This is part two of a four part series of Ron Sider’s speech verbatim from Mennonite World Conference in 1984 that convicted many to make Jesus’ admonition to be peacemakers count with their lives.
p.s. I’m not a Mennonite, if you were wondering as you read. Similar though. Not to the old school horse and buggy stuff. Just a normal guy trying to follow Jesus and take this peacemaking business he expects of us as followers seriously. Ron Sider does to. John Yoder called it the Anabaptist hermeneutic (big word meaning, essentially, mode of interpreting ). The Anabaptists, also known as the Radical Reformers cause they were getting knocked off by the Lutherans and Calvinists as well as the state church, still carried the same approach to reformation as Luther and Calvin: constant reshaping and reinterpretation of the gospel and its implications for each new time. Sider is explicitly rejecting the temptation (for the most part) that Mennonites and other Anabaptists can rest on their laurels and enjoy their “identity” as “historic peace churches,” somehow denying the evangelistic impulse to bring this to the church at large. Giving in to that temptation would lead to following the approach of Menno Simons in the 16th century step for step, (Calvinism, TULIP, Westminster, Luther, justification by grace ALONE anyone?) instead of a more fluid understanding that God takes a historically grounded people into an adventure in each new age; one with unique temptations as well as unique opportunities to reimagine and dream. The Reformers have to be turning in their graves to see what we’ve done with their ideas! Sider’s breaking out of the same old same old mold here to offer fresh dreams for others to talk about, pray over, and live out.
1. Jesus’ Call To Be Peacemakers
First, the misunderstandings. Too often we fall into an isolationist pacifism which silently ignores or perhaps profits from injustice and war as long as our boys don’t have to fight. Provided conscientious objector status protects our purity and safety, our neighbors need not fear that we will raise troubling questions about the injustice their armies reinforce or the civilians they maim and kill. The most famous advocate of our time, Mahatma Gandhi, once said that if the only two choices are to kill or to stand quietly by doing nothing while the weak are oppressed and killed, then, of course, we must kill. I agree.
But there is always a third option. We can always prayerfully and nonviolently place ourselves between the weak and the oppressor. Do we have the courage to move from the back lines of isolationist pacifism to the front lines of nonviolent peacemaking?
Sometimes we justify our silence with the notion that pacifism is a special vocation for us peculiar Anabaptists. It is not for other Christians. But this approach will not work. In fact, it is probably the last stop before total abandonment of our historic peace witness. If pacifism is not God’s will for all Christians, then it is not God’s will for any. On the other hand, if the one who taught us to love our enemies is the eternal Son who became flesh in the carpenter who died and rose and now reigns as Lord of the universe, then the peaceful way of nonviolence is for all who believe and obey him. Do we have the courage to summon the entire church to forsake the way of violence?
Sometimes we weaken and confuse our peace witness with an Anabaptist version of Martin Luther’s two- kingdom doctrine. Luther said that in the spiritual kingdom, God rules by love. Therefore in our private lives as Christians, we dare never act violently. But in the secular kingdom, God rules by the sword. Therefore, the same person in the role of executioner or soldier rightly kills. I was talking recently with one of our Anabaptist church leaders for whim I have the deepest respect. He said that he was a pacifist and believed it would be wrong for him to go to war. But he quickly added that the government is supposed to have armies. The United States, he added, had unfortunately fallen behind the Soviet Union and therefore President Reagan’s nuclear build-up was necessary and correct. I suspect he and many other American Mennonites and Brethren in Christ have endorsed the current arms race at the ballot box.
If we want wars to be fought, then we ought to have the moral integrity to fight them ourselves. To vote for other people’s sons and daughters to march off to death while ours safely register as conscientious objectors is the worst form of confused hypocrisy. If, on the other hand, we believe that Jesus’ nonviolent cross is the way to peace, then we need to implore everyone to stop seeking security in ever more lethal weapons. Jesus wept over Jerusalem’s coming destruction because it did not recognize his way of peace. Do we have the courage to warn the governments of the world that the ever upward spiral of violence will lead to annihilation?
Finally, the affluent are regularly tempted to separate peace from justice. We affluent Anabaptists, in North America and Western Europe, can do that by focusing all our energies on saving our own skins from nuclear holocaust and neglecting the fact that injustice now kills millions every year. We can also do it by denouncing revolutionary violence without condemning and correcting the injustice that causes that violence. In Central America today, fifty percent of the children die before the age of five because of starvation, malnutrition, and related diseases. At the same time, vast acres of the best land in Central America grow export crops for North Americans and Western Europeans. Unjust economic structures today murder millions of poor people. Our call to reject violence, whether it comes from affluent churches in industrialized countries or middle-class congregations in Third World nations, will have integrity only if we are willing to engage in costly action to correct injustice. Thank God for the courageous youth that MCC has sent to stand with the poor. But that is only a fraction of what we could have done. The majority of our people continue to slip slowly into numbing, unconcerned affluence. Do we have the courage as a united reconciling people to show the poor of the earth our peace witness is not a subtle support for an unjust status quo, but rather a commitment to risk danger and death so that justice and peace may embrace?
I’ll comment anecdotally as we go along…in the meantime, there’s no other way to say this: Sider’s layin’ it down. Thick.
p.s. I just stuck my hand in my ceiling fan (on high!) accidentally while taking my laptop cord out of my bag. Ouch! Double ouch! I’m a terrible klutz.