Peacemaking: The Calling of God's People in History
WHEREAS: Events in our interpersonal, national, and international life make it clear that peacemaking ministries--including promoting dialogue, acting as mediators, resisting unjust or violent government policies, promoting justice--must be undertaken as a means of providing Christ-like alternatives to hostility and war.
WHEREAS: The historic Brethren position of non-resistance may equip the Brethren well for responding to violence, it does not do adequate justice to such proactive Biblical mandates as "Do good to those who hate you (Luke 6:27)"; "Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21)"; "Blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9)"; "And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love tenderly (Micah 6:8)"; "...is this not the fast I choose... (Isaiah 58:6,7)".
WHEREAS: Given the wide variety of beliefs within the denomination regarding Biblical teaching on peacemaking, there is need for a clear statement concerning how Brethren should live as peacemakers in our individual, congregational, community, and international life. In particular, assistance is needed in understanding the Old Testament teachings regarding war and peace in relation to New Testament teachings.
WHEREAS: The Church of the Brethren has put forth various statements on issues relating to war (1945, 1957, 1963, 1970), but has never put forth a statement giving guidance with regard to the ministry of peacemaking.
THEREFORE, we, the members of the Midland Church of the Brethren, petition Annual Conference meeting at Orlando, Florida, July 4-9, 1989 through the Mid-Atlantic District Conference meeting of October 1988 at Manassas, Virginia, to consider developing a comprehensive statement on peacemaking to offer guidance to individuals and congregations as they seek to live as followers of the Prince of Peace in today's world.
Chester Beahm, Moderator
Sandra Markley, Church Clerk
Action of the Mid-Atlantic District Conference meeting, November 7-8, 1988 at Manassas, Virginia: Passed to Annual Conference.
Paul D. Steiner, Moderator
Sharon Dougherty, Clerk
Action of the 1989 Annual Conference: Pat Ecker, a Standing Committee delegate from the Mid-Atlantic district, presented the recommendation from Standing Committee that the concerns of the query be approved, that the query be assigned to the General Board and that they report back to the 1990 Annual Conference. The delegate body adopted the recommendation of Standing Committee.
Action of the 1990 Annual Conference: The moderator recognized the printed report from the committee appointed by the General Board to respond to QUERY: PEACEMAKING. David Radcliff, committee convener, commented on the report and related the committee's expectation to present the full report on PEACEMAKING to the 1991 Annual Conference.
The General Board named a committee consisting of Evelyn Frantz, Lamar Gibble, Lauree Hersch Meyer, David Radcliff (convener), and Sara Speicher to fashion the response.
Including a meeting at the1990 Annual Conference, the committee will have met four times. It has sought input from representative persons, including holding an Insight Session at the Milwaukee Conference.
The committee plans to bring its finished report to the 1991 Annual Conference.
Behold, see a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth
have passed away. . . . See the holy city, new Jerusalem, created and
blessed of God: where God, who dwells among people, is the only judge
and ruler, and reigns to "make all things new."
Throughout its history, the Church of the Brethren has been known as a people who have lived and sought peace. The denomination has consistently opposed war while pursuing peaceful means of resolving conflict and righting injustice
Many statements of the Annual Conference, along with actions of individual members and congregations, have affirmed these commitments.
It has been the case most often, however, that the church's statements on these matters have been in reaction and opposition to events in our world. The church now wishes to set forth a comprehensive statement on the denomination's commitment to Christian peacemaking as a way of life.
God, creator of heaven and earth, completed creation with a threefold blessing upon humankind (Gen. 1:28-30): to be fruitful and reproduce; to act as God's stewards and exercise dominion4 over God's world (Gen. 1:27); and to be physically nurtured and sustained by creation. When creation was complete, God named it "very good" (Gen. 1:31). In God's very good creation, human beings are made of the same earthy material as the rest of creation and are given life and breath by God's spirit.5 In the scriptural image of peace, all that God created lives in mutual interdependence. This balance and harmony of creation is the foundation of all human righteousness and justice.
The biblical story of human history begins in Genesis 3 with the fall.6 In contrast to the story of God's good creation that precedes it, the scriptural account of human history is a story of corruption in which humanity turns God's spirit out of their hearts. Filled instead with a spirit of self-interest and self-determination, the people destroy God-given peace in Genesis 3; male and female, humans and the rest of the created order, and humans and God enter into conflict and become alienated from one another. In Genesis 4, siblings are also driven apart by violence: Cain, jealous of Abel's blessing from God, murders his brother. In Genesis 6-9, the peace between God and all created beings disintegrates further and God pronounces the whole earth "corrupt" and "full of violence" (Gen. 6:11). In Genesis 9:18-Genesis 10, violence spreads to whole generations, and in Genesis 11, to whole peoples.
According to the scripture story, when humans violate peace, God responds with judgment, but it is always a judgment as in Genesis 3. There, God named what had taken place, identified the results of human action, and then directed attention to the possibilities for new life and meaning.7 In the end God always works to reorder creation.8 In each judgment there is a new embodiment of peace.
Divine responses to human corruption assure us that God is active in human history. Moreover, God's work of recreation to restore peace to all creation is carried out in large part by humans who live in God's image, filled with God's breath. Yet today, as in scriptural times, we humans follow our desires instead of God's so that God's intended blessing for us is overcome by violence and collapses into babel. Then hostility, misunderstanding, and ill will separate people from people and people from God as in Genesis 11.
In our divided and hostile state, the God we know through scripture restores humankind by calling divided peoples to come together as God's people each in their own way. The people of Israel began with an unlikely couple who left their home following God's lead. Their story with God is also our story to live and tell to generations yet unborn, so that all may be blessed with God's peace.
Christian covenant, the commitment to serve God and God's creation,9 begins with the Hebrew Bible, continues through the New Testament, and follows the church's history: Even today, covenant is central in the life of the church. In other words, our story is Israel's story. How Israel became God's people, covenanted to be peacemakers in creation and among other peoples, is our story as well.
Israel made a covenant with God at Sinai before its people had any identity as God's people. Only after a generation of testing and being tested did Israel develop sufficient trust in God to move with more courage than fear into an alien world. During its wilderness sojourn, Israel took to heart its covenantal identity as God's people and learned to turn to God for guidance in the face of crisis. Even so, life in the land of promise was fraught with anguish. Eventually, though, Israel learned that even a people who turns from God will find covenantal renewal when it returns and lives again by God's spirit.
As familiar and comforting as we find this story, there are images of God in scripture that trouble us and seem to contradict a theology of peace. For example, God strikes dead those who murmur in the wilderness (Num. 11:16 and following). God claims vengeance as a prerogative (Deut. 32:35). God directs holy war and is a holy warrior (Exod. 15:3a and following).10 God causes or permits the innocent to suffer (Job). We who view scripture as authoritative rightly give attention to these texts, because how we interpret them illumines what we think God is like and what actions are fitting for people who serve God.
Stories about the warrior God trouble many peacemakers particularly when such narratives are used to justify violence and hostility. We corrupt scripture when we appeal to texts about God's use of power to justify our use of violence. The passages concerning holy war have been used in this way. Yet the holy war tradition emphasizes that those who call themselves by God's name are not to judge on their own authority what is good, nor are they to profit or receive glory from other's defeat. Even King Saul was prohibited from exercising his own wisdom (1 Sam. 15), for leaders who act in God's place or take profit from another's misfortune directly undermine God's peace. It is also clear that God appeared as a warrior who acted on Israel's behalf only when Israel was weak, before it became established in the land.11 God never enlists holy war nor acts as an avenging warrior on Israel's behalf when Israel is powerful. Israel's prophets later condemned the powerful kings and establishment priests in Israel who used their position, place, or power to act unjustly toward Israel's weaker members or neighbors.12 While Brethren appeal to the New Testament and to the life of Jesus as the key for interpretation of these holy war texts, it is clear from the texts themselves that they could never be used to justify modern warfare.
Biblical faith also calls us to recognize that violence is not just out there in other nations, peoples, and powers. At times, both violence and God's peace lay claim to our hearts. How we interpret God's violence or that of the powerful in Israel, indicates how we will respond to injustice. We all choose whether to justify or judge the violence that curses and destroys. We all decide whether to test and judge when the spirit in us brings forth hostility and violence, and when it issues in blessing and peace.
In addition to holy warrior and holy war texts, passages in which God directly threatens the chosen people also present a dilemma for peacemakers. Examples of such stories are Exodus 4:24, where God is about to kill Moses who has been called to serve God and deliver God's people, and Exodus 32:10, where the people Israel asked Aaron to make idols in Moses' absence. In response, God threatens to destroy Israel and make of Moses a great nation. A careful reading helps us understand these stories. In the Exodus 4 text, for example, fear stands between Moses and his mission to serve God, but Zipporah's loving action strengthens Moses and turns away God's anger. Similarly in the Exodus 32 story in the absence of Moses' vigorous leadership, Israel's old memories overpower its new covenant with God. But the story ends when Moses returns to judge Israel, leading the people back to faith and turning away God's violence.
Just as peace is broken when injustice and unrighteousness reign, so peace is threatened when fear and hostility exercise control. When the powerful, be they foreigners or God's leaders, seek to profit from the powerless, God works to liberate and judge. Furthermore, God may use those we view as enemies to do God's work, as when Cyrus restored Israel to Palestine. Or, God may enroll a leader as strange as Moses or Jesus to lead people in an exodus from bondage. Clearly, we believers have commonly failed to understand instances when God uses the "enemy" for good.
After the period of establishment and monarchy, Israel's most vivid visions of peace were formed in exile where it pondered the words of its prophets and molded its understanding of life around a rich vision of peace. In the prophetic vision; the peace which God established in creation was also the work to which all humans were called. To be God's people was to "act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God" (Mic. 6:6). Israel's exile and return taught that whoever heard, received, and embodied justice, compassion, and righteousness, was a messenger of God's spirit. The "wisdom" literature (Psalms, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Job, Proverbs, Lamentations) was filled with the imagery of compassion.
The prophetic scriptural vision (Mic. 4:3, Isa. 2:4) of righteousness, justice, and mercy depends on God's spirit living in human hearts and actions. Peace that embodies God's righteousness, justice, and mercy begins when those who are righteous and hold power voluntarily suffer injustice rather than exacting retribution. The prophetic vision of a "peaceable kingdom" led Israel after the exile to call for strict moral, religious, and ethical norms of perfection in the effort to embody God's goodness.
From the beginning, the Church of the Brethren has found a biblical peace witness to be central to our life and faith. We believe scripture's fullest vision for peacemakers is found in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Therefore, we look to the New Testament and Jesus' life to guide our work for peace. Jesus taught about life in God's kingdom and life as God's child. He lived out his words in his own life, and people saw God in Jesus' words and actions. Now, the Brethren believe that the church as the Body of Christ is God's real presence in human life today as was Jesus in his day.
Many in Jesus' time did not see him as God's incarnate peacemaker. He was finally executed when the religious and political leaders of his day believed he must be killed because he was a threat to their truth. Jesus' way of life leaves no doubt that peacemaking is rigorous and costly. Yet Jesus' resurrection assures us that, as death could not destroy the man, neither could the world's powers put out the flame of God's righteousness, the glory of God's justice, or the fullness of God's peace.14
We believe that living in Christ Jesus, who is our peace, means more than advocating for peace; it means embodying God's peace, living God's real presence in and for all peoples and all creation.15 Peacemakers are Christ's living and resurrected body at work in the world today. Learning from Israel's prophets, Christians know peace by turning to God's spirit made known in Jesus, the deliverer and restorer of all peoples and creation. The life and example of Jesus transcends the holy war stories of the Old Testament. As God-with-us, Jesus chose not to defend himself with spiritual or physical violence. We find in Jesus' life the wholeness and fulfillment of the shalom God promised from the beginning.
After he was baptized, Jesus was identified as God's son and led "by the Spirit" into the wilderness to be tempted.16 His temptations17 were a spiritual holy war which revealed how Jesus would use power.18 His responses to temptation made it clear that life in the "kingdom of God" means using our power to serve God and turning to God for guidance in the face of difficult decisions.
God's peace is visible in Jesus as in no other. God's peace is a way of life. Patterned after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, a life of peacemaking begins as a spiritual commitment including prayer and involving travelling the way of the cross. As peacemakers, we do not cling to worldly security. Our atonement with God, our reconciliation with God's peace, means that we are free to live as citizens loyal to God's kingdom; we need not fear any powers and principalities about us which claim our obedience. The life of peacemaking takes shape in Jesus' living body which we call the church; where "two or three" gather "in Jesus' name," there Jesus is "in our midst" (Matt. 18:20). As people made in God's image, the responsibility to which we bind ourselves in covenant is to reduce violence and spread blessing among all in God's creation.
The New Testament spells out what it means to live God's peace. Most importantly, Jesus' great commandment, which encompasses all other laws, is that we "Love each other as I have loved you." (John 15:12, 17). This commandment, addressed to those who trust and love Jesus and see God by looking at Jesus, directs how we embody God's new creation. Also, Paul told the early church that the ministry of all who are reconciled to God in Christ is to be ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20).
According to scripture, believers can become part of God's peace by beginning wherever they are, for "in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near" (Eph. 2:11-22).
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7)19 Jesus calls us to examine our hearts and motives. In his Samaritan ministry, in his involvement with untouchables, and in his openness with women, Jesus denounced, in God's name, hostility and prejudice and revealed them as idolatry. So powerful is the truth of God's peace that even Jesus changed his mind about who is a child of promise and who is a dog of no consequence when a woman pointed out which crumbs give life (Matt. 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30).
Jesus' healings indicate that peace always entails an outpouring of compassion just when we are inclined to declare compassion's limits.20 Peace begins when we freely live God's compassion rather than obeying the fear that constricts our heart and ability to live creatively in hope. Jesus' disciples are called to be light in dark places, to be salt that does not "lose its savor" (Matt. 5:13-16) in the face of difficulty, to join Jesus in living as the new creation in God's beloved world.
Jesus' instructions in Matthew 5:38-41 present several possibilities for interpretation. Peacemakers have traditionally understood this passage to be a call for nonresistance in the face of violence or oppression, but nonresistance also demonstrates another manner of dealing with hostility and injustice. To offer forgiveness, service and personal sacrifice in response to violence and injustice places the "victim" in the role of one who is taking initiative to chart another more peaceful and just course.
Another interpretation of this key text is to see this as Jesus' invitation to the powerless in our world to call on the ones who abuse and oppress them to treat them as equals. For example, one who is struck on the right cheek is to turn the other cheek. In Jesus' nearly exclusively righthanded society, to be struck on the right cheek was to be backhanded, in other words, demeaned or shamed. To "turn the other cheek" is to respond with dignity and courage, asking to be assaulted with the open palm of the right hand as a social equal. However we interpret this text, it has powerful implications for those who would call themselves Christian peacemakers.21
There are New Testament texts which are at times used by people within the church to justify violence against others. For example, Acts 4:12 and John 14:6, which state that salvation is found only in Jesus, can be used to erect walls of hostility or justify mean-spirited behavior. Peacemakers find it inappropriate to use scripture in this way. In proclaiming the gospel, peacemakers are called to bless and not demean others. Brethren are willing to link hands with people of many persuasions for peacemaking actions;
Sometimes Jesus' words that there shall be "wars and rumors of war" (Matt. 24:6, Mark 13:7) are cited as reason to go to war or to expect war to bring about global destruction. The point of the text, however, is that people of faith are to live their faith, no matter what conflicts they encounter.
The Romans 13 text instructing believers to obey governmental authorities is often quoted to accuse pacifists who refuse military service of being naive and unscriptural. But Revelation's distrust of government is just as scriptural and as authoritative as the Romans 13 trust of government. Like contemporary teachers and preachers, the authors of scripture addressed believers in certain contexts. Paul wrote the Book of Romans as a Roman citizen at a time when the Roman occupation gave Christians and Jews special governmental protection for freedom of worship. But later, Rome persecuted Christians, and still later, the Holy Roman Empire sent Christian soldiers to war against "enemies" who were often other Christians.22
Sometimes Christians seek assurance in Romans 12:19 that, though we are not permitted to take revenge, God will have retribution. Believers who expect divine wrath to take vengeance should remember Jesus' command to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:44).
Throughout history, great scriptural texts have been used to justify anger, hostility, self-pity, or a desire for power. Interpretation of scripture reflects whatever spirit dwells in its interpreters. Peacemakers who serve God's kingdom of peace are, like Israel's prophets and Jesus, people who speak the truth and resist using scripture to destroy others or justify themselves.
Throughout scripture, peace is God's gift, the fruit of God's work. Those who belong to God and lack power call for peace, as did enslaved Israel; those who belong to God and have power embody peace, as did Jesus. The enslaved rightly call for deliverance, while those already delivered are called to embody God's judgment and serve in restoring creation. We covenant with God when we work with God to redeem, renew, and restore God's "very good" creation (Gen. 1:31). Our covenant with God forbids profiting from others' distress. Peace is life in God's spirit, the same spirit that gave birth to creation and breathed life into the clay we are, that dwelt in Jesus whom Christians know as savior, and that unites in holiness all who live by God's spirit.
In Christ, peacemakers are set free to speak the truth in love while also building up one another according to our needs (Eph. 4:25, 29). The temptation story in Genesis 3 is the story about the corruption of God's plan for peace. The disobedient Adam and Eve lie about their guilt, blaming others to cover their own part in ruining God's plan. In Jesus Christ, God has restored the plan for peace and justice. Insofar as we are the body of Christ, we are representatives of God's peace. Freed from the weight of guilt and brokenness, we can speak boldly for God's peace and deny competing spirits that would lead us away from peace.
The church's history in Jesus Christ is the story of Jesus' resurrection and his real presence in human life in each age. Whoever knows Jesus' resurrection as God's Christ is freed from the fear of death and rule of sin to serve as a minister of God's peace in human history. The church lives in faith, by hope, as God's people--Jesus' risen and living body.
The church is made up of people who believe that Jesus is God's Christ sent to redeem all creation. Our response as Christ's body, therefore, is to join God's work to restore peace. Israel committed itself at Sinai and in circumcision to be God's people and serve God's purposes throughout life. Similarly, the church, with Christ as the head, commits itself in baptism and communion to be members of Jesus' resurrected, living body. Each local worshipping community is called to be a living witness to and embodiment of God's incarnate peacemaking for the renewal of all creation. Whoever abides in Christ (John 15) lives in harmony, in compassion, and full of love (1 Pet. 3:8-18).
Jesus lived God's peace, and so do peacemakers today. We are guided solely by what God did in Jesus. But our daily actions show what we most care about, what spirit breathes in and enlivens us. The story of believing peoples always touches the deepest question in the human struggle: what spirit do we serve? Like humankind in Genesis 1-11 and Israel throughout its history, Christians and the church are torn. We want to be God's people even as we want our own desires. We want peace, yet we want to be the ones who determine the nature of this peace.
We wish to be peacemakers. Just like Israel and Jesus in covenant with God, we are committed by covenant to live for all of God's creation. And we know that when God's image and spirit holds dominion and breathes in human hearts, we and creation are restored from corruption, giving rise to a "new heaven and earth" (Isa. 65:17-25). Scripture refers to a "covenant of peace" (Isa. 54:l0, Ezek. 37:26) in which justice, peace, security, and love are one (Jer. 29:7, Isa. 32:16-18).23
The whole creation, including the neighborhoods where we live and the places where we work, exists under God's rule. Our commitment to live as citizens and servants in God's dominion of peace takes us into the heart of our daily life with our ministry and service. We pray for opportunities to engage with peoples of different congregations, churches, nations, faiths: people whose age, gender, race, sexuality, economics, and politics trouble us. We pray that God will transform our hearts of darkness and free us from the dominion of hostility to which we turn our hearts when we wish our enemies ill. We pray that God will unite us with all whom God loves and that we may learn to love with God's love and treat as family all whom God created.
The Church of the Brethren joins God's work to restore peace to creation. We join ourselves to Jesus Christ in whom we know God's real and powerful presence, a presence able to redeem creation and restore humankind to God's image even beyond death.
We believe that all who are part of the church are members of Christ's body and live under God's rule. As members of Christ's body, we are covenanted to embody God's dominion and kingdom of peace in our policies and judgments, and in our lives and actions. Where God is present among us, we expect outbreaks of peace and justice to erupt among us as they did throughout the story that scripture records, especially in Jesus' life. We pledge ourselves to partake in these holy assaults on the reign of terror to which we humans are subject.
From the beginning, Brethren have proclaimed their allegiance to peace. Therefore, it is not surprising that early in the eighteenth century the newly established Church of the Brethren moved from Germany and Holland to America to escape war and persecution.1 Alexander Mack stated firmly, "No [Ana]Baptist will be found in war."2 A petition to the Colonial Assembly in Pennsylvania, where the Brethren found refuge in William Penn's "Holy Experiment," stated, "We find no freedom in giving, doing or assisting in anything by which men's lives are destroyed or hurt."3 An early Annual Conference decision prohibited substitutes for military service and supported the nonpayment of taxes when this was done for conscience' sake.4
In mid-nineteenth century, a Conference statement required all applicants for church membership to accept the non-resistant position of the church.5 This had apparently been the general practice for a number of years.
The early years of the twentieth century produced various peace efforts. Peace was addressed in a publication entitled "The Brethren's Tracts and Pamphlets," stating, "The doctrine of non-resistance is a fundamental doctrine of the Christian religion."6 A Peace Committee was formed to promote peace education and "to use every lawful gospel means in bringing about peaceful settlements of difficulties when such may arise between governments or societies."7 Peace Resolutions of 1915(8) were followed by the declaration in 1918: "War is wrong."9 In spite of this activity, however, the church had no clear position on peace for its members during World War I.10
In the early 1930s, the church's opposition to war became an ethical issue as well as a biblical one when a Conference resolution asserted that the whole war system was wrong.11 This resolution moved members to request alternative service in the event of war and ignited interest in the role of the church as provider of neutral relief.12 Finally, in 1935, the church declared that "All war is sin,"13 a statement which was conveyed to President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull14 as war clouds gathered in Europe. About the same time, a comprehensive Peace Action program was prepared by the church's Department of Christian Education.15
Following World War II, Brethren continued to issue declarations on peace. A statement prepared in 1951 declared:
"We believe that Christ's teaching and his death upon the cross provide clear guidance for a refusal to participate in war. But we recognize that merely to refuse to kill does not reflect the whole essence of Christ's example of redemptive love. Jesus' teaching on non-resistance was only the reverse side of a positive way of life which Christians must follow. Our lives are to be transformed. We are to leave behind the old way and venture on the new paths which he pointed out. Even the most painstaking righteousness of the old law must be transcended by the gospel of love."16
Annual Conference made more than a dozen statements on peace following World War II. The paper "Church of the Brethren and War" was first accepted in 1948 and was revised in 1970. It encourages members to "not participate in war, learn the art of war, or support war" and recommends that draft-age youth consider conscientious objection or nonviolent non-cooperation with the system of conscription. It states:
"We believe that (commitment to Jesus Christ) leads to the way of love and of nonviolence as a central principle of Christian conduct, knowing full well that, in so doing, violence may fall upon us as it did upon Jesus."17
The Church has grown in its understanding of the complexity of violence beyond its manifestation in war. Economic, spiritual, emotional and physical violence are a part of the society in which we live. In 1938 Annual Conference resolutions applied the peace principal to industrial and labor situations.18 This awareness was further expressed in the 1977 Annual Conference paper "The Church's Responsibility for Justice and Nonviolence," which stated:
"We cannot retreat from the world... We must become aware of the rampant injustice and subtle hidden violence in today's world, examine our own involvement, and identify nonviolently with the oppressed and suffering... We look toward a future that will be more peaceful, just, and respectful of God's creation."19
Translating our peace convictions into action led Brethren to change our commitment from non-resistance to active nonviolence. In early years, expressing our beliefs often meant submitting non-violently to persecution. For instance, support of Quaker policies in the Pennsylvania Assembly and refusal to aid the colonies' war effort led to severe harassment during the Revolution. Policies and practices of the church during the Civil War were inconsistent, but many Brethren, especially in the South, experienced great hardship in trying to live by their belief in non-resistance.
Brethren have always been noted for helping each other in times of stress. After World War I congregations addressed problems of rural communities through assistance to young farmers. Relief and reconciliation efforts relating to other groups gained interest in 1919 when the church sent more than $260,000 to Christians in Armenia. Relief work in Spain and China in 1937-38 led to Dan West's vision of the program that became Heifer Project International, Inc. These gestures represent a shift to an active style of peacemaking that enriches our traditional stance of non-resistance.
Then, in the late 1920s, peace oratorical contests were popular. Peace caravans were active in 1930 and again in the late 1940s and in 1979-80. One Hundred Dunkers for Peace, organized by Dan West to be the "moral equivalent of war," created a climate for stronger participation in political and social action and helped to lay groundwork for Brethren Volunteer Service.
During the early 1940s, in the midst of wartime hysteria, Brethren pioneered in the resettlement of Americans of Japanese ancestry who were interned in U.S. evacuation camps during World War 11.
The Brethren Service Committee (later the Brethren Service Commission) was formed in 1939, and became a major focus of denominational life throughout and following World War II. Particularly noteworthy projects were developed in Germany, Greece, Italy, and China. Activities including reconstruction, material relief, international work camps, and refugee resettlement promoted good will and reconciliation.
Even so, M. R. Zigler wrote movingly of the difficulties of healing whole societies after the war:
"Reconciliation often took place in silence. There were no words in the language to express the anguish of those served, or the humiliation of these who had come out of a land of abundance into a devastated land... It was not until the sincerity of the giver was transparent that Christian reconciliation took place."
Reconciling services persisted, however, and in 1948 the formal program named Brethren Volunteer Service was established supporting projects in the United States and overseas. The program later expanded to provide alternative service for conscientious objectors and to accept adults and people from other countries as volunteers. In recent years, volunteers have been involved in reconciliation efforts in Northern Ireland, Latin America, and the Middle East. Thousands of today's Brethren point to their BVS experiences as turning points in their lives.
Other Brethren peace organizations sprang up after World War II. Brethren Action Movement was a focus for action and resistance during the Vietnam War years. Brethren Peace Fellowship publishes a monthly newsletter, holds conferences, and recognizes outstanding workers for peace in the church. On Earth Peace has funded publications, holds semiannual assemblies on peace issues, and sponsors peace education for youth.
Annual Conference has supported non-resistance, conscientious objection, non-cooperation, civil disobedience, political action and protest as a part of the witness of the Church of the Brethren members in opposing the political and military structures that make war seem necessary and normal.
Over time, the church grew in its understanding of peace. Peace is not only the opposite of war, it is the presence of justice in a world where pervasive and systemic injustice prohibits peace. An Annual Conference resolution in 1983 recognized the relation of peace and justice, giving support to Brethren congregations that declared themselves sanctuaries for Central American refugees and assisted in resettling them. In another action, the church issued a statement in 1986 opposing the investiture of funds in companies doing business in South Africa where the government practiced apartheid.
The church has even devised programs to address conflict within the church itself. They include the Ministry of Reconciliation and activities of district and local discipleship and reconciliation teams.
Although in 1875 Brethren refused to cooperate with the Peace Association, they began to participate with Friends and Mennonites in various peace conferences following World War I. Before World War II, these denominations joined with others to form the National Service Board for Religious Objectors. During the war they established and administered fourteen Civilian Public Service camps at a cost of two million dollars. This required enormous cooperation of church and government as well as huge resources from these small denominations.
In 1976 Brethren and Mennonites joined the Friends in New Call to Peacemaking, which sponsored several conferences to "explore actively the implications of peacemaking in the contemporary world."
The "historic peace churches" also worked with the International Fellowship of Reconciliation on the international scene. Beginning in 1955, a series of "Puidoux" conferences influenced European churches and governments to provide for conscientious objectors. Brethren also played a crucial role in the Eirene program that emerged from these conferences and that is still actively offering alternatives to military service in Many countries. W. Harold Row cultivated other contacts in the Russian Orthodox Church, resulting in exchanges (1963 and 1967) and peace seminars (1969 and 1971). In addition, the Church of the Brethren is recognized as having strongly influenced peace thinking and action in the World Council of Churches. Beginning with M. R. Zigler and followed by other equally committed delegates, the peace consciousness of the world body has been sharpened and deepened by Brethren representatives.
The Church of the Brethren has given some of its most successful programs their independence for greater effectiveness in the wider community. These include CROP, Heifer Project International, Inc., and high school student exchange programs, which became International Christian Youth Exchange. The church was also instrumental in the development and administration of Church World Service.
The denomination continues to administer programs for the ecumenical community such as SERRV (Sales Exchange for Refugee Rehabilitation Vocations), Interchurch Medical Assistance, Brethren Volunteer Service and Disaster Child Care Services.
The Church of the Brethren has often not lived up to its professions of a commitment to peace. The "schisms" of the late nineteenth century are stark evidence of an inability to remain in harmony in the face of differing convictions in the church.
In the 20th century, the church had not adequately prepared its young people to understand the church's teaching on war and peace as this nation became involved in numerous wars. There have been many other times we have failed to live out our peace witness. In these and other instances, we trust in the power of God's grace and look forward to our renewal and transformation by God's spirit.
Christ calls each of us to make peace. Peace is a state we seek in ourselves and a quality we look for in our relationships. To make peace requires action and an openness to God's design for the world. Since so many areas influence our lives, persons can be actively making peace and not even know it. In the same way, they can unconsciously contribute to physical, spiritual, and emotional violence.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (John 14:27).
Searching to be "at peace," we wish for a sense of wholeness and understanding, an inner strength and quietness that allows us to open ourselves to helping others. True inner peace gives us strength and power to move outward in witness to our faith.
Often, though, we sense inner grief, brokenness, and loneliness. While the depth of our depression and pain may vary, some sense of incompleteness is almost constant. This lack of wholeness is inevitable because we participate in the world and are vulnerable to its pressures and violence. At times, we may simply want to isolate ourselves from the pain around us. However, we cannot escape the world and still be true to the Christian commandment to love one another.
The Church of the Brethren's focus on serving others is particularly strong, so much so that we often feel uncomfortable thinking and caring for ourselves. Yet Christ calls us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, signifying that one builds on the other. As we work for our neighbor's good, we need a sense of inner peace and focus on God for our own strength and spiritual nourishment.
Making peace inside ourselves requires care, growth, and a clear sense of the self's strengths and vulnerabilities. Payer, study, reflection, and celebration help us to understand, appreciate, and build upon the strengths within us. Physical health also contributes to vitality in body and spirit; caring for our bodies is a form of peacemaking when it strengthens us for our witness in the world. Inner peacemaking should empower us to engage with our environment for its renewal.
Fostering peace within is not a task we do alone We seek the nurture and support of family, friends, and the church as we work for personal and world peace. Most importantly, we are blessed by the source of all peace. We gain strength from the knowledge of God's presence and love and renew our own inner strength and focus through worship and prayer.
He said to him, "You shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 22:37-39).
Our sensitivity to ourselves and the peace within makes us all the more aware of the conflict and violence that surround and involve us daily. In our families, among friends and co-workers, in church and community, we experience differences of opinion, working style, spirituality, and power that sometimes generate emotional and even physical upheaval. Such disagreements between persons can cause relationships to suffer, or end.
Our impressions of conflict are primarily negative. Our faith characterizes brokenness as a sin. For many of us, "love your neighbor as yourself" means that we should always live in harmony and celebrate our unity in Christ. In families, churches and other groups, a lack of disagreement is seen as a sign of wholeness and health. Conversely, brokenness and pain in interpersonal relationships are viewed many times as a breakdown in faith, a sign of dysfunction in the church, family, or community.
Frequently our human and Christian reaction is to avoid facing the disagreement in order to "keep the peace." Yet to avoid the conflict is not to make peace. To cover pain and brokenness does not solve the problem. Avoidance only hides pain under the surface of relationships where it may fester and grow to explode later more damaging than before.
In its most positive sense, conflict is a sign of the diversity and strength of God's creation. The environment is enlivened by a myriad of forces and species which work together for the perpetuation of the planet. Humans have also been given a wide variety of gifts, which in Christ come together to form one body of faith (1 Cor. 12:4-13). Differences and the effort to make the parts work together make the body of Christ stronger. Conflict is inevitable in such diversity, but conflict also serves as an impetus for change, and with God's spirit guiding us, the process of reconciliation is healthy and energizes us and our relationships.
Interpersonal peacemaking is a faithful response to conflict in our lives. Scripture teaches that if we have done something wrong in the eyes of another, we are to go and be reconciled with our brother or sister (Matt. 5.23-24). If someone has done something to us that we perceive as wrong, we are not to shrug it off, to forgive immediately, to ignore or avoid the problem. We are to go to that person to be reconciled (Matt. 18:15-17). Our responsibility as people of God is to be active in our reconciliation--to approach, to talk, to listen. We are "to speak the truth in love" in such a way that it is helpful and edifying for those who hear (Eph. 4:23, 29). A faithful community is one in which the transformation of conflict into solutions and a deeper appreciation of individual differences is possible, not one in which conflict resolution is not needed.
Some of us are faced with very personal and even severe violence in which peacemaking seems almost impossible. For instance, physical and sexual abuse within the family are serious forms of violence that face people in our churches as well as in our world. To resolve such brokenness requires effort from the community as a whole. The victim of violence needs clear and constant support and assistance, as does the abuser.
Every Christian is called by God to be a peacemaker. Some Brethren are called by the church to positions with special responsibilities for peacemaking in the denomination. Persons with responsibility in churches, districts, denominational offices and educational institutions have a special call to work for the health and growth of the church.
To consciously face brokenness in relationships is very difficult. We become vulnerable. Yet to expose the pain of these situations is to follow in the spirit of God. After all, God's response to human violence was to become vulnerable to human violence in Christ. Likewise, peacemakers follow the spirit of God in approaching conflict with a reconciling spirit and genuine humility.
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are (1 Cor. 1:27-28).
Each of us, as a member of God's worldwide family, has a responsibility to be a peacemaker in the national and international community. In previous statements, the Church of the Brethren has encouraged individual members to respond faithfully and peacefully to the many forms of violence present in our world.
We consider God's call to the Church of the Brethren in today's world to be the call to every Christian. We understand that God wants us to nurture peace and justice in our world in ways which respect and seek the fulfillment of human life; which demonstrate care for the creation; which affirm God's love for all people; which offer a prophetic challenge to unjust or violent human institutions; and which reveal our own love even for our enemies. In particular, when called upon to participate in warfare, Brethren should heed the words of the New Testament and the example of Christ in refusing to take part in the destruction of human life. Instead, the church should teach the way of conscientious objection and support those who choose it. This is the way of Christ.
As we become involved in peacemaking, we may see tension between the collective conscience of the church and an individual's belief and actions. While we understand that decision-making is best done in the context of the church community, we also believe that an individual must ultimately make his or her own decisions. We are not to judge others for or force them to act against their most deeply held beliefs.
It may seem that we create conflict in the quest for peace and justice when we raise issues that are emotionally charged or that question time-honored traditions. Wanting to be peacemakers, we are not eager to make trouble. We must search for ways to solve structural problems without creating unnecessary emotional or political distress. However, a peacemaker does not invent injustice but strips away the layers that protect it and brings the source of injustice to the surface. True peace can only be found through recognizing the source of injustice. Constructive conflict is a willingness to confront problems for the sake of God's peace.
We hear the cries of victims of violence daily. As people of faith, we are called by God to respond. We are called to be peacemakers to restore God's plan for peace within God's creation.
We call individuals searching to peacemakers in their daily lives to:
...For he is our peace, who has made us both one. . . . (Eph. 2:14).
The Church of the Brethren understands that the fellowship of believers is itself a gift of God in Christ Jesus. Because of Christ's death on behalf of all people, the walls that separate people from each other and from God have been broken down. In their place is the possibility of a fellowship where people of different gifts, perspectives, and backgrounds can come together in one body. The congregation becomes a place where people may experience with one another the peace that comes from God's reconciling love made real in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Even as Brethren have been reconciled to one another through Christ, congregational life does not always bring the people within it to experience God's peace. God's peace is often at risk within the church. Therefore, congregations must nurture God's peace among their members through earnest prayer, forgiving love and faithful attention to God's reconciling work in Christ Jesus.
The congregation becomes a community of God's peace when persons within it love and accept one another. This relationship is modeled after the loving acceptance extended by Jesus to persons of all backgrounds, including those who were despised or rejected. The ministry of the Apostle Paul among the Gentiles also demonstrated the inclusive nature of Christian community.
Christian acceptance does not deny the need for conversion or dismiss the need for accountability. It simply means that the most basic bond between Christians in a congregation is that of unconditional love, a love that can bridge even the most divisive issues within the community of faith. This love for one another is both the distinguishing mark of the Christian church and the beginning of its peace testimony.
Because of this love for one another, Christians are not content to live in hostility with each other or to deal with conflict in ways that are demeaning or destructive. Congregations are called to be willing and able to face and handle conflict in healthy and constructive ways. Indeed, this requires both will and ability. The will to be reconciled springs both from a recognition that humanity's conflict with its Creator has been reconciled through Jesus, and from Jesus' desire for the church to be one. The ability for resolving conflict arises both from biblical instruction such as Matthew 18 and from specific training in conflict resolution.
As well as dealing with conflict when it arises, congregations should be aware of areas in congregational life that give rise to brokenness. Congregations can reduce the likelihood for conflict by paying attention to how decisions are made, to whether certain individuals or groups exercise too much power, to how leaders are chosen, to whether members are allowed to disagree without being condemned, and to whether there are ways to have dialogue between pastors and the congregation. Pastors, deacons, and other congregational care-givers should also be trained to recognize and respond to domestic violence between members of the church.
Christian peace education should be directed toward every segment of the congregation, especially toward people who want to join the church and to youth as they prepare to make significant life commitments. These emphases should not, however, curtail the teaching of Christian peacemaking at every age level and in every appropriate context.
Pastors and other people with gifts for prophetic discernment of the times are called to be forthright in speaking God's truth in the congregation. The prophetic word is most effectively spoken by people with a humble awareness of their own humanity, and whose lives clearly reveal their Christian love for other members of the congregation.
Living as a community of God's peace is vital to the spiritual life of the congregation. To be at peace with God and with others, while nurturing a vision of world peace and justice, is at the heart of the experience of Christian community.
Blessed are the peacemakers.... (Matt. 5:9).
Certainly the congregation will bear witness to the peace of God in Christ by its life together. Yet God also calls the congregation to extend its peace witness beyond the church into the social, economic, and political spheres of the wider community. This broader view of peacemaking has its roots in both the biblical concern for the stranger, the sojourner, the poor and the oppressed, and in the New Testament teachings of love for enemies and the call to radical discipleship. This call places all areas of a believer's life under the Lordship of Christ.
It is vital that the peacemaking congregation challenge its members to recognize and embrace their calling as a set-apart community of Christ's disciples. This set-apartness does not entail, primarily, a physical separation from the world, but a realization that this community orders its life around obedience to Christ. Therefore, from the perspective of the Christian community, many of the prevailing notions of society are called into question. For instance, the Christian congregation will question popular definitions of citizenship that assume blind obedience to the state. It will question the idea that wealth for a few is a blessing while social structures that guarantee poverty for others are left in place. It will question priorities that place political and military considerations above the value of human life. It will question the idea that military strength brings security, instead finding security in faith in God.
Along with this different vision of life, Brethren congregations should encourage their members to create alternatives to the consumption-oriented way of living in our society. The desire for material prosperity is often at the root of the conflicts in which our country is involved. In following Christ toward a life of simplicity and sharing, Brethren can do their part to remove the motives of those who would go to war or oppress other peoples for the sake of a high standard of living.
The local community should be the first arena of this broader effort at peacemaking. As the church lives its peace witness in relation to the world around it, Brethren congregations have much to offer their neighbors in the area of peacemaking. This may take the form of congregational members bringing their commitment to peace, justice, and conflict resolution with them as they relate to local government, schools, businesses, and organizations. Congregations can promote programs on peace concerns to the community. Brethren congregations located in areas which are characterized by racial or ethnic tension, gang violence or other forms of social unrest have a special challenge as peacemakers. Their role as communities of God's peace may include serving as a haven for victims of violence; becoming treatment centers for persons in search of health and reconciliation; or raising prophetic voices that challenge injustice.
For Brethren, the peace witness of the church and its evangelistic efforts can go hand in hand. The proclamation of the Christian gospel must include the call to love our enemies and to be reconciled with one another. By inviting people around us to participate in Christ's peaceable reign, Brethren congregations affirm the gospel and offer opportunities for their neighbors to experience a new, Christ-centered way of life. Many people in our communities long for a faith experience that includes a proclamation of peace, justice, and concern for human dignity.
In time of war, congregations are encouraged to engage in both prophetic and pastoral ministries. Prophetically, the church may make its witness through the sponsorship of prayer vigils, letter-writing campaigns, public witness opportunities, and other means of nonviolent testimony. Pastorally, the congregation and its leadership can consider offering worship services, counseling and other kinds of support for conscientious objectors, and support groups for families affected by the war. There is also a need for congregations to find ways to facilitate discussion among members of the congregation and the community who have differing points of view in times of war or other such crisis.
Opportunities abound for Brethren congregations to serve as salt, light, and leaven in their local communities. While serving as this model, Brethren should not forget that they themselves often stand to benefit from the same programs of peace and reconciliation which they offer to persons around them. We are best positioned to minister to others as we confess our own need for healing and for courage in the face of adversity.
Beyond their local witness, Brethren congregations are called to speak, speak out with regard to national policies when these policies either strongly affirm or clearly deny God's peaceful purposes for humankind and the creation. Whatever responses are made to the government, it is appropriate that these be set in the context of prayer and an affirmation of the Christian faith. When these responses take the form of a prophetic voice in opposition to governmental policies, they may consist of the creation of alternative, life-enhancing ministries, or of nonviolent objection to governmental programs or policies. In all responses, it should be clear that while the Christian church desires to be subject to the government of the land, it finally answers to the higher law of love as revealed by God in Christ Jesus.
Even as the congregation is alert to the policies and practices of its own government, it also seeks to concern itself, when appropriate, with matters affecting God's children at any point around the globe. Congregations are also called to find ways to be at peace with God's creation, moving from domination and abuse of the environment to faithful stewardship of God's world.
As a consequence of making a prophetic witness, members of the congregation may suffer economic hardship or be led to actions of civil disobedience which are consistent with our faith. For other members of the church, and for the opportunity to share the burdens of discipleship, including offering spiritual comfort and economic support.
Church of the Brethren congregations can effectively and faithfully witness to the peace of God in Christ. They can nurture peace among their own members by creating Christian communities of love, acceptance, and salvation. As they bear witness to peace, congregations can serve as a prophetic, yet compassionate presence in the midst of a world often characterized by violence and injustice.
In order to enhance their peacemaking efforts among and beyond their membership, congregations are encouraged to:
The first social task of the church is to be the church, to proclaim God's good creation. The church is not meant to be separated from the world in an attempt to insulate itself from earthly problems. Rather the church should develop the vitality, leadership, and resources to stand within the world proclaiming, exemplifying, and vigorously working for the gospel of peace with justice. It is through worship, nurture and witness that the church knows and mediates the peace of Christ in the world, truly breaking down today's dividing walls of hostility (Eph. 2:14).
The Church of the Brethren, in order to more fully realize its calling to mediate Christ's peace in the world, will seek to assist its members and congregations in the following ways:
Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength, worship the Lord in holy splendor. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace! (Psa. 29:1, 2, 11).
In worship the people of God discover and celebrate the mighty, loving, and reconciling acts of God in the midst of the injustice, conflict, and violence of our world. In worship and prayer the church affirms the oneness of all people and the need for God's grace and peace. Through worship believers are challenged, strengthened, and empowered to join the struggle for peace with justice. Worship nurtures a vision of a more peaceable global community and quickens hopes for their realization. Worship, prayer, and peacemaking are inseparable.
Therefore, the Church of the Brethren will demonstrate the priority of peace in worship at its national, district, and local meetings. The church will provide worship leadership resources for individuals and congregations, creatively incorporating peace concerns into worship through:
Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! (Luke 19:42).
The faithful must be equipped for their mission of peacemaking. Of primary importance is the biblical and theological study of peacemaking: how God acts in our midst and how people and the church can be instruments of God's peace in our world. Also of critical importance is the study of contemporary issues that confront our global community. Such understanding can help us to see the world more clearly. Looking past our own experience, we will encounter new knowledge for Christian decisionmaking, advocacy, and action.
Therefore, through its national, district, and local programs, the Church of the Brethren shall:
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns" (Isa. 52:7).
To witness for peace is to share and declare the good tidings of peace. But within the context of the New Testament the Greek word for witness, martus, underwent a transition in meaning from "those who tell what they have seen'' to ''those who die for their convictions." In the life of Jesus and the early church, witness moved beyond simple proclamation to include feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, prophetically speaking truth to the principalities and powers, and resisting the injustices and oppression of this world even unto the death of the cross or the arena. The church's witness for peace, then, is costly and often criticized.
A faithful peace witness today on the part of the church will require biblical non-resistance, prophetic declarations, unpopular actions, peace service (standing with the oppressed and serving their need), and public policy advocacy. This witness is often most effective when done ecumenically and in league with other Christian and interreligious partners.
"...they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; national shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (Isa. 2:4).
In the tradition of Moses to Malachi, prophetic proclamation and action has been a distinctive part of our heritage. The prophetic, whether a word of judgment, a cry of anguish, a symbolic act of resistance or defiance, a confession, or a vision of hope and promise, always presupposes that Yahweh is active in our time. Jesus, our prophet, modeled the prophetic in the way he taught, preached, and performed miracles. Paul proclaimed this prophetic tradition as the inheritance of the church, seeing it as one of God's greatest gifts to the church and ranking the prophet second only to an apostle in honor and importance in its life (1 Cor. 12:28-29).
It is to this prophetic tradition that the Church of the Brethren aspires in its proclamations and actions for peace with justice as it:
His state was divine, yet He did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are; and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even accepting death, death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8, JB).
Isaiah envisioned the Messiah who was to come as a suffering servant. When Jesus came preaching peace he came not as a member of the privileged class or as one wielding political power. Jesus, in fact, called those who exercise power and authority to be servants. By his own words and example Jesus was among us "as one who serves" (Luke 22:24 ff).
In the parable about the last judgment (Matt. 25:31-46), it was this same Jesus who gave his blessing of eternal life to those who served in a hungry, thirsty, estranged, ill-clothed and manacled world. The Bible makes servanthood a model of the ideal Christian life and integral to a just and peaceful world.
The Church of the Brethren has cherished the symbol of the towel and basin, and maintains that sharing and serving ministries are critical to a just and peaceful world. Therefore, the denomination shall:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19).
Christ enraged his listeners by claiming Isaiah's prophecy for his own ministry. And today Christ calls all to radical discipleship. The gospel has a political dimension. Christians should be engaged in the politics of the kingdom which finds its power in love and service and which unmasks the inadequacy of all politics based on coercion, deception, and falsehood.
In the face of grave injustices, we are tempted to secure justice and peace through the barrel of a gun. Yet God did not choose to rule through coercion but through a cross. Our human understanding of what is most effective to secure peace and justice is overruled at times by the requirements of privileged status in the midst of poverty and injustice has often misled us to think of the gospel as an apolitical account of individual salvation. Instead, the good news enlists all followers of the Prince of Peace in the formation of a new global community where justice and peace prevail.
The church and Christians are called by God to witness to the gospel of peace with such intensity that nations repent and history is changed. Less than a radical witness can only lead us to accept idols of materialism, personal and national security at the expense of justice, blind nationalism, the glorification of military strength, and dependence on technological solutions for human problems.
Therefore, the Church of the Brethren shall:
Spare no effort to make fast with bonds of peace the unity which the Spirit gives. There is one body and one Spirit, as there is also one hope held out in God's call to you... (Eph. 4:3-4 NEB).
Unity and peace are inseparable! At the very center of the concept of biblical shalom is cosmic wholeness and harmony. Shalom refers to God's peace, the intended order and unity of creation-a harmony of nature as well as of humanity. It is God's intention that all creation be unified. In unity each is a member of God's family with special responsibility for the care and protection of all that God has made.
In stark contrast to God's vision of shalom, however, stands not only the violence of war, nationalism, racism, and sexism. Divided Christian families, interreligious hostilities, conflicting claims to truth also separate God's people. Christ has not always been our peace "breaking down the(se) dividing walls of hostility" (Eph. 2:12-15). The Church of the Brethren confesses its complicity in this fragmentation of the Body of Christ. We have been unwilling to hear and learn from other religious traditions or to affirm their contributions.
Therefore, the Church shall:
Finally, a word of hope. Even in times of hopelessness, God still wills wholeness and unity for God's people. Jeremiah writes, "I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare (shalom) and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope" (Jer. 29:10-11). Shalom includes God's promise that the reign of God will usher in a new age. It is the vision and hope of shalom in the here and now, like the passage from Leviticus 26:4-6:
Then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. And your threshing shall last until the time of vintage and the vintage shall last until the time for sowing; and you shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land securely. And I will give peace (shalom) in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid; and I will remove evil beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land.
This is the promise, the word, of the Lord!
At the heart of Church of the Brethren life is a commitment both to live within God's peace and to be peacemakers. This commitment to experiencing and sharing God's peace is rooted in our understanding of God as revealed in the Bible: in the Old Testament as it affirms the blessing and harmony God intends for the creation, and in the New Testament as the Son of God calls his followers to enter into and to witness to the peace of God.
This concern for peacemaking is a thread running through Brethren history. It has often taken the shape of nonparticipation in warfare. It has also moved the church into ministries of service and justice in response both to the causes and results of conflict. Brethren leaders and members have been prophetic and persistent in bearing witness to their biblical peace testimony in their communities, their nation, their world, and in the wider Christian church.
Brethren affirm that peace with God, with themselves, with others, and with the creation can not be separated. Together they are essential for the fullness of life that God intends. Brethren understand that war, interpersonal violence, environmental degradation, and injustice stymie this fullness of life. Therefore, members of the church refrain from the support of any kind of violence and are called to live within God's peace and to learn the arts of making peace, caring for the creation and establishing justice.
Congregations must take the initiative to integrate peacemaking fully into the life of their church communities. Attention should be given to the ways in which members relate to one another, to the means provided for nurturing a commitment to peacemaking, and to the manner in which the congregation embodies and witnesses to peace and conflict resolution in the larger community.
The denomination as a whole has a responsibility to integrate a concern for peace and justice into the entire structure of its life and into its witness to the larger church and the world. This can be done through corporate worship; the development of study and spiritual growth resources; the calling forth of leadership; and prophetic, service and political advocacy ministries.
For its own spiritual health and for the healing of the world, the Church of the Brethren is called to renew its commitment to biblical peacemaking. This is a gift that has been entrusted to the denomination by the Lord of history. Faithful stewardship of this gift requires that it be shared in history through the life, ministries and testimony of the denomination, its congregations and all its members.
God has called us, Jesus Christ goes before us, the Holy Spirit would empower us. Let us be God's peaceful and peacemaking people!
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Annual Conference Statements:
Approved by general Board, March 4, 1991, to be recommended to the 1991 Annual Conference.
J. Joan Hershey, Chair
Donald E. Miller, General Secretary
Action of the 1991 Annual Conference: The report from the General Board study committee on PEACEMAKING" THE CALLING OF GOD'S PEOPLE IN HISTORY was presented by Joan Hershey, chair, and David Radcliff, staff. The report was adopted with twenty-three (23) changes from the General Board study committee and one (1) amendment by the delegate body, all of which have been incorporated in the wording of the preceding text.