American evangelicals are wrestling with Jesus’ way of peace in new ways. There is evidence of this at Intervarsity Press, Youth With A Mission, Willow Creek Community Church and elsewhere.
Various factors contribute to this development. Groups like Evangelicals for Social Action and Sojourners have been teaching and promoting Christian peacemaking for nearly 40 years. The global evangelical world has for years addressed issues of justice and peace, especially in settings ravished by war. In 2004 the National Association of Evangelicals adopted a social agenda that included human rights, peacemaking, poverty and climate change, in addition to ongoing concerns about abortion and family life. The writings of Shane Claiborne and the new monastic movement have captured the attention of a new generation. Some Mennonites have been part of some of these conversations.
But the new-found interest in peacemaking is not an ESA thing, a new monastic thing or a Mennonite thing. It’s a Jesus thing. Jesus blessed peacemakers, was friends with zealots and tax collectors, taught love of enemies and lived it even to the cross. As the cozy alliance between American culture and Christianity is becoming undone, some evangelicals are reading the Bible and seeing Jesus with new eyes.
Here are several snapshots that have come to my attention in recent months:
In the last several years InterVarsity Press, a major evangelical publishing house, has published seven books in a series called Resources for Reconciliation. These books pair leading theologians with practitioners “to help professionals, leaders and everyday Christians live as ambassadors of reconciliation.” Titles include Forgiving as We’ve Been Forgiven, Living Gently in a Violent World and Living Without Enemies. IVP also published The Unkingdom of God by Mennonite pastor and activist Mark van Steenwyk.
Youth With A Mission is an interdenominational mission and outreach organization that seeks to “know God and make him known.” In 2012, at their University of the Nations, they sponsored “Let Justice Roll Down,” a three-week training program. Speakers were Shane Claiborne, Ched Myers and Elaine Enns, and Tim Nafziger and Sylvia Morrison from Christian Peacemaker Teams. Jesus’ way of active nonviolence was at the heart of the program. While this program is just a tiny sliver of the YWAM effort, it signals new interest and engagement in peacemaking.
Nearly 25,000 people attend Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, and it is a resource for many large churches. Last month Pastor Bill Hybels preached a sermon titled “Making Christmas Count with a Look at Jesus as Peacemaker.” It examined the dynamics of peacemaking using the story of Jacob and Esau and a framework from John Paul Lederach’s book Journey Toward Reconciliation. Drawing on examples mostly from personal life but also making broader global connections, this sermon is a powerful pastoral and prophetic call to Christian peacemaking. Hybels shared that church elders have added working for peace to a mission statement that includes fighting injustice and extending compassion.
I hope as Mennonites we have the grace and boldness to enter into conversation and partnership with these groups. I hope we are able to share from our journey, but I also hope we are able to learn from these brothers and sisters how to better live and communicate Jesus’ way of peace in our time and place.
André Gingerich Stoner is director of holistic witness and director of interchurch relations for Mennonite Church USA.