by Berry Friesen
I’ve been reading Wrestling with the Text; Young Adult Perspectives on Scriptures (Cascadia Publishing House, 2007), a collection of well-written essays by members of the Millennial Generation, most of whom were raised in Mennonite families. I’ve noticed several things relevant to war and peace.
Most of the writers assume Mennonites do not participate in the military. This is spoken of as sociological fact and without much energy. Like any cultural artifact, it is what it is.
Most think of peacemaking as local activity in which people encounter one another face-to-face. Some have actively participated in such efforts. The change-the-government paradigm isn’t on the radar.
All comfortably engage in structural analysis related to social inequality: sexism, racism, restrictions on migration, heterosexism and lack of economic opportunity. Cross-cutting analysis using concepts such as empire and deception doesn’t appear in these essays, probably because the writers perceived such to be outside the scope of an essay focused on the Bible.
Nearly all regard the Bible as important, but not authoritative. Thus, the authors maintain a dialogue with biblical texts, especially around truth claims related to God and the interplay between ethical teachings and equity. They are less engaged by what the Bible says about war and peace.
A second text that provides insight into how Millennials think about war and peace is the Shenandoah Confession, a statement styled after the 1527 Schleitheim and 1632 Dordrecht confessions and focused almost entirely on peace. It was adopted earlier this year by college students who gathered at EMU under the auspices of the Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship. Again, I offer these observations.
The statement is built on the faithful witness of Jesus. It affirms “there can be no higher calling than the gospel call to nonviolent action” and confesses “peace to be the vocation of all things.”
Like the essays above, it reflects concern for human equality and economic justice. But because it speaks the language of faith more than sociology, it seems to hold more promise for creating a social movement of broadly focused activists, which I take to be one of its purposes.
It also appears to understand peacemaking as primarily local, face-to-face activity. It makes one passing reference to government policy but that seems incidental.
It says nothing about empire or the layers of media deception that support empire’s moral narrative, a surprising omission given the emphasis in the Schleitheim and Dordrecht statements on entrenched evil.
With the acceleration of climate change, many observers expect mass violence related to competition for natural resources and livable habitat to increase. While this may not personally affect residents of the U.S. for the next decade or two, it already is impacting the wider world and will require renewed struggle with the imperial claim that violence is a necessary part of the pursuit of peace and justice.
Members of the Millennial Generation will begin leading the church during this time of crisis. I’m encouraged by what I see in these two documents, especially the Confession. How can we let it speak to us – and we to one another — about peace?