Peace and non-violence


Completing my examination of things we can all learn from the Anabaptists, with the core conviction on peace and non-violence.

Core conviction

Peace is at the heart of the gospel. As followers of Jesus in a divided and violent world, we are committed to finding nonviolent alternatives and to learning how to make peace between individuals, within and among churches, in society, and between nations.

Peace is at the heart of the gospel

Anabaptists have generally felt that Jesus’ teachings on ‘shalom’ and love for enemies (e.g. Matthew 5:21-26, 38-48) were at the core of his message – it is hard to obey Jesus command to love our neighbour while choosing to kill him! Therefore his teachings on non-violence should be applied as faithfully as possible. Anabaptists have therefore tended to reject the Augustinian teaching of just war, and refused to join armed forces. This has often got them offside with governments and societies.

Anabaptists do not naively think that practicing pacifism will be easy or automatically lead to other people behaving peacefully. But they believe that following Jesus’ “way of nonviolent love is ultimately more realistic than embracing violence”.

Learning non-violence

Anabaptists have been at the forefront of developing creative ways of applying non-violence in the criminal justice system and elsewhere, for example:

  • Christian Peacemaker teams are sometimes sent to conflict zones to support those working for peace and justice in their communities.
  • They have developed “conflict transformation” initiatives to train people and communities in mediation and dealing with conflict in a more creative way.
  • They have also developed “victim-offender reconciliation programs” and other restorative-justice practices as alternatives to retributive approaches.
  • An inner-city children’s holiday club has helped children from different faith communities learn about peace-making and reconciliation.

Postmodern Anabaptists?

For too long our western societies have accepted violent solutions to problems, from war as a means to solve international issues, through capital punishment to aggression in social relationships. A greater measure of tolerance and a lesser willingness to resort to conflict may (hopefully) be a feature of much postmodern thinking.

The Anabaptists may have more appeal to postmoderns than traditional church attitudes, and may be the way of the future as well as the way of Jesus.

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  1. Unklee, thank you for these insights on a doctrine that doesn’t get much play in the States. We know of Anabaptists, of course, but usually not by that title. Still, when we read news stories about Amish and Mennonite communities we are often reading stories about that doctrine of on-violence played out in people’s lives.
    This is especially timely in light of the school shooting in Connecticut on Friday. It is yet another instance of senseless killing of innocents (Herod and Bethlehem babes comes to mind). One that occurred a while back involved an Amish schoolhouse, as you may recall. The Amish responded with love to the family of that killer.
    P.S. I wrote a bit on carrying firearms on my blog today, but not specifically to speak about the Connecticut tragedy.

  2. Thanks for the reference Michael. I wish you success with your blog. I was conscripted into the Australian Army for 2 years more than 40 years ago, and came out of the experience very close to a pacifist.
    Thanks for your interest too, Tim. I have read too of the Amish compassion for that family, which should be an inspiration for us all.

  3. It’s a very sympathetic outlook, but it can come at an enormous price at times. Russian Mennonites and Stundists were very easy targets for vile Bolshevik raids during the Russian Civil War, leading to their disproportionate suffering. When some took up arms against these pillagers, it led to disputes with foreign Anabaptists that still is the cause for uneasy relations between communities.

  4. “it can come at an enormous price at times”
    Yes, you’d need to be very committed! I am not an absolute pacifist. I believe Jesus taught pacifism, but I don’t believe NT ethical commands are ever to be seen as rules but as principles, acted upon under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. So I think pacifism is an important principle, but I have seen situations where it may not have been the right course – e.g. the Australian intervention in East Timor a decade or so ago, and Bonhoeffer joining in the plot to assassinate Hitler.

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