Marines in Afghanistan, with a prosthetic leg and PTSD. Having seen buddies die, and having killed a few people as a sniper, he is now dead set against war. He’ll continue to accept VA care and disability payments. Otherwise, he wants to join Zion Mennonite Church, largely because of its pacifist Christian faith. He sees that not only as a helpful alternative to the nationalist civil American religion form of faith he grew up with (“God, guns, guts and flag”), but also as vital to his own healing from the emotional/psychological wounds of war.

What is the ministry response of a peace church in this case?

Case study 4: Roger was a Vietnam vet who couldn’t get C/O status, much as he tried and wanted to. His county draft board had it in for “conchies.” He had to either face jail time, flee to Canada, or go into the military. Unlike his grandfather, who went to jail during World War I, or his father, who did alternative service in a mental hospital during World War 2, Roger obeyed his draft call-up into the Army, went through basic training, but with the intent to secure a noncombatant position as a medic. In that he succeeded. “At least I spent those years saving lives, American and Vietnamese, rather than taking them,” he says. He accepts VA medical care, for its quality and affordability, but his time in Vietnam only fortified the Christian peace position that he heard growing up in a Mennonite Church.

What is the ministry response of a peace church in this case?