CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN NETWORK
Continuing the work of Jesus : Peacefully ~ Simply ~ Together
Written by Ronald J. Gordon ~ Published March, 1996 ~ Last Updated, May, 2014 ©
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The following treatment of pacifism, non-resistance, and biblical interpretation should be understood as the personal viewpoint of this Brethren author, and does not presume to represent official denominational policy, nor that of any distinct group within the Church of the Brethren, because, there are various opinions and interpretations of the New Testament among our members. This exposition is offered to give the casual non-Brethren visitor an overview of the principles and general arguments for non-resistance, pacifism. Includes also is a brief history of Brethren responses to war.
Historically grounded on the peace and non-resistance teachings of Jesus Christ as found in the New Testament, the Church of the Brethren shares its understanding of peace with only a few other historic peace churches. In times of war, the Brethren have encouraged their children to resist direct military participation, yet dutifully serve their country in the role of a Conscientious Objector. Although the official position of the Church of the Brethren through the discernment of Annual Conference historically resists war and all forms of violence, there is intellectually honest disagreement throughout the denomination concerning the interpretation of peace and non-resistance. There are some Brethren who resist any involvement with the military while others enlist and serve without reservation. Some Brethren deduct the military spending percentage from their federal income taxes while others pay in full. You will find Brethren opinions scattered all along the political spectrum from doves to hawks. Admittedly, there is inconsistency in the Brethren interpretation and observance of Christ's admonitions, but hopefully the following treatment and resources will enable you to more clearly understand our general perspectives on the teachings of the New Testament concerning these issues.
You are encouraged to first read the official position, Statement Of The Church Of The Brethren On War that was originally adopted by the 1948 Annual Conference as the Statement On Position And Practices Of The Church Of The Brethren In Relation To War. A first revision was made in 1957 and a second in 1968. The current version is yet a third revision by the 1970 Annual Conference. See also Peace & Non-Violence Resource List at the bottom of this page.
Peacemaking in the Mold
Doctrines are those principles or beliefs of a group that have resulted from the parallel activity of a creative power and years of molding in the hands of adherence and contributing influences. Brethren have historically endeavored to seek peaceful methods to resolve conflicts as they have understood the teachings of Jesus, the creative force behind their views on Non-Resistance and Pacifism (from PAX, the Latin word for peace). This exposition attempts to recount some of the major factors that have influenced the Brethren comprehension of these issues. It does not presume to be an exhaustive treatment but hopes to offer clarity on the more significant aspects of their historic understandings.
CHALLENGES OF NON-VIOLENCE
Brethren historically seek the mind of Christ as explained by Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:16 when discerning issues of the church. They have interpreted resist not evil and turn the other cheek to mean exactly what is stated. These are compelling words from Jesus who introduced new concepts into historic rabbinical Judaism. In the fifth chapter of Matthew there begins a pattern of Ye have heard that it hath been said....but I say unto you formulas wherein Jesus makes reference to commonly held perceptions and teachings, but then goes further to explain the concept behind God's original intention. So challenging have been the implications of these pronouncements that renowned author F.F. Bruce was moved to collect these and similar statements in a book appropriately entitled, The Hard Sayings of Jesus. What then was the commonly held perception in the above Matthean scripture? That commensurate retaliation for personal injury was acceptable (Leviticus 24:17-22). If someone damages your eye, then it is appropriate for you to damage their eye. We are to surmise that the fear of retaliation was the inhibiting factor controlling human behavior. For Jesus to admonish the injured party to bridle their natural inclination for just retaliation would have seemed strange to his listeners. Additionally, and of much deeper interest, Jesus seemingly equates resisting retaliation with resisting evil. In other words, it is evil to retaliate. Or is it? This immediately begs the question: Would it have been evil for a fellow Jew of this period to follow the Levitical prescription for retaliation? These passages challenge us to examine things more carefully. We are admonished to look beyond the mere letter of the Law, in order to better understand the Lawgiver. The Sermon on the Mount is a window into the mind of God. Jesus' hard statements permit us to see ourselves more objectively and further calls us to more lovingly interact with each other according to His examples.
If his listeners were not already challenged, the statement immediately following would certainly have aroused heated debate, for here lies one of Jesus' hardest sayings, love your enemies?...do good to them? If it appears that Jesus is abrogating specific commandments to a culture that lived under the daily expectation of fulfilling commandments, it may be worth noting that during the ministry of Christ, God was changing the theological economy from law to grace. It would be natural for Jesus' listeners to struggle with the concept of grace. His analogy of sun and rain benefiting the just and unjust is helpful in demonstrating a principle of God's grace during an age of law. These verses invite numerous positions, refutations, replies, and rejoinders, but one component that fuels the debate and breeds more confusion than any other is the ingredient of permissible defensive action. On this singular point, hinges more of the focus of discussion than any other. Some pacifists believe that turning the other cheek necessitates timidity and precludes defending one's self or family while other pacifists hold no such viewpoint. Non-pacifists have successfully used this particular, along with healthy doses of logic and reasonability to depict pacifists as uncaring individuals, and thus, drive a wedge between both pacifist camps, usually with stellar results. Is there greater condemnation than to be portrayed as one who willfully consents to the injury or death of loved ones through inaction?
The element of inaction is the non-pacifist's best ammunition because scripture and logic to the contrary is so easily producible. For example, under Old Testament canon, defensive action was permissible and anticipated, even if it resulted in the death of the aggressor. An often cited example is Exodus 22:2-3 - “If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him.” (King James), or “If a thief is caught in the act of breaking into a house and is killed, the one who killed him is not guilty. But if it happens in the daylight, it must be presumed to be murder and the man who kills him is guilty.” (Living Bible). It would appear from this passage that under darkness, God waives punishment on the defender because he is not able to see where his fist or club makes contact on the body of the intruder. However in daylight, when the defender possesses both knowledge of surroundings and the ability to contemplate the reasonable degree of injury that could be inflicted on the intruder, God presumes death to be the result of calculation or design. In either scenario, whether it be day or night, the fact remains that defensive activity was biblically permissible and anticipated. God did not expect homeowners to passively watch their families being helplessly ravaged. They were expected to defend their homes but not so as to cross that line where defensive interaction results in the death of the perpetrator.
NON-RESISTANCE VS. PACIFISM
These two terms have been used so interchangeably that their stark differences are often blurred and misunderstood. Non-resistance looks towards the relationship between God and man as the place to start resolving hostilities, while Pacifism usually looks toward the political or secular realm as the place to start. Non-resistance views sin as the major reason for a lack of peace in our world. A man or woman separated from a holy God uses violence as a natural means of resolving differences and conflicts. Pacifism usually overlooks sin as the problem and holds that people will naturally lean towards peace through education, legislation, and diplomacy. Non-resistance finds a happy home in the Bible while Pacifism looks to the outside world. Anabaptists historically have endeavored to serve Christ as king while the other focuses its efforts on the political process of this world. The former believes that regeneration is necessary for people to experience lasting peace while the latter believes that activism is the pathway to lasting peace. Non-resistance is usually theologically driven while Pacifism is usually driven by ideology. Each group predictably interprets the Bible through the lens of its own perspective and some individuals happily work in both camps: aware or unaware of the differences.
But I say unto you...
...passages of the fifth chapter of Matthew are examples of scripture that presents a case for Non-resistance, such as verses 38,39,43,44,45: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” This is challenging language, especially the concept of loving ones enemy. Some prefer to view these statements allegorically instead of literally while others believe that Jesus meant exactly what He said.
Jesus cleansing the Temple...
;...in Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15, Luke 19:45, and John 2:15 are examples of scripture that presents a case for Pacifism and especially highlighting the necessity of the Activist. “And Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple,” Mark 11:15-16. Jesus boldly cast out buyers, sellers, overturned tables, poured out money, and would not let them return to the temple. This was an exemplary act of force that did not use education or diplomacy in order to get the point across. Jesus forced them to leave.
How do we resolve this dilemma? Are Christians to be timid and passive or outward and forceful? It is not easy for some to decide for Non-resistance and Pacifism seem to walk along different pathways. Brethren continually debate this very issue but the one thing that unites us all is the person of Jesus Christ. Regardless of how we interpret scripture, Christ modeled exactly what He taught.
PRINCE OF PEACE
The personality of Jesus is a powerful commentary toward understanding biblical peace. Some would aver that true and lasting peace can only be attained through the Prince of Peace, as Messiah is called by the prophet Isaiah (9:6). While some Brethren seek world peace in the political arena without strong religious affinity, other Brethren believe that a more lasting peace on earth and ultimately eternal peace is realized by our acquiring more of the personality of Jesus, so that our words and actions closely model those of Him. Thus, we manifest peace to the world around us because we are living more like the Prince of Peace. Eschewing the activist role in the political realm, these Brethren project a lifestyle of peace by learning more about the personality of Christ, which emerges from what He actually said in the Gospel accounts, as well as what is said about Him through the people who knew Him. Additionally, prophetical insights granted by the Holy Spirit give us a unique God ordained perspective. We generally become more like Jesus through a two-step process of constantly reading the biblical accounts concerning Him and then trusting the Holy Spirit to transform us into a regenerated person that embodies these characteristics. This is explained by Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” It is a lifelong endeavor. A continuous process of filling our heads with knowledge about Jesus, and then yielding ourselves to the interaction of the Holy Spirit who strives to make us more and more like Christ. Several passages are worthy of consideration but Matthew 12:18-20 is certainly one of the most extensive: “Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall show judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory.” Since poetic and symbolic language are employed by Isaiah to formulate a mental image of Messiah's personality, interpretation of such metaphorical symbolism is entirely subjective.
Reverend John Gill, the honorable Eighteenth Century theologian, scholar, pastor, and commentator acquired a scope of biblical knowledge and practical insight that is achieved by few people. He pastored the New Park Street Church of London for over fifty years and was succeeded by the renowned Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Gill offers these insights concerning the Matthean text, accompanied with an italicized parenthetical summary by this writer.
(Gill) "He shall not strive or contend in a wrangling way, as the disputers of this world do about words to no profit, and for the sake of victory only, and popular applause, but shall choose rather to withdraw, than to carry on a controversy to a great length, to little purpose; or, as men litigate a point in a court of judicature, where one is plaintiff, and the other defendant. In the Hebrew text it is, he shall not cry; he shall not act the part of a plaintiff; he shall not complain, or bring in any charge, or accusation against any, but choose rather to suffer wrong, than to contend... he would not accuse to the Father, nor complain against his most implacable enemies, but left that to Moses, in whom they trusted; nor cry, or, as in the Hebrew text, lift up; that is, his voice, in a clamorous way, using reviling and opprobrious language, or menaces and threatenings; but, on the contrary, he silently put up all abuses, and patiently bore every affront, and behaved peaceably, quietly, committing himself and cause to a righteous God."
(Gill) "Neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets; or, as in the Hebrew text, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street: the sense is the same, and the meaning is, that he sought not worldly honour, popular applause, and to be seen of men; he did nothing in an ostentatious way, said nothing in his own commendation, was never heard to praise himself, and chose that others should be silent concerning him: for this does not so much regard the lowness of his voice, as if that was not so sonorous as to be heard without doors, when he preached within, as his modest mein and suitable deportment; nor the places where he usually ministered, which was sometimes in the street, as well as in an house, or on a mountain, or by the sea side, or in the temple."
(Author) Christ was quiet in word and deed. He did not mount the proverbial soapbox to bark his views above the din of the crowd. He did not go looking for a fight but instead, offered divine revelation to those who would come to listen. When antagonists sought Him out, He responded in a factual manner that would address their point, yet with a salient bit of heavenly wisdom. In our modern age, people crave public recognition of who they are, or presume themselves to be. Many people desire to win every discussion or argument as though their integrity depended on it. To be on the losing end of a serious debate might be regarded as disgraceful. The personality of Jesus was not an in-your-face demeanor, but one of unpretentious compassion with a desire to perform acts of healing and kindness in secrecy.
(Gill) "Some think the Scribes and Pharisees are designed, whose power Christ could easily crush, and their wrath and fury restrain, but would not, till the time of his vengeance was come. Others that the publicans and sinners are intended, of whose conversion and salvation there were more hope than of the Scribes and Pharisees; and which Christ greatly sought after, and therefore cherished and encouraged them in his ministry and conversation. Some are of opinion, that such who have fallen into sin, and are under great decays of grace, are meant, whom Christ has compassion on, succours, and restores: but rather young converts, such as are under first awakenings, are here pointed at; who, like to a "bruised reed", or "broken" one, one that is in some measure broke, near being broken to pieces, are wounded in their spirits, have their hearts broken and contrite, under a sense of their sinfulness, vileness, weakness, and unworthiness; whom Christ is so far from breaking and destroying, that he binds up their broken hearts, heals their wounds, and restores comforts to them: and who are like to "smoking flax", "a smoking lamp"; to which the Arabic and Persic versions agree; meaning the wick of the lamp, which being just lighted, seems ready to go out, having scarce any light, only a little fire in it, which makes it smoke: so these have but little light of knowledge, faith, and comfort, and a great deal of darkness and infirmity; only there is some warmth in their affections, which go upwards "like pillars of smoke, perfumed with frankincense"; and such Christ is so far from neglecting, and putting out, that he blows up the sparks of grace into a flame, and never utterly leaves the work."
(Author) Bruised reeds and smoking flax appear to be symbols of weakness or brokenness. When others would crush them with their own presumed superiority, Christ would heal or bind them to alleviate their misery. A broken stick appears to have no goodness left. It is looked upon with sadness in light of what it might have grown to become. Christ looks upon people, not to see what little goodness they may possess, but to sense what glorious achievements they might attain. Christ does not look upon weak believers with sadness, but with hope. When ancient lamps were first lit, instead of immediately shining brightly, they smoldered and filled the room with smoke. New converts flicker with enthusiasm but soon begin to smolder from lack of spiritual encouragement. Instead of snuffing out their helpless flickering as would the erudite, Christ energizes their sparks to become useful flames.
Jesus' personality emerges with profound relevance to a modern world seeking peace. He is not in the limelight but a silent partner (Matthew 8:4, 17:9, Mark 8:26, Luke 5:14, 8:56) who resolves root causes of pain and suffering outside of the activist's center-stage. He does not throw himself before marching Roman troops nor does he organize the ancient equivalent of a modern sit-in protest. Yet his life of peace giving had dynamic effects because of its revolutionary implications. When others prescribe violence, He is quick to remind that such thinking should be foreign to them (Luke 9:55). Jesus demonstrated that peace is an outgrowth of loving others and caring about their welfare (Matthew 20:25-28). Peace is lacking on the modern highway because people race with each other as though being ahead of the other guy is as necessary as breathing. Our actions loudly proclaim our theology. At the grocery store or the bank, getting through before someone in another line is tantamount to preserving one's honor. It should not be titillating to finish the business at hand and leave while peripherally glimpsing the look of frustration on the face of another in a slower line. We crave and race and shove to our detriment, for Christ would have done none of these. Daily, we theatrically parade our lack of Christlikeness, which explains our lack of a peaceful world. Herbert Hoover said, Peace is not made at the council table or by treaties, but in the hearts of men. We cannot have a world at peace unless we change attitudes. Only Christ can change the priorities of the heart and mind. To truly know peace in ourselves and our world is to truly know the personality of Jesus Christ. We become living testimonials of peace by getting to know the Prince of Peace.
History of Contributing Influences
Creative powers induce beliefs or ideas, but the parallel activity which results in the formulation of a doctrine is the years of molding in the hands of adherence and contributing influences. There have been numerous events which have participated to this formulation process, and each of the following are only brief recountings of the more significant historical influences that have contributed to the molding of the Brethren doctrine on pacifism.
These dedicated recipients of persecution and death from the European church-state alliance of the Catholic and Lutheran churches were the most resolute product of the Reformation. Born of doubts concerning the validity of infant baptism, adherents practiced adult re-baptism or ANA (Greek for again) BAPTISM, since each follower was initially baptized as an infant. They did not pause with Luther or Calvin, but sought to change the dual hand of church and state forever. No exercise of force in religion was their proclamation. During this time, citizens were forced to belong to the religion of their district, and in times of war or domestic unrest, changes in nobility and their religious disposition could be frequent. Anabaptism was properly a grass-roots movement by disaffected commoners who did not find early leadership in any personage of significant notoriety such as Luther or Calvin. For this reason, Anabaptists did not win intellectual respectability as the larger reform movements whose figureheads were men of education who produced thoughtfully reasoned arguments that were persuasive to thinking minds. Disunited groups of Anabaptists were not privileged with many leaders of academic proficiency, certainly because their fundamental appeal was more to emotions than intellect. Possibly due to the precedent setting activities of the major reformers who challenged the authority of the Roman Catholic Church with the Bible itself, and especially since Luther translated Holy Writ into German, the scriptures were no longer the exclusive property of bishops. Interpretation now enjoyed a wider audience, including the progenitors of Anabaptism. The great majority of rebaptizers were peaceful, constructive, and in some ways nearly ascetic, but due to their social origin and radical emotionalism, they were regarded as extremists, dangerous, and threats to civility. The Rhine Valley in the mid 1500's witnessed nightly torches of burning saints. They were mocked and scorned by angry crowds as they were led to their executions. It is ironic that the very entity that suffered the pain of affliction in the Roman arena now became the Afflicter. Doubly ironic is that many non-Catholics who enjoyed their newly gained freedom by the Reformers, likewise chose to be Afflicters. The slaughtering of Anabaptists was severe, vitriolic, and even offered as entertainment in some locations; but still they grew in number, and became even more resolute in their convictions. History has witnessed few movements whose participants were as obdurate as those of Anabaptism.
Their distrust of government was obvious, and they would not take oaths. A few practiced what can only be described as combative pacifism. In other words, they were willing to respond aggressively in the most vociferous manner without actually becoming physical. One such person was Jacob Hutter who is recognized as the founder of the Hutterites.
"Woe, woe! unto you, O ye Moravian rulers, who have sworn to that cruel tyrant and enemy of God's truth, Ferdinand, to drive away his pious and faithful servants. Woe! we say unto you, who fear that frail and mortal man more than the living, omnipotent, and eternal God, and chase from you, suddenly and inhumanly, the children of God, the afflicted widow, the desolate orphan, and scatter them abroad...God, by the mouth of the prophet proclaims that He will fearfully and terribly avenge the shedding of innocent blood, and will not pass by such as fear not to pollute and contaminate their hands therewith. Therefore, great slaughter, much misery and anguish, sorrow and adversity, yea, everlasting groaning, pain and torment are daily appointed you."
J.T. van Braght, "Martyrology: Letters of Jakob Hutter," Vol I, p. 151-153
R.J. Smithson, "The Anabaptists," London, 1935, p. 69-71
See also "History of Civilization," Prentice-Hall, 1967, p. 481
The great majority of Anabaptists were respectful, their everyday living was peaceful, simple, and demonstrably pious. Inspirational for many Anabaptists, perhaps their only figurehead, was the Dutch-born, Catholic priest, Menno Simons. He had many quiet doubts about church doctrines such as transubstantiation and infant baptism. Following a careful study of the New Testament and Luther's writings, he left the Catholic Church, adhering only to orthodox Christian doctrines and excluding those beliefs not clearly articulated in the New Testament. In 1537 he began preaching at Groningen where he was married. Simons adhered to orthodox Christian doctrines, but excluded those beliefs not clearly mentioned in the New Testament. His followers became known as Mennonites. Due to it's grass-roots origin, Anabaptism would heavily influence religious thought far beyond the century of its birth, including the Schwarzenau Brethren who would rebaptize themselves in the Eder River in 1708. Anabaptist beliefs and practices are so compelling and attractive that it has endured, with minor changes, into the modern era.
William Penn had dreams of establishing a Christian State where theology and spiritual principles would be the gears of the mechanism of government. Quakers and Brethren heavily populated the new Commonwealth with the former gaining predominate control of the early legislature. William Penn appealed to the industrious and religiously pious of Europe to settle and maintain his new experiment. Unfortunately he died before witnessing his dream become a true reality, but in the wake of his influence, Quakers gained control of the legislature and governed Pennsylvania with Bible and prayer. They refused to quarter a militia as other colonial states which led to frequent, boisterous protests from several governors, alarmed that indian tribes could raid settlements without fear of reprisal. Brethren enjoyed their colonial freedom from religious persecution which had marched them across the European landscape. They brought to Pennsylvania their Anabaptist understandings of nonviolence and Pietistic disposition toward spiritual fervency. There was an affinity between these two groups since Quakerism was the British version of Pietism, thus was added the support of other German non-Brethren groups. True to their Anabaptist heritage, the Brethren continued to preach and educate sons, daughters, and converts with a theological emphasis on non-bearing of weapons, resistance to war, and non-participation in the military. The next century would severely test the Brethren's committment to these principles.
THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR
The War between the States impacted this country, perhaps more so than any other single event because of the debilitating effects of internal conflict when brother fights against brother. Additionally, the ugliness of slavery demanded recognition, the immense economic aftermath changed the very structure of the federal government, and the death of President Lincoln created a national wound. The great majority of Brethren did not enlist, and many who did, refused to kill. Nonparticipants paid heavy files or went to prison while others fled and resettled elsewhere. The general mood of the nation, resting on the momentum of the Revolutionary War did not yet recognize pacifism. Still fixed in the national conscience was the Minute Man who left field & farm to serve his country, and figures such as Patrick Henry who was immortalized for his declaration of give me liberty, or give me death. The inconsistency of Brethren involvement in the Civil War began a process of debate within the denomination that had not previously existed. Pacifism had its roots in Anabaptist thought and was for the Brethren a given understanding. Why then did some Brethren leave their pacifist heritage for the battlefield? Was the Civil War unique among hostilities? Why the sudden tolerance of military participation? In his book, Studies in Brethren History, page 268, Floyd Mallott shares an interesting observation.
"There is a direct relationship between participation in government and participation in military service. In monarchical Europe the question of participation in government-and the attempt at directing society-did not occur. Only in the New World with its theory of democratic participation could the question be raised."
If Mallott's observation is valid, then Brethren involvement in government could be antithetical to its pacifistic heritage. Yet if abstention from politics is desirable, how then may Brethren participate in the directing of society? The very next century would experience two world conflicts with a higher percentage of Brethren involved in each one.
TRIAL BY TECHNOLOGY
World War I was simply a street fight waiting for a dark alley. Europe had drawn itself into rival compacts where nations repeatedly threatened other nations, and the spark of one assassination lit the entire European powder keg. In her well researched book The Guns of August, Barbara Tuckman deftly uncovers the monumental ineptitude of generals and field commanders on both sides. For this reason alone, World War I may aptly be called the war of stupid mistakes. President John F. Kennedy made Tuckman's book required reading for many of his military commanders and political operatives. Germany was blamed for the conflict and forced to pay huge sums in reparations. A point that was successfully used by Hitler to remind the German people that they did not start the war but shouldered the blame and the punishment. His rantings in Bavaria secured him a place in the hearts of too many honest citizens who did not realize his own cultic scheme for world domination. At the same time, Japanese visionaries also had plans to solve their geological misfortune of possessing no domestic oil. Their war with China was costing them precious resources, so they began to focus their eyes on the rich oil fields of Indonesia. Only one obstacle remained in their way, the U.S. Navy which ruled the Pacific Ocean.
These two wars garnered more Brethren from the arms of pacifism because men and women responded to a new, and much different call than previous wars - globalism. For the first time in history, war danced on a larger stage with the world community as its audience. The larger scale now required the addition of the term world to war. Beyond ancient battlefields with localized atrocities, the menace of world domination entreated a stronger call to pacifists. WWII introduced a style of engagement based more heavily on technology. It was possible to kill more people at a greater distance with greater accuracy than could ever before have been imagined. Although troops still fought in hand to hand combat, the use of long range missiles by Germans, and saturation bombing of whole cities by the Allies desensitized soldiers to the act of killing because they no longer needed to look upon the face of the enemy or hear the agony of his death. This feature of technology was even more obvious in Viet Nam, and the Gulf War in Iraq further escalated this stratagem. Cruise missiles traveled beyond the horizon, and laser guided bombs from undetectable stealth aircraft turned destruction into video entertainment. U.S. General H. Norman Schwarzkopf chortled to reporters during a Gulf War news conference while reviewing tapes from bomber aircraft showing a man running across a bridge: Now watch what this guy sees in his rearview mirror. In a few seconds, a laser guided bomb destroyed an entire section of the bridge where this man was running. Laughter was then heard from the reporters. The world has entered into a new type of technological warfare and the screams of the dying are now quiet to the slayers.
Brethren continue to debate the centrality of peace in the gospel message. It would seem that a peace church should have long ago settled the issue of Biblical Pacifism, however, the discussion continues, and here are some of the questions that frequently surface in our attempt to understand and live the words of Jesus in a modern world.
Brethren Denominational Resources
The following links are intended as a resource for pacifism and non-violence studies. Please understand that each organization is solely responsible for it's own content. Further, since the Internet is connective in nature, it is eventually possible that you may inadvertently link from one of the following sites to other locations whose sponsors may have theological or political views that are inconsistent with the Church of the Brethren as a whole.
ON EARTH PEACE ASSEMBLY
In order to promote a stronger awareness of the need for peace, On Earth Peace Assembly was founded in 1974 by M.R. Zigler to focus Church of the Brethren members on the peace issue and convey a distinct anti-war message, especially in the wake of the United States military involvement in Vietnam. This non-profit organization encouraged draft age men to consider alternative service for their country as Conscientious Objectors, and today, OEPA continues this original dream with peace studies, guest lecturing, church camp visitation, and educational programs that create awareness of the New Testament admonition for peace. One successful educational program has been weekend Peace Retreats where youth are interactively challenged, in a small group environment, to develop their understanding of the meaning of biblical peace. Ministry Of Reconciliation is a wing of OEPA that strives to resolve conflicts within the denomination and encourage discussion that will produce healing in relationships. There is also an entirely new initiative from OEPA in the wake of September 11 called Seeking Peace, a project to provide creative ideas on responding to violence, by offering information, providing new avenues for understanding, support for congregations and leadership, plus inspirational articles and statements on effective witnessing for peace.
TRAINED TO KILL
Violent video games are perhaps one of the most efficient methods of training youth to kill, states retired Lt. Colonel David Grossman and former West Point psychology professor who wrote the Pulitzer Prize nominated book, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Holding lectures all over the country, Grossman attempts to enlighten parents and educators of the subtle yet destructive nature of the violent video game. He states: the same psychological conditioning the military has employed, with safeguards, to train soldiers to kill has been replicated in video games that serve to disconnect violent acts from their consequences. In previous generations during boot camp, young recruits faced the difficult experience of overcoming their inner psychological abhorrence of killing another human being. Now, recruits arrive fully prepared to kill almost anything that moves because they have repeatedly experienced the death of countless video foes at the hands of their make-believe weapons of destruction. The overall dynamic of developing a fantasy world and turning their dark, twisted fantasies into your reality is what violent computer games introduce. We're drilling these children to kill every living creature. They're on autopilot.