How might Christians look on the world
differently, if we actually literally believed that
Gods love was indeed stronger than our fears? What would happen
if we assumed that our allegiance to God, our identity with Christ
and our commitment to the church would call us to respond to the
worlds pain differently than our non-Christian neighbors?
In the face of violence, are there any options open to the Christian
believer other than the default impulse toward patriotic unity and
a steely determination to exact an eye for an eye?
professor of history
Choosing Against War: A Christian View is an effort to explore
such a possibility. At one level, it is a straightforward argument
that the gospel of Jesus Christ should lead all Christians to renounce
violence and to love all human beings, including our enemies, with
the same generous love that God has shown to us. At an even deeper
level, it is an invitation to live more fully and joyfully in the
Christian conviction that Gods love is stronger than
The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of
passionate intensity. As the 20th century came to a close,
these lines from the Irish poet William Butler Yeats captured with
apt precision the cultural mood of our time.
By any reckoning, the century just past was filled with enough passionate
intensity to make it one of the bloodiest epochs in all of
human history. Looking back now, Yeats worried gaze on the
future was seemingly well founded: the 20th century has indeed been
awash in a blood-dimmed tide, as he wrote further in
At the same time, Yeats poem reveals still another, equally
troubling insight about the nature of modern culture. Not only is
it true that the worst are full of passionate intensity,
but, as he noted with prescience, the best lack all conviction.
We live, it seems, in the grip of a profound paradox. Even as the
passionate intensity of ideologues, dictators, fundamentalists
and terrorists has led to the violent death of millions of people,
the 20th century also witnessed a spiritual and intellectual crisis
of conviction that has cast doubt on the very moral frameworks that
should have been challenging the violence of our age.
What started as a well-intended critique of power in the Enlightenment
tradition of systematic doubt, slowly took on a life of its own
in the last half of the 20th century in the form of Postmodernism.
Captivated by the seductive logic of deconstructionism, thoughtful
people have found it increasingly difficult to express any conviction
about Truth. Thinking it to be a generosity of spirit, some of the
very best among us lack all conviction and
have become paralyzed into passivity, incapable of making moral
judgments or discerning the difference between good and evil.
Thus, for most modern people, the options sketched by Yeats seem
equally foreboding either the callous and violent intensity
of passionate belief or the banal etiquette of an accommodating
relativism; either the white-knuckled fundamentalism of the warrior
or the passive disengagement from all moral judgments of the sophisticated
I suggest that there is a third option. In contrast to most postmodern
thinkers, I wish to describe a universe created by God who actively
invites human beings into relationships of trust and intimacy. It
is a universe driven ultimately not by coercion and fear, but by
the power of love. For this reason, those who are suspicious of
all claims about Truth need not be afraid that this assertion is
one more power-move. Indeed, the very essence of the good news of
the Christian gospel is that our God is a noncoercive God who invites
rather than compels. The Jesus we claim as Lord came to us in the
form of a servant, taught an ethic of vulnerability and compassion
and allowed himself to be killed rather than to take up the sword
and defend the truth with violence.
Here in the space created by Christs way of peace and reconciliation
we find a place to stand that succumbs neither to the violence of
passionate intensity nor the vapid relativism of the
absence of convictions.
The good news of the gospel is that God loved us even though we
were not worthy of that love, while we were still enemies
of God, and, in Christ, offered the free gift of forgiveness
and reconciliation. This part is familiar. But we dont fully
claim the gospel as good news unless we recognize that those who
have received Gods gracious, undeserved gift of love will
inevitably seek to express that same love to others, including (indeed,
especially) our enemies.
If this is the Christ that we claim as our Savior a nonviolent,
compassionate, gracious Lord then we can witness to that
Truth in both confidence and humility. Our tone will be invitational,
but not combative; testimonial, but not argumentative; joyful, but
not defensive; inclusive, but not relativistic.
1. In God We Trust: Made in the image of God, we are nonetheless
endowed with the freedom to reject that part of our nature and
to pursue a way of life dedicated to defending the self by relying
on our own energy and strength. A Christian worldview recognizes
this deep impulse in human beings toward self-reliance, as well
as the fear that is generated when humans acknowledge their own
finitude and mortality. Christian faith begins with a clear recognition
of our vulnerability and dependence. Faith is a response to Gods
invitation to trust in Him alone and to acknowledge that every
moment of our lives is shaped by His mercy and sustaining love.
2. Jesus is Lord: In Jesus Christ, the world finds the
fullest expression of Gods character. Here, too, we find
the fullest expression of Shalom, a model of how human beings
are to live in harmony with God, with each other, and with the
natural world. Since Jesus is God Incarnate, he comes to us as
Lord of the entire world, not just a Lord over myself, my family,
my denomination or my nation. Moreover, Jesus comes to us as a
Lord over the principalities and powers of evil and hatred and
destruction and, indeed, death itself. Thus, to proclaim Jesus
as Lord is to participate in a reality that transcends the bonds
of society and politics, and that frees us from the human bondage
of coercion and violence. To proclaim Jesus as Lord is to live
in the light of the resurrection, knowing that death does not
have the final world.
3. The church is our first family: Though a Christians
deepest identity is rooted in a transcendent reality, we do continue
to live in the world of time and space. Faith is always embodied
in particular social forms, cultural rituals, economic relationships
and political structures. Very often these forms of cultural expression
overwhelm the spiritual essence they are embracing. Without realizing
it, Christians frequently find themselves worshiping the formbe
it money, power or the nation rather than the spirit these
forms are to embody. For the Christian, the Church is the primary
point of identity. As the living body of Christ, Christians gather
as a community of faith to remember Gods acts in history,
to confess their sins, to offer praise to God. The mere fact of
the churchs existence as a social body committed
to a cause that transcends social, economic, and political boundaries
is a proclamation that Christs reign is breaking
into the world.
4. Gods love is Good News for the world. The gospel
is good news not only for those who have accepted Gods love
and forgiveness, but also for those who are still living in fear,
thinking that reality is grounded in selfishness and coercion.
Thus, Christs way of peace is genuine news for
those who are trapped in a worldview of violence, and it is genuinely
good because it invites each person to a life of trust
and love, grounded in the generous love of God.
5. We are participants in Gods invitation to Shalom.
The invitation to become a Christian begins with a change
of heart, a new way of looking at reality itself. But that change
of heart is truly meaningful only to the extent that it engages
us in the concrete and tangible acts of Shalom. As members of
Christs body and as citizens of many countries, each of
us is called to participate in Gods plan for humans to live
together in harmony honoring the dignity of each person,
celebrating the many expressions of Gods image, promoting
the cause of peace and justice and in all things seeking
the welfare of the city.
For all of these reasons, Christians should choose against war.
The adventurous journey of faith offers no guarantees about how
the world will react to the Christian witness to compassion, vulnerability
and love. But we can claim the power of the resurrection. We can
celebrate even now the fact that death will not have the final
word. And we can testify with joy that Gods love is indeed
stronger than our fear.
Excerpted from Choosing Against War: A Christian View. Copyright
by Good Books (www.goodbks.com). Reprinted by permission. All
John D. Roth, who earned a doctorate in early modern European
history from the University of Chicago, joined the Goshen College
faculty in 1988; he serves as chair of the history department
and is editor of Mennonite Quarterly Review, a scholarly journal
focusing on Anabaptists, Mennonites, Hutterites and Amish. Choosing
Against War: A Christian View is available at bookstores or by
contacting Good Books at 800-762-7171; order online and read the
introduction to this book and other information, at www.goodbks.com
Military mom and Goshen College peacemaker
meet over coffee, common ground
By Jodi Hochstedler
It began with an impassioned letter to the editor by a soldier's
mother who was fed up with the "local pacifist rhetoric"
in Goshen and the lack of support she felt for her son.
Goshen resident Dana Schmucker wrote: "I would ask all of you
to stop and consider what your harsh words in the paper mean to
a soldier who is sitting in a remote location reading his hometown
newspaper and seeing such a painful lack of support for our troops.
While you enjoy your holiday season, please have some compassion
for those of us who won't be together for the holidays. We would
prefer your prayers rather than your criticism." (Nov. 7, 2002
? "Goshen News")
In her peace courses at Goshen College, Carolyn Schrock-Shenk, associate
professor of peace, justice and conflict studies assigns her students
the exercise of listening to "the other" ? someone with
the opposite views as themselves. "I read the letter and I
just knew what I had to do," Carolyn said.
A day later, letter-writer Schmucker received a phone call from
Schrock-Shenk, who has organized local war protests, inviting her
to meet over coffee so she could understand more fully why the pacifist
letters were so painful to read and to hear more about Nick, Schmucker's
son serving in Afghanistan. Schrock-Shenk told Schmucker she committed
herself to not trying to convince her of her point of view and she
wouldn't even tell her point of view on a war with Iraq if she wasn't
asked. Schmucker agreed to meet.
Nearly half of the two hour meeting was spent getting to know each
other and connecting personally. Then Schrock-Shenk asked Schmucker
how she experienced the letters and the anti-war movement as a military
mom. Schrock-Shenk very quickly realized that the peace protests
need to make the link stronger that opposition to war is actually
a support of American troops abroad, not just a support of Iraqi
After sharing with each other and recognizing that they are both
mothers of sons, they share religious connections and both want
peace for the world; the women decided to write a joint letter to
the editor. The two wrote about their different views on this war,
their commonalities and how talking with each other has "stripped
away layers of assumptions and stereotypes."
"We knew that we were on opposite sides when we agreed to meet
for coffee, but talking felt like the right thing to both of us.
... What we both know, at a very deep level, is that we want Nick,
and the others like him, to come home safely. ... We believe that
our God of love is present with each one, all the time, no matter
where they are or which side of a war they are on...
We will continue to respond to the current situation in ways that
we feel called to respond, but we will do so with some differences
since our meetings. It is our hope that by writing this letter,
we can encourage others to see that it is possible to "agree
to disagree" without disrespect or malice. ...
I (Dana) will respect and understand in a new way, those who want
to prevent this war. I would ask them to remember our sons and daughters
who are trying to do the right thing and who are risking their lives
to do so. I believe our troops need to know that we love them and
support them, whether or not we support the war in which they are
I (Carolyn) will [continue to oppose this impending war] with a
new awareness of how much pain and fear and love military members
and their families experience. Nick and his family, and others like
them, will be part of my awareness in a new way as I respond to
my personal call to peacemaking. I understand more deeply that,
at bottom, we want so many of the same things: peace, security,
a world of promise for our children. It is these concerns that lead
me to oppose this and other wars." (Nov. 24, 2002 - "Goshen
The response both women received from the community has "only
been positive." One community member, Diane Hertzler, followed
up their letter with one of her own and referred to their joint
work as the "most important letter of the year."
As Schrock-Shenk recently planned another local peace demonstration,
she wrote Schmucker to ask what she would think about the wording
on a sign she wanted to hold: "Support our troops, oppose this
war." Schmucker wrote back to say it wouldn't offend her, or
Nick, at all.