Mennonite Tricentennial Resolution (General Conference Mennonite Church, 1983)
Mennonite Tricentennial Resolution (GCMC, 1983)
Mennonite Tricentennial Resolution
The first permanent Mennonite settlement in North America was established at Germantown, Pa., in the year 1683. Three hundred years later, in 1983, we as Mennonites are assembled at Bethlehem, Pa., representing the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church, in Canada and the United States. We have celebrated here in a special way God's rule and presence among us during the 300 years since our North American beginnings at Germantown.
In 1683--and in Europe a century and a half earlier-our forebears established a church that patterned itself after the apostolic church founded by Jesus Christ. As followers of Christ in this new land, they tried to live according to the teachings and spirit of Jesus. Along with their fellow believers, the Quakers, they sought to build a peaceful community where all would be one under the Lordship of Christ. Now, 300 years later, we affirm our centuries-old Mennonite faith. We also acknowledge that we have failed, and continue to fail, in living fully the way of love, peace and faithfulness to Christ.
As Mennonites we are grateful that we can be identified with the first group of Dutch-Germans to migrate to North America. Further, we are grateful for the current interest of the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany in celebrating the German-American tricentennial and in cultivating friendship between two nations which only 40 years ago were enemies in a world war. We are concerned, however, by certain recent events that relate to Mennonite beginnings in Germantown in 1683.
This year the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany are also celebrating the 300th anniversary of the German immigration to the American colonies. President Reagan of the United States has appointed a Tricentennial Commission of 40 members to plan this event.
In the president's proclamation of the tricentennial year he noted the coming of "13 families" in 1683 and went on to herald the success of the Marshall Plan, the Berlin airlift and the NATO military partnership. As a symbol of this German-American partnership, the United States plans to install in West Germany 108 Pershing II missiles, the most accurate and deadly missiles ever aimed at the Soviet Union.
The irony and the tragedy of this tricentennial celebration is that it commemorates the arrival from Krefeld, Germany, on Oct. 6, 1683, of 34 people seeking new homes and communities in a new land.
The landing of the ship Concord in 1683 symbolizes a significant moment in the history of religious freedom and cultural pluralism on this continent. We are saddened to see, however, in this tricentennial event-coupled with the planned placement of Pershing missiles in Germany-the militarization of the Mennonite-Quaker story.
We, the spiritual descendants of those people of peace who came to North America in 1683, sense a calling on this tricentennial occasion to speak for peace and justice, which have been our heritage and hope these 300 years:
- We reaffirm our commitment as Mennonites to our centuries-molded mission of reconciliation within the church and among all peoples, and to nurture among ourselves a renewed devotion to the biblical ways of peace in Christ.
- We invite the leaders of the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany to recognize in the tricentennial celebrations the presence of a heritage in the North American experience of a longing for peace, fairness and justice, and a quest for a free church in a free society.
- We encourage Mennonites to gather with like-minded lovers of peace in Philadelphia on Oct. 6, 1983, in a peaceful witness of faith and conscience to a European-North American bond of "Friendship Without Missiles."
- We respond with favor to the invitation of our German Mennonite kinsmen to join with them on Sunday, Oct. 16, 1983, in a joint observance of "Transatlantic Peace Sunday" for the purpose of prayer, worship, discernment and speaking forth on the ways of peace in a violent world.
- We encourage the United States to cultivate a new community of friendship among nations, not only with the people of Germany but also with the peoples of other nations, including the Soviet Union, where many of our Mennonite brothers and sisters live. Knowing the deep yearning of all peoples for peace, we urge both nations to use the means of peace to attain the ends of peace. With urgent voice we call for the United States to halt its deployment in Germany of the Pershing missiles aimed at the people of the Soviet Union.
We pray that we might keep faith with those Quaker-Mennonite immigrants of 1683 who came to these shores in gratitude that they might pursue their ways of simple living, biblical discipleship and peace in new communities in this new land.
Context of the Resolution
The above resolution did not pass without some controversy. Even after its initial approval by the General Conference Mennonite Church delegates at Bethlehem '83, several Canadian delegates tried to soften the language about the U.S. military presence in Europe. One such delegate asked whether God might not be using systems and powers outside the perfection of Christ, "such as the United States," to preserve political freedom in world against communism. He feared a call for disarmament would encourage further communist aggression.
Bethlehem '83: General Conference Mennonite Church forty-third triennial sessions, August 1-7, 1983 : minutes. Newton, Kan. : General Conference Mennonite Church, 1983: 8, 14-15.