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Last updated June 20.

June 20

Are the Brethren in Christ committed to peace?

By Devin Manzullo-Thomas

Historically, the Brethren in Christ church has identified with the “historic peace churches,” and other Anabaptist groups, in their commitment to Christian nonviolence, based on the witness of Jesus Christ.

But over the last half-century, there has been a statistical decline in grassroots support for the Brethren in Christ church’s peace position. (See the U.S. statistics here and the Canadian statistics here.)

This declension is explored in a recent In Part article written by Harriet Bicksler and Curtis Book.

In their article, Bicksler and Book identify six factors that have resulted in this changed perspective:

  1. A gradual process of acculturation.

  2. The influence of evangelicalism.

  3. Church growth among people not familiar with the peace church tradition.

  4. Ministers recruited into pastoral service without a clear commitment to peace.

  5. The absence of contemporary stories of peacemaking and nonviolence.

  6. A broader understanding of peace.

continued on next page »


  • Wow, the factors that led to loss of the peace witness could read nearly exactly the same for my tradition, the Church of the Brethren, who for their Pietism were an inspiration for the River Brethren, eventually the Brethren in Christ. It's been surprising to me the number of former BiC folks with whom I work and study at Eastern Mennonite University, so perhaps it's that loss of a peace witness which motivated them to join up with the Mennonite tradition.

    I like the suggestions for renewing the witness, especially joining up with other groups with an historical peace witness (Mennonites, the "other" Brethren, et al). Perhaps there's some exciting potential in the new Anabaptist Network in North America (ANNA) which could rally some folks together. I've become increasingly convinced that the broadening of the Anabaptist tradition into neo-Anabaptism is an exciting opportunity for traditional Anabaptist groups to renew some of what they've lost.

    - Brian Gumm (jun 20 at 4:01 p.m.)

  • It is interesting to hold these six BIC reasons for loss of larger peace witness with the narrower five named by Everret Thomas regarding our lessening objection to war ([my parphrases]:

    1. We are comfortably middle class and don't want to bite the hand that provides

    2. Without a draft in our own neighborhoods, we don't know how to protest such distant wars

    3. Pluralism has gutted our ability to hold any truth--including claims for God's justice

    4. We are well assimilated into the political-media system and take our cues/talking points from the mainstream

    5. We believe many wars are indeed proper "policing" against rogues by the global community

    - Nicholas DS (jun 20 at 6:00 p.m.)

  • Fellow seminarian Aaron Kauffman noted that this list of solutions does not include increased attention to the biblical narrative! It may be implied in the sixth one, but even that only focuses on leadership and not the whole body.

    Knowing some of Curtis' priorities, I'm sure he'd wish to have that renewed focus on scriptural story incorporated (hopefully even made central) in these strategies.

    - Nicholas DS (jun 20 at 6:09 p.m.)

  • The BIC has a range of support for the peace position, In Canada the bigest and most influencial BIC church (Meeting House) teaches a very srong and compelling peace theology.

    - chad miller (jun 21 at 12:14 a.m.)

  • M.J. Heisey's book Peace and Persistence gives some very good background on the fading of the peace witness among the BIC.

    - Nancy Heisey (jun 21 at 7:02 a.m.)

  • Brian Gumm's observation that it may be the Brethren in Christ loss of the peace witness which has motivated former BIC folks to study at Eastern Mennonite University could be worded with something a lot stronger than "perhaps," I would think. I'd think this is as close to a certainty as such matters get. It was central, I'd say decisive, in my move to Mennonite membership. For me the point is not that Brethren in Christ are hostile, or even uniformly lukewarm to the peace witness, but that corporately they don't see Jesus' nonviolent, compassionate way to run the world (the kingship of God) as the essence of the good news, the gospel message.

    - John Stoner (jun 22 at 7:23 a.m.)

  • I suspect the figures are similar among Mennonite groups, and one of the issues, I believe, is a shift from a generation that defined peace and pacifism as being a CO in the 50s and 60s (boomers) -- to a population of young people for whom that type of peace stance is largely irrelevant.

    Telling more stories of boomers isn't going to help. We need a radical redefinition and demonstration of what it means to be people of peace.

    - Geoffrey Isley (jun 30 at 10:26 a.m.)

  • I hope some might find the new ebook release of Christian Pacifism: Fruit of the Narrow Way a part of effort to address the last two items:

    The absence of contemporary stories of peacemaking and nonviolence.

    A broader understanding of peace.

    ...As well as the concern expressed about the Scriptural basis.

    When first published by Friends United Press, a reviewer in The Friend (UK) wrote: “There are few Friends, and even fewer books, that can help evangelical Christians to become convinced of the truth of the Friends’ peace testimony…. Thus we welcome Michael Snow’s rather brief but challenging book.”

    - Michael Snow (feb 23 at 10:49 a.m.)

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