To live and die for

Nonviolent work isn't accessible to all in the church

Jun 20, 2016 by

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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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  • Matt Landis

    Thanks for the interesting article. I agree that a proactive ministry of reconciliation will create a vigorous community of caring.

    It’s interesting how this article combines unassimilated (Plain Compassion/Merle Weaver) and assimilated Mennonites (an urban Mennonite church) in one article. Unassimilated (aka conservative/plain) Mennonites would consider going into the Marines as entirely unacceptable behavior for a Christian trying to follow the example of Jesus. (as you do) At the same time they would attempt to build communities that provide a network of caring (for people of all races) that provides emergency financial assistance if needed, but likely more fundamentally and more importantly, a concrete social community that is cohesive & strong enough that it enables them to “get a start” so that emergency financial assistance is far less often needed. My observation is that young people from unassimilated Anabaptist groups already have jobs and are getting established financially when they volunteer for service like Plain Compassion or a host of other opportunities as you note.

    I say this all to note that the unassimilated Anabaptist posture is a radical community that does not conform to dominant cultural expectations to be a fundamentally different kind of community in which finances, education, social relations, etc are oriented towards being a community of peace & reconciliation at its heart. (from the foundation up) Being conformed to dominant cultural expectations around finance,education,the state,etc with “peace” as an “addon feature” seems to fall short of the transformed communities/world both Paul & Jesus and (as you note) not a deep enough difference to be an powerful alternative Kingdom to the State. In short, States increasingly offer a comprehensive vision with “peace through strength” at its heart, but too many churches do not offer a comprehensive community vision with the Cross at its heart.

    Thanks for the challenge to be communities with a comprehensive vision.

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