Beyond Anti-War: Nonviolence in Our Neighborhoods

By Andrew Wilkes 04-16-2010

This semester at Princeton Seminary, I am taking a course on War and Christian Conscience. I recently read -- and am currently digesting -- a brilliant text by John Howard Yoder titled The Original Revolution. Yoder, as my teacher John Bowlin avers, is a great Mennonite ethicist. His vision of Jesus' ministry discloses a nonviolent change agent who established an alternative political community -- an ekklesia -- living in love, infused with hope, and animated by faith. Yoder bore nonviolent social witness to God's vision of peace through his Mennonite relief work and his advocacy on the issues of nuclear disarmament, pacifism, and revolution within colonial contexts. Many of his interpreters -- New Monastics, Anabaptists, Mennonites, and others -- extend his witness through innovative community networks, organic service delivery strategies, and advocacy on international peace issues.

Their nonviolent social witness compels me to praise God. And yet, this witness also raises some questions. Where is the audible nonviolent social witness to Christ on the dangerous intersections of gang activity and narcotics, widespread access to guns, police brutality, domestic violence, and the physical harm inflicted upon homosexual youth in some public schools? With the exception of Johnathan Wilson-Hartgrove on reducing gang violence and Shane Claiborne on gun access, I rarely hear a mumblin' word about on these issues from New Monastics and contemporary interpreters of Yoder.

The unexamined white maleness that characterizes many New Monastics and contemporary interpreters of Yoder may explain why the previously mentioned issues rarely emerge at the dining room tables of nonviolent white students at Christian schools, or the dinner tables of intentional communities. In these spaces we hear prophetic trumpets address international issues and implications of violence. Rightly so. With a mixture of love and lament, I invite New Monastics and contemporary interpreters of Yoder to also blow the trumpet of nonviolent social witness on the death-dealing confluence of race, gender, and urban violence that claims too many black and brown lives in cities across America.

Andrew Wilkes is a former Sojourners policy and organizing intern, and a third-year student at Princeton Theological Seminary.

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