Chantelle Todman Moore is a member of Oxford Circle Mennonite Church in Philadelphia. This article originally ran in the July issue of The Mennonite magazine. You can read more feature articles on “Untamable Shalom” in that issue.
“A Peace church recognizes the imago dei in all humanity. It not only prays; it takes action. Peace church responds to violence in its streets, inside and outside its doors. Peace church stands with Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, LGBTQ people, immigrants—against all forms of violence. Peace church empowers disenfranchised and marginalized people. It understands multifaceted forms of violence—systemic, educational and environmental—that is more than the absence of war or protesting war.”
The framework above was birthed out of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) working group at the Hope for the Future gathering in February. Anabaptists of color brought forth an impassioned and clear call to the broader Mennonite church to begin looking and acting like a peace church in real life instead of a peace church in theory.
At the Hope for the Future gathering, I found it striking that it was mostly those who would not be considered “ethnic” Mennonites that were bringing forth the call for repentance and renewal to a vision of peace. Could it be that those of us still considered “outsiders” see a clearer vision of what it means to be a peace church than those who consider it their birthright?
These statements are not meant to cause shame but to serve as a wakeup call for those of us who belong to a historic peace church. When we neglect those existing on the margins of our churches, communities and country instead of centering them in the life of the church, our claim to being a peace church becomes simply an intellectual exercise. We can tell you the tenets of nonviolent resistance, pacifism, avoiding war taxes and even why the idea of “just war” is just wrong. But when you take a closer look at our lives, congregations and church structures, you see cycles of physical, social and psychological violence being played out that mostly impact the “least of these” among us. These are the things we must first acknowledge and then repent from—turning away and going the other direction—in order to more fully embody shalom as a church. Although we call ourselves Anabaptists—followers of Christ who are witnesses and agents of Spirit-empowered peacemaking in our world—our individual and shared lives do not match up with the framework mentioned above.
What would it look like for us to embody peace? What if we took the challenge above seriously? What if people in our denomination experienced peace in their lives being multiplied instead of depleted? The statement above is a compelling (re)vision of what it could mean for us, in our current context as a Mennonite community, to reawaken and recommit to being a peace church that transforms both our individual and our collective lives. The Scriptures talk about the uselessness of being lukewarm. We can no longer be lukewarm in prioritizing embodying Spirit-empowered peacemaking in our world.
The framework above offers a vision for what a peace church should look like today. Here are some additional considerations of what peacemaking needs to encompass if we are to recommit fully to being a peace people and a peace church:
- Being a peace church is costly. If you consider yourself a peacemaker and you are comfortable, never inconvenienced (in a way that you cannot fix) and everyone is happy with you, you may want to take a look at the troubles the Prince of Peace faced in Scripture and re-evaluate your life.
- Being a peace church must be contextualized. Jesus did it first—“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish” (John 1:14, The Message). Jesus took on humanity and lived within a particular context. His life, work and ministry took on the shape of his human reality, with all its limitations, and we can do no less. If we are still stuck on “we’ve always done it that way” and a “one size fits all” mentality, then our peacemaking will ultimately be ineffective. But if we can invest the time to learn and understand the context and lived realities of others, then our peacemaking efforts can bear fruit. What peace looks like at Standing Rock is not necessarily what peace looks like for Black Lives Matter. What brings peace for you may not bring peace for your neighbor.
- Being a peace church requires creativity and courage. Necessity is the mother of invention, and we desperately need a wholehearted peace people and church in our world, where so many are hurting and dying. We cannot allow fear or the principalities and powers of our culture to paralyze us. Instead we need to find creative ways to resist our country’s culture of violence. We must lean on the Spirit’s power to see the opportunities around us with new eyes to be conduits of peace in our world.
- Being a peace church demands collaboration. We need each other to make this happen. No one, no matter how far back they can trace their Mennonite roots, has the corner market on being Anabaptist. If we are going to be faithful to the Spirit of God’s call on our denomination to be peacemakers, then we must choose to find value in and create space for each of us to share our tools and methods for peacebuilding with one another. Being a peace church means creating spaces for those who experience exclusion to lead and show us what shalom looks like in the midst of an oppressive and broken church that in some ways reflects the oppression of our societal structures. Some of us who have been front and center within the church are going to have to take a step back or to the side so that some of us who have been on the margins can have more meaningful opportunities to contribute and lead.
I invite you to use the framework at the beginning of this article as to what a peace church looks like as a jumping off point for personal or small group reflection and discussion. It can be a helpful tool in evaluating where we may be missing the mark and signposts to show if we are going in the right direction. Take some time to ask yourself if your personal and communal peacemaking efforts are costly, contextualized, creative, courageous and collaborative. How are you, how are we, praying and bringing shalom into our world?