the Goshen College Bulletin | Alumni magazine since 1956

The tug of peace: Shalom in the academy

Tom Clancy’s most recent futurist novel, The Bear and the Dragon (Berkeley Publishing Group of Penguin, 2000), includes a short war involving China, Russia, NATO nations and the United States. The fictional conflict begins when China invades Russia across their shared border in order to “liberate” a gold mine and take over a newly discovered source of vast petroleum resources.

In the book, former Central Intelligence Agency officer Jack Ryan is now President of the United States. As he attempts to persuade European allies to go to the political and military aid of Russia, he remembers the wisdom of international diplomacy: Nations do not have friends. They have interests.

The way to international peace for Clancy’s protagonists is for the dominant good guys – in this case, the United States – to wage a war with superior firepower in which human beings are expendable collateral damage. Such a show of force is especially needed when nation states with very different cultural understandings have competing or opposing economic interests. Clancy’s books provide a strong, partisan apology for the need for violence in order to maintain world peace. Coercion, force and violence are the peacekeepers.

Within the context of Anabaptist-Mennonite faith, such a worldview is protested. As Christian faculty, we live within another worldview – one which our foreparents in faith taught us. Inside the matrix of our Christian faith, we hold that violence is never the way to peace, never the way to resolve human conflict. We stand as nonconformed citizens of the world and hope to express faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ by bearing witness to an alternative understanding of peace – that of shalom.

In this view, according to Perry Yoder’s book Shalom: The Bible’s Word for Salvation, Justice and Peace (Faith and Life Press, 1997), to participate in God’s shalom is to engage oneself as a co-creator with God in transformative action in the life of the world and its peoples.

A formal peace studies curriculum began at Goshen more than 25 years ago. Long before that time, faculty and students were individually and communally active in searching out the meaning of peacemaking for the 20th century. A student peace society sponsored speaking and writing opportunities for students. Students and faculty alike sought to understand how they should remain faithful witnesses to the gospel of Jesus and the doctrine of peace. In 1944, Professor Emeritus of History Guy F. Hershberger wrote his influential book, War, Peace and Nonresistance (Herald Press, revised 1969). In addition, faculty sought a way to find faithfulness to Jesus’ teachings and find compassion and healing for their fellow human beings within very troubled and troubling life situations.

Within the greater church, in the 1960s and 1970s, we saw the classical Mennonite doctrine of nonresistance begin to stretch open to include dialogue about nonviolence, protest activism and other emerging forms of social protest. The language of nonviolent activism began to be heard.

By the beginning of the new century, Goshen College had redefined and strengthened its awareness of peacemaking as an integral part of campus life and curricula. No longer was the organized violence of warfare the only reality to be studied and avoided. We also examined the domestic violence of the United States, including the violence of our public and private schools and within networks of families and close friends. The structural violence of poverty and issues of environmental justice were also recognized as interpenetrating other issues of human violence. Continuing to develop related curricula such as the longstanding women’s studies program, emerging environmental science program, Anabaptist-Mennonite studies and Goshen’s significant international education component central to our core curriculum was important to this process.

The underpinning issue of conflict is essential to our Mennonite understandings of faith. The college recruited Carolyn Schrock-Shenk (associate professor of peace, justice and conflict studies) to lead the campus in gaining new ways to approach conflicts. We also combined the study of peacemaking with the study of conflict transformation in the hopes that both disciplines would enrich our educational and service programs.

As faculty and administrators of the PJCS curriculum, we hold a genuine belief that Goshen College students should learn academic content and skill acquisition and the spiritual discipline of thoughtfully and compassionately examining their own lives. Peace is not only the desired outcome of our activity in the world, but must influence patterns of daily living and decision-making. What students experience in their relationships with faculty and each other matters.

Through educational curricula for peace, justice and conflict studies at Goshen has come a conceptual model with students. This model is deceptively simple – it has seven vectors. In this model, the needed tasks of peacemaking in the world include:
1. Stopping violence already in progress.
2. Lessening the violence already in progress.
3. Preventing violence from emerging.
4. Bearing witness to violence we apparently cannot influence.
5. Healing the wounds of violence within individuals.
6. Healing the wounds of violence within whole societies.
7. Accompaniment with and advocacy work for the powerless victims of violence.

A certain kind of specialization is needed in doing the work of creating shalom and genuine peace in the world. No one individual can successfully do the work of peacemaking in all vectors. All who seek to make a transformative difference must recognize the complexity of the demands placed upon the peacemaker. We want students to learn networking and collaboration skills. We want them to recognize simple but difficult facts: There are multiple ways to work toward peace in the world and others besides themselves care about peace.

We hope to equip students with practical skills as well as with theological understanding. We hope to develop historical awareness regarding violence and warfare as well as the ability to analyze and act within contemporary situations of violence. Most of all we hope to equip students with a spiritual foundation for their life that will support them in whatever form of shalom-building activity they do in the world. Ruth Krall is professor of religion, psychology and nursing and has been program director of the peace, justice and conflict studies program since 1986; since that time, the program has grown to include a PJCS major and two minors, one in peace studies and one in conflict studies. With her academic discipline in applied theology, she specializes in the area of gender-based violence. She is particularly interested in understanding the men and women who work as healers in situations of personal violence. She recently completed a certification program at the Academy for Guided Imagery in Mill Valley, Calif.