We have dichotomized Jesus’ call to be people of peace and to share the Good News.
For the last decade or so, Franconia Mennonite Conference (FMC) and Mennonite Church USA have been on a journey to recapture our voice. It has been a shift from decades and even centuries of being more inwardly focused and “the quiet in the land” to finding our voice as people Jesus has called to live the Great Commission by sharing the Good News and making disciples.
One of the biggest struggles on this journey is our “peace position.” I’m not trying to walk away from it; that’s far from the truth. But in our society and even in our congregations, this is a loaded conversation. We have dichotomized Jesus’ call to be people of peace and to share the Good News as though either or both of them are optional.
So we often find our FMC congregations in one of two camps—either we are trying to live out our call to be peace churches or we are trying to win souls into the kingdom. And it’s hard to have a civilized conversation about peace and evangelism at the same time. The tension is often palpable when these two values confront one another. Why?
I certainly don’t have the answers, but let me share a few observations:
1. “The Mennonite peace position”: I don’t find it helpful to talk about “the Mennonite peace position.” It’s much more than that. Jesus has called us to follow him and to live into the kingdom of God here on earth, as much as that is possible. When we relegate Jesus’ call to follow him in a way of peace and as people of peace to “the Mennonite peace position,” we pose our worldview as though it is an optional add-on to following Christ. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, has called us to follow his example. We are called to live Christ’s gospel of peace; it’s not a “take it or leave it” option.
2. Peace is broader than war: Being people of peace is more than the issue of whether we go to war or not. How is it that our conversation about being peacemakers so often goes right to that end of the spectrum? During a trip to the United Kingdom, I was struck by the way our Anabaptist brothers and sisters in the U.K. have a lot to say about being peacemakers and people of peace, and war is not the center of every conversation. More often I heard this translated into people taking seriously Christ’s call to care for the poor and those on the margins of society. Working for social justice is an important part of living out Christ’s way of peace.
3. Because of or in spite of? As we understand what it means to be missional, new people are joining us. In some cases they are people who join us because of our core values. In the U.K., people from many walks of life consider themselves Anabaptists, even though there is only one Mennonite congregation and two Hutterite communities. They embrace Anabaptist theology as something that completes their biblical understanding, something they have been missing. They describe it as feeling like they have “come home.” We have those stories in our FMC congregations, too. We also have those who feel at home among us in spite of our core value of Christ’s call to be people of peace. I embrace the shifted paradigm of people first belonging, then believing, then having their behavior change. Too often in the past we have slammed the door on people’s fragile journey toward faith, driving them from us. But how can we be transparent and true to our core values at the same time we invite people from different places to follow Jesus’ example?
4. Lost language: Have we been the quiet in the land for so long that we have lost a healthy way of being able to talk about being people of peace? Have we learned this from our parents and grandparents, as they hunkered down under the persecution they faced as conscientious objectors? Can we find a new language for our continent, a language that is relevant to our culture (and cultural diversity) in the United States today? Can we find language that transcends old paradigm bounds of being persecuted/ethnic/cultural Mennonites of Swiss-German descent? Can we learn that language from our Anabaptist brothers and sisters from Asia, Africa and South America who are living out what it means to embody Christ’s gospel of peace in churches, many of which face persecution yet are growing by leaps and bounds?
5. Our voice is desired: Among others, the emergent church movement is inviting us to come to the table. They believe Anabaptists have an important voice to add to the conversation of who the followers of Jesus are called to be. They are asking us to bring the light Jesus has shown us. None of us has the whole truth, but they want us to bring our best understanding of who Jesus has called us to be to a conversation of what God is calling the church to be in this rapidly changing world. (Emergent Village describes itself as “a growing, generative friendship among missional Christians seeking to love our world in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” Brian McLaren is a key leader in this group. For more information, check out www.emergentvillage.com.)
6. Evangelists: In Matthew 28, Jesus commissioned his disciples to share the Good News. Who of us can deny that as a commission that transcends the ages? For too long we have muzzled the Good News. Being commissioned is more than “do it if it’s convenient or if you feel like it.” A commission is to be taken seriously. Our FMC history is littered with evangelists who could not find a place among us. They have gone out from us to found churches such as Calvary Church of Souderton, BranchCreek Community Church, Living Faith and more. The kingdom is still blessed by their gifts, but how can we make space for—and even embrace—evangelists to use their God-given gifts among us? What drives them out from us?
Can we find ways to share the Good News that Christ has called us to—in all its fullness? Can we be evangelists that work for peace?
Gay Brunt Miller works for Franconia Mennonite Conference