Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Do we polarize militarism and pacifism?

by Marlene Epp 
I'm looking forward to touring 1812 CO (conscientious objector) sites with Jonathan Seiling and the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario on June 16.

I've just finished reading a novel titled The Absolutist by Irish writer John Boyne which has caused me to think about the gray areas between militarism and pacifism. The novel is about young -- far too young -- men who are soldiers on the European battlefront of the First World War. As the plot unfolds, what gradually emerges is the different motives that drew these young men to join up and also their varying responses to the horrors of hand-to-hand combat that characterized that war.

The centre of the story is the 'coming out' of a soldier as a conscientious objector and the questioning of others about the ethics of war. And also the 'coming out' of another soldier as gay and the uncertainty about the sexual orientation of another. Both of these identity issues reveal that pacifism and sexuality are most often situated on a continuum and only a few experience these as black and white issues.

I wonder if peace church Mennonites, myself included, are often too quick to polarize militarism and pacifism. Were there soldiers fighting in the war of 1812 who felt burdened to speak against the war? And were there Mennonites who questioned the CO position during that conflict?


Thursday, 7 June 2012

Are peacemakers called to CREATE conflict?

Stouffville has made national news in the past few weeks, as the local peace churches have strongly opposed plans to celebrate the War of 1812. (lots of coverage by CBC's As it Happens)

Watching from afar, I've been admiring this bold witness to peace my brothers and sisters are making, especially with the whole country watching.

It's a little tempting to use the Stouffville actions as a model for faithful witness today, given the huge attention given to this community. These are the bold peacemakers for Christ!

Yet, I know there have been many other faithful witnesses to peace in our history, and yes, today as well.

An equally faithful group of peace witnesses have been raising questions about how the War of 1812 is celebrated down in Niagara. Their commitment has led to inspiring engagements like this blog, and an 1812 bike tour to conscientious objector sites.

For the most part, the Niagara peace churches have not made the news. Stouffville peace churches have. The difference?


The Niagara churches have tried to offer an alternative voice to the 1812 conversation in Niagara. I think they've done that rather well.

The Stouffville churches, on the other hand, directly opposed specific plans by specific people. Conflict created. And where there's conflict, there's media.

This is not to suggest that we peacemakers should constantly seek out the attention of the media.

But the media is an important tool in grassroots peacemaking and forming public opinion. More people talking about war, militarism and peace can only be a good thing.

Maybe it's time the peace churches start picking more fights in order to create peace???