Making peace, as an integral part of the life of church mission and witness, has not been as common as one might think.
Rather, the opposite seems to be true, as, throughout history the church has found itself pointing the sharper rather than the blunt edge of the sword, many times using violence in the name of God. Following closely behind has been mission and theology – either justifying it or keeping silent.
Is it possible there is a non-coercive expression of mission and theology that can move the church toward being a peacemaker?
For Rev. Dr Thomas Finger, who is a member the Mennonite church, this was the point of discussion in a workshop at the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC), held in Kingston, Jamaica, on Monday, 23 May.
The Mennonites are one of the three historic peace churches which include the Quakers and Church of the Brethren.
Finger’s workshop, titled “Peace: the Lens for Re-visioning Christian Theology and Mission,” explored his views about peace, justice, salvation, sin and Jesus’ mission.
In a section titled “Not Only,” he explored classic theological assumptions. In another part called “But Also” he said, “Sin is not only the personal breaking of divine laws, but also the corporate turning away from and losing sight of God, peace and justice.”
Theological concept of sin
One of the strongest assumptions raised during the workshop discussions was that violence is central to the theological concept of sin. “If the way that led to death is violent, the way that leads to life cannot be violent,” concluded Finger.
By proposing complementary approaches to Christian theology, this would help churches and individuals focus the experience of their faith on the core of Jesus’ message, which is peace. Finger, who joined the Mennonite Church at the age of 38, contributed to the wide spectrum of approaches to peace that have been marking the IEPC so far.
The consensus that Finger helped the workshop participants reach was that through the lens of peace, theology could be more than “the clarification of the articulation and the testing of our basic conditions,” he said.
One of these basic conditions is that people think life is a struggle. But life can be something different.
There are possibilities of relationships and peace. We can also reverse the current logics of violence through the strength of our faith and commitment. “The resurrection itself reversed the logic of violence and condemns those who killed Jesus,” he concluded.
Finger, who is a professor of church history and world religions, maintains dialogues with elements of both Orthodox Christian theology and liberation theologies as part of his academic approach.
The primary role of the Holy Trinity is seen as essential for any theological reflection and a perfect model of peace where human beings are invited to live in communion through the event of the resurrection.
Finger also echoes some elements of liberation and contextual theologies, especially when analyzing structural sins and defending liberation for renewal and the establishment of peace and justice.
The IEPC ends Tuesday with a message to be shared with the member churches of the World Council of Churches and its associated members and partners worldwide.