Historically, the Brethren in Christ have identified with the Historic Peace Churches (and other Anabaptist groups) in their commitment to Christian nonviolence, based on the witness of Jesus Christ.
The last half-century, however, has seen a statistical decline in grassroots support for the church’s peace position. (You can check out the U.S. statistics here and the Canadian statistics here.) That declension is explored in a recent In Part article written by Harriet Bicksler (a friend of the search for piety and obedience) and Curtis Book.
In their article, Bicksler and Book identify six factors that have resulted in this changed perspective:
- A gradual process of acculturation
- The influence of evangelicalism
- Church growth among people not familiar with the peace church tradition
- Ministers recruited into pastoral service without a clear commitment to peace
- The absence of contemporary stories of peacemaking and nonviolence
- A broader understanding of peace
Furthermore, the authors point readers to “strategies [that] could help us strengthen our peace commitment and witness”:
- Collect new peace stories
- Re-imagine what nonviolence might look like
- Renew our language
- Strengthen our ties to other peace-oriented groups
- Create focus groups to promote peace initiatives among us
- Ensure that pastors support and teach the BIC commitment to peace
You can read Bicksler’s and Book’s whole article here.
On a personal level, I’m glad to see voices like this contributing to the renewed call for peacemaking within the Brethren in Christ Church.
As a historian of American religion (and especially as a historian of the Brethren in Christ tradition), I’m intrigued by Bicksler’s and Book’s inclusion of factor #2, “The influence of evangelicalism.” Undoubtedly, the evangelical movement has had a substantial impact on the Brethren in Christ practice of nonviolence/peacemaking. Part of my proposed master’s thesis explores evangelicalism’s influence on the changing definition and practice of nonviolence/peacemaking among the late twentieth century Brethren in Christ. In particular, I’ll look at the ways Brethren in Christ self-identified as “pacifists” or “conscientious objectors” to war as they interacted with evangelicals; how Brethren in Christ responded to the Vietnam War; and how church members redefined nonviolence and peacemaking to incorporate concepts like social justice.
Click here to learn more about my thesis.