"And No One Shall Make Them Afraid" (Zephaniah 3:12-13): a Mennonite Statement on Violence (Mennonite Church, General Conference Mennonite Church, 1997)

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And No One Shall Make Them Afraid (Zephaniah 3:12-13): a Mennonite Statement on Violence (Mennonite Church, General Conference Mennonite Church, 1997) -- Summary Statement

As Mennonites in Canada and the United States, and Puerto Rico, we have been affected by the violence which is pervasive in our world. While we affirm a commitment to peace and nonviolence, we have frequently tolerated and even benefited from some forms of violence. We have wrongly accepted, at least in part, the "myth of redemptive violence," the belief that good ends can come from violent means.

We define violence as the human exercise of physical, emotional, social, or technological power which results in injury or harm to oneself or others. Any form of violence, whether mild or extreme, is an expression of evil.

One of the most basic issues in the Bible is how one deals with evil, and with violence in particular. The main direction of both the Old and New Testaments is toward nonviolence and reconciliation. We believe that God's love is greater than God's wrath. No violence committed against us, or those we love, justifies our committing violence in return. No suffering -- not even death -- can separate from the love of God. The process of forgiveness is the way through suffering. When we choose the way of loving enemies, we are becoming transformed into the image of Christ. All violence is fundamentally incompatible with the reign of Jesus Christ. Jesus calls us to resist evil without violence -- to forgive rather than to seek revenge -- and to be peacemakers.

We experience violence in five ever-widening circles, from individual to global.

  1. Violence may be directed against the self in various destructive behaviors. We call the church to counsel, nurture, and lead people away from all self-destructive behaviors. We also call the church to cherish and uphold the value of every human life.
  2. We confess that, while we affirm a commitment to peace and nonviolence, many of us have allowed violence in our homes and in our churches. At the heart of nearly all violence in close relationships is the desire to control or use another person. We affirm the congregations and church agencies that have begun to respond to this form of violence. We call the church to move beyond denying and disbelieving domestic and professional abuse, and to make the church a safe place for abuse victims and survivors.
  3. Violence has long been part of leisure and entertainment. Violent content in entertainment is increasing and has become more explicit and is often linked to sex. Society is becoming desensitized to the harmful consequences of violence. We call the church to demand and help create more choices in entertainment that are not based on violence.
  4. Fear of violent attacks in public places has also grown. The increase in gangs and gun violence has led to a demand for larger police forces, more prisons, and harsher sentences. Structures and institutions are violent when economic classes, races, and ethnic groups are pitted against one another. As an alternative society, the church can proclaim and demonstrate a different way. Many programs of healing and hope already exist within Mennonite circles, and can serve as models. We call the church to create and support more programs of restorative justice and to teach the skills that enable people who are personally threatened with violence to respond nonviolently.
  5. Violence is also hurting the global community. Major armed conflicts continue in nearly 40 countries. This armed violence is the result of nations' unrestrained pursuit of self-interest, and of the structural violence present in the world economic system. We call the church to restrain our own material desires and ambitions and promote a fairer distribution of the world's resources. We also call the church to be steadfast in our refusal to participate in, train for, pay for, or directly profit from the use of military violence.

As members of the General Conference Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Church, with God's help, we commit ourselves, our congregations, and our church agencies to be communities of nonviolence, demonstrating and proclaiming the life of peace to which Jesus Christ calls us.

Context of Statement

The request for a statement violence originated from the inter-Mennonite Council of Moderators and Secretaries in 1994. In 1995 delegates to the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church assemblies in Wichita, Kansas called for appointment of a joint committee to prepare a comprehensive statement for approval in 1997. The committee members were Lois Barrett, Doug Pritchard, Florence Duley and Roger Steffey.

The delegate bodies in 1997 made numerous editorial suggestions, but approved the statement in principle. It was later issued in moderately revised form with a study guide as: A Mennonite Statement and Study on Violence with a study guide by Lois Barrett (Newton, Kan. : Faith and Life Press ; Scottdale, Pa. : Herald Press, 1998).

The statement was approved by the General Conference Mennonite Church on July 8, 1997 in Winnipeg, Man. and by the Mennonite Church on August 2, 1997 in Orlando, Florida. The final version was approved by the General Boards of the denominations on November 22, 1997 in Denver Colorado.

Statements by the Mennonite Church General Assembly state the understanding of the Mennonite Church at the time of the action. Statements have informal authority and influence in the denomination; they have formal authority as confirmed or endorsed by area Mennonite Church area conferences and/or congregations. The effect of such statements is similar in the General Conference Mennonite Church.