by Terry M. Smith
At the time of this writing (started on Jan. 7) the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Iraq by the U.S. has led to serious tensions among these three countries in particular and stress felt by more of the world. It’s a time for prayer and actions toward peace.
In the tension, part of the EMC Statement of Faith remains challenging: “As Christians committed to love and nonviolence, we may not participate in or support anything that will violate this life of peace. We should do whatever we can to lessen human distress and suffering, even at the risk of our own lives. In all relationships, we should be peace makers and ministers of reconciliation” (The Constitution, p. 11). How do we apply this today?
How do our beliefs and practices provide a framework as we respond to the killing and the potential for a wider conflict?
What does it mean when Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (Matt. 5:8)? Is peacemaking a passive or an active activity? Put another way, is it to be quiet or prophetic? In my view, we can pray quietly for governments, people, and peace; and we can be prophetic in our actions. There is a place for governments to hear of our concerns for peace and justice (see the Book of Amos) and that on any side the personal egos of politicians and an arms race are unhelpful.
When it comes to its official stance of pacifism, the EMC has not faced a serious test since 1945 when its KG leaders, members, and non-members faced military conscription. For three-quarters of a century Canada has relied upon a volunteer army and, as a result, generations of Anabaptist leaders and members were spared being called before a military tribunal to give evidence that their pacifism existed in more than words and was motivated by more than convenience.
Seventy-five years after World War Two is pacifism in some EMC circles treasured as an Anabaptist distinctive, dusted off occasionally, yet seated on a shelf? One wonders. What do our personal responses to the killing of the Iranian general, and what has happened since, indicate to us about the pursuit of peace within the EMC today?
In 2005 an EMC survey of some of our leaders and members revealed that most who responded did not see pacifism as a test for membership in an EMC church; in their view, a belief in pacifism was not needed to become a church member. (This did not mean that these leaders and members thought the officially pacifist stance of the EMC should be changed.) Dr. Ron Sider, who spoke at our EMC convention in 2006, said then that “hundreds, even thousands” of believers should serve on Christian Peacemaker Teams (TM Sept. 20, 2006, 6).
Currently, members in EMC circles hold various views on peace and war, yet it doesn’t take a full pacifist opposed to Christian participation in any and every war to be concerned about what is happening in much of the world. Some countries are testing new weapons. The nuclear weapons non-proliferation treaty seems to be tattered at the edges. A few countries with nuclear weapons seek to deny them to others without acknowledging their double-standard (no country should have such weapons, in my view). Too many countries are engaged in conflict internally or with other nations on various levels.
“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). What does the pursuit of peace mean today?