January 2002 Charles

The Varieties of Mennonite Peacemaking:

A Review Essay


Mennonite Peacemaking: From Quietism to Activism. By Leo Driedger and Donald B. Kraybill. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press. 1994. Pp. 344. $14.95.

From the Ground Up: Mennonite Contributions to International Peacebuilding. Edited by Cynthia Sampson and John Paul Lederach. Oxford: Oxford U. Press. 2000. Pp. 316. $35.00

The Journey Towards Reconciliation. By John Paul Lederach. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press. 1999. Pp. 204. $9.95.

A Mennonite Statement and Study on Violence. Newton, KS: Faith & Life Press, 1998. Pp. 30. $8.95.

In a twentieth century marked by two world wars, a cold war and numerous local conflicts, North American Mennonites injected two modest cross currents into national and international mainstreams. For one, they furnished a supply of flesh-and-blood peacemakers in what, for the sake of simplicity, could be identified as three waves. Early on, with the advent of conscription in 1940, these were conscientious objectors to military service and performers of many types of alternative service. This was a relatively large wave, for conscription affected all Mennonite men; and even though significant numbers of Mennonites (54% in the U.S., 38% in Canada) chose to serve in the military as combatants or noncombatants, many chose the conscientious objector alternative service route. Then, both prior to and following the end of U.S. conscription in 1975, came a second and smaller, more radicalized cadre of activists in a wide range of Christian (and secular) peace and justice organizations and movements. The focus shifted to a wide variety of national and international issues-not the least of which were efforts to end the military draft and the war in Vietnam, as well as other protests of U.S. foreign policy. Finally, as the first wave dissipated with the end of the draft but while the second continued, yet a third surge formed and continued to gain momentum as the century drew to a close: Mennonites discovered, and became intensely active in, the field of conflict mediation as practitioners, trainers and theorists.

As a complement to this activity, a body of literature to inform and communicate the Christian peacemaking stance central to Mennonite identity and understanding of the gospel gradually took shape. If up to 1930 Mennonites had written little about their peace convictions, this state of affairs soon began to change as Mennonites became more literate and energetic in their peacemaking efforts, especially with the advent of World War II. Following that conflict, both official church bodies and individuals produced theological and biblical treatises, formulated statements or testimonies, developed typologies, studied the impact of Mennonite peace thought in ecumenical conversations on social ethics, and, to cap the effort, compiled a 740-page bibliography of a half-century of Mennonite peace literature.[1]

A happy synergy of doctrine and association lay behind these two contributions. Neither would have materialized without a deeply rooted theology and ethic of what, in the second half of the nineteenth century, had come to be called “nonresistance”-the rejection of retaliation, revenge, coercion and military service, anchored in New Testament teaching and christology. Indeed, “no theological theme is more central to the Anabaptist Vision or to the historical identity of Mennonites than what H. S. Bender in his famous essay of 1943 called ‘an ethic of love and nonresistance.'”[2] In wartime and in those fragile periods of “war prevented” which the world calls peace, Mennonites consistently affirmed that peace is both inseparable from the gospel and at the heart of the incarnation. No less essential, however, was the mobilizing role of the Mennonite Central Committee in its worldwide programs for “rank-and-file” Mennonites and its leadership in articulating peace convictions; for many Mennonites, since 1920 these activities came “to symbolize what it means to be an Anabaptist Christian in today’s world.”[3] In short, Mennonite peacemaking in the twentieth century was informed and enabled by a theology and an ethic as well as by an organization; while the latter has received considerable attention in recent years, the former has not.[4]

So much for what lies behind. Where should we be headed as the twenty-first century opens? For this wide-open question, no amount of historical analysis will provide a clairvoyant answer. The first of the three volumes under review provides a road map to the past, furnishing a helpful retrospective on the various shapes and themes of Mennonite peacemaking in the twentieth century. The second and third present perhaps the most widespread form in which Mennonite peace convictions are being formulated and practiced as our new century (and millennium) opens: conflict mediation or transformation.

As this essay’s title suggests (with apologies to William James), I come away from reading these three books impressed with just how varied, complex and ever-changing the Mennonite vocabulary on peace has been over the past century, and is likely to remain for the foreseeable future: nonresistance, two kingdoms, conscientious objection, peace testimony or witness, a Christian witness to the state, the politics of Jesus, Christian pacifism, social activism, nonviolent resistance and direct action, shalom, peacemaking, peacebuilding, conflict management, conflict resolution, conflict transformation, mediation, conciliation-surely there are others that have been overlooked![5] As Leo Driedger and Don Kraybill document in their study, over the past century “as new themes emerged, older ones remained in currency generating a growing pluralism in Mennonite peacemaking” (63). Where once our terminology was unabashedly biblical and theological, our ways of talking about peace and peacemaking have become noticeably secularized through the influence of social sciences. Does this represent a dangerous erosion of the Christian core of our peace convictions, or simply a sign that we have successfully translated them-and the values which have grown out of them-into an idiom that is both useful and understandable for the wider world community of peacemakers and peacebuilders? It is not surprising that while Mennonites remain relatively united in desiring to be a peace church, a postmodern pluralism-or perhaps confusion-reigns in our midst when it comes to how best to articulate and live out our Christian peace convictions.

As a result, not the least among the challenges Mennonites need to face at present are the following three clusters of questions, all of which point to unresolved tensions in our midst. First, how are we to include both our activists of varying stripes and also the greater number-though perhaps less articulate-of those who have been left behind or left out in the cold by “post-nonresistance” and post-conscription peace activism? For Driedger and Kraybill these are, respectively, the “Mennonite enthusiasts” and the “Mennonite laggards” (234). Is there a place for both within the Mennonite peace family without either party having to patronize or dismiss the other? I, for one, hope there is.

Second, how are we to bridge the growing conceptual and terminological gap between our biblical scholars and theologians, on the one hand, and our peacemaking theorists, on the other, when it comes to peacemaking goals and expectations? These we could perhaps characterize, respectively, as the “no peace without eschatology” crowd, emphasizing faithfulness to the gospel and to Jesus as the touchstone of Christian peacemaking, in distinction to the “peacebuilding through social science” cohort that seems much enamored with devising and pursuing effective peacemaking strategies that secular (or non-Christian) pacifists have no trouble embracing. Are these two camps able to communicate with each other, or are they increasingly talking past each other? Are they, in fact, talking quite different languages, and, if so, whose should we regard as more essential to our identity as a peace church?

Third, how much legitimacy, if any, should we ascribe to “top-down” political structures and processes which, according to a traditional two-kingdom view, lie clearly outside the perfection of Christ but within the sovereignty and purpose of God? How are we to view, and react to, government policies based on the expression or threat of violence-be they internal policing functions or international conflicts (including wars)? Here we find a division among Mennonites that becomes visible any time there is an international crisis to respond to-the Gulf war, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, East Timor, the events of September 11 and the subsequent U.S.-led fighting in Afghanistan being examples from the last decade. On the one side are those who see any use of physically coercive measures by the state as scandalously sinful, who feel it should be denounced out of hand, or who call instead for grassroots or “ground-up” alternatives that address in a long-term way the underlying issues giving rise to the conflict. They seem prepared to dispense with the state entirely-at least as an entity that has any legitimate recourse to coercion. And they have on their side the 1997 “‘And None Shall Make Them Afraid’: A Mennonite Statement on Violence” passed by delegate bodies and general boards of the General Conference Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Church. The statement views “violence in public life” as part of a continuum of violence to be condemned in toto, “for any form of human violence, wherever it might appear on the continuum, is an expression of evil.”[6] On the other hand are those who want both internal and external state violence to be restrained through legal and political means and are themselves committed to nonviolence as the Christian ethic. Nevertheless, they still see a monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory (Max Weber’s definition of a state) as a necessary condition for peaceful domestic order and even as a useful building block of international order.[7]

This is a full agenda for the present-one that promises to keep us occupied well into the future. When it comes to peacemaking vocabulary and strategy, the challenge facing Mennonites and our various dichotomies may be strangely similar to the one that C. P. Snow saw for science and the humanities in his classic The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (1959): how to bring them into closer contact and dialogue with each other, rather than letting them go their various independent ways.


For producing a survey of twentieth-century Mennonite peace thought and activism and for analyzing the changing understandings of nonresistance across a century, Leo Driedger and Donald Kraybill deserve warm commendation. The inevitable critical questions their effort raises should not negate the significant achievement it represents. As informative as it is provocative, Mennonite Peacemaking: From Quietism to Activism offers an effervescent fusion of history and sociology of knowledge, of modernization theory (laid out in Chapter 2) and data from church member surveys. Numerous pictures, tables and figures complement a text stocked with the occasional opaque academic term and what one reviewer has termed “a sort of breezy, flippant socio-chat.”[8]

However baroque the prose or polysyllabic the vocabulary, let it not this obscure: these two Mennonite sociologists, one Canadian and the other from the U.S., have provided “the engaging story of how the timid were transformed into activists” (14). Over the past half-dozen years their work has lived up to its promise of being an indispensable reference for future discussion and for the “thorough and comprehensive study of Mennonite peacemaking” that, by their admission, “remains to be written” (15).[9] While the first part of this volume is a narrative account of the main themes of a century of Mennonite peacemaking, the second produces a current profile of Mennonite understandings of peacemaking based on surveys taken among five Mennonite denominations in the U.S. and Canada in 1972 and 1989. The authors conclude with an overview of the most recent peacemaking initiatives, voices and “visions for the future,” followed by an epilogue on “enduring dilemmas” that will continue to attend Mennonite peacemaking: the use of force, multiple ethical standards for the state and the church, social responsibility, and the question of whether peace convictions are integral or peripheral to the Christian faith.

In writing this book, Driedger and Kraybill faced a formidable challenge: that of deciding what not to include. If in scholarship, as in life in general, “genius is knowing where to stop” (Goethe), what might be termed “inflationary rhetoric,” rooted in the understandable desire to make peace convictions relevant to all of life, has made drawing a boundary on this theme especially difficult. As Driedger and Kraybill ask almost plaintively-and without answering:

[P]eacemaking language in Mennonite circles is trumpeted at virtually every turn-from international relations to sibling quarrels, from child rearing to economic justice, from sexual abuse to racial hatred, from organizational conflict to personal differences. . . . [D]oes this squeezing all human relations under the tent of peacemaking threaten to evaporate its meaning? If peacemaking entails everything, does it mean anything'” (272)

Nevertheless there are significant omissions. Steve Nolt has pointed out that, by not including the Mennonite Community movement or the Committee on Economic and Social Relations in their survey, Driedger and Kraybill have omitted a significant Mennonite discussion of social justice themes from the late 1940s and early 1950s-one that they suggest only took place several decades later.[10] Another is the whole range of conservative Mennonite opinion that was not on this cutting edge of the shift from quietism to activism. While these “sub-groups within the Mennonite family-pockets of conservatives, the Fellowship of Concerned Mennonites, and periodicals such as The Sword and Trumpet and Guidelines for Today”-are not entirely unrecognized here, they are clearly outside the story that Kraybill and Driedger want to tell because they “clenched older notions of nonresistance and resisted revision” (45). Yet this more conservative opinion shows up clearly and is documented extensively in the church member profile that is analyzed in the second half of this book. At the other end of the spectrum, no attention is given to the concerns raised by feminist theologians and scholars about “the often patriarchal assumptions of Mennonite peacemaking and peacemakers.”[11]

The first part of Mennonite Peacemaking charts the various phases of Mennonite peace thinking and activity during the twentieth century, beginning with “the legacy of nonresistance” and continuing on through “the surge of peacemaking language and activist projects in the 1980s and beyond” (14). The important parts played by individual Mennonite leaders, educators and activists-too numerous to mention in this review-are highlighted. So, too, is what Kraybill and Driedger describe as “the most important institutional vehicle for change” from the early 1940s to the early 1990s: MCC’s inter-Mennonite Peace Section. Operating with a “prophetic independence” (John Stoner) under a separate board from the larger MCC board, the Peace Section “could monitor, facilitate, and encourage more activist forms of peacemaking which otherwise would have been stifled by the more conservative denominational structures” (142).

Driedger and Kraybill identify eight themes that “dominated particular historical moments” between 1890 and 1990. These themes “often represented the work of Mennonite brokers who were struggling with the forces of modernization both within the church and without,” and they reflect “the metamorphosis from passive nonresistance to active peacemaking” in the Mennonite consciousness (62). The themes/slogans and the periods they dominated are: the doctrine of nonresistance, 1890-1920; the principles of peace, 1920-1940; biblical nonresistance, 1940-1950; the way of love, 1950-1960; witness to the state, 1960-1968; nonviolent resistance, 1968-1976; peace and justice, 1976-1983; and peacemaking, 1983-1990. One chapter covers the period 1890-1950, another is devoted to “ferment in the fifties,” yet another covers “the strident sixties and seventies,” and the concluding chapter in Part One looks at “new patterns of peacemaking” in the 1980s.

Nonresistance-“passive,” “biblical” and “classic” being the modifiers attached at various points-seems to have nine lives in Driedger and Kraybill’s story. It is constantly being restructured, reconstructed, transformed, being stood on its head, having its death knell sounded, disappearing from official statements and publications, and being swept away by a crescendo of activism. Yet “despite a growing sense of activism, the meaning of the term nonresistance has not entirely evaporated from Mennonite thinking” (214). Paradigm shifts of major proportions are breathlessly described on nearly every other page. Change agents and theological brokers (who followed in their wake by the 1960s, rather than leading the advance) appear with almost dizzying frequency. All of the documented shifts were needed to allow the “intellectual elite” among Mennonites to become more active and to embrace modernity (“fit modern plausibility structures” [158]) without betraying their legacy.

Part Two uses material from surveys of 3000 Mennonite church members in Canada and the U.S. to measure contemporary Mennonite attitudes toward peacemaking, military service and participation in politics. This data permits Kraybill and Driedger to “measure the gap between the intellectuals”-in apparent reference to everyone surveyed in the first part of the book-“and rank-and-file members” (14). They find that peacemaking has become the domain of the better-educated Mennonites and nonresistance the domain of less-educated Mennonites:

A commitment to witnessing for peace soars directly with education. Those with graduate training are six times more likely to support witness efforts than those who attended only elementary school. . . . Although nonresistance declines somewhat in the face of education, peacemaking in general rises to rather high levels among the better educated (224).

They also note an increasing Mennonite involvement in politics from 1972 to 1989, but in a conservative direction in terms of the political parties with which Mennonites identify (200). Of the American Mennonites who took a position in 1989, more than three out of four held a conservative political orientation (201), as did two out of three Canadian Mennonites. In voting on national candidates in 1988, Mennonites in both the U.S. and Canada “voted two and three times as often for the more conservative candidates” (202). So “while Mennonites increased their participation in politics” between 1972 and 1989, “they did so conservatively” (209).

Driedger and Kraybill thus expose a radical disjuncture in Mennonite opinion: the better-educated (in terms of academic and professional training) Mennonite peacemaking activists and intellectuals with more progressive or radical political views celebrated in Part One, and the less-educated rank-and-file whose more conservative views are documented in Part Two. Apparently their sympathies are very much with the former. Sociology, Peter Berger has noted, has always had something of a split personality, unsure as to whether it is to be an empirical, value-free activity, as envisioned by Max Weber, or an engine for social reform. Indeed Auguste Comte, the nineteenth-century French philosopher who named the new discipline, conceived of sociology as “a doctrine of progress, a secularized successor to theology as the mistress of the sciences.”[12] While including empirical research in this study, Driedger and Kraybill do not let some of its countervailing results stop them from narrating the progress of Mennonite peace activism in a relentlessly triumphalist, celebratory tone.

The English historian Herbert Butterfield once decried what he termed “the whig interpretation of history”-that is, a study of the past “dividing the world into the friends and enemies of progress,” marked by a “pontifical manner” and the handing out of the occasional “consolation prize” to the privately-virtuous “reactionary.” Butterfield warned of the tendency of all history-writing to “veer over into whig history,” which studies the past for the sake of the present. He instead called for a study of the past for its own sake, and for seeking to understand both parties to “the quarrels of an ancient day” by taking them and their quarrels “into a world where everything is understood and all sins are forgiven.” The historian should be a reconciler, not an avenger-wise advice, indeed, for historians of peacemaking.[13]

I detect the aroma of “whig history” in Mennonite Peacemaking. Perhaps the too recent past is surveyed here, with the theological and cultural conflicts between progressives and conservatives still too fresh, to expect Driedger and Kraybill “to be glad that it takes all sorts of men[nonites!] to make a world.”[14] Yet it is ironic, even puzzling, coming from the pen of Kraybill. In a series of outstanding scholarly works, he has shown infinite empathetic interest in the Amish and their social devices designed to “shield their subculture from the fragmentation of modernity.”[15] He affirms that “we have much to learn from the Amish story” because “they have coped with progress in a radically different way from the rest of us” and “have distilled some insights that can enlighten those of us within the cultural mainstream.”[16] In this survey of Mennonite peacemaking, he seems to dismiss Mennonite conservatives while celebrating the Mennonite progressives’ ability to navigate “the throes of modernity” (44). The moral would seem to be: if you’re going to resist modernity, do it the Amish way or not at all.


Driedger and Kraybill end the first portion of Mennonite Peacemaking by referring to “new vehicles of peacemaking” such as restorative justice initiatives, conciliation activities and nonviolent interventions in situations of international hostility that emerged in the last quarter of the twentieth century (154-58). The latter two are described, documented and evaluated in From the Ground Up: Mennonite Contributions to International Peacebuilding, which introduces Mennonite efforts in international conciliation and mediation over the past two decades to a wider audience and evaluates them through the analytical lenses of non-Mennonite social scientists. Editors John Paul Lederach and Cynthia Sampson hope this volume will fill three gaps: in “materials that assume a legitimate connection between spirituality and pragmatic international peacebuilding,” in documentation of “the full range of peacebuilding activity by religious actors,” and in “formal and explicit documentation of the work of Mennonite-supported practitioners of international peacebuilding” (v). This anthology adds a Mennonite volume to an earlier one also co-edited by Sampson.[17]

The uninitiated reader is confronted by a multiplicity of concepts and key terms: peacemaking, peacebuilding, conflict resolution, conflict transformation, conciliation and mediation. None of these terms has a single agreed-upon meaning; indeed, the editors admit that they have decided not to impose “terminological conformity on the authors,” but rather have “asked the authors to signal for the reader the ways in which they are using key terms” (vi). This can be interpreted either as a sign of intellectual confusion or, more likely, of the rapid, wild-fire way in which “peacebuilding” has caught the Mennonite imagination and released pent-up activist impulses over the past quarter-century.

The original concern that gave rise to the multiple activities described and analyzed in this book was that “[Mennonites] have a well-developed theology of peace, but not technical skills in peacemaking” (11). This is how Ted Koontz, then working for the MCC Peace Section, presented the challenge in a 1976 memo. Or, as Ron Kraybill, who served as the first director of Mennonite Conciliation Service, noted the following year, there had been a “methodological vacuum” within the Mennonite church on practical peacemaking skills (14). Into this gap came, and continues to develop, an extensive effort in mediation and conciliation, as well as conflict resolution and transformation, that has assumed considerable dimensions in North America and beyond.[18] So successful and widespread have the once-lacking techniques become that teaching mediation skills has even been identified as a “new frontier for Gospel witness” in the twenty-first century by at least one North American Mennonite mission agency.[19] Concurrent with the emergence of Mennonite interest and expertise in conflict resolution has also been the emergence of Christian Peacemaker Teams, whose call for nonviolent justice-focused interventions in conflict situations is described in this volume by Marc Gopin as “the starkest example of this [Mennonite] shift from quietism to activism” (248), as documented by Driedger and Kraybill.

The international expressions of this Mennonite activism are described and analyzed in this volume, which is divided into three sections. Part One sets the context for the emergence of Mennonite involvement in international peacebuilding. Joseph Miller writes on the history of Mennonite Conciliation Service (founded in 1977), International Conciliation Service (founded in 1989)-both under the aegis of MCC-and Christian Peacemaker Teams (whose inspiration dates from 1984, even if the organization did not take shape for several more years). In addition, Miller contributes a helpful appendix designed to introduce the wider audience targeted by this volume to Mennonite history, structures and programs-notably mission boards and the MCC. Ron Kraybill and John Paul Lederach, Mennonite pioneers in this field and the first directors, respectively, of Mennonite Conciliation Service and International Conciliation Service, contribute reflective chapters on their pilgrimages in and their developing understandings of the concepts and theory of peacebuilding. Kraybill notes that Mennonites were content to express their peace convictions in “negative ways” during much of the twentieth century; the “limiting assumption” was that peacemaking was primarily a matter of refusing to participate in war, which “I and many other Mennonites have now left behind” (31).

Part Two presents a series of case studies by Mennonites-mainly but not exclusively North Americans-drawn from their activities in a variety of geographical locations outside North America. These case studies reflect a diversity of approaches to peacebuilding and an honest grappling with the dilemmas surrounding the choices they have made in both philosophy and strategy. Robert Herr and Judy Zimmerman Herr write on South Africa; Joseph Liechty and Joseph Campbell focus on Northern Ireland; Mark Chupp describes activities in Central America; Ricardo Esquivia and Paul Stucky present the Mennonite experience in Colombia; John Paul Lederach and Bonnie Bergey relate Mennonite efforts in Somalia and Somaliland; and Barry Hart describes trauma-healing and reconciliation activities in Liberia. Kathleen Kern concludes this section by using case studies from Haiti and Hebron to illustrate the approach of Christian Peacemaker Teams, whose more partisan and advocacy-based approach stands in contrast to the “elicitive” methods of conflict mediation and transformation used by the other contributors to this section.[20]

Part Three offers independent assessments of these case studies by four non-Mennonite scholars in the field of conflict transformation. Sally Engle Merry provides a cultural analysis, lifting out key terms (peacebuilding, presence, witness, vulnerability, discernment, nonviolence) and key practices (not taking charge, being there for a long time, working from the edge, confronting social inequality, entry through building relationships) that she finds in the case studies. Christopher Mitchell compares Mennonite “grassroots oriented” approaches to peace and conflict resolution with the more elite-focused “track two” approaches developed by a variety of secular practitioners over the past thirty years, and finds more similarities than differences. Marc Gopin’s angle is the religious component of Mennonite peacemaking and its global implications. He concludes that Mennonite methods “are integrally related to their religious values,” that they “pose powerful challenges to the general field of conflict resolution,” and that they “have within them enormous transformative potential for the future interactions of the global community” (254-55). Cynthia Sampson concludes with local assessments, based on site visits and interviews, of Mennonite peacebuilding activities in Colombia and Northern Ireland. In her view it is surely “theologically inscribed humility and a pervasive ethos of service that have made possible a radical commitment to empowerment and to the development of the capacities of others to solve their problems, rather than prescribing solutions and taking charge,” that are “distinctly characteristic of Mennonite peacebuilding” (272).

The outside assessments are, in general, positive and laudatory, though Marc Gopin is troubled by the philosophy and methods of Christian Peacemaker Teams. He notes that its “decidedly partisan” approach and “military language” represent a “[stark] choice for justice,” and doubts that its methods serve “the ultimate purposes or strategies of conflict transformation, as Lederach defines it,” especially in the setting of Hebron and the West Bank. Relying perhaps too much on the activities of Christian Peacemaker Teams and MCC and too little on those of Mennonite missions of which he might not have been aware,[21] Gopin judges that, for the most part, “the activity of the peace churches in Israel for the past forty years . . . has been in solidarity with the sufferings of Palestinians, not in mediation efforts or relationship building on both sides, not in identification with the suffering that both sides have endured historically and more recently due to wars” (248-50).


Over the past fifteen years John Paul Lederach has worked as a major practitioner and theoretician of mediation, conflict transformation and peacebuilding, not only in the Mennonite circles from which he hails but far beyond as well. He is currently professor of conflict studies and sociology at Eastern Mennonite University as well as founding director of its Conflict Transformation Program, and soon will be associated with the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Prior to his academic appointments, Lederach directed the International Conciliation Service of the MCC and served in Europe and Central America with the Mennonite Board of Missions and MCC. His mediation work has taken him to regions of conflict in 25 countries across five continents. He is the author of numerous books, manuals, articles and monographs, including Preparing for Peace: Conflict Transformation Across Cultures (Syracuse: Syracuse U. Press, 1995) and Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, 1997). In announcing his appointment to the Kroc Institute, director Scott Appleby called Lederach “perhaps the preeminent analyst and practitioner of the cultural and social approaches to effective peacebuilding in divided societies.”

In The Journey Toward Reconciliation Lederach draws on multiple sources of insight and experience. Through the lenses of his academic training in sociology and conflict studies, he reads and reflects on a variety of biblical texts that reveal the origins and dynamics of conflict and reconciliation. Drawing on his many years as a teacher, trainer and mediator, Lederach shares stories, vignettes and profiles of peacemakers and reconcilers from around the world. His writing is marked as well by humility and vulnerability, qualities that grow out of a keen sense of the limits of his knowledge and expertise as a North American “expert” who has been invited into a wide variety of challenging international conflict situations. “These past few years I have started a special journal where I am writing out what I think are pieces in a future book . . . [that] will be filled with anecdotes of times and places where not knowing and actually stumbling led to important insights, understandings, and breakthroughs” (181).

Lederach’s primary audience for this book is his Anabaptist community that has “given me a peacemaking heritage and a compass for my journey” (15). His goal is not “to develop a well-honed sociological theory of reconciliation nor a how-to guide for handling conflicts,” but rather “to show the theological underpinnings” (13) and “to explore the spiritual foundations that undergird my work as a peacebuilding professional and academic” (15). Lederach is eager that Mennonites become comfortable with the reality of and possibilities offered by conflict. He develops a biblically informed theology of conflict, which he views as “a natural part of our relationships because of who we are, as God created us. Conflict in itself is not a sin. But sin may enter into the situation, depending on how we approach conflict, how we deal with it, and especially how we treat each other” (117). He offers three different frameworks for “making operational the journey toward reconciliation in societies torn by war and violence” (64) and develops a “practical theology of the enemy as a part of a theology of reconciliation” (41). To encourage his Anabaptist readers to move from peace convictions to practical peace action, Lederach raises the same perplexing questions he has often faced in conflict situations: “How do we move from merely talking about peace to actually building peace? How can we promote a concern for human life and justice in settings of devastating violence and oppression? How do we bring enemies together'” (31). He urges us to “dream boldly and at the same time respond with an enthusiastic pragmatism that makes the dream a reality” (16).

The contributions of this clearly written, academic-jargon-free book are three-fold. First, Lederach offers rich reflections on biblical texts and stories (Gen. 1 and 25-33, Ps. 23 and 85, Mt. 18, Acts 15, Eph. 2) that he has integrated into his own mediation practice. While biblical scholars may want to take issue with him on certain points of interpretation, Lederach need not apologize for not having “the tools of rigorous biblical interpretation” (120) in a faith tradition that values the “hermeneutical community” at least as highly as the scholarly exegete. Second, while clearly drawing on the spiritual resources of his Mennonite upbringing, Lederach prods-gently and with humor-Mennonite foibles when the church deals with internal conflict. “Our shelves are filled with volumes on the theology of peace, but our history is full of conflict,” he notes (101). Based on his observations, he lists the “Unspoken Ten Commandments of Conflict in the Mennonite Church” (101-103) that justify our trying to avoid conflict (because we think it is a sign of sin) rather than welcoming the important changes that conflict can produce. A third contribution of this book is the window it provides into the outer and inner life of a sensitive, wise cross-cultural mediator who is not afraid to share his questions about his own decisions and methods: “I struggle all the time with ambiguities posed by my work and its connection to people and institutions built on social, political, and military power,” he writes (92).


As both the case studies and the very title of Sampson and Lederach’s edited volume show-and as Lederach’s reflections on his personal experiences from Somalia, Cambodia and with the United States Institute of Peace and War College demonstrate-Mennonite peacebuilding focuses on building peace “from the ground up,” not from the “top down.” It does not focus, in other words, on the high-level institutions and political processes of the state.

Elsewhere Lederach has called for, and outlined a process for, moving beyond “traditional statist diplomacy” with its focus on top-level leaders and short-term objectives and toward a long-term commitment to society-building and sustainable reconciliation.[22] This framework, says Lederach, “goes beyond the traditional ways of thinking about diplomacy. It is oriented toward meeting various needs for building peace at different levels of society divided by deep-rooted conflict and animosity. I believe this approach reflects Anabaptist values and ways of thinking about reconciliation and peacebuilding” (90). He admits to no longer accepting “the easily defined two-kingdom theology” or the “theology of separation” that he grew up with in the Mennonite church, and feels that it is neither possible nor desirable “to avoid the messiness and complications of working and struggling with economic, social and political policies and processes” (90). Yet Lederach also admits to feeling “uneasy with and tainted by the compromises that are so easy when we work with high-level processes and people. I struggle with authenticity and integrity. There is a certain allure and fulfillment that comes with being recognized by officials. It feels good; at the same time, it feels slippery” (90).

Is the state unnecessary, irrelevant, or simply not the primary focus of concern for Mennonite peacebuilders? Do they wish it would simply wither away (along with its military capacities), or does it have some kind of instrumental role to play in creating the peaceful and just societies that they are working for around the world’[23] How far up does one need to build, how far up should Mennonite peacebuilders go or urge others to go, when starting from ground level? Through local civil society groups only, or also with local police forces-as Joe Campbell works with in Northern Ireland and Ron Kraybill did in South Africa? Through U.S. government civilian agencies only, or also with the U.S. military-in training for UN peacekeeping or interventions in humanitarian crises in failed states?

“Not too far up” would seem to be the clearest answer. Building good, sustainable societies, not necessarily building good political institutions and processes, is not only the Mennonite peacebuilders’ calling; it is perhaps all that the war-torn countries really need in the long run, especially given the generally sorry performance of their governments in the past. Peacebuilding is the domain of sociologists, it would seem, and their long-standing dream has been that politics and the coercion associated with it be abolished or rendered unnecessary.

Within the Mennonite peacebuilding community one thus rediscovers the same ambivalence or indifference toward the state and politics that has been a strong current in Anabaptist-Mennonite thought for centuries.[24] But can one build good societies-or a good international community-without at the same time building good political structures and government institutions at the national and international levels? And where do Christian pacifist views and energies fit into this picture-if at all? These are the tough and classic questions that the many varieties of Mennonite peacemakers and peacebuilders, activists and nonresistants will need to struggle with in the coming years.

[*]J. Robert Charles is Director for Africa and Europe at Mennonite Board of Missions in Elkhart, Indiana.
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[1]. Willard M. Swartley and Cornelius J. Dyck, eds., Annotated Bibliography of Mennonite Writings on War and Peace: 1930-1980 (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1987).
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[2]. Ted Koontz, “Grace to You and Peace: Nonresistance as Piety,” in Refocusing a Vision: Shaping Anabaptist Character in the 21st Century, ed. John D. Roth (Goshen, IN: Mennonite Historical Society, 1995), 82.
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[3]. Elmer Neufeld, “Mennonite Central Committee [international],” ME 5:561.
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[4]. On MCC, see Robert S. Kreider and Rachel Waltner Goossen, Hungry, Thirsty and a Stranger: The MCC Experience (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1988); and the four earlier volumes of source materials in The Mennonite Central Committee Story Series (From the Files of MCC, Responding to Worldwide Need, Witness and Service in North America, and Something Meaningful for God), edited by C.J. Dyck and published by Herald Press in 1980-1981. For perspectives on MCC on its seventy-fifth anniversary, see the collection of articles in the January 1996 issue of MQR, especially Don Kraybill, “From Enclave to Engagement: MCC and the Transformation of Mennonite Identity.”
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[5]. For a helpful analysis, see J. Richard Burkholder and Barbara Nelson Gingerich, eds., Mennonite Peace Theology: A Panorama of Types (Akron, Pa.: Mennonite Central Committee, 1991).
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[6]. A Mennonite Statement and Study on Violence (Newton, KS: Faith & Life Press, 1998), 1.
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[7]. This position, described by Kraybill and Driedger as “modified dualism” (256-57), has been articulated most clearly by Ted Koontz, professor of Christian ethics and peace studies at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, in “Mennonites and the State: Preliminary Reflections,” in Essays on Peace Theology and Witness, Occasional Papers No. 12, ed. Willard Swartley (Elkhart, IN: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1988). I am in substantial agreement with this stance.
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[8]. Merle Good, in Festival Quarterly, Winter 1994, 26.
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[9]. Since this volume was published, Perry Bush authored Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties: Mennonite Pacifism in Modern America (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1998), which analyzes how Mennonites interacted with larger American society and responded to the twentieth-century American state shaped by war.
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[10]. Steve Nolt, “Anabaptist Visions of Church and Society,” 13, n. 8.
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[11]. Rachel Waltner Goossen, “Peace Emphasis Shifts to Activism,” Mennonite Weekly Review, November 3, 1994, 7.
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[12]. Peter L. Berger, Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor, 1963), 6.
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[13]. Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1965 [1932]), 1-3.
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[14]. Ibid., 95.
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[15]. Donald B. Kraybill, The Riddle of Amish Culture (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), 17.
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[16]. Ibid., viii-ix.
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[17]. Douglas Johnston and Cynthia Sampson, eds., Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft (New York: Oxford U. Press, 1994).
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[18]. See Valerie Weaver-Zercher, “The Mediation Movement Comes of Age,” Christian Living, Jan.-Feb. 1999, 4-8.
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[19]. Mennonite Brethren Mission and Services International, in International Educators’ Newsletter Vol. 2, No. 2, July 2000. See also J. Robert Charles, “‘Lest One Good Custom Should Corrupt,'” Gospel Herald, Dec. 16, 1997, 8.
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[20]. For more, see J. Robert Charles, Mennonite International Peacemaking During and After the Cold War, MCC Occasional Paper No. 21 (Akron, PA: Mennonite Central Committee, 1994), 5-10.
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[21]. See, for example, Marie Shenk, Mennonite Encounter with Judaism in Israel: An MBM Story of Creative Presence Spanning Four Decades, 1953-1993, Mission Insight No. 15 (Elkhart, IN: Mennonite Board of Missions, 2000).
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[22]. John Paul Lederach, Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1997).
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[23]. See Hedley Bull, “The State’s Positive Role in World Affairs,” Daedalus 108 (Fall 1979), 111-23.
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[24]. Guy F. Hershberger, The Way of the Cross in Human Relations (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1958), 156.
The Mennonite Quarterly Review
The Varieties of Mennonite Peacemaking