Amy Yoder McGloughlin doesn’t like to defy authority.
“I hate doing that stuff,” said Yoder McGloughlin, pastor of Frazer Mennonite Church in Pennsylvania, describing the time she joined protesters to obstruct the entrances of Philadelphia’s City Hall in 2014 during a New Sanctuary Movement demonstration.
“I grew up in fundamentalism, where you obey authority. If someone tells you to get out of there, you get out of there. To say ‘no’ went against all my training, but it also felt like a spiritual calling.”
How did this reluctant activist get the courage to obey a higher calling?
“I don’t think of myself as an activist,” Yoder McGloughlin quickly corrects. “I just think: How do I live out the life and works of Jesus wherever I am?”
The answer has led Yoder McGloughlin to change careers from social worker to pastor, build interfaith relationships in her community and lead a half dozen delegations to Palestine with Christian Peacemaker Teams.
The seeds of peacemaking were planted when she attended Lancaster Mennonite High School in Pennsylvania.
“For so much of my growing up, Jesus was a symbol of power and, in some ways, was used as a weapon,” she said. “The Anabaptist tradition of talking about Jesus as being in solidarity with us felt like such a different way to understand the call of discipleship. That began my passion for peace.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology, Yoder McGloughlin was a social worker in Philadelphia for seven years.
“I left because I felt I was bringing more violence to families than I was preventing,” she said, acknowledging the racist underpinnings of the system.
When she left her job and enrolled in seminary — with two young children at home — she made the connection between social justice movements and the gospel.
“To connect these at a visceral, heart level was really important for me,” she said. “That’s when Christian Peacemaker Teams came on my radar.”
Founded in the mid-1980s, CPT walks alongside local peacemaking communities to amplify the voices of peacemakers who risk injury and death by waging nonviolent direct action to confront systems of violence and oppression.
Several years later, while serving as pastor of Germantown Mennonite Church in Philadelphia in 2013, Yoder McGloughlin joined four other members of the congregation on her first delegation to Palestine with CPT.
During the two-week trip, the delegation talked with Palestinians and observed the CPT workers in Hebron interrupting violent situations.
“For me, that became a model of what peacemaking looks like,” she said. “Peacemaking is not passive.”
Two years later, in 2015, Yoder McGloughlin returned to Palestine with CPT, this time leading an interfaith delegation with a local rabbi. She led four more annual delegations since then and even had the opportunity to take her 78-year-old mother-in-law and son along. In 2019, she joined the steering committee of CPT, representing Mennonite Church USA.
This spring, Yoder McGloughlin was impacted by the loss of life in both Israel and Palestine during the 11 days of violence that followed the May 10 tear gassing of worshipers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, a holy site for Muslims.
“Jesus taught us that all life is valuable,” she said. “So, I grieve for the 12 Israelis who were killed because of rocket fire. I grieve over the more than 200 Palestinians who have been killed and the 56,000 Palestinian families in Gaza who have been displaced by the recent violence. We must grieve all of these things, but when you look at the numbers, you see the inequity.”
CPT continues to work in the West Bank city of Hebron at the invitation of the Palestinians. CPT also provides a platform for local Palestinians in Old City Jerusalem to make known the violence they are experiencing, such as the recent shooting of a young Palestinian man.
“It means a lot to people in Palestine to know that the word is getting out and that others around the world care,” Yoder McGloughlin said.
She said MC USA’s 2017 resolution, “Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine,” provides tools to respond.
“One of the things we are asked to do is to learn more,” she said. “I’ve been encouraging people to look at different media sources and read about what’s happening.”
She also encourages others to join her in advocating to their government representatives, to support peacebuilding organizations and to strengthen relationships with Palestinian-American communities.
“I also would love to see congregations engaging more deeply with the way that we read the biblical text, which tends to be imbued with Zionist thinking,” Yoder McGloughlin said.
Christian Zionism views the return of the Jews to Israel as essential to biblical prophecy.
“When we read ‘Israel’ in the Old Testament, we also may be thinking about modern-day Israel,” she said. “We need to disconnect those two things and examine what the text says to us about how we love our neighbor without violence.”
The Mennonite Palestine Israel Network, of which Yoder McGloughlin is a part, will be introducing a Sunday school curriculum later this year to address this.
“I want people to think about what creative peacemaking looks like,” she said. “If we can get a sense through CPT of how Palestinians are creatively resisting the [Israeli] occupation, then perhaps we can transfer some of that knowledge and learning to our own lives.”
When she became pastor of Frazer Mennonite Church in 2018, Yoder McGloughlin was challenged to apply the peacemaking skills she learned in urban ministry and militarized zones.
“A youth in the congregation asked me: What does peacemaking look like in the suburbs?” she said. “That was a hard question for me because I had so contextualized it to Philadelphia and Palestine. I said: I have no idea.
“I learned quickly that peacemaking — the way to translate what’s happening with CPT in Palestine to what’s happening in the suburbs — isn’t actually that difficult.”
Despite being stereotyped as peaceful, the predominantly white suburbs also struggle with conflict and violence. They need peacemaking too, as Yoder McGloughlin soon discovered.
After the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, 2018, Yoder McGloughlin sought to be a peacemaker locally.
She called the synagogue down the street and said, “Our congregation would like to support your congregation in whatever way we can. One thing that we can do is stand outside your building on Friday while you worship together. Can we do that for you?”
This is a CPT practice — to stand as a protective presence.
The rabbi declined and instead invited the Mennonites to join them in worship, which they did.
“I quickly realized that the things I’m learning with CPT translate wherever you go,” Yoder McGloughlin said. “If we seek peace, there are steps we can take and things we can do as followers of Jesus to counter the violence and the militarization of the world.”
Although COVID-19 prevented Yoder McGloughlin from returning to Palestine in 2020 and possibly 2021, she continues to seek opportunities for peacemaking within her predominantly white congregation.
“This past year, after the death of George Floyd, active peacemaking at Frazer Mennonite Church has been about looking at how we see ourselves as white people and how this has been damaging to our neighbors,” she said. “The journey of understanding our own whiteness has been a way to faithfully follow the life and teachings of Jesus.”
She admits it’s easy for a peacemaker to get overwhelmed by the world’s problems.
“I try to just do what I can where am,” she said. “It didn’t start with me doing a yearly trip to Palestine. It started with small things. It started by just examining, with my family: What does peace mean for us? What is Jesus asking us to do? And taking those small steps.”
Camille Dager is multimedia news and information editor for Mennonite Church USA. This article is part of MC USA’s “Cost of War: Learn, Pray, Join” initiative.