Reacting to a proposed change in Japan’s ban against making war outside of its borders, Japanese Mennonites issued a statement reaffirming its antiwar stance.
The protest issued in September was in response to the Japan Cabinet’s decision in July to reinterpret the country’s pacifist postwar 1947 constitution that limits the use of force to defend Japan. The proposed change would allow the East Asian nation to take offensive action outside its borders to help defend allies “in close relationship.”
The Hokkaido conference of churches has long established that their antiwar stance is based on faith in Jesus. The Sept. 20 statement sent by the Peace Mission Center of the Nihon Menonaito Kirisuto Kyokai Kyogikai (Japan Mennonite Christian Church Conference), the conference of Mennonite churches of Hokkaido, Japan, to the administration of Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, reads in part:
“It is contrary to the hopes for peace—not only of Japanese people but also people in the rest of the world—to permit the exercise of the right of collective self-defense. We Christians, who follow the nonviolent way of life of Jesus Christ and eagerly support peace and justice as disciples of Jesus Christ, serve people suffering from various acts of violence because of wars, poverty and injustice. As a result, we strongly ask for the withdrawal of the decision of the current administration because it violates the principles of the Constitution, and we are against any further related revisions.”
The government has not responded to the statement.
Within and outside Christian circles, Hokkaido Mennonites are letting their convictions be known and encouraging others to do likewise. Yukari Kaga, pastor of Obihiro Mennonite Church and Peace Mission Center board member, said that unlike large denominations, our small conference is united in the stance that “the peace of Jesus is foundational in our faith.”
As a result of the antiwar controversy, young people are also speaking out, taking a stand and becoming aware of free-speech issues and the free exchange of ideas.
“For the school newspaper, they write about what they perceive as odd, and their comments are read by the whole student body,” says Yasuko Momono, a high school teacher and newspaper advisor, who is a member of Furano Nozomi Mennonite Church and a Peace Mission Center board member.
Mary Beyler, a Mennonite Mission Network worker who serves with Mennonite congregations in Hokkaido, says the church asks for prayer to be faithful followers of Jesus in the way of peace.
“Recently, I frequently hear Japanese Mennonites speaking about what we can and should be doing as Japan seems to be heading back to being a country that makes war,” Beyler says. “If we stay silent now, if we don’t express and act on our convictions now, we won’t have a voice later when the situation worsens.”
In surrendering to the United States to end World War II, Japan agreed to no longer initiate war. Its current Self Defense Force was established in 1954 for only domestic and narrow military support operations. Recent interpretation allowed backing of U.S. troops in Afghanistan with infrastructure support.
Some Japanese politicians and citizens want the self-defense limits to be lifted, for fear of aggression from neighboring countries in northeast Asia.
Japanese Cabinet members were criticized by China and South Korea for paying tribute to Japan’s militaristic past by visiting Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine for war dead in October. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was also criticized for sending a ritual offering there. The shrine is considered a symbol of Japan’s past militarism. Japan occupied parts of China before and during World War II, and Japan colonized Korea from 1910 to 1945.
No longer considered an enemy since the outbreak of the Korean War from 1950 to 1953, the United States supports the policy change of its ally, Japan.
Wil LaVeist works for Mennonite Mission Network.
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