The Munster debacle was a tragic and terrible event that illustrated the extremes of the Anabaptist movement. Although the Munsterites may have been on the fringes of Anabaptism—a radicalization of a radical movement—the events at Munster became very influential in shaping the theology and practice of Dutch Anabaptists for generations to come. Munster was a defining moment even if it was something to react against. My theory is that the terrible violence at Munster was instrumental in forming the strong pacifist theology of Menno Simons and subsequent generations of Mennonites.
Consider Menno’s own words: “After this happened [the bloodshed at Munster] the blood of these poor misguided sheep fell so hot on my heart that I could not stand it. I saw that these zealous people voluntarily gave their lives and possessions for their [false] faith and beliefs… while I myself continued in my comfortable life simply in order that I might enjoy physical comfort and remain outside the cross of Christ.”
After much agonized soul-searching Menno left the safety of the priesthood and joined the fledgling Anabaptist movement. He wrote about his developing convictions: “Christ is our fortress; patience our weapon of defense; the Word of God our sword; and victory a courageous, firm unfeigned faith in Jesus Christ. And iron and metal spears and swords we leave to those who, alas, regard human blood and swine’s blood about alike.”
And what of the violent debacles in our world today? The situations are more complex in a global society but some of the roots are the same. Do these situations break our hearts the way the Munster debacle broke Menno’s heart?
I applaud the peace witness of MCC who wrote a letter [excerpts below] to our prime minister and other leading politicians in Canada.
Dear Prime Minister,
I am writing to you today on behalf of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Canada to express our deep concern over the Canadian government’s decision to become involved in a U.S.-led military campaign against so-called Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq. MCC’s commitment to peaceful coexistence and the nonviolent resolution of conflict arises out of our identity as a peace church, as well as nearly a century of grassroots involvement in alleviating suffering in conflict zones around the world.
With the current threat of IS forces, we recognize the complexity of the situation. We acknowledge that for some of our partners in Iraq, early airstrikes by the U.S. brought a measure of safety and security. At the same time, all of our partners across Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon are deeply concerned about the impacts of a prolonged military campaign.
In light of our partners’ perspectives and our commitment to peacebuilding, MCC urges the Canadian government to seriously reconsider further participation in a combat mission against IS targets. Instead, we respectfully request the Government of Canada to:
1. Address the political and social grievances at the root of the Iraq and Syria conflicts by providing diplomatic support for negotiations to resolve differences regarding territory, revenue-sharing, and other areas of disagreement.
2. Support sustained and energetic diplomacy under the auspices of the United Nations. 3. Provide further humanitarian assistance. Increased humanitarian assistance will alleviate suffering and communicate a measure of goodwill to those who feel abandoned.
4. Give support to religious leaders and civil society groups within Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon that are building relationships of peace and reconciliation across political, sectarian, and religious divides.
5. Take immediate steps to sign the Arms Trade Treaty. The international flow of weapons to various rebel groups and factions in the region has contributed to current levels of violence. This treaty will help regulate the transfer and trade of conventional weapons and stem the flow of guns into volatile regions.
As an organization that has consistently embraced nonviolent approaches to conflict, and supported the peacebuilding efforts of our partners in many parts of the world—including the Middle East—MCC firmly believes that there are a broad range of alternatives to armed intervention that can stem the threat of violence and make a constructive contribution to building the prospects for peace.