by Heidi Regier Kreider, WDC Conference Minister
Note: This Sprouts article is the second of three articles on each of the sections of Renewed Commitments, the core-values document of Mennonite Church USA’s Journey Forward process. (For the article on the first commitment, “Follow Jesus,” see the Sept 25 Sprouts at https://mennowdc.org/wdc-sprouts-september-25-2018/)
The second section of Renewed Commitments is “Witness to God’s peace: We are called to extend God’s holistic peace, proclaiming Christ’s redemption for the world with our lives. Through Christ, God frees the world from sin and offers reconciliation. We bear witness to this gift of peace by rejecting violence and resisting injustice in all forms, and in all places.”
These words are fitting as I plan to attend the annual gathering of conference ministers in MC USA and MC Canada later this week. The theme of our gathering is “Restored to Lead: Being Ambassadors of Reconciliation in Times of Polarization,” with resourcing by Ched Myers and Elaine Enns. They are co-directors of Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries in Oakview, CA, and authors of the two-volume Ambassadors of Reconciliation: A New Testament Theology and Diverse Christian Practices of Restorative Justice and Peacemaking (Orbis Books, 2009). In their writing, they illustrate how Jesus models non-violent action, both by disturbing the “peace” (status-quo) of injustice and oppression, and demonstrating God’s true peace through nonviolent love of the enemy. Likewise, Jesus teaches restorative justice that holds offenders accountable for their actions, and focuses on healing the wounds of violence rather than simply punishing the offender – thus seeking restoration and wholeness for the whole community.
In addition to reading Ambassadors of Reconciliation, another assignment that we conference ministers have been given in preparation for our gathering this week is to think of someone we know who has been a role model of reconciliation for us. One person that comes to my mind is Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun who has worked tirelessly for many years in ministry against the death penalty and promoting just and redemptive responses to evil. She is author of the book, Dead Man Walking. I met Sister Prejean in Gainesville, FL, when I served as pastor at a small Mennonite church there. Our congregation was active in the anti-death-penalty movement that helped to sponsor her visit to the local community. I was moved by Sister Prejean’s powerful witness for justice and her down-to-earth authenticity and sense of humor. I was also inspired by her commitment to connect with those who believe differently, which she demonstrated by reaching out both to individuals charged with murder and to the families of murder-victims. In a more recent reflection on her website (https://www.sisterhelen.org) Sister Prejean writes in response to our current atmosphere of polarization: “Given our reality, how will we listen to each other across tribes, across ideologies, across class and race divisions, even across neighborhoods? Suburbanites talking with folks in the inner city? Business execs sharing with ex-felons just out of prison? Church goers in conversation with atheists and agnostics? Together we need to explore this and look for concrete ways to make it happen. I’ll keep listening. You keep telling me what you think. Thanks for listening.”
Sister Prejean is only one of many models of reconciliation. Who has inspired you to follow Jesus’ way of non-violent and active love? What attitudes and practices do you observe in their lives? How does your congregation reject violence and resist injustice, and proclaim Christ’s redemption for the world? As ambassadors for reconciliation, let us together witness to God’s peace.