A quiet voice at the brink of war

by Rick Cober Bauman

I remember a vignette I heard long ago at a peace conference.

“Two people are in the front seat of a car driving fast. The driver is a military general, the passenger a non-violent peace activist. They near a cliff and it is obvious they will not be able to avoid plunging over the edge when the general says to the peace activist, ‘Here, you take the wheel!'”

The cliff of course is war. Open, armed, military violence.

At MCC we are highly engaged in humanitarian responses to the victims of military violence in Ukraine. (Read about MCC’s humanitarian response in Ukraine)

MCC partner, Kharkiv Independent ECB Churches, evacuated residents from Kharkiv, housing them at a local Christian school and the House of Hope, a seniors residence in their village community 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Kharkiv, Ukraine. The names of the people pictured are not provided for security reasons. (Photo courtesy of Kharkiv Independent ECB Churches, 2022)

And we have made statements in many places, like this one, MCC calls for peace, nonviolence in the midst of war, about our commitment to non-violent, non-military responses to violence; about our commitment to peacebuilding.

But many have asked me, does this voice have credibility in the face of Russian military aggression? Maybe Anabaptist peacebuilders should remain quiet this time? Can we even argue that the cliff of war may have been avoided had we been driving?

On the other hand, our experience in MCC and the Anabaptist Christian peace community is that military solutions do not turn out to be just, lasting peace solutions. There is a growing body of evidence that careful, disciplined peacebuilding strategies carry a capacity for long-term stability that has been long undervalued.

MCC partner, Kharkiv Independent ECB Churches, evacuated residents from Kharkiv, housing them at a local Christian school and the House of Hope, a seniors residence in their village community 50 kilometres (31 miles) from Kharkiv, Ukraine. The names of the people pictured are not provided for security reasons. (Photo courtesy of Kharkiv Independent ECB Churches, 2022)

We may face ridicule for the perceived naivete of our non-violent peacebuilding. However, if we abandon this core commitment, will it be lost to the discourse? There are not many others voicing this commitment. Granted ours is a small voice, and especially hard to hear now. But if no one claims and amplifies the voice of non-violent peacebuilding, will it disappear?

We are unlikely to find ourselves in the driver’s seat of a vehicle currently plunging over the precipice of war. Nonetheless, is there value in our small community, with its small voice, continuing to represent another way? Even when dismissed by policymakers as impractical, is it both our duty and our gift to society, to keep on being the Anabaptist voice for peacebuilding without armed, lethal force? “There go the pacifist Mennonites again!”, might be less about dismissing us, and more about someone reassuring themselves that there exists a voice that keeps on proposing something other than arms.

We have a small voice. And it is not best used arguing for more lethal military responses to Putin, nor are we wise condemning Ukrainians for defending themselves. Both are somewhat wasting our breath. When we speak, can we continue to speak for a firmly Jesus-rooted commitment to non-violent peacebuilding? Will our voice still be audible in the din of this war? Or perhaps more importantly to ask, will we still have our voice at the brink of the next war?

Rick Cober Bauman is the Executive Director of Mennonite Central Committee Canada


Send a message to the Canadian government asking for more support for peacebuilding globally and learn how you can directly contribute to MCC’s ongoing humanitarian response in Ukraine.

Banner image caption: A barbed-wire fence near the Dnieper River in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. (MCC Photo/Colin Vandenberg, 2016)

2 Thoughts

  1. Thanks for this article, Rick. Yes, our voice for peace needs to be spoken and written and lived out as it is in MCC’s numerous peacebuilding activities. Your questions at the end are very valid and also haunting. MCC’s voice is not the only voice suggesting alternatives to war and violence. Do we need to form stronger partnerships with Canadian Peace organizations to amplify our “quiet voice.” Right now I am perplexed that an organization like Conscience Canada which opposes payment of war taxes is a flickering candle that may well die following its AGM at the end of April. As longtime members and supporters of MCC and Conscience Canada we wonder if MCC could do more do support and promote CC and other peace organizations. Quiet, persistent voices joining together may give peace and peacebuilding a stronger voice.
    Ernie and Charlotte Wiens

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