"Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties: Mennonite Pacifism in Modern America" and "Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War"

Dan Wessner

The Conrad Grebel Review 18, no. 2 (Spring 2000)

Perry Bush. Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties: Mennonite Pacifism in Modern America. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998; Glen Stassen, ed. Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 1998.

These two texts complement each other: while Perry Bush describes the difficult articulation of an ethno-religious group ethic, identity, and political acumen, the edited volume by Glen Stassen generalizes this learning process. Bush’s social history, Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties: Mennonite Pacifism in Modern America, thereby saves Stassen’s Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War from presuming too much and explaining too little. Together, they explore whether and how peace and justice might combine to form an alternative ethic to the realism, neoliberalism, and international institutionalism of the post-Cold War era. If we accept that a new paradigm is a sound insight emerging from the paradoxical relations of two very different things – say, peacemaking and justice, or good Christian discipleship and loyal state citizenship – then these books point to the grace (and genius) that might undergird church-societal-state political will. In Stassen’s volume, ten essays posit the birth of a new “just peacemaking” ethic rooted in love and community. The introductory and concluding chapters claim to “remedy” the conceptual tension of justice and peacemaking by dwelling not on positions but on practices that incrementally create normative political behavior. Drawing on the experience of twenty-three Christian ethicists, international relations scholars, and moral theologians, the text describes peacemaking initiatives rooted in Christian discipleship (Part One), argues that God’s reign requires critical engagement of peace and justice in a broken global political system (Part Two), and speaks of the church strengthening cooperative forces as a hopeful sign of God’s incarnate love and sovereignty (Part Three).

Part One affirms the risky steps that ordinary citizens, citizen-diplomats, and people of faith take in making peace. Chapter 1 argues for nonviolent direct action, but knowledge as to how and when citizens (or states) may stage effectively such actions is presumed, not examined. In chapter 2, peacemakers pursue independent initiatives to increase international transparency and reduce the threat of force, yet there is no bridge for us to grasp how citizens, diplomats, or inter-state entities play such roles. Chapter 3 posits cooperative conflict resolution principles that combine spiritual commitment, political and cultural anthropology, and self-disclosure of one’s personal and corporate role in injustice. Here the “ordinary” citizen-diplomat-spiritual person who models just peacemaking is former President Jimmy Carter during the Camp David Accords. Yet in chapter 4, this same man is the enfeebled goat who rejects cooperative conflict resolution and responsive honesty in the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Stassen could delve into this perfectly ambiguous (and revealing) case study. We might then sort out who is involved in what decisions at which levels of local to global peace and justice praxis. The text could clarify when and why just peacemaking is likely to be person-to-person, person-to-society, society vis-à-vis state, global civil society before international organizations, and states (large and small) in the world political and economic system. Complicated? Yes. But dissecting layers of legitimate political interaction is a firmer foundation than a presumption that peacemaking efforts will accrue in a statist system under realist, neoliberal, and internationalist paradigms.

Nonetheless, Parts Two and Three lead one further down the latter path. How might we begin to realize solidarity in “love and community” with less privileged actors or less developed states? The text largely ignores non- combat, non-weaponry means of domination, such as under-regulated neoliberal economic norms that disadvantage many states and people otherwise hoping for peace and secure conditions. Unsurprisingly chapters 5, 7 and 9 rehearse familiar self-interested arguments of states and international organizations in endorsing democratic peace theory and an enlarged free market system. Granted, Stassen does list obstacles to sustainable and holistic development for the underside of globalism, and pleads for enlightened and enhanced United Nations monitoring of speculation-driven commerce and investment. But his concluding chapter echoes the refrain that the accumulation of peacemaking practices is evidence that just (and economic) war thinking is circumscribed. The ambiguity of just peacemaking positions is understudied. If “just peacemaking theory must empower ordinary people” (181), then what levels of analysis, concepts, or empirical weight will help citizens or leaders grasp this new ethic of love and community? Peacemaking as presented here is not a compelling alternative that proclaims mercy, sacrificial faith, or solidarity among those most oppressed by injustice.

Perry Bush’s social history shows the anguish, possibility, and ambivalence of melding justice and peacemaking. When examining the implications of personal and broader levels of integration for people of a peacemaking theology and community, Stassen’s “ten practices” are better understood in this Mennonite case to mean “thousands of steps” – rearticulated identities, socialization and differentiation, a new theological hermeneutic, and a profoundly different relationship vis-à-vis the state and world. Initial chapters show how General Conference and Mennonite Church denominations in the mid-twentieth Century sought to acculturate as good citizens within American society. To do so, they proved they were just and equal to carrying civic responsibilities. There was also a demographic shift from rural to urban living. But the recurrent issue of enlistment in a “warfare state” heightened the trauma of their post-agrarian identity. They wrestled with loyalty to the state, obedience to God and one another, and legitimacy before society. The bargain with the state evolves from WW II-era Civilian Public Service, an exclusivist witness that distanced Mennonites from society-at-large, to I-W alternative service, designed to be a positive, engaging witness that sought parity with soldiers’ benefits and further integration into American life. The latter form of alternative service emerges as a newly scripted norm, one that begins to identify Mennonite faith with service and sacrifice near and far.

This transformation of normative discipleship sets the stage for a Mennonite identity beyond a “good citizen-good pacifist Christian” pact with the state. The final third of Bush’s text addresses the years leading up to and during the US-Vietnamese War. A vocal and public minority of this community re-examined their history and theology, and argued in the churches and before society and the state that I-W service did not speak truth about just war and genuine peacemaking. As the war escalated, these Mennonites saw themselves as pacifists in solidarity with suffering people. Nonviolence meant absolute non-participation in war and radical activism against a system that harmed others. Nonresistance meant political outspokenness and criticism of quiet pietism. As this minority protested more and more justice and peace issues, it risked the whole community’s social fit in a “welfare state.” Even though these youth did not speak for many in the Mennonite community, their domestic and global voluntary service began to reshape Mennonite theology and Christian ethics in the context of many forms of domination and conflict. In discerning a new identity, this community relearned its theology and reinterpreted its history and socio-political relevance. There was a continuous production and construction of what a pacifist Christian response might mean. Bush engages the personal and communal costs of challenging statist, social, economic, and international norms.

The drawback of Bush’s social history is that it devotes only a few pages to the majority of Mennonite young men who enlisted in WW II. The author gives but a few more pages to the significant number who joined the US-Vietnam conflict, protested the vocal Mennonite anti-war stance, voiced no qualms with I-W alternative service, or left the Mennonite fold altogether. A deeper analysis of theological hermeneutics would inform our understanding of this evolving sense of discipleship. Bush skirts a fuller discussion of pro- state arguments in the Mennonite church. This critique underscores the complex options of just war, pacifism, or a third path of finding common ground in justice and peace. If a new ethic of “love and community” is being born, then critical case studies will be those citizens, leaders, states, or communities of faith caught in the ambivalence of opting or refusing this alternative path. Here we must welcome the ambiguity inherent in positions and practices combining theological conviction, political ethics, community experience, and empirical evidence. By struggling in the midst of community, one perhaps discerns segues from an individual level of involvement and analysis to compassionate and communal responses. With these challenges in mind, I recommend both texts together for classes in conflict transformation, peace history, and international relations.

DAN WESSNER, Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, MB