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Words for a World Ruled by Fear

As we mark the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, let us hear the words of Jesus: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

These words speak to us now. They speak to us as believers who want to spread Christ’s peace but see the world reject this message.

Still, we must be messengers. This calling became newly clear to us a year ago. It also became a source of the discomfort, even the fear, we felt as suddenly we found ourselves out of step with a nation at war.

Keith Graber Miller, a professor at Goshen (Ind.) College, wrote of how the context changed:

“Most Mennonites and their companion pacifists in the United States, I suspect, were not entirely surprised by the almost immediate marginalization and delegitimation we experienced in the aftermath of Sept. 11. If we were surprised, that’s likely a signal that we had become too comfortable in middle America.

“We hadn’t changed significantly in our faith convictions, which our neighbors had seemingly tolerated up to that point. But our world, our context, had changed dramatically in a matter of hours, just as it had at the outset of every other war fought in U.S. history.”

In this new context, Jesus tell us, “Do not be afraid.” Do not fear our responsibility to show a different way – the way to a peace that is “not as the world gives.”

The world’s peace piles tragedy upon tragedy. It is achieved at the price of destroying more lives than the original act of violence did. It takes an eye for an eye until war lulls but anger keeps boiling. Then violence flares again, proving that the world’s peace was not peace at all.

Who will expose the failure of peace through violence? It will be the peacemakers who banish their fear. In the United States, it will be the peacemakers who have the courage to say that their dissenting voice against war is not only true to their faith but also to the tradition of American freedom. “It’s also a sign of patriotism to support democratic principles that allow alternative voices,” said Leo Hartshorn, minister of peace and justice for Mennonite Mission Network, on these pages last week. “We need to speak up publicly and show that the voice for war is not the only voice that can be heard in a free democracy.”

Jesus’ admonition not to fear is not only for us. It is the word we are to proclaim to people shaken out of their assumed safety.

“For this generation, the governing issue is the fear of violence,” said Susan Mark Landis, peace advocate for the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board, in an interview with Laurie L. Oswald of MC USA News Service. “We can live in ways that prompt people to ask, ‘What is it about your understanding of the gospel that brings you peace in the midst of a world at war?’

“There is a deep psychological need today for peace. We know that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, meets those needs. . . .

“We can refuse to cave in to the fear and live in a world where revenge and killing are thought to be the best answers. . . . As long as fear is the greatest force in our lives, then we will feel we need protection. But if God’s love is the strongest force, then we will be willing to live alternatives that are risky.”

The past year has challenged this generation of Mennonites to live the gospel of peace more clearly. Our response to this challenge has been mixed. We need to repent of the times we have shied away from this gospel and hid our identity as disciples of a Savior who preached peace.

We need to fly our peace flags—either literally, as the MC USA Peace and Justice Support Network is making possible with the creation of a green-and-white banner—or symbolically, but no less publicly, by aiding war victims, reaching out to those identified as enemies and talking with our neighbors.

We need to renounce our fear, as Jesus told his followers to do. This is the starting point for those who want to show the world that perfect love (I John 4:18), not violence, drives out fear.

This column was reprinted with permission from the Mennonite Weekly Review.