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An opportunity for peace making


February 18, 2011
- Gerhard Neufeld

Winnipeg, MAN. —  To talk about peace in Mennonite churches has become popular; to organize conferences on the subject is respectable. But it seems to me that to work for peace in all seriousness is unrealistic, unpopular, subversive and, therefore, ultimately dangerous.

But peace, like grace, never comes cheaply.

Even a cursory study of the life and teachings of Christ shows that peace was at the centre of his being and ministry, not just an afterthought. When Jesus states, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God," his notion of peace seems much more risky than the "peace" we hear about in everyday life. Peace is so much more than the absence of war or conflict in general. As Christ's words remind us, peace is something we need to "make." I don't think it is a coincidence that the beatitude that follows Christ's stance on peace is: "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Peacemaking is very risky.

Anabaptists throughout history recognized the centrality of peace not just as a theological concept, but more importantly as a practical expression of their faith. And this practical aspect is the crux of the matter. We cannot "manufacture" peace; we must create conditions in which peace can "grow" like a plant.

Mennonite history shows us that we have been prepared to uproot our communities, to move from country to country, because of our belief that we should not take up arms. But does living in a country that no longer asks this of us mean Christ's beatitude is a reality? What does it mean for us to pursue the blessings of Christ's beatitude and remain true to our Anabaptist heritage in twenty-first-century Canada? One exciting answer to this question comes to us from an unusual source: it is a private member's bill, Bill C-447, introduced by British Columbia MP Bill Siksay.

Bill C-447 seeks to establish a Department of Peace with its own minister at the Federal Government level. But the bill is only the beginning of a longer political process.

We need to work consistently to keep the possibility of a Canadian Department of Peace alive. For now, the specific details of Bill C447 are of less concern than the paradigm shift that the bill proposes and the potential that our government could take an active role in promoting and fostering conditions for peace domestically, as well as internationally.

Since passing First Reading on September 30, 2009, Bill C-447 has received cross-party and broad general support.

On May 26, 2010, Senator Mobina Jaffer and MP Bill Siksay hosted a reception for Members of Parliament and Senators to provide an opportunity to discuss the principles and mandate of a Department of Peace. More surprising than having politicians advocate an initiative for peace is that a piece of legislation that comes so close to the heart of the Mennonite confession has not created a greater interest in our own circles. Are we afraid of the hard work that will be required to produce a fundamental shift in our society, the apathy, or the strong interest groups that will resist our call for peace?

How do we begin to take on the challenge to be peacemakers that this opportunity presents? A number of Winnipeg churches have dealt with this bill in their Sunday school classes or church papers. The Canadian Mennonite has reported on the research project on non-violence and peace that the youth at Home Street Mennonite Church conducted. These initiatives are a great start, but we need every Mennonite, not just those we perceive as young and idealistic enough, or educated enough, to engage with this issue. If the Mennonite church remains silent when regular society seeks to promote an essential part of its confession of faith - a stance our ancestors were willing to be executed for by their governments - that silence will be deafening.

If Mennonites want to be the followers of the Prince of Peace, we must be prepared to follow an example that led to Calvary. To follow Christ's wholehearted commitment, we need to see pacifism not as a part of Mennonite history but as a daily commitment. We must talk about peacemaking not just in church, but at the dinner table; not just with each other, but with our neighbours. We must prepare for the future by writing to our local newspapers and respective MPs to explain the importance of Bill C-447 from our unique perspective.

Should there be a Federal election before Bill C-447 becomes law - which is more than likely - we must then approach all the candidates on their stance on the establishment of a Department of Peace. We may experience their apathy or downright hostility. None of this should deter us because too much hangs in the balance.

Given the example we claim to live by, it's the least we can do.