EMU president Loren Swartzendruber calls for action, pledges engagement in response to extremism of all forms

Advent is traditionally a time of unrest, of unease, of latent coming. Yet, as a practicing Christian of some 50 years, a pastor, and the president of Eastern Mennonite University – a Christian university in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition – I find this Advent to be one during which I am experiencing a constant call for the presence of Jesus.

The attacks in Paris, recent violent attacks in South Carolina and California in the United States, expressed hatred towards immigrants, and now the sight of another Christian university president urging, in fact condoning acts of violence, to his student body – I feel an obligation to publicly enter this conversation.

The Anabaptist faith has been in this conversation for centuries. Central to our beliefs is the commitment of seeking to literally practice those teachings of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount and Scripture about justice, peace and non-violence.

Our campus community at EMU continues to prayerfully discern what the peace position means to us in a world beset by violence. That community includes students, faculty, staff and administrators of all faith traditions and also alumni from around the world. EMU has prepared thousands to “serve and lead in a global context;” our globally recognized Center for Justice and Peacebuilding has trained hundreds of peacebuilders, many of whom continue to work in situations of violent conflict.

Following the Paris attacks, I sent an email to the campus community: “This morning I invite all of us to pray for the victims of continuing violence all around the world, and to reflect on our own actions and expressions that contribute to the feelings of isolation and experience of discrimination for those with whom we relate on a daily basis … My prayer today is that each of us will better understand God’s call to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.”

That remains my prayer today, as we move forward into an uncertain world.

As the leader of an educational institution that not only teaches the analytic and critical skills of the liberal arts, but also values reflective practice of those skills, I also add, in addition to my invitation to prayer, these calls of action:

A call…

  • for reaffirmation of the invitation of Jesus and his teachings to love our enemies;
  • for dialogue and engagement with those who are different than us;
  • for greater sensitivity to language that condemns others and absolves us of moral responsibility;
  • for national and local leaders who refuse to articulate simplistic answers to complex societal problems;
  •  for U.S. political candidates who dare to call us to our best, and choose not to play to our base fears.

Here at EMU, we pledge to

  • Invite area Muslim and Christian leaders to explore how to jointly confront the local, national and global challenge of religious intolerance.
  • Invite leaders of regional higher education institutions into a similar dialogue.
  • Continue to train students, practitioners and global leaders in the principles of restorative justice, trauma resilience, peacebuilding, interfaith engagement and organizational change.

May God’s Kingdom come on earth even as it is in heaven!

Daryl Byler, executive director of Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, offers the following response.

Discussion on “EMU president Loren Swartzendruber calls for action, pledges engagement in response to extremism of all forms

  1. A very thoughtful response to a disturbing time in our history. Thank you for being an intelligent, caring voice in our community.

  2. Very glad to know my alma mater is leading calls for peaceful connectivity and civility in times of bombastic vitriol.

  3. As Christians, who are saved by grace only by Jesus’s death on the cross, indeed, we are called to love our enemies. However, we are also called to be salt and light.

    We will never be at peace with other religions because they don’t believe in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for our sins.

    If through restorative justice, we are seeking to convert Muslim followers to followers of Christ, then praise God. The clash of cultures and religion will continue until the end of time. When Jesus returns, as we believe the Bible indicates, only He will restore true peace…and those that don’t believe in Him, will perish.

    1. Daren, I agree with you and am sensing that day is coming. It has been foretold and what you say makes a lot of sense to me. So hard though to see such divisions even though we know it’s coming.

    2. I find three passages of scripture, all reporting the same event, to be extremely compelling as a directive for the way I must attempt to live. From  Mark 12:28-31:

      “And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?

      And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.

      And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

      There is none other commandment greater than these.”

      It is a tall order, indeed. Do we even have the capacity to envision what our world would be like if everyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus would spend every waking hour pursuing these commandments? And why shouldn’t we? Is it not the Jesus way?

    3. “…indeed, we are called to love our enemies. However, we are also called to be salt and light.”

      What’s with the word “however.” Loving our enemies is the most intense and mature way of being salt and light!

  4. Deren: Accepting the terms of your understanding and interpretation of the Bible, for the sake of conversation, does it make any sense for Christians to kill anyone who has not (and therefore will not have) had any opportunity to experience the Good News of Jesus as you understand it? Killing those of other faiths doesn’t seem to be a very positive evangelistic strategy. Why would anyone want to join a faith that expresses such hatred as we are witnessing from too many “Christian” leaders in our time?

    With all due respect, I think it’s a major leap, and inaccurate, to imply that religious people of good will cannot co-exist together in peaceful ways without necessarily having had to accept the theology of “the other.” In my judgment, fanaticism expressed in any religion is the major problem that leads to conflict and inability to live together peaceably.

    If I understand your position correctly, you’d be suggesting that I can’t live in peace alongside my Muslim neighbor even if he/she never converts to my Christian faith. If that’s the case, one would have to assume that adherents to each faith should live only in separate enclaves (countries?) as separate from “the other” as humanly possible. And, now we’re back to another conundrum–how would one do evangelism/mission work in such an environment?

    1. Loren, I don’t disagree with your assessment, in fact, absolutely we can “co-exist” perhaps on a smaller scale. The world is going to hate us/me (John 15:18) because if we are indeed Christ followers, Jesus indicates that the world will hate Him and us, and still do. On a larger scale, I’m not quite sure, especially in these end times, that should be the goal. I’m simply asking the question, can we be at “peace” and still be the salt and light of Christ? Hence, the conundrum you indicated…incredible question and one that multitudes have been slain for.

      While the lion will lay down with the lamb (Is 11:6), scripture, specifically Jesus predicts what is going to occur. Nations and countries will collide and I believe it can and is filtering down to communities and individuals (Matt 24:7, Mark 13:8 and Luke 21:10) I absolutely believe in the peace of Jesus and the peace building that He brings through his death and resurrection on the cross.

      I understand as President of EMU, you have a great relationship and rapport with the Mennonite community locally and abroad AND I absolutely respect your statement, however, I’m not certain that is the “feeling” of the broader Christian community…yes, even the ones, including I, that believe in the 2nd amendment and the ability to keep and bear arms.

      While I don’t necessarily agree with Falwell’s (Liberty’s president) statement, especially since it places a potential harmful target on the university, I do stand with his freedom to speak out and verbalize his concerns, anger and frustration through the First and Second Amendment.


  5. Thank you Loren for speaking clearly into this moment – your voice and of the witness of Anabaptist/Mennonite theology and practice is vital, to reaffirm a Christ-centered life of love and respect for our neighbors, rather than a life guided by fear – and threat of violence.

  6. I sincerely hope that EMU’s main goal would not simply be to further discuss how to live peacefully with neighbors of other religions, but that our deepest and sincerest intentions would be to care for and witness to the souls of every person who does not know Jesus Christ. To tell about who He is, so that our neighbors may also experience salvation and eternal life. Working simply towards temporary ‘peaceful’ existence here on earth pales in comparison to an eternal life with Jesus Christ.

  7. Thank you, Loren. Personally, I have been blessed with the joyful experience of living with Muslims in the Great Thar Desert of Rajastan, with Buddhists families and monks in the monasteries of Ladahk, Hindu families, as well as celebrating the ‘holy-days’ together in Calcutta and Kathmandu. I was so deeply loved and blessed by these, my brothers and sisters.’

    1. Wayne, did you take the opportunity to share the Gospel of Christ with them and assure them that the only way to God is through redemption by the blood of Jesus? If so, were they receptive?

  8. I believe what Deren was saying, and Deren you can correct me if I’m wrong, is similar to what Lindsay is saying. If our aim is only to live at peace with someone, we are missing the mark. We are called to share Jesus with people who don’t know Him. I know I have observed Christians whose end game was to just be friends, but that is not enough if we are living out the great commission.

    1. Mark, yes, essentially that was my point. I sometimes think that our peace is not always the real peace of Jesus. Matthew 10:34 is a brief sample, not to isolate scripture.

      1. Well said, we will never experience true peace so long as Christians are willing to compromise the truth of the gospel. While we are called by Jesus to live in peace we are also called to make disciples of all nations, Matt. 28:19. In our rush to worship pacifism we have become peacekeepers rather than peacemakers. Jesus was not afraid to call out evil, we should follow his example. If we truly love our neighbor we will share the truth with them rather than apologize for those who do.

  9. Thank you Loren, for speaking so clearly from the heart and soul of what we believe Christianity is all about. We, now, reside in a community of believers from many different faith journeys, and have found that our Christian/Mennonite beliefs are both honored and respected. In reading some of the responses to your well stated address, we wonder what ever has happened to the practice of “Friendship Evangelism, that was so popular in the 70’s and 80’s. We wonder also how we have come instead to such a place of deep fear and mistrust of other ethnic/religious groups at this time.

  10. As an African-American female pastor… I wholeheartedly agree with the statement given by the president of Eastern Mennonite University. The body of Christ cannot be divided by political differences, cultural differences, nationalities, or denominational beliefs. We all must agree that Jesus Christ is Lord; and he died to save all that would come to him… The entire world! The Christian must adhere to the word of God in spite of feelings and personal hurts or agendas. We must agree with the word of God is our authority for every day living; and denounce every voice that is anti-–Christ(Ian). The world needs the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the power of salvation to everyone that believes. As long as we build walls, we will never be able to give or receive the love that Jesus intended to be spread abroad. People build walls out of fear. However, the word of the Lord says, “If God be for us who can be against us?” God is our protector, shield, defender, buckler, and our avenger. If we trust God in times of uncertainty, we allow him to show forth His might. There is no woman or man on this earth that has all of the answers to life’s issues; the answers can only be found in the word of God which is Spirit and Life. Let us, as Christian believers, look to the word of God which is our source for living and seek peace with all men.

  11. When I see evidence, along with offers of peace and good will, that the Gospel of Jesus and salvation through the blood of Christ are being offered, then I will be convinced that those you have trained are following the commands of Christ to go out the the ends of the earth and preach the Gospel. Have Muslims, Hindu’s, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists been shown that “there is a way that seems right…but the end is death or have we become so accepting of the idea that all religions lead to God that we’re forgetting that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except by him?

  12. Hello President Swartzendruber: In your response to Deren, are you suggesting the Islamic terrorist extremists who murdered innocent people in Paris and CA have never heard of Jesus Christ, His ressurection, His amazing grace and love for all, and everlasting life with Him if WE chose to follow Him? I personally believe the terrorist have ALL heard of Jesus and have denied Him. I don’t see the terrorists as individuals who have crawled out from under a rock and committed these horrible acts, never to have heard of Jesus. Taking this a step further and based on your comment of killing someone before knowing Jesus, what are you suggesting the EMU split second response be to an active shooter situation on campus? Are First Responders to stand down or use any means to neutralize the shooter?

    Dr. Falwell’s convocation address to the students was blunt and to the point. My interpretation of Dr. Falwell’s remarks followed very similiar to Nehemiah actions and directions while rebuilding Jerusalem. Nehemiah 4:14 says: “After I looked these things over, I stood up and said to the nobles and the officials and the rest of the people, ‘Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your kin, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.’ Verses 15-20 go on as follows…15When our enemies heard that their plot was known to us, and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. 16From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and body-armour; and the leaders posted themselves behind the whole house of Judah, 17who were building the wall. The burden-bearers carried their loads in such a way that each laboured on the work with one hand and with the other held a weapon. 18And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me. 19And I said to the nobles, the officials, and the rest of the people, ‘The work is great and widely spread out, and we are separated far from one another on the wall. 20Rally to us wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet. Our God will fight for us.’

    Of course I agree peace and love is the desired approach to all situations, but I believe the Lord expects us to defend ourselves, family, and friends if possible in active shooter confrontation.

    Thank you for your time.

    1. James, you articulated this much better than I did. :-)

      I know the Mennonite community desires peace, specifically without violence, however, the Old Testament is chock full of the destruction of evil people that did not believe in or disobeyed the God of Abraham. Now, thank God for Jesus and what He accomplished on the cross and the law, but the destruction of evil may not be isolated to only the Old Testament and Jesus’s fulfillment of the law…Matthew 5:17

    2. While I respect and somewhat agree the EMU presidents address, I would also add to the above comment this quote from Luke 22:36:

      “He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.”

      We cannot sit idly by while those who have rejected God’s love try to eliminate us from existence.

      John Stauffer
      EMU Alum

    3. Hey James, Derren, John:

      I think that the imagery of the lion laying with the lamb is not something that we are supposed to passively wait to come into fruition once Christ returns. Nor should we be arming ourselves to combat those who do not agree with our religious views. Where do do get that sense in the scripture? Our interpretation of smaller passages within scripture should be tempered and informed by overarching themes and obvious emphasis. At this point it seems that we are quoting a verse where Jesus mentions buying a sword to his followers. While this should have a place in our theological discussions, it should have a very small space. What about the whole sermon on the mount (blessed are the meek, the peacekeepers)? What about loving our enemies? What about Jesus rebuking his disciples who wanted to send fire down from heaven (Luke 9:54)? How do we interpret Jesus’ admonition to turn the other cheek? What about the entire focus of Jesus ministry – dying for his enemies? I think that the odds are stacked against violence and any form of aggression. An honest lens of New Testament scripture would start there.

      Hope this adds to the discussion.

  13. Thank you, Loren, for articulating so well the call to love our enemies and to live at peace with everyone. Jesus teaches that we will be known by our love. That’s a challenging call in our world today when we’re encouraged to take the lives of others in our own hands!

  14. Very glad to hear every voice speaking out these days, calling Christians to really live our faith and discipleship to Jesus’ Way of love for our God and our neighbor. And especially glad when it is part of my heritage! Proud to claim EMU when I see this statement. (Class of ’78)

  15. I think there is a need for both learning to understand the other religion and to live at peace like Jesus did but we also need to care for the souls of the lost. Remember no Muslim knows for sure that they will go to heaven and just hopes if “Allah” so desires they might be left in but surely they will all go to hell to pay for their sins. (Judgement happens in Hell) Every Muslim I have ever met wants to go to heaven and desires to have an assurance of Salvation. The following video takes a sermon of Hudson Taylor and adapts it to our current reality. Watch it. It is very moving. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmqTere_HEw

  16. Loren…I deeply appreciate your witness for Christ’s just peacemaking. Thank you for such a hopeful stance in such a difficult time.

  17. I’m testimony of the Anabaptist mission in my muslim country saved by message of love and peace as Jesus commanded .
    I’m muslim background but now I do serve as missionary in my country for those teaching about love, peace and forgiveness .
    Good message Mr.President in this time of intolerance turmoil that world is in.
    It is a good reminder for many missionaries in many places who serve and live among muslim people.

    For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

    Dini Shahini

  18. Hi Loren. I had a lot of respect for your leadership at Hesston College and after reading your statement above I have even more. Thank you so much for your strong leadership in a Christian faith that is about as fragmented as interfaith relationships. I have moved away from the Church to some extent due to the level of conservative xenophobia in the Mennonite church. Karin and I worked in Sarajevo Bosnia in an interfaith NGO led by a Catholic priest for 4 years. As his theology and faith gave me hope for Christianity, yours has also . Thank you.

  19. Interesting dialogue following this article. A challenge for everyone to think about is how we are interpreting Scripture and our responsibility for living/sharing the gospel. Ultimately I can share Christ best through my actions (and words when I am asked where my hope comes from). It is the Holy Spirit who changes and challenges hearts–Mine included and I have had to rethink a lot of my earlier assumptions. Old Testament message does not give credence to violence which becomes evident in the New Testament and Christ’s message through actions mostly to welcome the stranger, turn the other cheek, be gracious and full of mercy.

    An interesting read that has helped me significantly in this regard is http://therebelgod.com/healingthegospel.htm

  20. Beautifully stated! At a time when the voices of intolerance, condemnation, fear and xenophobia seen to be dominating discourse in the public square, we need to hear this message of Shalom. Thank you, Loren, for speaking into this issue in such a thoughtful and Biblical way.

  21. I was raised in the Mennonite church and my father was a solder. So I see both sides whether I want to or not. I personally would never have a gun in my home. But that does not mean I should not be prepared for self-defense. People will confound me because their ideals and religion will offend me. What I am called to do is what God asks me to do.
    From Robin McGraw comes this saying: “You can’t control other people. You cannot control what they say, what they think, or what they do. People have the right to think and say whatever they want to. But you have the right not to take it to heart, and not to react.”
    Sometimes words are TOO much and it is better to be seen doing the Kingdom’s business.
    God be with us.

  22. Thank you, Loren, for taking a reflective, rational and public stand amid the cacophony of todays too often hysterical voices.

  23. These comments bring to mind Jesus’s comments..

    Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me; except Muslims they don’t have to follow me; oh yes and secular humanists they get an exemption, and we are currently negotiating a deal with the followers of Bail that don’t perform human sacrifices they also get an exemption.

    After a moment Jesus paused, then Jesus sad to him, “Pick any religion, follow any god as all religions are equal, and all gods are equal to my father. Do not risk offending anyone. I approve of all gods, and religions and humanism.”

    Get real people. Read Christ’s words.

  24. Oh where to begin? Why do I find so much wrong with this? Is it because I know that in the world of Mennodom, terms like “restorative justice” are merely buzzwords for Socialism and Marxism which are so antithetical to the Scripture? Is it because Loren’s call for “interfaith engagement” sounds like the proverbial fingernails on the chalkboard to my ears and so misses the Biblical mark. Where does Loren find Jesus’ call for “interfaith engagement”? Did Jesus call for “interfaith engagement” with Baal worshipers? Jesus’ call was for all to come to the Father through Him that all might be saved. Loren’s term “expressed hatred of immigrants” is a red herring designed to totally obfuscate the immigration issue. I have happily been a member of several Churches which have sponsored refugees/immigrants and I have many valued friendships with immigrants . I have no hatred for immigrants, however, I am strongly opposed to illegal immigration and I am strongly against those who would come to our country out of their hatred for us to do as much harm as possible to us such as 911, San Bernadino, et al. But in Loren Swartzendruber’s utopian world, I am pigeon-holed pejoratively as a hater. Loren’s derisive statements about Liberty University’s President calling for students to take up arms to defend themselves and others, totally ignores our responsibility to protect our families and loved ones and the fact that Jesus’ own disciples carried state-of-the-art defensive weapons, and at Jesus’ request, by the way. I’m guessing Loren locks the doors to his house. That is a closed border and by Loren’s own implication, he is a hater! I’m also guessing that if a man broke into Loren’s house with the intent to murder, rape, pillage and plunder, while he evidently does not have a gun, he would call a man with a gun!

    1. Awesome analysis. Perfect. Thank you for sharing this. Right on the mark. Good question. EMU would EMU NOT call the police with “guns ” to protect individuals in campus God forbid?

  25. Unfortunately in the current state of affairs this is far more than a conversation piece.
    To get right to the heart of the matter is a reality check.
    If a gunman appeared on your campus and started shooting students,
    what would be your response?
    Are you ready for this harsh reality, and what would you do as the top authority and top daily decision maker with responsibility for your campus and students?
    Are you going to attempt to talk to the gunmen?
    Are you going to place yourself between your students and gunmen and become a human shield?
    If you go this route, have you prepared your faculty to make the same life giving sacrifice?
    Are your faculty ready and willing?
    Will you call in the use of deadly force?
    Have no allusions…
    The police will use guns, and will shoot to kill.
    If this is the route your will be choosing…
    response time is critical.
    Once the shooter encounters return fire, it will keep him from having free reign
    and likely save many lives.
    So… will EMU campus security be armed?
    Hmmm… now you are not so far from the other university’s position.

    These are difficult questions with difficult answers.
    Maybe you have a better option?
    Please detail for me your campus plan – if the unthinkable should happen.
    I have a nephew who is currently a student at EMU.

    1. Chris…
      You are asking the same questions of Loren which I asked above. You are going into greater detail and I thank you for that. I would certainly like to know if EMU has a proactive plan in dealing with an active shooter situation. Many of the comments above appear to suggest a completely passive and non aggressive approach to any acts of violence. I completely understand and respect this if this is one’s individual belief, BUT, for a university who is accepting students of all beliefs and backgrounds and not specifically Mennonites, I would certainly hope the school’s first response to violence against the student and faculty would be countered with appropriate force to eliminate the threat.

      It would be nice to get a response from EMU.


    1. A Crisis Preparedness Management Team (CMPT) meets regularly at EMU and complies with all federal and state requirements for emergency preparedness. We work closely with local law enforcement agencies to schedule “table top” exercises and simulation drills according to FEMA guidelines. –President Loren Swartzendruber

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