This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

To live and die for

The young volunteers of Plain Compassion Crisis Response in Iraq’s war zone not far from Islamic State fighters want “something to live and die for,” according to organization director Merle Weaver (June 6).

Responding quickly in dangerous areas is PCCR’s specialty, making it in an intriguing avenue of service for its volunteers, the bulk of whom are Amish and conservative Mennonites in their teens and 20s.

Mennonites have no shortage of meaningful, mission-focused service opportunities in which young adults can apply the teachings of the peace theology they have learned.

As a newcomer to the Mennonite world, I was recently shocked to see a high school graduate in an urban Mennonite church state to the congregation that his post-high-school plan was to join the Marines.

As a 13-year-old in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, I was drawn to the Mennonite teaching on Christian peace witness, including non-participation in war. If young people are publicly announcing to their Mennonite churches their intention to join the military, what does that say about our theological identity? Are we still known for taking seriously Jesus’ words on loving our enemies (Matthew 5)? What about our calling to the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:11-21)?

I’m thankful I could discuss this face to face with the young man’s pastor. She described “the siren call of the military” to young adults in the congregation’s urban context, where factors such as lower income, less family support and (for recent arrivals to the country) limited English proficiency make college less accessible and volunteer service infeasible.

Most young people who choose the military have the same desires as those who choose nonviolent work. They want a supportive team and a meaningful mission. They want something to live and die for.

This is exactly what the church offers, but the state offers one more important thing: a livable income. What might it look like for the church to subsidize nonviolent service for its own socially and financially underprivileged young people? It would mean investing more money to offer the same privileges to all that most white Mennonites enjoy.

If part of our people cannot access the channels to live out the teaching they have received, their struggle merits our response to the military’s siren call.

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