For Christians within Anabaptist churches, the nonviolence that Jesus taught means performing no services involving weaponry, renouncing retaliation, and not fending off oppressors and violent criminals forcibly.
To live nonviolently is a challenge for every Christian in his or her own personal life – in actions, talk and thought. Indeed, renunciation of force of arms, which has often been described as “nonresistance,” meant, among the historical Anabaptists, not only simply to refuse military service. Underlying this were the convictions that viewed the nonviolent actions of Jesus as authoritative for one’s total intrinsic lifestyle. The impulse to live nonviolently opened a broad spectrum of theological and practical-life aspects, which were also contentiously debated in Anabaptist congregations. At the same time, nonviolence was often coupled with disengagement from society, with “separation” from the “world.”
Implementation of nonviolence within everyday life brought with it ever-new questions for the Anabaptists, based on current circumstance. Whereas some refused to support the financing of wars through their taxes, other Anabaptists saw therein no conflict with their conviction to live defenselessly. Some traveled on trips with weapons in order to be protected against holdups; others refused to protect themselves through weaponry. The death penalty also gave rise to controversy.
In the Theme-Year “Daring to Live Nonviolently,” arises the question of how to deal with our neighbors in church and society. Does not freedom from violence begin in one’s thoughts? How can nonviolence in thought, talk and action be brought into congregations and into the realm of human interaction worldwide—based on the Anabaptist witness of peace—in a good and fruitful balance? In our current society the challenge does not lie in pulling back from violence, but rather in encountering violence with actions free of violence and with peace-creating actions. In more recent times initiatives have developed, regarding conflict resolution and mediation in political and inter-human crises and conflicts.