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12.05.05 01:57 Age: 7 yrs

Peace anchors Gospel witness, church leaders told

The world's churches were today invited to adopt non-violence and peace building as distinctive ‘identity markers' of the Christian community, alive and active in the world.

Dr Fernando Enns, a German Mennonite member of the central committee of the World Council of Churches, spoke on this theme at a press briefing following his presentation today at the 2005 Conference on World Mission and Evangelism in Athens, Greece.

Dr Enns played a significant role in securing the adoption of the Ecumenical Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010) at the eighth assembly of the WCC in Harare, 1998. Its aim is to create a space for churches across the globe to collaborate in peace-building initiatives in a world of division and conflict.

"We do not believe any longer that we will overcome evil by evil, but by doing good", said Dr Enns. "We truly believe that the Apostle Paul is right when he says in his letter to the Corinthians that we are ‘a new creation' from God ‘who reconciled himself to us through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation'."

The plenary session at the conference this morning was intended both to celebrate the mid-point of the Decade to Overcome Violence, and to link its remit directly to the mission vocation of the church.

Israel-Palestine, Colombia and South Africa were among the areas of the world singled out for special concern. Intra-family violence and violence against women also received particular mention.

Echoing the speech by WCC general secretary the Rev Samuel Kobia at the beginning of the week, Fernando Enns said that "today we honestly admit that there is at least an ambivalent relation of violence and mission. The Gospel has not always been experienced as the liberating, reconciling and healing Word of God."

Dr Kobia had earlier declared that proclamation of the Gospel should be rooted in repentance for the failings of the church, and he encouraged the mission conference "to highlight peace and non-violence as Gospel imperatives."

Dr Enns was asked later whether he thought that some people could become Christians as a result of the Decade.

"I would hope so", he replied. "If non-violence became an ‘identity marker' of Christians this would be naturally attractive, because it shows that a different way of life is made possible by confessing Jesus Christ."

Janet Plenert, executive director of international ministries in the Canadian Mennonite Church, added that in her experience when a local church decides to be a sanctuary of peace, helps those caught up in conflict, refuses to sanction violence and offers a welcome across division, then people come in and it grows.

Dr Enns added that the Decade to Overcome Violence was about nurturing the existing seeds of peacemaking across the churches ecumenically. It presented an opportunity to create ‘just peace' in place of just war - the dominant doctrine of some major historic churches.

"War can never be fought justly, otherwise it would not be war", commented Professor Tinyiko Samuel Maluleke from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in South Africa. "Justice is, by definition, thrown out of the window when war breaks out."

Mennonites, who number one million across the world, are one of the ‘historic peace churches', along with the Quakers and the Brethren in Christ. They are part of the Radical Reformation and Anabaptist tradition which rejects the shackling of church to state, refuses violence and seeks to practice community life and Christian discipleship.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia