One hundred years ago, nonconformity and nonresistance were hallmarks of Mennonites’ peace witness. Today, Mennonites are more actively engaged in society, and the pursuit of justice is an essential part of peacemaking. How did this change come about?
That is the subject of From Nonresistance to Justice: The Transformation of Mennonite Church Peace Rhetoric, 1908–2008, a new book by Mennonite Church USA Executive Director Ervin Stutzman.
“Our stewardship of Christ’s charism of peace has required many adjustments over the last hundred years,” says Stutzman, who was vice president for Eastern Mennonite University and dean and professor of church ministries at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Harrisonburg, Va., before taking his position with Mennonite Church USA.
“Church statements that were persuasive in an earlier era no longer carry weight with a new generation,” he says. “Each new era introduced a need for adaptation and change.”
Of particular interest to Stutzman is the “virtual abandonment of the use of nonconformity and nonresistance as the foundational biblical rationale for our peace witness.”
Reasons for the shift include how the church ceased to separate from the rest of society, involvement in the political process, the influence of higher education, and new understandings of theology and scripture.
“As the church gradually changed as it modernised, it took on more of the thinking patterns and habits of the surrounding society,” Stutzman says, adding, “Each international conflict or war that involved the US also required the church to restate its peace convictions and find ways to be faithful to God’s call to peace.”
While the church is no longer as separate from the world, “we have gained a much greater sense of responsibility to engage with society and to make a difference in the world around us,” he adds. “People from other faith communions now look to us as examples of biblical faithfulness to the way of justice and peace.”
As for the future of Mennonite peacemaking, “nobody knows,” he says. “But one thing I am certain of is that we need to keep our peace convictions grounded in the biblical witness and Anabaptist theology.”
For Stutzman, that means “maintaining our uniquely Anabaptist Christian approaches to peacemaking, even as we join people of other Christian faiths or religions in developing a more peaceful world” and “learning from the peacemaking efforts of people who have gone before us … we can learn from their courage, and apply those lessons today.”
As for his book, “I hope I can make a contribution to the pursuit of faithfulness to God’s call for the denomination. I love Mennonite Church USA and desire it to be faithful as a steward of the gospel of Jesus Christ, a keeper of the Anabaptist legacy of peace.”
* From Nonresistance to Justice: The Transformation of Mennonite Church Peace Rhetoric, 1908–2008, from Mennonite Publishing Network at www.mpn.net/fromnonresistancetojustice