Mennonites believe that we are called to respect and obey the leaders of the countries we are living in, but that as disciples of Jesus we have a higher allegiance to God. Giving your ultimate allegiance to something other than the nation where you live or have your citizenship changes the way you live.
“Iron and metal spears and swords we leave to those who, alas, regard human blood and swine’s blood about alike. He that is wise, let him judge what I mean.”
-Menno Simons, 1539, early Anabaptist leader
When Jesus says, “Love your enemies,” (Matthew 5:43-44), he clearly asks us to love even those that our government has decided are the enemy. Follow the link to read all of Matthew 5, Mennonites have interpreted this to mean they cannot in good conscience participate in any way in military action against another country. To fight in a war, one has to “hate the enemy” or at least have their defeat as a goal. Therefore, most Mennonites choose to be conscientious objectors to all war. (We’ll deal later with war in the Old Testament, and the concept of a just war.)
One of the best examples of Jesus’ refusal to use weapons or fight back in any way was when Peter, his disciple, cut off the ear of one of the persons who arrested Jesus. Jesus told Peter firmly, “Put your sword back in its place!” and restored the ear (John 18:11). Follow the link to read all of John 18.
The same night when Jesus appeared before governor Pilate, he affirmed, “My kingdom does not belong to this world; if my kingdom belonged to this world, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the authorities.” John 18:36.
By word and example, Jesus showed us that the best way is to live at peace with all people around the world. He showed compassion for a group of people that his people hated, the Samaritans. One version of John 4:9 says, “The Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans.” Other versions say Jews would not use the same cups and bowls that Samaritans used.
“God calls you to destroy your machines of war, to leave your violent occupations, and find your security in God alone. … Many Christians say we must fight to defend our freedom to worship God, but Jesus never promised us that or any other political freedom. Jesus Christ is our freedom!”
-Duane Beachy, Mennonite writer, in Faith in a Nuclear Age.
The Jewish people at the time were expecting an earthly, military leader, who could free them from their oppressors. If anyone deserves to use force, it’s those living under oppressive regimes. Yet Jesus, his family, friends and professional colleagues lived and labored under the oppressive regime of the Romans. And Jesus did not lead them in a revolt of bodies, but a revolt of spirit, into another way–a peaceful revolution that starts with changed lives and spills over into changed communities, nations and world.
Most Mennonites believe that participating in any part of the war-making machine is at odds with the life Christ would have us live. We believe that even though there are tremendous differences between countries, peoples, and ethnic groups, we do better to try to solve the problems through conflict mediation, reconciliation and forgiveness. The way of the peacemaker may be idealistic. People say, “Peace doesn’t last.” But war rarely solves anything permanently either–except permanently killing men, women, boys, and girls.
“So when I first met some pacifist Christians, it was a big shock for me. They turned my world upside down. They said they had not fought but had obeyed God. They had been critical of their own government and had been praying for the Japanese people during the war. It was a revelation for me. Scales fell from my eyes and I could finally see the work of Christ.”
-Yorifumi Yaguchi, Japanese pastor, poet and professor
Not participating in violence and war does not mean that Mennonites are not actively involved in working for justice. Jesus calls us beyond mere passiveness to resistance–but resistance without violence. As Walter Wink says, to all oppressed people Jesus was saying, do not give in to the power of oppression, but don’t use violence against the oppressors. “Rather, find a third way, a way that is neither submission nor assault, flight nor fight, a way that can secure your human dignity and begin to change the power equation. … Jesus is not advocating nonviolence merely as a technique for outwitting the enemy, but as a just means of opposing the enemy in a way that holds open the possibility of the enemy’s becoming just also. Both sides must win. We are summoned to pray for our enemies’ transformation, and to respond to ill treatment with a love that is not only godly but also from God” (The Powers That Be, p.110)
“Non-resistants do not have smug and neat solutions for all the complex questions of internal tensions and international relations. For that reason they need to be humble.”
-J.C. Wenger, Mennonite historian and teacher
Around the world Mennonites seek to serve the oppressed, and walk with them as they seek to find justice, hope and reconciliation in their own cultures. This often means taking risks, for those in power rarely give up power without exacting some kind of price.