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The pursuit of peace a matter of faith
June 20, 2008
OTTAWA, Ontario — The pursuit of peace is often mired in strategic questions about “how” but for Robert J. Suderman, General Secretary of Mennonite Church Canada, the real questions are more foundational.
If we acknowledge Jesus the Prince of Peace as Lord of our lives, what does that mean for our lives and for our churches? Given that Jesus chose strategies of suffering and non-violence, how does that shape our attitudes and ethics toward non-violence as disciples of Jesus?
In a paper presented to the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) in Ottawa on May 16, 2008, Suderman addressed those questions from an Anabaptist perspective. His presentation, “The Church’s Witness to Peace,” was part of the CCC annual spring meeting.
An animated discussion among CCC members followed Suderman’s presentation. “What surprised me was that not a single response referred to the key foundational questions,” he said. Instead, conversation focused on the logistics of non-violence in a violent world.
Of the CCC’s 21 member churches, only the Society of Friends – the Quakers – and Mennonite Church Canada have pacifist identities. Suderman said that the other 19 member churches are passionately committed to peace, justice and reconciliation, agreeing that non-violence is the best option – but not always a workable one. “…so when somebody puts pacifism on their radar, I think the challenges of pacifism come flooding to the fore. Yes, pacifism is great – ‘but.’ It’s difficult to hear the question of a pacifist option because of the other ‘buts.’”
Despite different ways of interpreting scripture, Suderman reported that the topic of pacifism appeared to strike a chord with those in attendance. A consensus to continue the discussion was put on CCC’s fall agenda.
Although CCC Associate Secretary for the Commission on Justice and Peace, Peter Noteboom, was unable to hear all of Suderman’s presentation, he said that he was personally very pleased with what Suderman was bringing forward. “I’m interested to see how the conversation develops. We have a lot to learn about what it means to be a peace church.”
Noteboom expressed the desire for an ongoing discussion between traditional peace churches and those churches supporting the “just war” tradition. As he sees it, both traditions share a commitment to building peace and preventing war, yet each includes Christians and churches who are not fully committed to the practice of peacebuilding and have more to learn about it. He noted that there are some Christians whose perspective extends beyond the principles of “just war,” calling for the intentional use of violence to provoke an apocalypse and facilitate Christ’s return. Noteboom said that it would be important to include those Christians in the dialogue.
Louisa Bruinsma, a Christian Reformed Church (CRC) lay representative to the CCC meetings, noted that Suderman’s presentation made her reconsider her own personal perspectives. “I think I find myself walking to the beat of a slightly different drummer because of his presentation. And it’s somewhat scary, too, because Jesus’ beliefs were the death of him.”
Mike Hogeterp, Chair of the CCC Commission on Justice and Peace, suggested that the questions Suderman raised are critical for churches to think about in an age where issues of security are considered paramount. “I personally consider it to be a moral imperative that we in the west come to understand the implications of our insistence on absolute security [military and economic] for vulnerable people the world over. A subsequent reorientation of our lives and thinking would certainly have implications for our pursuit of God’s call to peace.”
Dialogue with CCC members is a step MC Canada is taking to engage Christians from different traditions in peace theology. Recently MC Canada offered its official support to the Canadian Department of Peace Initiative, a grassroots movement to advocate for a Federal Department of Peace. The upcoming MC Canada Annual Delegate Assembly in July will engage the national church in a discussion entitled Being a Peace Church: An Urgent Choice. This will build upon the peace statement affirmed at the Assembly in 2007, calling for peaceable action based on the affirmation that “peace is the will of God” and that we need to “witness to all people that violence is not the will of God.”
The CCC spring meeting included participation in the 43rd National Prayer Breakfast organized by parliamentarians to allow church leadership and policy makers the opportunity to pray together and to discuss issues of faith and public life in Canada.
The paper presented by Robert J. Suderman to the CCC is available online for congregational study: www.mennonitechurch.ca/tiny/662
Sidebar: A call to action
There are practical ways for congregations and individuals to more fully engage in peacemaking:
These resources and more can all be found in one central location at www.mennonitechurch.ca/tiny/184.
Sidebar: Canadian Council of Churches
The Canadian Council of Churches whose motto is “Listening and Learning Together in Christ” has 21 member churches: