Recent thoughts on “Peace Testimony”

I do believe that war is always a great evil. It harms everyone exposed to it, whether directly or indirectly. No matter how we count the cost, they are painfully high. In spite of my dislike of war, I’m not always thrilled about my faith tradition’s peace testimony.

To be fair, I agree with the testimony itself. What I dislike is how the “historic peace churches” are set apart from the rest of Christianity as if peace is unique to our own tradition. Ideas such as Humanity is created in God’s image, and killing is a religious abomination is common to Christianity — war, which does not respect God’s image, is thus universally distasteful. Do not all Christians refer to Jesus as the prince of peace? If we make peace a distinction of the minority — we might be able to feel morally superior, but we have perpetuated war by naming it the position of the majority! Instead of saying: “My belief is better than yours,” would it not be better to remind others that they believe in peace as well?

The truth is that other churches also have peace testimonies — even some who seem to ignore it. While the Methodist are never named as a peace church, historically their military service rates have been as low as those of the Quakers and Mennonites — they are a functionally peace church (though, really, they hold to a just war theory — its just that the occasion for a just war is truly rare). Their official position on war is as follows:

We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy, to be employed only as a last resort in the prevention of such evils as genocide, brutal suppression of human rights, and unprovoked international aggression

The Nazarene church goes step further, and like the historic peace churches help their members register for conscientious objection. Holiness churches in general find war distasteful — because it is clearly less than holy. It seems that Anti-war sentiment is common to the whole of the Wesleyan and Holiness movement.

The most remarkable document that I came across was the Southern Baptist Convention’s “Faith and message”. The Southern Baptist are the largest non-Catholic denomination in the United States. They are also the one of the last churches people would think of as having a peace testimony — yet theirs reads (in full) — Article 16 of Faith and Message:

It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.

The true remedy for the war spirit is the gospel of our Lord. The supreme need of the world is the acceptance of His teachings in all the affairs of men and nations, and the practical application of His law of love. Christian people throughout the world should pray for the reign of the Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 2:4; Matthew 5:9,38-48; 6:33; 26:52; Luke 22:36,38; Romans 12:18-19; 13:1-7; 14:19; Hebrews 12:14; James 4:1-2.

Without removing the belief that Humanity is created in God’s image — the peace testimony is a natural conclusion of Christianity. Every Christian tradition I’ve searched seems to have it — with the exception of some independent churches who place nationalism as one of their highest doctrines. Friends, Brethren, Mennonites, and others who wish peace would do well to swallow their (our) pride and recognize the strength of this tradition. We cannot ask others to share our peculiarities — but, we can show that at least this one is not peculiar.

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4 comments on “Recent thoughts on “Peace Testimony”

  1. jwquaker says:

    A testimony of peace is difficult to hold on to. When we live in a country that believes in Justice by a trial of peers I find it odd that we so quickly rush into the big stick view of foreign policy. I have often struggled with this testimony because so often our emotions can push us to react quickly. On 9/11 I along with most American was willing to whatever necissary to bring justice. This resulted in not one but two wars. Now we begin to get a sense of what those wars were truely about. I have truggldwith the testimony of peace because I want to b supportive of my nation, but humanity goes beyond the boarders of nations which are in reality black lines drawn on a map. I feel we as Christians have a unique challenge in this emerging era to truly live our faith in all areas of life. This includes peace. We need to live in peace personally and in our communities before we lose all hope for justice.

    • Don’t forget — the peace testimony for Friends, Brethren, and Mennonites all came when they were under the threat of violence. In the case of Friends, a civil war. In the case of the Brethren and Mennonites, some rather heavy persecution. The peace testimony was not only a religious ideal — it was a moral choice in a difficult time. We have it easier than our religious ancestors did :).

  2. Suzanne says:

    My major issue with the SBC’s statement on peace is how vague it is on the subject of means. In fact, I feel like it opens up the discussion of military means to end war…which is where the culture takes things. Having grown up in Southern Baptist territory, I know first-hand that the culture–both in the pulpit and out–glorifies military means and the use of greater violence to subdue lesser violence, which runs counter to any peace testimony anywhere.

    Your statement on Facebook actually drew me to comment, not necessarily anything in this post. But preferring the statement from the SBC? I’m curious how you can prefer a peace testimony that isn’t actually validated by the churches who wrote it and claim to espouse it. Finding their peace statement shocking and surprising and delightful, yes. I can see that. But preferring it to peace testimonies that are actually part of the practice of other churches? That, I don’t quite see.

    • The difference is that the Quakers can be completely ignored in terms of national policy. The “historic peace churches” all put together can be ignored completely. Southern Baptists are a vital part of the Republican victory strategy. If the Southern Baptists pushed their peace testimony, it would influence national policy. Quakers, Mennonites and Brethren are consistently ignored.

      I am being a pragmatist. I want to see a road to peace — and, if Quaker’s are unique because we don’t like war there is not such a road.

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