It’s no surprise that Johann Christoph Arnold opposes the war in Iraq.
The senior elder of the Bruderhof communes in America and England opposed U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, the Holy Week bombings of Serbia, the first Gulf War, the Vietnam War and the Korean War. He marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. His social-activist resume covers half a century.
“I am more than a pacifist,” he said. “The teachings of Jesus do not permit war. They do not permit armed conflict. … Yes, I know that there is torture. I know that there are genocides and massacres. But I do not even believe that war is the answer to great evils of this kind. Violence leads to more violence.”
But this time around, Arnold has not joined the marchers.
In fact, he has become troubled by the barrage of images of anti-war protests in the U.S. and abroad. Arnold said he respects the motives of the marchers, but he believes that it’s time for anti-war activists to shun tactics that lead to bitterness, division and, in extreme cases, violence.
Right now, he said, people of faith — on both sides of the Iraq debate — must strive to actually help people whose lives are being touched by the war. It’s hard to work for peace, while attacking others.
“How can we judge others without judging ourselves?”, he asked. “What do we gain from angry words, now that war has started? What do we gain by pointing fingers at our president, our Congress and our soldiers? … Now is the time for desperate prayers, not more protests. I am afraid that more protests will do more harm than good.”
These are idealistic words, but Arnold leads a highly idealistic community of believers. The Bruderhof movement — the name means “place of the brothers” — began in the rubble of World War I Germany. Before long, the tiny Protestant group’s commitment to nonviolence led to persecution. Arnold’s parents were refugees who fled Nazism.
Today, the Bruderhof remain committed to simple living and the sanctity of life. While sharing some characteristics of the Amish and Mennonites, their communes are highly active in technology and publishing — especially through the Internet.
On the World Wide Web, Arnold has begun pleading for a change among his colleagues in the anti-war movement. The bottom line, he said, is that being anti-war is not enough. The war is real. Thus, it’s time to focus on the needs of real people. The pain in military families might be a good place to start, he said.
“As stories of injury, capture, imprisonment and death seep home from the front lines, it will become unbearably, overwhelmingly real,” he wrote, in an epistle at www.Bruderhof.org. “And unlike those of us who can turn off the TV set when it all becomes too much, these people will have no choice in the matter. They will have to grapple with the suffering of their loved ones until they find a purpose or meaning in it. And we must too.”
What would this look like, in real life?
If peace activists hold vigils, he said, they might seek to create prayer services that truly welcome veterans and members of military families, rather than offend and antagonize them. More churches should organize gatherings to write letters of support to the troops stationed in the Persian Gulf and at home. Someone will need to organize efforts to counsel and console those who lose loved ones and the soldiers who return home, their lives changed forever by combat.
It would help if churches — on the left and right — offered day care, babysitting and after-school activities for young children whose mothers or fathers have been called into active military service. Who will help the mothers who will soon give birth while their husbands are on the front lines?
“This is how we can work for peace,” said Arnold. “If we can help one child of a soldier, if we can comfort one grieving family, it we can share the pain of one soldier who has been wounded in soul and body, then we will have done something positive. Then we will have done what Christ calls us to do.”