This morning I was asked to share with an interfaith group on “A Mennonite Perspective on Peacemaking.” The broader context was thinking together about divesting from the current police/incarceration system and investing in other forms of community well-being. So, open question, What does Mennonite peacemaking have to contribute to the conversation?
The task reminded me of one of the official Open Questions our CMC Leadership Team named for our year back in March, which went like this: As an Anabaptist community, how do we live faithfully within a contentious political environment?
One thing Mennonites have going for us is that we have 500 years of history of trying to be a peaceful people. We have not always done this well, but centering the peaceableness of Jesus is not something many other traditions have done.
Mennonites were born out of the political and religious turmoil of 16th century Europe, the proliferation of ideas wrought by the new printing press (a technology whose present equivalent in impact would be social media), and an attempt to recover a lived gospel. A key part of the founding of the Anabaptist stream that became Mennonitism was rejecting participation in state (and religious) violence.
To use uniquely Christian language: If Christ is Lord, then Caesar is not. If Christ is the highest authority for the church rather than the state, and Jesus was a man of peace, (violently executed by the state) then those who make up the church are to be people of peace.
Over these 500 years this path has looked like many things: secret meetings, public arguments, martyrdom, fleeing violence, isolation and sectarianism, cultural conservatism, cultural assimilation, refusing military service, alternative service in times of war, helping pioneer fair trade (a peaceful marketplace).
Rather than the search for a pure pacifism we might focus on elevating the “swords into ploughshares” vision of the prophets Isaiah and Micah – a heritage shared by Jews and all Christians alike. How might technologies, systems, habits, inclinations that have caused harm and violence be transformed into technologies, systems, habits, inclinations that heal and enable life to flourish?
It’s the right kind of question to live with.
This conversation cannot be had truthfully in the United States without addressing race and the dominant power of Whiteness.
Having peaceful instincts and established patterns of resisting violence is a blessed foundation for Mennonites of all races and nationalities to have.