Saying the war in Ukraine has shaken western European Mennonites’ commitment to nonviolence, a French pastor urged Mennonites from around the world to get off the sidelines and work for peace.
Hundreds of worshippers heard her message on July 6, the second day of the Mennonite World Conference (MWC) assembly in Salatiga, Indonesia.
“We affirmed nonviolence when our context was peaceful, but in the face of war we see nonviolent resistance as naive and unrealistic,” said Salomé Haldemann of France, a graduate of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind.
Haldemann’s address was read by Anne Hansen of Germany because Haldemann was unable to attend.
After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, she said, the nearness and reality of war shocked Mennonites in western Europe. “Today we are afraid that war may overtake Europe,” she said. “Suddenly our theology and beliefs feel obsolete. A storm took over Europe, and the churches’ convictions collapsed.”
The way to survive the storm, she said, is to build convictions on the solid rock of Jesus and act on them.
Citing the tradition of calls to action at MWC assemblies, she urged the church to get off the sidelines and work for peace.
She noted that, at the 1967 assembly in Amsterdam, U.S. civil rights leader Vincent Harding called on Mennonites to “come alongside Black sisters and brothers in the freedom struggle.”
At the 1984 assembly in Strasbourg, France, American writer and professor Ron Sider encouraged starting a nonviolent peace force, which sparked the creation of Community Peacemaker Teams (formerly Christian Peacemaker Teams).
“But most of us have stayed on the sidelines where things are comfortable,” Haldemann said. “What does it look like to practise love of the enemy on a collective level in our time and place? It may very well look like nonviolent resistance.
“Maybe Mennonites could prepare for war resistance with an anti-military service, like a nonviolent resistance boot camp. . . . Nations prepare for war with military training. It might be time for us to create a widespread training for church people to learn and practise the basics of civil resistance.”
Europeans, who have more experience with discussion and debate than with activism, “need the help of the global church if we want to find our footing in the field of practise,” she said. “We have brothers and sisters who have experience in nonviolent resistance. Please train us. Practise with us, so we can learn together.”
Reflecting the culture of a majority Muslim country, Sufi Islamic dancers participated in the service. Worshippers at the main meeting site at STT Seminary viewed their presentation by livestream from a Mennonite church, Congdut GITJ Jepara, in the region of Central Java.
Wearing long white robes and black hats, five men from Jepara’s Sufi Islamic community spun in circles, with arms raised, while women sang and a band played.
The Congdut GITJ Jepara congregation works closely with the local Sufi community, said Liesa Unger, MWC’s chief international events officer. The congregation asked if it could invite Sufi participation, and MWC officials agreed, Unger said.
Paul Schrag is editor of Anabaptist World. This article was written for Meetinghouse, a group of Mennonite publications.