Schlabach, Theron F., War Peace and Social Conscience: Guy F. Hershberger and Mennonite Ethics Herald Press, 2009
War Peace and Social Conscience is a tribute to Hershberger, a leading thinker and writer in the Mennonite Community Church through much of the 20th century. Schlabach begins with a brief biography and does well to situate Hershberger’s thought in the context of his life. Schlabach poses probing questions about the impact of Hershberger’s experiences on his thought, does not shy away from pointing out perceived gaps and inconsistencies in his stated positions. While the biographical considerations are an excellent consideration, throughout the rest of the book one encounters confusing time shifts as the author follows the train of Hershberger’s thought at the expense of a consistent chronology. The effect is unavoidable but draws attention to the challenge involved in writing a theological autobiography.
Hershberger has clearly been a seminal thinker in the Mennonite Community and a radical pacifist who was very concerned to ground that pacifism in scripture rather than any particular cultural or ideological sensitivities. That he is quite radical in his pacifism is reflected in his suspicion regarding Ghandi’s commitment to non-violent resistance. For the young Hershberger any form of coercion was a form of violence, and that rendered any action in favor of justice all but impotent. Hershberger deserves full credit for integrity as he does modify some of his positions in the course of his life as experiences and intellectual interactions drew attention to areas that required development.
Our own conference and Dr Archie Penner are mentioned in a brief account of Hershberger’s work with our churches regarding an appropriate response to labor unions (231ff).
Hershberger’s thought and life is driven by his community values, and in the spirit of this interest in community he was a key figure in several experiments in community living in both urban and rural settings. He was also a supporter of the MMA as an attempt to band together as community for mutual aid in preference to institutionalized commercial insurance.
War Peace and Social Conscience is worthwhile reading for anyone interested in peace theology and one man’s project to bring this theology to bear on all of life, encompassing personal, social, and industrial, as well as national/international concerns.