“When Jesus said ‘Love your enemies,’ I think he probably meant don’t kill them,” said Stan Noffsinger at the plenary on peace at the World Council of Churches 10th Assembly. He was quoting a popular Brethren bumper sticker written by San Diego-based peacemaker Linda Williams.
Church of the Brethren general secretary Stanley J. Noffsinger was asked by the WCC to present at the peace plenary on behalf of the peace churches. His part in the event followed a conversation between Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Laureate and leader in the women’s movement that helped stop the war in Liberia, Korean theologian Chang Yoon Jae who is an advocate for a world free of nuclear weapons and nuclear power, and South African church leader Thabo Makgoba who moderated the session.
The stage was set like an outdoor café, with a group of young adults observing from bleachers, raising up signs for peace and bringing the sounds of drums and songs to the event.
A powerful moment
Noffsinger invited forward two of the young adults–Agata Abrahamian from the Armenian Apostolic Church in Iran and Fabian Corrales, a scholar in disabilities studies in Costa Rica–to tell their stories.
It was a powerful moment as an American church leader stood with an Iranian Christian. Abrahamian talked about how the sanctions against Iran adversely affect people like her family. “Every day I see and I feel how ordinary people are struggling with problems…caused by the sanctions,” she said. “And I hope that the sanctions will be removed soon.”
Noffsinger showed his emotion as he responded. “What courage to speak truth to power,” he said. “May God have mercy on our souls.”
He then turned to Corrales, and explained that the two had met at the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Jamaica. Corrales, who is hearing impaired, shared through spoken word and signing. “Brothers and sisters, hear me, as I cannot hear you,” he said. “It’s time to be a church of God, a church of action…. I want you to look beyond my disability, beyond my country and nation. I want you to look beyond what makes us different…. The message of God [is] love one another.”
A peace church witness
In his own remarks to the plenary, Noffsinger highlighted some of the understandings of the Church of the Brethren peace witness. But he also confessed there have been times when the church was tempted “to walk away from Jesus’ command to love.”
He lifted up the Church of the Brethren witness to the sinfulness of war, the witness of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN–the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) during a difficult time in Nigeria, and the church’s call to “live on the margins.” He also spoke of the “cost to our own souls” if Christians rely on weapons and violence.
Noffsinger cast the peace witness and the Christian commitment to nonviolence as a “movement toward the cross, a movement on the way of Jesus…a call to engage in radical, compassionate discipleship.”
A personal confession
In a Facebook post the night before, Noffsinger wrote about how he first heard the Iranian woman’s story during a rehearsal for the plenary. It became a moment of personal confession for him, he wrote. “She finished her story and I looked at her and said, ‘I cannot speak for my government, but as for me, I am so sorry that I have not spoken loudly enough over the voices of hatred and fear so that the sanctions might stop.’
“When the other is a sister or brother in Christ, how can we keep silent about violence imposed by those we elect?” Noffsinger wrote. “Being a peace church doesn’t not mean [being] complacent or standing idly by while violence continues in our world, in our land, in our cities, and in our neighborhoods. Jesus calls us into the midst of this chaos to speak God’s shalom and Christ’s peace.
“Being followers of Jesus, it also means carrying the burden of our sin before our sister or brother, that we might be forgiven and the community of the people of the Cross might again be one.”
Find the WCC release about the peace plenary, “Busan assembly highlights significance of peace,” at http://wcc2013.info/en/news-media/all-news/busan-assembly-highlights-significance-of-peace . A recording of the webcast of the peace plenary may be available in the future .