Blog Post

Mennonites, Quakers and radical peace traditions

Map of Mennonite Churches

The Mennonites (and their Amish cousins) are quite well known as being a historic peace church (along with the Quakers), for the best part of 500 years they have refrained from killing people in wars (or otherwise) which makes them surprisingly distinctive in the Christian tradition. The rest of us Christians have been quite content to occasionally kill each other (or in the ecumenical wars, to kill non Christians too) even while not necessarily delighting in the task it was generally presented as something which Christians just had to do as citizens of their various countries (remember 'give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar). I have been attracted for a while to this Mennonite peculiarity being one inclined against killing folks in general and especially struggling to fit it in to my vague comprehension of a Christ pattern shaped life. So I was keen to go to the U.S. (a land not famous for its peace emphasis) and chat about Christian and theologically grounded pacifism. Perhaps it should not have surprised me but I have been surprised by how quietly and subtly Mennonites hold there peace emphasis. In my experience peace is something shouted for, something argued about, something controversial, something problematic, something protested about; you don't just do peace, you have to fight for it. Maybe its because they have had 500 years to get used to the (radicality of the) idea but they just seem so calm about it, like its the most obvious thing that we should not kill our enemies.

Then i started to notice the word 'reconciliation' prayers for reconciliation, students doing internships with organizations working for community justice and reconciliation, liturgies for reconciliation, folk just seemed to use the word a whole lot more than I was used to. Also I have been doing interviews in local churches as part of my research on communion and folks talk a lot more than would be normal in my experience about reconciliation as a necessary aspect of communion, about that Matthew 18 bit about speaking to your brother in the church, about sin issues and about a sense of togetherness and unity in the church at communion. I think the outsider interest in Mennonite pacifism is like the guy who walking along a beach sees an attractive stone and deciding to pick it up is surprised to find it somehow stuck. Getting on his knees he begins to excavate the sand around the stone and soon begins to realise that this rock is in fact part of the bedrock; deeply connected to and inseparable from the foundational geography of the area.

For Mennonites pacifism is simply an aspect of reconciliation. we shouldn't kill people for the same reason that we make up with fellow church folk before communion, because God is reconciling the whole world to himself in Christ. Reconciliation is understood to be at the heart of what God is doing in the world, at the heart of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, at the heart of the Kingdom that is among us, it is not an add on or an extra or the means to an ends but is very much central, foundational, and integral. the tagline of the seminary we are staying at is "AMBS [Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary] is a learning community with an Anabaptist vision, educating followers of Jesus Christ to be leaders for God’s reconciling mission in the world" that is literally cast metal and affixed to the wall at the entrance to the building here and the understanding of God's mission as a mission of reconciliation is expressed in the courses, assumptions, and conversation as well as the (green) architecture of this place. They believe reconciliation is what love looks like in a broken world that reconciliation is what love does in a broken world. If God is right there in front of you trying to reconcile two folks together why are you gonna walk up and just shoot one of them in the head? That does not progress his agenda, it can not help.

I like this way of thinking. It sets itself against any tendency towards a (theoretical and abstract) macro-pacifism that concretely practices and assumes personal, domestic and church conflict. It makes pacifism more personal because it makes it more Christian, more practical because it is more theologically grounded. It clarifies hypocrisy and may reveal blind-spots. reconciliation is just as necessary in Palestine/Israel as it is in my own home if God's plan is to be fulfilled. just as possible in Syria as in my own heart. God is about this and this is the ministry of Christ through his Church and by the power and wisdom of the Spirit I believe it will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.