January 2007 Gerberkoontz

Peace Theology in Transition: North American Mennonite

Peace Studies and Theology, 1906-2006


Abstract: Mennonite peace theology in the past 100 years shifted from an emphasis on nonresistance and the witness of a set-apart community toward an emphasis on nonviolent resistance and active engagement of the church with the world. Tracing these developments as well as identifying the notably expanded areas that have been explored in Mennonite peace studies and theology since the 1980s provides perspective for future scholarship in these fields. The article concludes with suggested “key questions” for new and ongoing research.

The task of interpreting the development of North American Mennonite peace studies and theology since the early 1900s is a formidable one. Such an overview will necessarily be sketchy and fail to do justice to the many scholars and peacemakers who have helped to shape its development.[1]

In general, the past century witnessed a dramatic change in Mennonite peace studies and theology in North America, away from a theology and ethic of nonresistance and a separation of the church from the world toward a theology and ethic of nonviolent resistance to evil and active engagement of the church with the world. The impulses that motivated these changes did not emerge primarily from the internal dynamics of conversation among Mennonites. Rather, they were impulses from social, political and cultural life that impacted the life of the Mennonite church. These pressures prodded scholars to look at the Bible more deeply and to set forth rich, provocative and sometimes conflicting visions regarding God’s and our human response to injustice, evil and violence in the world.


The traumatic events of World War I and World War II, along with influences from modern industrialized society, provided the major impetus for the restatement and development of Mennonite peace theology in the first part of the twentieth century. The practical questions that confronted Mennonites who were conscripted into the military forced the church to articulate a peace theology that would convincingly serve as a foundation for the historic practice of nonparticipation in war.

Mennonite Church Conference

In the Mennonite Church conference-a branch that had preserved the traditional separation of church and world in theology and practice longer than had its sister conference, the General Conference Mennonite Church-the most systematic and definitive statement of Christians and the state appeared in Guy F. Hershberger’s War, Peace, and Nonresistance (1944).[2] While Hershberger challenged the quietism of many who believed the church should be withdrawn from the “world,” he maintained a traditional ethic of nonresistance and a strong church/world dualism, illustrating the role of the witnessing church in the world with the biblical metaphor of a “light on a hill.” That same year, Hershberger’s contemporary, Harold S. Bender, also identified nonresistance as one of the marks of “The Anabaptist Vision” in an essay by that name that helped to reshape views of the Anabaptist tradition and Mennonite peace theology.[3]

John Howard Yoder, a bright young Mennonite from Ohio, entered the peace theology scene in the early 1950s. Yoder was part of a group of Mennonite Church scholars who called for church renewal in a series of pamphlets known as Concern. Teaching and writing in the wake of World War II, and later in response to issues raised by subsequent wars and by revolutionary violence worldwide, Yoder began to set out, in piecemeal form, a coherent Christian peace theology that addressed the hard question: how can a Christian pacifist stand by if a neighbor is suffering from violent abuse by another? In an early pamphlet Yoder responded to Reinhold Niebuhr’s charge that pacifists were irresponsible in relation to their suffering neighbors. Yoder reasserted the importance of following the way of Jesus and of trusting in God’s power over violence and death more than in our own capacity to manage situations by using violence. True responsibility, he argued, is visible when the church responds day by day to the purpose and call of God. Such daily discipleship can open up otherwise unavailable options for peacefully mediating conflict in relationships with our neighbors.[4] During his lifetime Yoder became the leading North American Mennonite apologist for Christian pacifism. His dialogue with biblical scholars,,Christian ethicists and church leaders in ecumenical and evangelical circles honed his peace theology over time, provoking fruitful debate among Christians worldwide.

J. Lawrence Burkholder, a contemporary of Yoder’s, found Yoder’s response to Niebuhr too simplistic, though Burkholder also expressed a deep Mennonite piety and appreciation for the church as a countercultural space. Burkholder argued with Yoder on the basis of his experience in China as a relief administrator and pilot during the Chinese civil war. Mennonites needed a theology, he concluded, that could speak to tragic situations where no choice is “good” or seems “Christ-like” or exemplifies “nonresistance” (e.g., pushing frightened and helpless refugees off a plane so that it can take off before soldiers arrive). Burkholder reflected a minor key in Mennonite peace theology at the time. However, his concern emerged more urgently in later decades as Mennonites became increasingly educated, acculturated and wealthy, and found themselves leading church, private and public service institutions.[5]

General Conference Mennonite Church Conference

In addition to the impact of the world wars, the movement into wider society in the 1930s and 1940s began to break down some of the Mennonite cultural patterns of semi-isolation, affecting understandings of the relationship of church and world.[6] H. P. Krehbiel, a prominent leader in the General Conference Mennonite Church, had a more positive assessment of the impact of education and culture on faith than did many in the Mennonite Church conference. Krehbiel developed a theological framework that affirmed participation in society and government, including voting, but drew the line at personal participation in military service, rejecting even alternative service if it was under the direct command of the military. It was clear to Krehbiel and others in the General Conference tradition that Christian discipleship also involved broader cultural analysis and response. Emmett Leroy Harshbarger, who in the 1930s pushed for a more ecumenical and activist vision than even Krehbiel advocated, wrote a pamphlet for the Peace Committee of the General Conference, Propaganda: How to Analyze and Counteract It, illustrating this more assertive approach to government and cultural values.[7]

Some of these more liberal pacifist Mennonites had enthusiastically endorsed working with the broader peace movement-for example, joining with the Fellowship of Reconciliation-to express concern about U.S. involvement in World War II. They were disillusioned, however, when a number of these “pacifists” decided that violence was necessary in combating Nazism. Donovan Smucker’s “A Mennonite Critique of the Pacifist Movement” illustrates this disillusionment and reaffirms a traditional Mennonite dualism that is skeptical about Christians cooperating with the state in the use of violence. [8]

Frank H. Epp, a prophetic voice on the Canadian scene, served along with Yoder and Burkholder as transitional leaders in Mennonite peace theology, calling the church toward a Christian pacifism that actively engaged political and social issues. From speaking and writing about Christians and communism, Epp turned to human rights in the late 1960’s, and later wrote on the situation of the Palestinians and of immigrants to Canada. His concern for responsible political action led Epp to run for parliament, though he did not win a seat.


The greatest ferment and shift in peace studies and theology in the past century took place during the 1960s and 1970s. These years marked the emergence of revolutionary movements worldwide, liberation theology in Latin America, the civil rights movement, protest against the war in Vietnam and the second wave of feminism in the United States. By this time Mennonites had more than seventy years of experience in mission work in various cultural and political settings and almost fifty years of experience in Mennonite Central Committee peace and service work, all of which contributed to a sense of urgency to develop a peace theology that included explicit attention to justice. During this period Mennonites established both a Washington Office and an Ottawa Office as a witness to the state and as communication channels between church and government.

Concern for those caught in systems of injustice and struggles for power profoundly challenged the traditional Mennonite theology of nonresistance and separation from the world. As a result, Mennonites increasingly adopted new language to speak of a more engaged relationship between the church and the world, Christians and the state. The focus of ethical language gradually shifted from nonresistance to nonviolence, and from commitment to pacifism to commitment to peacemaking.

This period witnessed a striking shift in peace theology from a focus on personal refusal to participate in war, labor unions and litigation-which earlier theologians had regarded as coercive actions-to acceptance of involvement in political opposition and nonviolent action despite their elements of coercion. Noting that a commitment to peace may, in some circumstances, support relationships that are stable but unjust, Mennonite scholars began to speak more clearly about “peace with justice.”

In addition Mennonite peace theology began to research and address a broader range of the types of violence, its causes and resolutions: domestic violence and sexual abuse and their roots in gender relations; abortion and its relationship to Mennonite pacifism; injustice in legal systems; racial discrimination and its connection to poverty and economic justice; and conflict mediation in families, churches, schools, communities, and even among nations. Scholarly conversation among Mennonites in these fields heightened the need for Mennonites to attend to realities of power in situations of conflict.

John Howard Yoder

John Howard Yoder’s work is the most influential example of this movement in and expansion of peace theology. In Christian Witness to the State, Yoder, who was strongly critical of the Mennonite practice of withdrawal from the world, suggests a model for Christian engagement with political issues and institutions.[9] Moreover, in The Politics of Jesus, Yoder described a Jesus who modeled active nonviolent engagement with political power, marking an interpretive shift from an apolitical to a politically relevant, though nonviolent, Jesus. This Jesus called for economic justice and gender relations characterized by respect for the other-both of which address some of the root causes of ongoing violence.[10]

Yoder had initially adopted the language of nonresistance used by Hershberger.[11] As the 1960s and 1970s unfolded Yoder began to take account of the criticism that the concept of nonresistance fed passivity in relation to social justice for neighbors, and he spoke more frequently of the way of Jesus as “nonviolence.”[12] Yoder’s thoughts on coercion require more assessment;[13] but it is clear that in the context of an emerging concern among Mennonites for “peace with justice,” Yoder’s language shifted to incorporate justice more clearly. He consistently maintained that Christians should not use violence to bring about just ends, but increasingly emphasized the importance of pacifist Christians being proactive in addressing the causes of injustice before the only remaining alternative is the “necessary” and tragic use of violence.

Yoder’s peace theology was forged and refined in the crucible of church life, though church life was not limited to Mennonite congregations and institutions. Interchurch conversations in Europe, the U.S. and various mission settings not only helped to sharpen his argument for pacifism, but also led him to further expand topics in peace theology. He encouraged Mennonites to adopt a more positive stance toward interchurch relations and to consider how Christian mission and interfaith dialogue should be carried out-with attention to power dynamics and without dependence on coercive methods.[14]

Gordon D. Kaufman

Yoder was not the only well-known North American theologian who had been shaped by Mennonite peace theology. Gordon D. Kaufman, a contemporary of Yoder but from General Conference Mennonite background, developed a peace theology in a quite different context from Yoder. Kaufman also called for a nonviolent theological ethic that focused on engagement with the world. Though he remained marginal to the centers of Mennonite Church life, Kaufman influenced a number of General Conference Mennonite scholars and urban, educated Mennonites. While Yoder’s theology was shaped largely by life and conversations in Mennonite, ecumenical and evangelical church settings, Kaufman constructed his theology primarily in conversation with students of Western philosophy and theology, the sciences and religious studies.[15] As early as 1961 Kaufman argued for a Mennonite ethic engaged with the world. In a short book written for Mennonites, The Context of Decision: A Theological Analysis, Kaufman emphasized that love of neighbor means that

no Christian has the right to avoid “dirty” situations which might soil his hands or wound his person. If it is thought that politics or war are sinful and evil situations, it is precisely there that the Christian is required to go with his ministry of reconciliation. . . . In sharp opposition to any strategy of withdrawal-which is usually motivated by the kind of love known to the publicans and Gentiles-Christian love always takes responsibility for the sinful situation.[16]

In an essay on “Nonresistance and Responsibility” Kaufman suggested that responsibility includes not only walking nonviolently into the heart of evil for a neighbor’s sake but also supporting others even when in good conscience they do what you think is wrong-for example, if they decide they should join the military.[17]

Kaufman’s peace theology influenced his description of “the nonresistance of God” as he wrote his Systematic Theology, published in 1969, and remained visible in subsequent work on Christology and religious pluralism. This orientation may also explain part of his later attraction to process theology in which the divine lures creation toward a good end, rather than intervenes to force or control it toward that end.[18]

A New Generation of Scholars

Younger scholars influenced by Yoder, Burkholder and Kaufman began to enter the conversation during the 1960s and 1970s. Lines between General Conference and Mennonite Church peace theology became increasingly intertwined as communication and personal relationships across conference lines increased and as scholars interacted with broader academic developments in theology, ethics and peace studies. For this generation peace theology had unquestionably become not just a foundation for nonparticipation in war or protests against the use of violence, but also a foundation for positive action in the world. Three examples follow of different, though compatible, emphases that have surfaced in the conversation.

Duane K. Friesen. Duane Friesen sought to reinterpret Mennonite pacifism based on a more socially engaged and positive view of government.[19] Influenced by Yoder’s idea that there are “civil imperatives” that are part of the Christian vision, Friesen’s Anabaptist theology of culture, expressed in Artists, Citizens, Philosophers: Seeking the Peace of the City (2000), explored a Christian citizenship that is not defined by relationship to the state alone but also by membership in the church as an alternative society.[20] Part of his contribution was to set out guidelines for Christian citizenship more fully than had previously been the case. A few of the examples he offered included: balance of individual dignity and community; compassion and wholeness toward the weak and powerless; love and the practice of forgiveness; religious liberty; equality; nonviolent resolution of conflict; a transnational network; and support for democracy.

Theodore J. Koontz. Ted Koontz-who studied international relations, nuclear weapons and ethics during the Cold War and saw the complex, pervasive dimensions of evil embedded in political systems-returned to some central themes in Yoder’s peace theology. He lifted up Yoder’s emphasis on eschatology-that Christians are called to faithfulness not short-term effectiveness-as essential to Mennonite peacemaking. In “Mennonites and the State: A Preliminary View,” Koontz argued that while God has one will for humankind, because of the fact of human sinfulness, God has providentially provided the state to protect humans from their own sinfulness.[21] In that situation the standard for the state is “the least possible violence.” Followers of Christ however should live in the here and now according to God’s ultimate will, rejecting all use of violence in war. Less sanguine about the success of peacemaking endeavors than some peace activists and peace studies scholars, Koontz underlines in his teaching and writing the importance of divine compassion and a spirituality rooted in God’s grace and forgiveness that is necessary to sustain ongoing peace and justice work.[22]

Harry J. Huebner. The Canadian ethicist Harry H. Huebner picked up a neglected theme that reemerged in broader Christian ethics in the latter part of the twentieth century-character or virtue ethics-and demonstrated its relevance for Mennonite peacemaking. Drawing especially from the work of Stanley Hauerwas, a colleague of Yoder’s at Notre Dame, Huebner underlined the importance of character formation and Christian narrative for ethics. Huebner, referring to the church as a “community of virtues,” suggested that Mennonites need to consider more carefully the way worship and ethics are related. He also recommended that the church consider adopting a catechism of practices as well as of doctrine. Practices such as hospitality to strangers, nonretaliation toward enemies, simple living rather than uncritical consumerism, and healthy conflict transformation all contribute to the formation of Christian character for the ministry of peacemaking. Such practices also give Mennonite peace theology integrity.[23]


Peace studies and theology, emerging from the ferment of the 1960s and 70s, diversified into a number of creative streams addressing aspects of justice, peace and response to violence. Teachers, researchers and peace activists enthusiastically helped to refine and develop peace theology in a variety of fields: biblical peace theology; doctrinal theology and ethics; scientifically oriented peace studies; restorative justice; mediation philosophy and methodologies; religion and violence; and family and gender-related violence. In 1991, John R. Burkholder and Barbara Nelson Gingerich identified the existence of nine types of Mennonite peace theology in addition to the tradition of nonresistance.[24]

While it is impossible to list all of the people who have contributed to peace theology in these fields, a few contributions can be noted.

Biblical Peace Theology

Because Mennonites defended their views on war and peace with appeals to Scripture, it was necessary to develop more sophisticated ways of explaining the interpretation of the Bible in relation to the ethics of war and peace. John H. Yoder’s exegesis of war in the Old Testament in The Politics of Jesus, for example, had drawn upon the work of the Mennonite biblical scholar Millard Lind.[25] Waldemar Janzen, writing in a Canadian context, considered biblical theology in relation to authority and the state. Of those who learned much from Yoder’s peace theology, Willard M. Swartley did prodigious work both in his own publications-perhaps best known at this point is Slavery, Sabbath, War and Women (1983)-and in directing the Institute of Mennonite Studies, including the publication of the series “Studies in Peace and Scripture.”[26] Perry Yoder wrote an influential book on the biblical theme of shalom.[27] And many other younger biblical scholars in the U.S. and Canada continue to deepen the interpretation of Scripture in relation to peacemaking in the church and the world.

Historical and Doctrinal Theology

C. Norman Kraus has contributed creative work in the area of historical and doctrinal theology. In his constructive work on Christology he offered a picture of Jesus as the King of Love (rather than a Warrior, Martyr and Messiah), and his ecclesiology includes a significant place for the community of peace. The historical theologian J. Denny Weaver’s major contribution to Mennonite peace theology, The Nonviolent Atonement, also argues for a revision of christological understandings, particularly as they impact our understandings of salvation. A. James Reimer, in various essays in Mennonites and Classical Theology, reminded the heirs of the Anabaptist tradition that a peace ethic was not its central or defining identity; the ethic of peace was rooted in classical theology. In his historical research on the early church and missionary teaching in England and in the U.S., Alan Kreider continues to explore the relationship of worship, peace and mission. And Thomas N. Finger’s recent constructive work, A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology, offers a picture of the communal and missional dimensions of the church that includes active reconciliation and peacemaking.[28]

Christian Feminist Theology and Ethics

Along with the second wave of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s, Mennonite peace theology responded to the growing awareness of the problem of violence against women in church and society. Ruth Krall, Gayle Gerber Koontz, Dorothy Jean Weaver, Lydia Harder, Mary Schertz and Carol Penner were among the first Mennonite scholars to integrate gender violence, or, more positively, peacemaking between women and men, into their theological writing.[29]

Peace, Conflict and Mediation Studies

A few Mennonite scholars have entered fields such as international relations to study sources of broader conflict and solutions. Like Ted Koontz, William Janzen studied both theology and political science. Janzen, a Canadian, served as the major staff person for the Mennonite Central Committee Ottawa Office. Ernie Regehr, another Canadian political scientist, for years proposed realistic public policy options on military issues, illustrating how North American Mennonite peace work has entered a new arena opened by a redefined and expanded peace theology.[30]

In the area of peace studies and conflict transformation, John Paul Lederach has provided the most significant scholarly and practice-based leadership for the church and for numerous behind-the-scenes situations in national and international settings where violent conflict had broken out or threatened to do so. Now that Mennonites have had about a quarter century of experience in practical and theoretical reconciliation work, some retrospective assessment remains to be done. Christian Peacemaker Teams, a model for presence in situations of violent conflict, deserve particular evaluation.[31]

A recent cooperative venture-a Mennonite and Seventh Day Adventist team of three scholars who pooled resources from the disciplines of education, health, and social services-focused on a framework and strategies for overcoming violence in local communities. This project was unique in its emphasis on a proactive or preventive approach to such conflict.[32]

Transformation in the Justice System

Restorative justice represents another rapidly developing area of peace and justice studies and related theological concerns. Yoder’s work in relation to the justice system in the U.S. focused on the Christian rationale for rejecting the death penalty. Thinking during and after the 1970s moved toward defining and promoting restorative justice. This corresponded to a shift among Mennonites from reluctant involvement in potentially compromising legal work to a growing acceptance of professional roles as attorneys and legal aides. Howard Zehr’s Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice captures this theological and philosophical shift. The Victim-Offender Reconciliation movement he helped to initiate, as well as congregational work with offenders released from prisons, illustrates its embodiment in the practical life of the church.[33]

Public Policy Debates

Mennonite peace theology in the past twenty-five years has been characterized by an increasing concern for peacemaking in relation to public policy. Mennonite scholarly conversation has continued to pursue, with some additional nuances, the intractable question of responsibility for neighbors who are victimized by others.

World events once again pressed Mennonite peace theology into new and hard corners. The genocide in Rwanda and the war in Somalia forced consideration of the ethics of Christian support for international “military” humanitarian intervention. The Persian Gulf war of 1991 and the U.S. war in Iraq-both highly technological wars conducted without military conscription-raised in sharp relief the question of Mennonite culpability for war when the nation requires of citizens not military service, but the payment of war taxes. The attack on the World Trade towers on September 11, 2001, symbolized three other complex realities that a theology of “peace with justice” must continue to face: the relationship of global economics and peace; the relationship of global power politics and peace; and Muslim-Christian relationships.

Deepened awareness of the impact of global realities that prevent peace with justice-especially in settings where Mennonites were engaged in mission and service work-and the steady work of the M.C.C. Washington Office gave rise to increased attention among Mennonites in the U.S. to recommendations on public policy questions. Keith Graber Miller’s book, Wise as Serpents, Innocent as Doves, recounts some of this history.[34]

1. “Military” humanitarian intervention

In relation to Somalia and the genocide in Rwanda and Burundi, Mennonites debated whether they should support a public policy of “military” humanitarian intervention. Could Mennonite peace theology include support for military action in saving people from destruction when the political interests of one’s own state were not involved? Mennonites vigorously disagreed on this question, ranging from the view that Mennonites should support public policy in favor of such actions (J. Lawrence Burkholder) to the view that Mennonites should oppose such public policy (J. Denny Weaver).[35]

2. Mennonites and Civil Security

Another question debated during this time had to do with civil security. In the summer of 2004, stimulated in part by reaction to the events of 9/11 and in part by the fact that some Mennonites were serving as police officers in the U.S. and Canada, Mennonite Central Committee sponsored a conference that resulted in the publication of At Peace and Unafraid: Public Order, Security, and the Wisdom of the Cross.[36] The central motivating questions for these discussions were: Are Mennonites ready to take up questions of security? What is the role of Christian citizens in providing security in an age when terrorism is an experienced reality and when civil order is needed among increasingly diverse populations? One relatively unexplored aspect of Mennonite peace theology is whether direct involvement in policing activity or indirect involvement in helping to support or shape (as nonviolently as possible) policing activity at local or national levels is ethically acceptable. Policing and the relationship between various biblical and civil understandings of security remain controversial in Mennonite conversations.

3. Just Peacemaking

The participation of Duane Friesen and Ted Koontz with an ecumenical group of ethicists in an initiative called “Just Peacemaking” is yet another illustration of the expansion of a Mennonite vision from pacifism to peacemaking that addresses public policy. Through a friendship with Glenn Stassen, a Baptist ethics professor who had been strongly influenced by Yoder, Friesen and Koontz, Christian ethicists from other denominations joined to help define and extend Stassen’s vision for Christian political action.[37] Lifting up concern for proactive peacemaking work, the Just Peacemaking initiative invites “just war” and “pacifist” Christians to work together to support political options that could potentially head off the need for violent interventions in the long run.



The developments outlined above indicate some areas within the expanded parameters of peace studies and theology that could be fruitfully pursued or which should be addressed because they have been neglected.

Biblical and Systematic Peace Theology

One of the current topics of debate among Mennonite biblical scholars and theologians is the provocative question, “Is God a pacifist'” Willard Swartley has prepared an overview summary of recent writings, addressing the subject of the relationship of God’s moral character to human ethics and arguing that in biblical perspective divine use of violence does not justify human use.[38] Additional conversation on this question, including the meaning of the wrath or judgment of God in relation to the love of God, could be helpful both among Mennonites and in ecumenical interactions.

Payment of War Taxes

The issue of war taxes is of concern to a small minority of church members in the U.S. and has not received much scholarly attention. This is striking because contemporary wars require our financial, not physical, support-thereby raising questions of integrity-and because there is controversy regarding war tax resistance even among those opposed to the war. Peace-oriented Mennonites lack agreement about the ethical wisdom (and the effectiveness) of this form of witness, a sign of an area ripe for systematic study.


Abortion as a complex peace and justice issue remains unsettled in the church.[39] Some claim that consistent pacifism calls for opposition to abortion. Others suggest that an ethic that promotes proactive justice but has room for tragedy-permitting abortion in some circumstances-better embodies a theology of peace. How do we negotiate these positions in relation to current peace theologies?

Media Violence

While there has been considerable research done by scholars on the formative impact of communication technologies-particularly television, film and the Internet-Mennonites have not given adequate attention to the implications of these cultural forces for peace theology. These technologies not only shape how many Mennonite families spend a significant portion of their time, but also influence perceptions, values and behaviors, especially in their graphic depictions of physical, sexual and emotional violence. Without structures for ongoing critical discussion of these influences, they can pave the way for gender and out-group violence. A powerful cultural “myth of redemptive violence” effectively undercuts belief in peace theology, often communicated only weakly through Mennonite congregations.

Interchurch Unity

The import of peace theology for the relationship of Christian congregations and denominations is an area opened by Yoder, but one that has received too little attention. A poster well known among Mennonites carried this slogan: “A modest proposal for peace: let Christians of the world agree not to kill one another.” Research on inter-Mennonite relations in global perspective as well as on Mennonite relations with other denominations with an eye toward peace theology is relatively untapped.[40] Formal dialogues with Baptists, Lutherans, Reformed and Catholic communities provide some data; but research on congregational or local interchurch relationships and their potential contributions to peace theology on this theme is almost nonexistent. The opportunity remains to further extend peace theology to incorporate reconciliation among diverse and sometimes alienated Christian denominations.

Split Between Mission and Peace

Some Mennonites see a lack of connection between those committed to peace (perceived as the province of activists or politically aware members) and those who care about evangelism and mission. One conference recently responded to Alan and Eleanor Kreider, who have done peace teaching in various Mennonite settings, saying that

they [the Kreiders] are challenging us to embrace the astounding yet simple notion that peace is to be a very ordinary, natural part of what it means to be Christian. . . . To be active practitioners of God’s reconciling love in all that we do and say is not a curious addition to our faith, but rather, it is at the very heart of what it means to accept and follow Christ.” An issue for Mennonite scholarship, Kreider suggests, is “to work out, at a greater level of sophistication and expertise than we have, how peace or shalom can be a unifying, and not a dividing theme, for congregations.[41]

Another manifestation of division over peace issues among Mennonites is evident in the scholarly community. One of my colleagues noted his increasing concern with ideological and partisan dimensions of scholarship in peace studies. He said that in recent weeks he had heard “three staunch Mennonites seriously say that they have much more in common with people of other religions or no religion who share a radical peace and justice position than they do with Christians who don’t share those views.” While my colleague strongly favors a tolerant and just social order, he said “a large red flag goes up when Christian identity becomes secondary to political identity.” Scholars in peace studies and theology may need to consider more carefully whether they are taking seriously enough the Christians in the church who do not share their views. “Can they reach this audience with an ideological frame of reference that is alien to the majority of church members'” my colleague asked. “Do peace studies by Mennonites become an elitist field of research that speaks only to others who share liberal-left political commitments'”

Theology of Other Religions

Mennonite and Anabaptist theology of other religions is emerging as an issue for sustained attention. The connection between fundamentalist forms of faith and religious violence is evident not only in the Middle East, but across the globe, including places in Canada and the U.S. Christians need a peace theology that includes a strong commitment to God’s coming new creation through Christ, but also models paths to that end that eschew violence and misuse of power. A respectful theology of other religions that is clearly connected to our peace theology and that can support God’s mission in the world is critical for “relativist” young Mennonites in North America, and thus for the future of the church. Of particular import, given deep-seated tensions between Muslims and Christians worldwide, is the articulation of a peace theology for Mennonites in relation to diverse Muslim communities and perspectives worldwide. Only initial work has been done in this area.[42]

Response to Systemic Evil

Response to structured or systemic evil has sometimes confounded Mennonite Christians since the shift toward more engagement with the world of government and broader society. In cooperation with Crossroads and in the Damascus Road anti-racism projects over the years, Mennonites have made some creative though painful attempts to address the systemic evil of racism in the Mennonite Church and its institutions. While Walter Wink, as well as Yoder (following Hendrik Berkhof, a Dutch Reformed scholar whose work he translated into English), has inspired Mennonites to develop a peace theology that “addresses the powers,” additional work remains to be done, including research on the Damascus Road initiative, as well as a more critical assessment of Wink’s work from a Mennonite perspective.[43] Yoder’s and Wink’s perceptions of Jesus’ nonviolent resistance to the powers have a somewhat different tone.

Institutional and Business Ethics

How does a theology of peace relate to running organizations and businesses? Henry Rempel, a Canadian, is perhaps the best-known Mennonite economist who has attempted to connect peace and justice commitments with economic life in his scholarly work.[44] But the connection between theoretical work in economics and theology and practical ethics has not been sufficiently explored. Some of the most creative practices in Mennonite business ethics are being recorded in a church-related publication, The Marketplace. The scholars who have usually been identified with Mennonite peace theology, however, have not paid adequate attention to the ethical issues that business leaders face and their relationship to peace theology. Dealing with conflict in the workplace and justice issues in economic enterprises are two areas that a theology of peacemaking should address more fully.

Additional Themes

The involvement of Mennonites in policing activities on local, national or international levels remains an area of ferment, without wide agreement or resolution. Conversation among Mennonites with experience in different national settings where this might be a live issue (in Paraguay, for example) could be useful. More interdisciplinary conversations about peace theology between those in peace studies and conciliation work and those in biblical, historical and theological disciplines could also be mutually beneficial.

In a related area, attention needs to be given to the connection between a “theology of peacemaking with justice” and ethical guidelines for the running of Mennonite Church institutions. Very little has been published on this.

Finally, while some attention has been given to environmental ethics, Mennonites have not generally considered our relationship to the earth as a peace issue, though it surely involves elements of justice and violence. I am unaware of any substantive Mennonite scholarship that has addressed violence toward animals. With increasing awareness of the violation we humans have already caused to the web of life that sustains us all, this area of peace theology may receive more attention.


When asked about the future of Mennonite peace theology, the Mennonite historian Alan Kreider responded with typical thoughtfulness. Perhaps we need to envision peace as a stewardship issue, he said:

We need to see peace as a special gift from God to us as Anabaptist Mennonites of which we must be stewards for the sake of the larger Body of Christ. In our tradition we do not have all the answers, and we need the rest of the Body of Christ desperately-for wisdom about worship, about grace, about prayer, about an identification with the poor that is as passionate as our concern for peace. . . . I have come to agree that our special charism is this concern for peace and that our thinking about peace (with all its fallibilities) and our living of the vision over four centuries is a gift to the Christian Church Catholic. So to lose this, to steward it badly, unappreciatively, is to squander a scarce God-given resource.[45]

The future of Mennonite scholarship in peace studies and theology perhaps lies exactly there-how well we will steward the charism of peace.

[*]Gayle Gerber Koontz is a professor of theology and ethics at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.
1. In addition, this review considers only Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church developments, not those of the Mennonite Brethren Church or the many other smaller Mennonite conferences in the U.S. and Canada.
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[2]. Guy F. Hershberger, War, Peace and Nonresistance (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1944, rev. ed. 1953). Theron Schlabach, who taught history for many years at Goshen College in Indiana where Hershberger was also a faculty member, is currently writing a biography of Hershberger. Cf. Theron F. Schlabach, “Guy F. Hershberger’s War, Peace and Nonresistance (1944): Background, Genesis, Message,” MQR 80 (July 2006), 293-336.
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[3]. Harold S. Bender, The Anabaptist Vision (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1944), reprinted from MQR 18 (Apr. 1944), 67-88.
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[4]. John Howard Yoder, Reinhold Niebuhr and Christian Pacifism (Ziest: Heerewegen, 1954).
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[5]. J. Lawrence Burkholder’s 1958 doctoral thesis at Princeton University was finally seen in 1989 as significant enough to publish.-The Problem of Responsibility from the Perspective of the Mennonite Church (Elkhart, Ind.: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1989).
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[6]. Paul Toews, Mennonites in American Society, 1930-1970: Modernity and the Persistence of Religious Community (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1996), 108-109.
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[7]. Leroy Harshbarger died two years later in his early 40s. For additional background on this time period see Toews, chapter 5 in Mennonites in American Society, 1930-1970, and Leo Driedger and Ronald B. Kraybill, Mennonite Peacemaking: From Quietism to Activism (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1994).
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[8]. Donovan E. Smucker, “A Mennonite Critique of the Pacifist Movement,” MQR 20 (Jan. 1946), 81-88. Smucker wrote his dissertation on Walter Rauschenbusch’s social ethics, indicating Smucker’s interest in a more activist approach to social issues. John H. Yoder’s later booklet, Nevertheless, which outlines more than twenty varieties of pacifism, is a sophisticated development and refinement of this early awareness that the theological bases for peace commitments can vary widely. Originally written in 1971 this book was revised and published in 1992 as Nevertheless: The Varieties and Shortcomings of Religious Pacifism (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1992).
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[9]. Yoder, The Christian Witness to the State (Newton, Kan.: Faith and Life Press, 1964). Mark Thiessen Nation notes that Yoder’s use of “dualism” had shifted to “duality” by 1964 and “often gave way to even less firmly oppositional language.”-John Howard Yoder: Mennonite Patience, Evangelical Witness, Catholic Convictions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2006), 167.
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[10]. Yoder, The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1972).
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[11]. In explicating the meaning of nonresistance Hershberger had initially spoken out against Christian participation in strikes because they were coercive and led to violence. However, as the civil rights movement developed, he was sympathetic to Martin Luther King’s nonviolent movement and the issue of coercion seemed to take backstage.
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[12]. In Christian Witness to the State (1964) and other earlier writings Yoder spoke of nonresistance. In the early 1970s he began teaching courses at Notre Dame on nonviolence. One of his chapters in The Politics of Jesus (1972) was titled, “The Possibility of Nonviolent Resistance.”
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[13]. Yoder’s interpreters disagree about his views on coercion.
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[14]. John H. Yoder, “The Disavowal of Constantine: An Alternative Perspective on Interfaith Dialogue,” The Priestly Kingdom: Essays Ecclesiological and Ecumenical (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1994), 242-261. Also see Yoder, “The Imperative of Christian Unity” in the same volume, 289-299, and his pamphlet The Ecumenical Movement and the Faithful Church (Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 1958).
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[15]. Gordon D. Kaufman later became a professor at Harvard Divinity School at the same time as J. Lawrence Burkholder.
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[16]. Kaufman, The Context of Decision (New York: Abingdon, 1961), 94-95.
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[17]. Exactly what Kaufman meant by the provocative term “support,” however, was not clear. See Kaufman, Nonresistance and Responsibility and Other Mennonite Essays (Newton, Kan.: Faith and Life Press, 1979).
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[18]. Kaufman, Systematic Theology: A Historicist Perspective (New York: Scribner, 1968; rev. intro., 1978). On Christology see “Toward a Contemporary Interpretation of Jesus” in The Theological Imagination (Philadelphia: Westminster 1981); “The Meaning of Christ in our Pluralistic Age” in God, Mystery, Diversity: Christian theology in a Pluralistic World (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996); and “A Wider Christology” in In Face of Mystery: A Constructive Theology (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993). His interaction with process theology is especially clear in In Face of Mystery and In the Beginning-Creativity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
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[19]. Duane H. Friesen, Christian Peacemaking and International Conflict: A Realist Pacifist Perspective (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1986).
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[20]. See Yoder, “The Spirit of God and the Politics of Men,” in For the Nations: Essays Evangelical and Public (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1997); Friesen, Artists, Citizens, Philosophers: Seeking the Peace of the City (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2000).
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[21]. Theodore J. Koontz, in Essays on Peace Theology and Witness, ed. Willard M. Swartley (Elkhart, Ind.: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1988).
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[22]. In several public presentations Koontz has outlined his current thinking. See “Grace to You and Peace: Toward a Gospel of Peace for the 21st Century” (unpublished paper, no date). Also see Koontz, “Thinking Theologically About War Against Iraq,” MQR 78 (Jan. 2003), 93-108.
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[23]. Harry Huebner and David Schroeder, Church as Parable: Whatever Happened to Ethics? (Winnipeg, Man.: CMBC Publications, 1993), chap. 8.
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[24]. John R. Burkholder and Barbara Nelson Gingerich, eds., Mennonite Peace Theology: A Panorama of Types (Akron, Pa.: Mennonite Central Committee, 1991).
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[25]. Millard Lind, Yahweh is a Warrior: The Theology of Warfare in Ancient Israel (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1980).
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[26]. The first volume in this series, The Love of Enemy and Nonretaliation in the New Testament was published by Westminster/John Knox in 1992.
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[27]. Perry Yoder, Shalom: The Bible’s Word for Salvation, Justice, and Peace (Newton, Kan.: Faith and Life Press, 1987).
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[28]. Thomas N. Finger, A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology: Biblical, Historical, Constructive (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004); J. Denny Weaver, The Nonviolent Atonement (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2001); C. Norman Kraus, Jesus Christ our Lord: Christology From a Disciples Perspective (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1987) and The Community of the Spirit: How the Church is In the World (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1974, revised ed., 1993); A. James Reimer, Mennonites and Classical Theology: Dogmatic Foundations for Christian Ethics (Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press, 2001).
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[29]. See, for example, essays by Krall, Gerber Koontz, Schertz and Penner in Theology and Violence Against Women, ed. Elizabeth Yoder ( Elkhart, Ind.: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1992) and essays by Schertz, Weaver and Koontz from a conference on forgiveness and the atonement published in MQR (Apr. 1994).
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[30]. Among other things William Janzen collected Mennonite documents prepared by the Ottawa Office and submitted to the Canadian government 1975-1990.-Mennonite Submissions to the Canadian Government (Ottawa, Ont.: Mennonite Central Committee Canada, 1990). Ernie Regehr’s writing for the church included a book on Perceptions of Apartheid: The Churches and Political Change in South Africa (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1979) and several books on militarism and Canada.
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[31]. See John Paul Lederach, The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005) and, for an assessment of Mennonite conciliation work, Cynthia Sampson and John Paul Lederach, eds., From the Ground Up: Mennonite Contributions to International Peace Building (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).
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[32]. Mary Yoder Holsopple, Ruth E. Krall, and Sharon Weaver Pittman, Building Peace: Overcoming Violence in Communities (Geneva, Switzerland: WCC Publications, 2004).
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[33]. Howard Zehr, Changing Lenses (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1990); Arthur Paul Boers, Justice that Heals: A Biblical Vision for Victims and Offenders (Newton, Kan.: Faith and Life Press, 1992).
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[34]. Keith Graber Miller, Wise as Serpents, Innocent as Doves: American Mennonites Engage Washington (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1996).
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[35]. See J.R. Burkholder and Ted Koontz, “Keeping our Calling Clear: When Armed Force Is Used to Make Relief Work Possible,” and John Paul Lederach, “Toward a Sustainable Peace in Somalia,” both in Gospel Herald (Jan. 12, 1993); J. Lawrence Burkholder, “The Dark Side of Responsibility,” Gospel Herald (March 16, 1993); J. Denny Weaver, “We Must Continue to Reject Just War Thinking,” Gospel Herald ( April 27, 1993); Mark W. Charlton, “Pursuing Human Justice in a Society of States: The Ethical Dilemmas of Armed Humanitarian Intervention,” Conrad Grebel Review ( Winter 1994): 1-20.
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[36]. Duane K. Friesen and Gerald W. Schlabach, eds., At Peace and Unafraid (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2005).
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[37]. Glen H. Stassen, Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox, 1992).
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[38]. Willard M. Swartley, “God’s Moral Character as the Basis for Human Ethics,” in Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2006), 377-398. This significant collection of new essays is the fruit of Swartley’s years of work in biblical peace theology.
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[39]. For two recent statements on the issue, see Darrin W. Snyder Belousek, “Toward a Consistent Ethic of Life in the Peace Tradition Perspective: A Critical-Constructive Response to the MC USA Statement on Abortion,” MQR 79 (Oct. 2005), 439-480; and Joseph J. Kotva Jr., “The Question of Abortion: Christian Virtue and Government Legislation,” MQR 79 (Oct. 2005), 481-504.
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[40]. Seeking Cultures of Peace: A Peace Church Conversation, ed. Fernando Enns, Scott Holland and Ann Riggs (Telford, Pa.: Cascadia, co-published with the World Council of Churches, 2004), represents one attempt at intra-peace church conversation in a global perspective. Enns, a German Mennonite, has also done significant work on Mennonite peace theology in relation to the World Council of Churches. See his Friedenskirche in der kumene: Mennonitische Wurzeln einer Ethik der Gewaltfreiheit [A Peace Church in the Ecumenical Movement: The Mennonite Roots of an Ethic of Non-Violence] (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2003). A. James Reimer has written a brief essay on interchurch relations.-“Mennonites and the Church Universal: Ecumenical Gifts of the Spirit,” Mennonites and Classical Theology: Dogmatic Foundations for Christian Ethics, (Kitchener, Ont: Pandora Press, 2001), 537-552. Theologian Thomas N. Finger has been an active Mennonite participant in National Council of Churches’ Faith and Order discussions, which helped to shape the way he articulated his views in A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology.
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41. Alan Kreider in e-mail message to Gayle Gerber Koontz, Mar. 21, 2006.
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[42]. Mennonite Central Committee and the mission boards have sponsored various initiatives that have resulted in some scholarly publications on Muslim-Christian relationships. David W. Shenk has written various pieces, most recently editing with James R. Krabill and Linford Stutzman Americans Meeting Muslims: A Calling for Presence in the Way of Christ (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2005). Roy Hange, an M.C.C. volunteer who taught Yoder’s Politics of Jesus at a Muslim seminary in Syria, has written Curtains of Fire, a short piece on religious violence (Akron, Pa.: Mennonite Central Committee, 1997). Jon and Jacqueline Hoover are teaching and writing on this topic from their base in Beirut, Lebanon, where Jon is an assistant professor and Jacqueline a freelance lecturer in Islamic studies.
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[43]. Hendrik Berkhof, Christ and the Powers, trans. John H. Yoder (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1977). Attention to the theological work under way at the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education in Chicago, of which the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary is a member, might also contribute to a fuller statement of a Mennonite peace theology that addresses systemic evil.
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[44]. Henry Rempel, A High Price for Abundant Living: The Story of Capitalism (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2003).
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[45]. Kreider in e-mail message to Gayle Gerber Koontz, Mar. 21, 2006.
The Mennonite Quarterly Review
North American Mennonite Peace Studies and Theology
MQR 81 (Jan. 2007)