What kind of peace church are we?


December 1, 2023 | Editorial | Volume 27 Issue 24
Will Braun | Editor
After weeks of bombardment, Palestinians head to the southern part of the Gaza Strip on November 9. The UN says 1.7 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been displaced since October 7. (Photo by Mohammed Zaanoun/Active Stills)

As Israel obliterates Gaza, and hostages await sunlight, it’s easy to look away. Indeed, sometimes we must. Not everyone can take every war to heart. But this war demands something of us collectively.

Mennonite Church Canada issued a brief statement on November 2, calling churches to combat antisemitism and Islamophobia in Canada and pray for a “just peace” in the Middle East.

A year ago, MC Canada hosted Jack Sara and Yousef AlKhouri of Bethlehem Bible College, an official partner of MC Canada. What would they think of our statement?

A statement, however good, if unaccompanied by action, means little. Still, surely a peace church could condemn the killing of children and capture of hostages. Surely it could invite Palestinians to address us, or launch a social media campaign to express solidarity with Palestinian churches, or put out an alternate Advent litany, or send an emissary of solace to Israel and Palestine.

Why have our leaders not acted boldly? Four considerations:

1. One could say Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) takes care of advocacy on behalf of Mennonites, while denominational bodies do church work. MCC has written to the prime minister and met with politicians to call for peace. At its encouragement, over a thousand people have written their elected officials about Gaza. MCC also works with partners to address the humanitarian crisis.

The MCC response, whether adequate or not, does not let MC Canada off the hook. We can still speak and we can still discern how to respond as a church. There are options beyond advocacy. For instance, Mennonite World Conference president Henk Stenvers issued an October 9 “pastoral letter.”

2. As a priesthood of all believers, those of us in the pews must ask if we have given church bodies the funds required to take bold action.

3. A third consideration in assessing MC Canada inaction is that the Palestine-Israel networks—volunteer groups officially mandated by the denomination—are doing the collective work. While these groups are showing conviction and heart, they do not speak on behalf of leaders. Leaders still bear responsibility.

4. In the current structure, MC Canada cannot speak or act publicly without the approval of each regional church. If one objects or stalls, MC Canada remains silent.

In fact, it took the regions seven weeks to approve a webinar in response a call from Palestinian churches.

After 12 years of denominational restructuring and visioning—going back to the lead-up to the Future Directions Task Force—our peace church is somehow unable or unwilling to respond decisively to the killing of thousands of children in Gaza and the killing of Israelis by Hamas.

After years of consultations, consultants and organizational diagrams, we’ve put the dove on our logo in a cage.

As Gaza goes to hell, our leaders have struck a committee. It will untangle the structural work of previous committees so that we can act effectively. Important work.

However, the structure is not entirely to blame. It does not prevent regional churches from acting, but MC Alberta appears to be the only regional church to do so, sending a letter to Ottawa.

Any new structure needs to find a way to “lean into tension,” to quote Shel Boese. Real differences exist within our denomination. We must do better than set up a system that allows the majority to out-vote the minority.

This war demands that we look beyond ourselves. Maybe the re-re- structuring committee should be sent to Israel and Palestine with a mandate to deliver solace, listen to Jewish and Palestinian partners—surely some of the most outstanding peace advocates alive—and return with a new vision for our peace church.

This war invites us to turn our face toward the Holy Land, the place where God broke into hearts and history as a tiny, tender miracle in a time of trouble.

What better time than Christmas to turn toward Bethlehem.

* * *

We say a temporary farewell to Betty Avery, our designer, who is now on maternity leave. We wish her the best in the gentle adventures ahead.

Will Braun welcomes feedback at editor@canadianmennonite.org.

—Clarification (December 21, 2023): This editorial stated that, of the regional churches, only Mennonite Church Alberta had taken an action such as sending a letter to the government about the Gaza war. That was based on information available on regional church websites. In fact, MC Manitoba also sent a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau, on October 25, calling for a ceasefire. It sent two follow-up emails as well. MC Eastern Canada is part of a network in the Kitchener-Waterloo area that has organized events related to Gaza. It also actively supports the work of the MCEC Palestine-Israel Network.

Read more editorials:
Call and promise
Hold tenderly to death
God have mercy on the Middle East

After weeks of bombardment, Palestinians head to the southern part of the Gaza Strip on November 9. The UN says 1.7 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been displaced since October 7. (Photo by Mohammed Zaanoun/Active Stills)

Share this page: Twitter Instagram

Add new comment

Canadian Mennonite invites comments and encourages constructive discussion about our content. Actual full names (first and last) are required. Comments are moderated and may be edited. They will not appear online until approved and will be posted during business hours. Some comments may be reproduced in print.