Here’s part 4 of Ron Sider’s address to the 1984 Mennonite World Conference, and the one I believe is the most powerful part of his speech.
This section directly confronts the “passivism” that has replaced Jesus’ expectation of non-violent peacemaking for his people. Sider rejects gutless Christianity here, recognizing it for the cancer it is. I’d add (though the issue, I’m sure, is more complex than this) that I believe the spiritualization of Christianity (divorcing belief from necessary action) is part of the reason why there are declining numbers of men darkening the doors of churches along with a companion exaltation of military “heroes.” I’m more and more convinced an essential part of manhood is wanting something you believe in enough that you’d be willing to die for (and the flipside of living all-out for whatever that might be). If the message of Christianity is essentially what we receive from God (forgiveness, heaven, etc) and not what we can give to him (the whole of our lives), pretty soon we’ve got a gutted belief system on our hands. Knowing that the military is very nearly the only vocation in which men and women are putting their lives on a line for an ideology very naturally leads many to respect that. They believe in America, so they give their lives for it (and are willing to slaughter others to defend it). It’s a very Western way of thinking to think we can compartmentalize our lives and still be considered faithful, but God expects more from us.
If we are Christians, we should be willing to give our lives for it (and be willing to die to live for Christ). I think that’s where the rubber meets the road. Being willing to lay down one’s life for the sake of the kingdom shows we have rejected individualism’s claim on our lives (but I want to live my life to the fullest, marry, have kids, retire, and sip pina coladas till I die!), and are placing ourselves soundly in the community of Christ-followers over the centuries (and millenia).
Lead on, Ron:
Living models impact history. Even small groups of people practicing what they preach, laying down their lives for what they believe, influence society all out of proportion to their numbers. I believe the Lord of history wants to use the small family of Anabaptists scattered across the globe to help shape history in the next two decades. Back to Top
Die By The Thousands
But to do that, we must not only abandon mistaken ideas and embrace the full biblical conception of shalom. One more thing is needed. We must take up our cross and follow Jesus to Golgotha. We must be prepared to die by the thousands.
Those who have believed in peace through the sword have not hesitated to die. Proudly, courageously, they gave their lives. Again and again, they sacrificed bright futures to the tragic illusion that one more righteous crusade would bring peace in their time. For their loved ones, for justice, and for peace, they have laid down their lives by the millions.
Why do we pacifists think that our way — Jesus’ way — to peace will be less costly? Unless we Mennonites and Brethren in Christ are ready to start to die by the thousands in dramatic vigorous new exploits for peace and justice, we should sadly confess that we really never meant what we said. We did, of course, in earlier times. In previous centuries, we died for our convictions. But today we have grown soft and comfortable. We cling to our affluence and our respectability.
Unless comfortable North American and European Mennonites and Brethren in Christ are prepared to risk injury and death in nonviolent opposition to the injustice our societies foster and assist in Central America, the Philippines, and South Africa, we dare never whisper another word about pacifism to our sisters and brothers in those desperate lands. Unless we are ready to die developing new nonviolent attempts to reduce international conflict, we should confess that we never really meant the cross was an alternative to the sword. Unless the majority of our people in nuclear nations are ready as congregations to risk social disapproval and government harassment in a clear ringing call to live without nuclear weapons, we should sadly acknowledge that we have betrayed our peacemaking heritage. Making peace is as costly as waging war. Unless we are prepared to pay the cost of peacemaking, we have no right to claim the label or preach the message.
Our world is at an impasse. The way of violence has led us to the brink of global annihilation. Desperately, our contemporaries look for alternatives. But they will never find Jesus’ way to peace credible unless those of us who have proudly preached it are willing to die for it.
Last spring I attended a large evangelical conference on the nuclear question. I shared my Anabaptist convictions and called for Christian nonviolent peacekeeping forces to move into areas of conflict such as the Nicaragua-Honduras border. A former chief of the U.S. Air Force who was there told me that he was ready to join in that kind of alternative. As we talked I realized he was so terrified by the current impasse of nuclear terror that he was ready to explore every nonviolent alternative for resolving international conflict.
A number of us Mennonites are part of the Witness for Peace which now has a small nonviolent task force permanently located on the Nicaragua-Honduras border. To be sure, those few dozen Christians can offer only symbolic opposition to the weapons of war that flow both ways across that border. But think of what a few thousand could do! What would happen if the
Christian church stationed as many praying Christians as the U.S. government has sent armed guerrillas across that troubled border?
What would happen if we in the Christian church developed a new nonviolent peacekeeping force of 100,000 persons ready to move into violent conflicts and stand peacefully between warring parties in Central America, Northern Ireland, Poland, Southern Africa, the Middle East, and Afghanistan? Frequently we would get killed by the thousands. But everyone assumes that for the sake of peace it is moral and just for soldiers to get killed by the hundreds of thousands, even millions. Do we not have as much courage and faith as soldiers?
Again and again, I believe, praying, Spirit-filled, nonviolent peacekeeping forces would by God’s special grace, be able to end the violence and nurture justice. Again and again, we would discover that love for enemies is not utopian madness or destructive masochism but rather God’s alternative to the centuries of escalating violence that now threatens the entire planet. But the cross — death by the thousands by those who believe Jesus — is the only way to convince our violent world of the truth of Christ’s alternative.
I want to plead with the Mennonites. Brethren in Christ, and others in the Historic Peace Churches to take the lead in the search for new nonviolent approaches to conflict resolution. We could decide to spend 25 million dollars in the next three years developing a sophisticated, highly trained nonviolent peacekeeping force. The most sophisticated expertise in
diplomacy, history, international politics, and logistics would be essential. So would a radical dependence on the Holy Spirit. Such a peacekeeping task force of committed Christians would immerse every action in intercessory prayer. There would be prayer chains in all our congregations as a few thousand of our best youth walked into the face of death, inviting all parties to end the violence and work together for justice.
If as a body we started such a program, we could invite the rest of the Christian church to join us. In fact, as the Witness for Peace shows, other have already begun. If we are not careful, God will raise up others to live out the heritage we have feared to apply to the problems of our day. Together the Christian church could afford to train and deploy 100,000 persons in a new nonviolent peacekeeping force. The result would not be utopia, or even the abolition of war. But it might tug our trembling planet back from the abyss.
I have one final plea. I know we live in a vicious, violent world. I know it takes more than winning smiles and moral advice to enable sinners to love their enemies. Sinners will never be able to fully follow Jesus’ ethic. But they ought to. That they do not is the measure of their sinful rebellion. But regenerated Spirit-filled Christians can follow Jesus. Our only hope is a mighty peace revival that converts sinners and revives the church.
In the next decades, I believe we will see disaster and devastation on a scale never before realized in human history, unless God surprises our unbelieving world with a mighty worldwide peace revival. Therefore, my final plea is that we fall on our knees in intercessory prayer pleading with God for a global peace revival. At the worst of times in the past, God has broken into human history in mighty revivals that led to social movements that changed history. The Wesleyan revival in the eighteenth century resulted in Wilberforce’s great crusade against slavery that changed the British Empire. The same could happen in the next few decades. Pray that God revives millions of lukewarm Christians. Pray that God draws millions of non-Christians into a personal living relationship with the risen Lord. Pray that millions and millions of people in all the continents of our small planet come to see that Jesus is the way to peace and peace is the way of Jesus. Pray that with our eyes fixed on the crucified one, the church will dare to pay the cost of being God’s reconciling people in a broken world.
Today is the hour of decision. The long upward spiral of violence and counter violence today approaches its catastrophic culmination. Either the world repents and changes or it self-destructs.
For centuries we Anabaptists have believed there is a different way, a better way. Our world needs that alternative. Now. But the world will be able to listen to our words only if large numbers of us live out the words we speak. Our best sons and daughters, our leaders, and all our people must be ready to die. The cross comes before the resurrection.
There is finally only one question: Do we believe Jesus enough to pay the price of following him? Do you? Do I?