Transforming Mennonites by the Gospel of Peace in 2012

Samantha Lioi, Whitehall,

“Syrian troops have kept up their assault on the coastal city ofLatakiafor a third day, reportedly killing three people.” —

“The marines made a frenzied escape, opening fire with automatic weapons as they tore down a six-mile stretch of highway, hitting almost anyone in their way . . . [according to] the Afghan Human Rights Commission report . . . the victims included a 16-year-old newlywed girl carrying a bundle of grass and a 75-year-old man walking back from the shops.” —

“Nonviolence isn’t just about not having a gun or not going to war,” says [Jason] Shenk [of Men Encouraging Nonviolence]. “It is an active respect or reverence that I seek to cultivate in all my relationships.” —

It’s safe to say our world could use more peace—a greater surplus of well-being, mutual love, and respect. And for Mennonites, people historically known for our teachings and practices of peace, it’s not news that we’re in different places when it comes to owning and living our identity as peacemakers. Though in our worship and everyday relationships, we all desire to reflect the image of God by becoming more like Jesus the Christ, we think about this differently, and our practice reflects these differences. So when I say the Peace and Justice Committee of Eastern District and Franconia Mennonite Conferences is inviting every congregation to a year-long focus on peace—to be introduced at our combined Conference Assembly in November—I suspect we’ll have a variety of responses. Some will think this is exciting and even overdue; some will think it unnecessary, maybe even cliché. There are bound to be questions. What if it’s too political? What if it’s not political enough? Will this really bring us closer to God? Will it help us be more sensitive as we engage in intercultural relationships?

As members of our peace committee met, we imagined the year 2012 as a time to re-educate ourselves, to renew and deepen our commitment to peacemaking. Here is our vision for that in light of Franconia Conference’s three current priorities of formation, intercultural relationship-building and mission:

How do we open ourselves to be shaped by this Gospel? First, we allow Scripture to be inscribed more deeply on our hearts and minds. We hope to see every congregation engage in Biblical study, absorbing and wrestling with the witness of both Old and New Testaments regarding the nature of peace/shalom, our identity as peacemakers, and our worship of the God of peace/shalom. What do the Scriptures teach us about the restoration of broken people and places? About reconciliation? Could we open ourselves to be surprised, scandalized, encouraged by the Bible and the Spirit speaking through it to our gathered communities of faith? Who knows what beauty and new life might break out?

Our second goal is growing into unity and maturity in Christ, who breaks down the dividing walls. We know our conference holds and blesses many different expressions of Anabaptist Christian faith in many languages. How might we welcome that diversity through intentional relationship building? To that end we hope every congregation will make an intercultural connection appropriate to that faith community, with the purpose of learning in relationship more of what it means to belong to Christ together in unity which spans boundaries of gender, economic resources, race, ethnicity, national identity, and beyond.

And when we have done some of that good work, how do we make it public? Our third desire is that, growing from the experiences and learning of the first two goals, every congregation will engage in a peace witness or public action which models reconciliation to people outside our Mennonite Church circles.

The peace committee has also proposed a time during the Saturday afternoon of our joint Conference Assembly for the delegates to confer and share resources around peacemaking in our various contexts. While we’ll hear more at Conference Assembly, in the meantime, you’re invited to talk with colleagues and members of our committee about your own imagining and questioning as you hear this proposal. You can find our names under “who we are” on our home page: May our imaginations and our spirits be stirred to love boldly, immersed in the love of God who is not counting sins against us but reconciling the whole world through Christ.