Canadian Mennonite
Volume 10, No. 21
October 30, 2006


A gospel witness

You could hear the doubt and disbelief in the voices of those reporting what they had heard. Reporters were arriving in Pennsylvania to get reactions from the Amish community after 10 girls were shot in their schoolroom. It was less than a week after another gunman had held five female students hostage and then killed one of them in Colorado. Some must have felt their trip to Nickel Mines would be yet more of the same.

But what they found wasn’t at all what they had expected. “Despite the horror, the locals almost unbelievably spoke of forgiveness and redemption,” reported a BBC interviewer who was on the scene. “[B]lame and bitterness are nowhere evident in the careful words or uncomfortably public life of the Amish,” wrote a Washington Post reporter.

A reporter from the Pennsylvania TV station WGAL-TV found Enos Miller, the grandfather of two of the girls who died, out walking near the schoolhouse before dawn 36 hours after the shootings. When he was asked by the reporter whether he had forgiven the gunman, he replied, “In my heart, yes,” he said, explaining it was “through God’s help.”

As Jesus cried from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

I’ve been humbled and filled of a sense of holy awe to see such a public witness to the peace and love of Christ by our Anabaptist brothers and sisters. I honour them in their faithfulness to Christ’s example. Through God’s help, what strength of conviction and love is being demonstrated! (See “Amish thankful for donations,” page 20.)

Speaking at Goshen College earlier this month, (non-Mennonite) Christian author Brian McLaren said, “I don’t think anyone has ever done a better job of sharing the message of the gospel; the Amish’s behaviour mystified the world.”

He called on Mennonites and Anabaptists to stop being the “quiet in the land” and to start sharing more loudly and broadly their distinctives: peacemaking, community and discipleship. “We so desperately need, as we move into this emerging culture, to learn to live a life of Christ instead of just going to church,” McLaren said.

The Amish have close connections to the Swiss parts of our church, especially the Western Ontario Mennonite Conference (now a part of MC Eastern Canada). Until 1963, in fact, the conference was called the Amish Mennonite Conference of Ontario. By that point, some churches in that group already had a history of over a century as Amish congregations.

But there are broader connections as well. A shared part of all our spiritual ancestry with the Amish is the Schleitheim Confession of Faith. Almost 500 years ago, we determined that the teachings and example of Jesus meant we had to reject violence completely. “Thereby shall also fall away from us the diabolical weapons of violence—such as sword, armour, and the like, and all of their use to protect friends or against enemies—by virtue of the word of Christ: ‘you shall not resist evil’ (Matthew 5:39).” The world then was astonished and enraged by the statement. Its primary author was burned at the stake, in fact.

As Peace Sunday approaches, let us reflect on—and reaffirm—the teachings of Jesus that lead us to love our enemies, forgive rather than to seek revenge, practise right relationships, rely on the community of faith to settle disputes, and to resist evil without violence (using the words from our current Confession of Faith).

It’s only through Jesus that we can do these things. It’s a gospel witness that leaves observers deeply amazed. It’s also the only way to find true healing and wholeness from the violence that comes so easily to this world.

—Tim Miller Dyck

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