Students from seven Anabaptist colleges wrapped up a three-day Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship Conference, Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 2014, at Eastern Mennonite University by deciding to issue the Shenandoah Confession, drafted in the style and spirit of the Schleitheim Confession of 1527.
Keynote speaker Lisa Schirch, an EMU professor internationally known for her peacebuilding work, asked the 100 conference participants to craft a confession of their faith, informed by 500 years of peacemaking experience. The resultant statement reached fruition on Feb. 24, exactly 487 years from the day that the Schleitheim Confession was issued.
The original document represented “a watershed articulation of certain Anabaptist distinctives,” wrote C. Arnold Snyder, in the “Schleitheim Confession” entry of the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.
The Shenandoah Confession – printed below – encompasses themes of love and compassion as well as calls to radical nonviolent action. “It heavily stresses the peace principles that set the Anabaptists apart from many other faith streams,” said Bible and religion professor Nancy Heisey, adding that it was “drafted in group process and finalized by a student-led committee.”
The document follows in the tradition of “speaking boldly” as part of the “priesthood of all believers,” said senior Evan Knappenberger. He led the process through a half-dozen drafts, working with seniors Jacob Landis, Aaron Erb, Christine Baer and Krista Nyce. (Baer and Nyce also organized the conference.) Knappenberger said Heisey, Schirch and other EMU faculty members significantly contributed to the process.
The Shenandoah Confession consists of 11 articles comprising 1,668 words. EMU Bible and religion professor Peter Dula calls its language “robustly theological.”
“The same spirit of radical community still hangs in the air, waiting for the right moment to spark something new,” said Knappenberger.
The Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship of Mennonite and Affiliated Colleges aims to “promote the cause of biblical nonresistance by providing various channels for sharing ideas among the college peace groups,” according to its 1953 constitution. Its annual conference rotates among host institutions.
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The Shenandoah Confession
Presented this 24th day of February, 2014, on behalf of those gathered in Christ at the Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship of Anabaptist colleges meeting at Eastern Mennonite University, to our various communities around the world. Written by participants with inspiration from previous Anabaptist confessions of faith.
May peace, fellowship, patience and the truth of the love of God be with all who love God. Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord, may the care of the good shepherd and the strength of the lamb who was slain sustain you in your efforts to recognize God’s Kingdom which, according to the most holy teacher and savior, Jesus of Nazareth, exists among and within all creation and is the source of life everywhere.
Dear brothers and sisters, we who have been assembled for the 2014 Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship Conference, in the Lord at Eastern Mennonite Seminary in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, make known to all that we have been united in the spirit of fellowship to the common goal of building the peace of a loving and merciful God. The articles to which we confess ourselves we announce here in the spirit of those Anabaptist brothers and sisters who before us made confession together at Schleitheim on the 24th day of February in the year 1527, and Dordrecht in 1632, including the various conclusions that have been amended to it by the church since. As those dear brothers and sisters made formal confession into a foundational action of the Anabaptist church, so let us confess ourselves in the hopes of a new and prophetic life in Immanuel, who is God with us.
The eleven articles of confession.
The articles of our confession are as follows.
1. Confession of faith in Christ as the foundation of peace.
2. Love as the root of all things.
3. The call of the spirit of God to all for radical pacifist action.
4. Acceptance of the truth of the full humanity of all God’s children.
5. Inclusion as the guiding principle of action within the spirit.
6. Accountability of historical wrongs, especially colonialisms.
7. An abiding desire to participate in resilient and just economies.
8. The full and unflinching engagement of creative faculties of believers in service of peace.
9. Embrace of lives of radical simplicity following the truth of God’s peace on Earth.
10. Commitment to deep listening and dialogue as the prophetic intention of Christian pacifism.
11. Recognition of failures and continued re-commitment to our principles within community.
Explication of articles.
Confession of faith in Christ as the foundation of peace. We confess our faith in the peace of Christ that surpasses understanding, and our dedication to the principled peace of the Lord and savior Jesus who taught a bold humility. We embrace the faith even as we work for the good of all people, including people with whom we disagree, or people of other faiths, and even those who proclaim themselves our enemies and seek to do us harm. We seek the realization of the one we follow, Jesus, that the good of all is the work of servants; and in the tradition of him who laid down his life for all people, we embrace our identities as his followers knowing well the consequences of the burden of the cross. We admit that there can be no higher calling than the gospel call to nonviolent action in accordance with the will of the Holy Spirit, and the imminent fullness of the kingdom of the lamb, who does justice with mercy.
Love as the root of all things. Being created in the spirit of love, and saved by the love of Jesus who is our redeemed example of love, we here confess that love to be at the heart of all things. We confess to loving ourselves and others without the world’s judgment and vanities; we commit to loving the earth and protecting God’s gift of life, the spirit of God itself, and our enemies and neighbors, in praise and thanksgiving. We also confess our belief that our love must be one that challenges those around us to become better followers of Jesus. Love must be mission, holding others accountable and building them up. True love, we hold, calls people to action in its embodiment and by its very example.
The call of the spirit of God to all for radical pacifist action. This gospel call to act as servants we confess to be the central tenant of the Christian faith. Peace is the vocation of all things made by a just and good creator, we believe. Peace shapes our daily lives and actions whether or not we are aware of it; it is our intention to practice this peace conscientiously around the world and amongst neighbors. The spirit of God calls all God’s life back to God, clothed in the raiment of nonviolence, worshiping the wonderful counselor who does justice and loves mercy. We confess that we seek to build institutions upon the shoulders of Christ, the servant who yearns for right relationship among the children of God.
Acceptance of the truth of the full humanity of all God’s children. We affirm all brothers and sisters to be equal in Christ. We call for the full privileges and rights of Christ to be granted them without delay. We honor the power and beauty of all life, and seek to enter relationship with it, not avoiding but rather walking toward conflict in the spirit of peace and fellowship. Along with this, we confess that our communities must become places of deep healing, sustainable praxis, nonviolent education and radical acceptance, where brothers and sisters can seek their identities in Christ freely, without fear of prejudice or categorical pre-judgement.
Inclusion as the guiding principle of action within the spirit. We confess that the guiding principle of prophetic action within the will of the spirit is one of active inclusion. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, nor male and female. All people, created in the image of God, are unconditionally welcomed to God’s table and to God’s salvation.
Accountability of historical wrong, especially colonialisms. We hereby pledge solidarity and yield up positions of leadership to those communities who have been historically marginalized. We seek to affirm their leadership and support peace and nonviolence education by upholding the principles of peacebuilding in our own local and historical contexts. As North American Anabaptists, we confess our need to challenge and reform our own government and lay out peacebuilding alternatives to violence and war.
An abiding desire to participate in resilient and just economies. We see that our world suffers from a lack of care for God’s living environment, and we grieve the lack of our participation in an economy that is environmentally sustainable and socially just. We confess our desire to support local enterprise, invest prudently in clean energy, and remain mindful of our impact on and our role within God’s loving creation. We seek to embrace trickle-up change, and we commit to imagining innovative communities along these principles near to our homes, even as we seek God’s peace farther from our immediate spheres of influence.
The full and unflinching engagement of creative faculties of believers in service of peace. We confess that we look for creative engagement within our hearts and communities in order to nonviolently pursue restorative justice in the name of a righteous God of wholeness. Violence stifles creative impulses and inhibits our ability to seek the peace of God. We believe in appealing for peace to the creativity of the Spirit, which is that of Jesus, and of the one who sent him.
Embrace of lives of radical simplicity following the truth of God’s peace on Earth. In order to focus our lives to the call of God’s peace on Earth, we hereby uphold the life of the servant Christ in its simplicity and mission-orientation as the model for all conscientious human activity. We seek to affirm the intentional community of believers without excluding other brothers and sisters, and we disavow egotistical ambition as a basis for peace and faith work. We recognize the impossibility of following two masters, and chose to follow the way of peace despite the possibilities of worldly poverty which can sometimes overshadow it.
Commitment to deep listening and dialogue as the prophetic intention of Christian pacifism. We assert principles of right relationship to neighbor, enemy and self to be the following: deep listening as a means of connection and dialogue; openness to change of identity and opinion; mutual transformation in partnership and in the spirit of the creator; deep reflection before action; and nonviolence.
Recognition of failures and continued re-commitment to our principles within community. We confess that we have at times failed to embody the principles of community. With contrition we earnestly implore God’s forgiveness. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves, we have not honored God’s creation, and we have often left the work of peace undone. Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us recognize our many vanities, our mindless consumerisms. Let us hereby recommit ourselves to the principles of Christian pacifism, the articles of confession above, and the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in the way of nonviolence.
Brothers and sisters in God, we most earnestly confess these points to you in hope that they move in your hearts, and excite within you a desire to confess them also. May your roots – watered in the innocence and strength of the lamb of God – nourish your spirits and give you rest and joy. Also may your wings – lifted by the breath of the Holy Spirit – shield you in the protection of the most high and allow you to walk and not grow faint, to run and not become weary, to soar as eagles. May the peace of God be with you now and always, and may the teachings of the Prince of Peace guide you to the realization of God’s presence among us. Amen.