In October, representatives of the Christian Reformed Church and Mennonite Church Canada held a symposium on war and peace in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It was co-hosted by Rev. Bruce Adema, director of Canadian ministries for the CRC; and Robert J. Suderman, general secretary of Mennonite Church Canada.
The CRC has a long-standing tradition of just war theology. Adema said that CRC adherents live in a tension: in one hand they hold a deep desire to “never want war,” and in the other hand they hold a desire to stand up for the weak and vulnerable, using redemptive, violent force by serving in the military if no other solution is evident. But, “If just war happens, we have not been effective agents of peace,” he acknowledged.
Mennonites do not justify the use of violence even when it promises to be redemptive.
The 43 participants, both Mennonite and CRC, were paired up and assigned the task of creating a Remembrance Day service palatable to both denominations. A common theme that emerged was that such a service would need to focus on lament for all war dead, rather than honoring only those who gave up their lives in military service.
Rev. Herman Keizer, a retired CRC military chaplain and longtime high-level Pentagon ethical advisor, said, “ . . . we have gained a deeper appreciation of the peace churches and what they can contribute to our efforts to be peacemakers,” citing a recommendation from the CRC’s Synod 2006 calling for the CRC to work more closely with peace churches and learn from one another.
With a Purple Heart medal pinned to his lapel, Keizer advocated for a re-examination of attitudes and conventional weapons. “In World War II only 20% of the fighting force shot to kill; today that is up to 85%. . . . We, the US and Canada, have trained and have fielded the deadliest and most lethal force in the history of war fighting. I am concerned because soldiers are more concerned with killing than being killed,” he said.
The event inspired better understanding between the two denominations—and perhaps a renewed valuing of those who have different understandings of peace and how to achieve it.
Many Christian Reformed members have memories of World War II that continue to shape their thinking. Some Mennonites also share that story, but more are shaped by a collective 500-year history of migration prompted by violent religious persecution.
Before adjourning for a communal supper, Adema reflected in his worship mediation that, “When I look in your Mennonite eyes, I see Christ looking back at me.”
( reprinted with permission from Mennonite Church Canada)