Prince of Peace’s troops

We gird for battle without the world's weapons

Feb 26, 2018 by

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President Trump wanted a military parade. Were the troops and the brass eager to strike up a band? “I used to watch them in Bulgaria,” tweeted retired Gen. Michael Hayden, implying a dim view of such spectacles. The United States doesn’t need to show off its missiles. Everyone knows who’s got the most firepower.

The impulse to order up a parade might have revealed more about the president’s needs than the military’s. It also called attention to concerns about militarization and national priorities, the place of the armed forces in American life and, for nonresistant Christians, reminded us of the importance of our witness in a culture that celebrates the myth of redemptive violence.

A parade would fit with the president’s military inclinations, which are evident in his threats of war with North Korea, calling for expansion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and promising “one of the greatest military buildups in history.” To honor those who have sacrificed for their country, the estimated $10 million to $30 million cost of a parade could be spent far more effectively on care for veterans with troubled minds and broken bodies.

Among those who might welcome a parade are military recruiters. A gleaming display of uniforms and weaponry could make a compelling advertisement for the armed forces. Some officials lament a loss of connection between the military and the rest of society. They believe young people need to be reminded that serving one’s country can fulfill a desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

Peacemaking Christians, too, recognize the deep human longing to bond with others for a higher purpose. We know this is what the church, at its best, can offer. Though peace churches don’t favor military imagery, it is biblical. Writing to the believers at Corinth, the Apostle Paul used the language of war to describe the commitment that following Christ requires. We fight, but not as the world does. Our weapons have “divine power” to destroy “every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:3-5). Rather than seeking conquest or control, the kingdom of God invites others to take orders from the Prince of Peace, whose followers would die, but never kill, for him.

In contrast to a culture that worships military power, Mennonites and other peace churches muster nonviolent brigades armed with otherworldly weapons. To lead the troops into spiritual battle, we commission officers. In Mennonite Church USA, a newly appointed leader brings unique qualifications to the task. Glen Guyton, the denomination’s next executive director, has, in his own life, turned away from the world’s weapons. Twenty-five years ago, Guyton was serving in the U.S. Air Force when God led him to Calvary Community Church, a Mennonite congregation in Hampton, Va. Mennonites mentored him to become a conscientious objector and embrace nonviolence.

When Guyton assumes his duties this spring, the leader of a historic peace church will be a former military man whose personal story of choosing the gospel of peace includes being rebaptized, making him literally an Anabaptist. That’s cause for celebration, though a parade might be over the top.

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