by Janet Plenert and Arlyn Friesen Epp
Brothers and sisters, on behalf of friends also on a journey of being peacemakers in Canada, I bring greeting and words of encouragement.
As Paul stood before the people of Athens nearly 2000 years ago, he said: “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.” Though Paul affirmed this religiosity, he did not accept it without testing it and discerning it. He used his observation as a bridge to gain listening ears. Then he boldly and prophetically declared to all who would hear a fuller understanding of the God of peace, the creator of heaven and of earth.
Paul declared that God made all nations to inhabit the earth so that they would search for God, long for God and find God. It is this same God that we love and serve today: God the creator who gathers up all things in Jesus Christ, who reconciles people to each other, people to creation and people to God.
If he were here today, the apostle Paul might say: “People of the United States, I see how extremely religious you are. Your money bears witness to your trust in God. You have billboards asking and telling God to bless America. Much of your population, including your president, professes the Christian faith. And yes, your government wages war in the name of God. Violence has become an acceptable form of conflict resolution.”
Your Canadian sisters and brothers in Christ join you in lament of these distorted expressions of Christian faith. Together with you, we weep for victims of U.S. aggression around the world.
Nevertheless, we also rejoice and are hopeful. We are justified in being hopeful because of our confidence in God’s purpose and power and also because of you. You are demonstrating and living out a basic desire of God: that there be healthy, peace-filled, contextually appropriate communities of faith everywhere that God’s children gather. You are making a bold statement from and to your context.
No one country in the world, including Canada, can boast a unified voice on the issue of military might. But the task of historic peace churches is always to encourage one another toward peace.
During a World Council of Churches Conference on Mission and Evangelism that I attended in May, it was clear to me that many churches of the world are longing for peace. In his opening address, the WCC’s General Secretary, Samuel Kobia, appealed to the churches around the world to consider peace and nonviolence as gospel imperatives. Churches that have traditionally held to just war positions are being drawn nearer to the way of peace. Interest in historic peace churches, like Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA, was very high.
We are a people of peace. However imperfectly we may witness to the way of peace, it is a gift we have to offer to our countries and to our world. We must speak boldly and prophetically as we are doing today.
Prayer written by Arlyn Friesen Epp
God, our creator,
Janet Plenert lives in Winnipeg, Man., and is a mission administrator for Mennonite Church Canada. This article is adapted from Plenert’s address (which she ended with the prayer by Arlyn Friesen Epp) to those who participated in the peace march at the Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada convention held in Charlotte, N.C., July 4-9, and is based on Acts 17:22-27 and Ephesians 1:10. Arlyn Friesen Epp, Winnipeg, manages the Mennonite Church Canada Resource Centre.