The Mennonites of Hong Kong have a question for us: What is Mennonite peace theology? The query arises from a generational split. Young people believe the church ought to support them in taking to the streets with crowds protesting oppressive Chinese laws. Older people say peaceful Christians don’t join in such actions.
It’s a question that has divided Mennonites for generations. Is Christian pacifism passive or active? Quiet or vocal?
There are many Anabaptist peace theologies — or, many peace practices. Theology is not just words on a page or thoughts in a mind. It becomes real as it is lived. The question is not what we believe but how we believe.
How are Mennonites making peace today? Three examples:
— By sending a delegation to Hong Kong. Visitors offered solidarity and counsel amid the stress of a persistent uprising against Beijing’s repression. They shared perspectives on Anabaptist peacemaking from their contexts. Jeremiah Choi, pastor of Agape Mennonite Church in Hong Kong, requested prayer that the churches can “become peacemakers when some choose to be violent.”
— By pondering the lessons of history in Germany. In November, Mennonites in Neuwied hosted the annual meeting of European Mennonite leaders. During that time, Germans marked the 81st anniversary of Reichskristallnacht (night of broken glass), when Nazi forces and German civilians looted Jewish-owned stores and torched 267 synagogues — a prelude to greater atrocities. As far as anyone knows, the Mennonites of Neuwied were “quiet” and “indifferent” about the anti-Semitic pogrom, says German Mennonite Brethren leader Alexander Neufeld. Participants in the November meeting attended a memorial service and considered what Mennonites today can learn from past failures.
— By urging the United States and Iran to step away from the brink of war. Mennonite Church USA endorsed an interfaith statement renouncing the escalation of violence, which began with an order by President Trump to assassinate Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. The statement addressed current political matters and timeless peacemaking principles. Of immediate importance is its call for Congress to “reassert its war powers by refusing authorization for war with Iran and related attacks.” Of timeless value is its warning that war dehumanizes. This is the sin that makes it possible to turn away from human suffering and even to kill.
What is Mennonite peace theology? It is showing care for fellow church members in times of stress. Reflecting on past sins and resolving not to repeat them. Joining with other faith communities to publicly declare that war is futile — and urging Congress to reclaim its role as a restraint on presidential warmaking authority.
All of this is peace theology in practice. Academically, theology is said to comprise three parts: what is taught by God, teaches of God and leads to God. It’s a broad definition, as limitless as peace theology itself.