A pastoral word in a time of war

Brothers and sisters in Mennonite Church USA,

I write to you at a time when wars and rumors of wars are devastating the lives of many people around the globe. During the past year, the attention of the world has turned toward the Islamic State (ISIS), which has gained control of significant parts of Iraq and Syria. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the abduction, massacres, and even beheadings of Yazidi minorities, Shiite Muslims, Coptic and Orthodox Christians and western journalists. Such brutal and evil actions make the human heart shudder. We mourn the incalculable losses sustained by the families and communities most directly affected by the violence.

Along with our government leaders, we struggle to understand what motivates the perpetrators of such cruelty or how best to stop the atrocities. Together with a number of allies, the U.S. military has unleashed hundreds of bombs, missiles, and drones on targets in both Iraq and Syria. President Obama has vowed a long campaign to “dismantle this network of death” and to root out “the cancer of violent extremism.”

As a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I do not claim specialized military or political knowledge, or pose easy solutions to the challenges facing our world. But I choose to stand with Jesus who spoke against the deadly downward spiral of violence. As followers of Christ, let us heed our Lord’s warning to those who choose to live by the sword (Matthew 26:52), and let us claim his blessing for those who seek to make peace.

ISIS has defined itself as an expression of Islamic faith, but we must resist the call to define this conflict as a “holy war” that pits Islam against Christianity. Many senior Muslim leaders and numerous leading Islamic organizations have declared that ISIS practices a distorted interpretation of Islam. Peace-loving Muslims and Christians from the region know best how to address a rogue state within their own territories. For example, see this amazing testimony from Christians in the region. Accompanying this letter, you will find a few other resources that help us better understand and respond to the challenge ISIS poses for us. Further, I invite you to continue to sow seeds of peace in the region through organizations like Mennonite Central Committee and Christian Peacemaker Teams. Offering relief and support to refugees is an expression of love for those whose lives have been turned upside down by violence and war.

In this time of increased violence, I urge that we choose to abide in Christ. Even as we acknowledge the realities of evil and violence in our world, we must put on the mind of Christ and remain rooted and grounded in God’s love. Let us trust in the Lord and hold fast to the words of the Psalmist who admonished that “the war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save.”

I appeal to you in the words of the Apostle Paul: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” Pray for peace and seek to walk in the way of Jesus who taught us to love even our enemies. Stand firm in the Lord.

 

Ervin Stutzman square

 

Ervin R. Stutzman

Executive Director

Mennonite Church USA

 

 

 

 

Resources to consider:

Forgiving ISIS: Christian ‘Resistance’ Videos Go Viral in Arab World,” Christianity Today Gleanings posted 3/17/2015

Prayers of Protest: One Step Towards Embodied Discipleship,” a sermon by Safwat Marzouk, an Egyptian Christian and assistant professor of Old Testament at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary

“Resisting Isis,” by Maria J. Stephan and “The Power of Peacebuilding” by David Cortright, from the April 2015 issue of Sojourners magazine

“ISIS: Nonviolent Resistance?” by Eli S. McCarthy, in The Hill, March 5, 2015

Confessing the Peace of Jesus in a Terroristic World,” a statement from EMM’s Christian/Muslim Relations Team, August 2014

 

 

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5 thoughts on “A pastoral word in a time of war

  1. A thoughtful letter, true to the foundational commitments of our denomination. We could, together, give it even more meaning by incorporating something akin to CPT within our denominational program or mission structure. Many of us are entering the phase of eldering. What a wonderful witness it might be for elders to take to the front lines of peacemaking.

    I must add that I welcome this pastoral word, but with a heavy heart, having yet to hear any pastoral word that acknowledges and welcomes the thousands of us under the MC USA tent who are open and nonjudging to all, regardless of sexual orientation. Until that word comes, it is difficult to hear and reflect back full admiration and support for any pastoral position expressed by our leadership. We are real, but seen only as shadows, or less, in the words that come from our denominational leadership.

  2. Ervin, I have deeply mixed feelings about your pastoral message. I want you and other leaders of my church (including my pastor) to speak about issues of war and peace. Yet you have done so with startling naivete, as if you acquired your understanding of evil in the world from NPR or CNN.

    The U.S. government is deeply invested in radical Salifist Sunni terror. The violence of ISIS is an integral part of U.S. strategy to maintain dominance in the Middle East and South Asia. This has been the case since at least late 1979 with the arming of bin Laden’s mujahideen and continues today.

    So I do not want you speaking pastorally within a frame of reference that merely pastes our enemy-loving ethic on to NPR’s and CNN’s interpretation of events. When you do that, you actually strengthen the hold that the deceptions of the empire exerts in the body of Christ!

    “Wise as serpents, gentle as doves.” The gentle is here in your message, but not the wise. We’re residents of an empire, Ervin, what the Paul called “the power of darkness” (Col. 1:13) and what Peter described as “a roaring lion prowling around looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Like all empires, it’s purposes are to divide, destabilize and rule. In the Middle East, it uses violence to support and weaken all sides of the wars.

    I’d be happy to provide sources if you are interested.

  3. It is unfortunately necessary to say, Ervin, that the USA, founded and built on the twin monstrous evils of genocide of the native inhabitants and enslavement of Africans imported as sub-human property, now committed to “full spectrum domination” through endless war, comes off in your pastoral word as something between innocent or oppressed.
    Your letter is not, indeed, about the US. But why isn’t it? Why should the leading purveyor of violence in the world be a sub-point in a letter about our time of war?
    This is symptomatic of the disastrous fact that Americans are simply not adequately impressed with the evils of their own empire. The imperial reality of the United States is papered over with language of manifest destiny, exceptionalism and democracy.
    This morning I watched Bryan Stevenson on a TED talk say that African Americans have expressed outrage and astonishment that the US has acted as if terrorism began on 911, when Blacks have known centuries of slavery, lynching, racism and mass incarceration –daily terrorism–in this land for centuries.
    I recommend Ted Grimsrud’s just published THE GOOD WAR THAT WASN’T–AND WHY IT MATTERS. World War II’s Moral legacy. The lies we believe about World War II are foundational to the policies implemented in the war profiteering business of this country. America has held the world hostage to nuclear terrorism for 70 years with not a peep of apology.
    Jerry Kennel and Berry Friesen have made good points.
    What is my point? We should start by looking at the log in our own eye.

  4. Upon further thought, I wish I had said the good things which can be said about this letter.
    It addresses hard questions about how to respond to violence, and reminds us that violence is a deadly downward spiral which reaps the disastrous fruit which it sows. It invites us to stand with peace-loving Muslims and Christians.
    These thoughts were in my mind but I did not express them, in the sense of urgency I was feeling to say that it is even more important that we address the violence and terrorism which is caused by the USA.

  5. Dear friends,

    In response to my pastoral word, you have raised many important issues, which my letter was not intended or able to address. In the face of the brutal violence of ISIS and our nation’s commitment to endless war, I sought to call our faith community to stay rooted in Jesus and to choose a different path. I’m familiar, John and Berry, with the book you recently wrote about empire and the Bible. The overwhelming military and economic power that the U.S. wields around the globe, often at the expense of many of our global neighbors, is certainly an important part of our context.

    Yours,
    Ervin

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