Tag Archives: philosophy of nonviolence

My journey to pacifism as a way of knowing

Ted Grimsrud—Peace Essays #E.1

[Published in Mennonite Life 56.1 (March 2001)]

In the late 1980s, when I was pastoring a Mennonite congregation on the west coast, I became friends with a Lutheran pastor.  Soon after we met, when he realized I was a Mennonite, he asked (with a glint in his eye), “So you must be a pacifist?”  That triggered several friendly but intense debates about the theological and practical possibility of Christian pacifism.

My friend’s automatic link of Mennonites with pacifism is typical.  I well know that the history of pacifism among Mennonites is more ambiguous than my friend realized.[1]  However, I affirm the designation of the Mennonite church as a “peace church,” and I believe one of the most important tasks for Mennonite theologians remains that of understanding the full implications of our pacifist convictions for all aspects of our life and thought.

I write this essay as one small attempt to take on the task of Mennonite peace theology.  I will set pacifism in the context of the ferment in the contemporary world which many see as characterizing a time of transition between the modern and postmodern eras.[2]  I will do this initially through some autobiographical reflections that illustrate the connection between pacifism and critiques of modernity.  I will then summarize a few elements of what I will call “postmodern sensibilities” that I believe dovetail with a pacifist perspective on life.

I believe that the postmodern situation in which we find ourselves is potentially friendly to a pacifist way of knowing.  Those of us with pacifist commitments should welcome the deconstruction of the modern worldview, and with renewed commitment, we should seek to think and act in all areas of life in light of our peaceable convictions.


It has been a little more than twenty-four years since I first made a pacifist commitment.  I am more convinced all the time that this choice (or “acceptance”) was truly one of the two or three definitive personal commitments of my life.[3]

Pacifism, for me, meant, first of all, a realization that I could never participate in warfare.  In time, my pacifist commitment expanded greatly.  I came to understand pacifism to mean a positive affirmation of shalom (peace, in a broad sense, as kindness, respect, justice, restoration of brokenness).  Ultimately, I came to understand pacifism as a way of knowing, a way of understanding God and all of reality. Continue reading