Witness Colloquium Series

Understanding and Engaging Movements for Justice in 2020

The events of 2020 are laying bare inequalities that have long plagued the United States and the global community. The intersections of the pandemic, ongoing racialized violence, and hate-filled political rhetoric — combined with the volatility of the upcoming U.S. presidential elections — are exposing the costs of the status quo and pushing each of us to examine our role in advocating for justice.

Serving as living alternatives to violence through offering protection and seeking justice are expressions of the nearly 500-year tradition of Anabaptism. This communal nonviolence is rooted in the conviction that violence is inconsistent with the person of Jesus and the life he led, a life the discipleship community shares. In this series, voices from different streams of nonviolence — including communal, liberationist, and strategic nonviolence — will speak as witnesses to the power of nonviolence in action.

Public sessions and speakers

The sessions in this Witness Colloquium are held via videoconference — 12:30–1:30 p.m. ET on most Wednesdays. A broad range of guest speakers — from political scientists and theologians, to church-based movement builders, policy experts, and trainers in nonviolent action — will offer their insights. The virtual events are open to the public at no charge. Registration is required.

Nov. 4: Lee Roy Berry, PhD, and Malinda Elizabeth Berry, PhD

Session topic: Join Witness Colloquium for a conversation about the elections, the U.S. American political landscape, and how Anabaptism features in the bigger picture of political realities with the father-daughter duo: Lee Roy Berry, PhD, and Malinda Elizabeth Berry, PhD. For many years, Lee Roy taught history and political science at Goshen College (Goshen, Indiana) and he is also a (bilingual) general practice lawyer. Malinda, is associate professor of theology and ethics at AMBS, and will facilitate the conversation. 

Nov. 18: International Student Panel on Elections

Session topic: Join Witness Colloquium for transcontinental views from international students, reflecting on peaceful, free, fair, and credible elections.

Nov. 25: Patricia Gorostieta of Movimiento Cosecha

Session topic: Patricia Gorostieta will speak about the strategy and objectives of Movimiento Cosecha. She will describe how Cosecha is organizing immigrants and allies to support the undocumented community throughout the pandemic and political climate of 2020. Her presentation will include Cosecha’s work with other movements and groups, including the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC)Jason Shenk, Witness Colloquium co-instructor and member of the PPC organizing cluster in the South Bend / Elkhart / Goshen area, will provide a response.  

Dec. 2: Panel Discussion with People’s History of Elkhart

Session topic: A panel of community leaders with roots in the St. Joseph River watershed will reflect on what wisdom and insight the histories of their communities can offer for navigating turbulent times.

About Witness Colloquium

An open forum hosted by AMBS, Witness Colloquium explores faith in the public sphere, in an Anabaptist perspective.

The full colloquium runs from Sept. 9 to Dec. 9; some sessions are a part of a four-part series that was co-sponsored by Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute.


Janna Hunter-Bowman, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Peace Studies and Christian Social Ethics

Co-sponsored sessions

Four sessions of this fall’s Witness Colloquium were co-sponsored by Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. The sessions in the four-part series happened between Sept. 23 and Oct. 10.

Past sessions and speakers

The sessions in this Witness Colloquium are held via videoconference and include a broad range of guest speakers — from political scientists and theologians, to church-based movement builders, policy experts, and trainers in nonviolent action. The recordings of most of these events are included below. 

Sept. 23: Sarah Nahar, M.Div.

Sarah Nahar (MDiv 2011), is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Religion at Syracuse (New York) University and visiting instructor in the department of Environmental Studies at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry. She is a licensed minister within Central District Conference of Mennonite Church USA and co-consultant to the developing board of the Tolson Center in Elkhart, Indiana. She is also the former executive director of Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Session topic: Sarah will present tactics and strategies for nonviolent direct action and movement building. Her insights will draw on both Anabaptist and Black feminist perspectives on action for justice, peacebuilding, and change processes.

Resources: Download resources shared by Sarah Nahar

For this session, AMBS partnered with the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

Sept. 30: Maria J. Stephan, Ph.D., and David Cortright, Ph.D.

Session topic: Maria J. Stephan, Ph.D. and David Cortright, Ph.D. will present research and data on the effectiveness of nonviolence in bringing about social change, and the counter-productive nature of violence. They will discuss the importance of peacebuilding trainings, tactics for de-escalation, and other strategies for preparing individuals and groups for nonviolent direct action.

Maria J. Stephan, Ph.D., who is participating in her personal capacity, directs the Program on Nonviolent Action at the U.S. Institute of Peace. She is the co-author of Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (Columbia University Press, 2011) and Bolstering Democracy: Lessons Learned and the Path Forward (Atlantic Council, 2018). Previously, she co-led the Future of Authoritarianism project at the Atlantic Council; was lead foreign affairs officer at the U.S. State Department; directed policy and research at the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict; and taught at Georgetown and American Universities. 

David Cortright, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and Director of the Global Policy Initiative of the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author or co-editor of 21 books, most recently Truth Seekers: Voices of Peace and Nonviolence (Orbis Books, 2020). Cortright has a long history of public advocacy for disarmament and the prevention of war. As an active duty soldier during the Vietnam War, he spoke against that conflict as part of the GI peace movement.

Resources: Download resources shared during this session.

For this session, AMBS partnered with the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

Oct. 7: Rev. Liz Theoharis, Ph.D.

Session topic: Rev. Liz Theoharis, PhD, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, will discuss biblical and constitutional foundations for organizing for justice and movement building; strategies for unleashing the power of low-income people in the lead-up to the election; and the imperative of building a movement during the current moment when we’re faced with multiple interlocking crises.

Dr. Theoharis is co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign with the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II that organized the largest coordinated wave of nonviolent civil disobedience in 21st-century America and has since emerged as one of the nation’s leading social movement forces. She also is Director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary. Theoharis is the author of Always with Us?: What Jesus Really Said about the Poor (Eerdmans, 2017) and co-author of Revive Us Again: Vision and Action in Moral Organizing (Beacon, 2018). An ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), she was named one of the Politico 50 of “thinkers, doers and visionaries whose ideas are driving politics”, one of 11 Women Shaping the Church by Sojourners, and one of 15 faith leaders to watch by the Center for American Progress in 2020.

Resources: Download resources shared during this session

For this session, AMBS partnered with the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

Oct. 10: Nonviolent Direct Action Training

**Due to the interactive nature of this session, it was not recorded.**

Session topic: Please note the special time: 2:00 – 5:00 p.m. EDT 
Ashley Bohrer and Nate Cohen will offer a hands-on, virtual but practical workshop on best practices and safety measures to take when engaging in nonviolent direct action. The workshop will offer strategies for responding to the tactics being deployed in the U.S. against protestors engaged in anti-racist, prison abolition, and other movement work, as well as include information on how to make a protest safety plan, identifying a protest buddy, how to prepare for the possibility of being arrested, and more. 

Ashley Bohrer is an activist and nonviolent direct action trainer. Bohrer also serves as assistant professor of gender and peace studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

Nate Cohen is an activist, street medic and theatre artist. Cohen has worked as an organizer with communities around the country.

For this session, AMBS partnered with the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

Oct. 21: Isaac S. Villegas and Melissa Florer-Bixler

Isaac S. Villegas serves as the pastor of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship and is the president-elect of the NC Council of Churches. He is a columnist for The Christian Century magazine and Anabaptist World magazine. The Associated Church Press presented him with their first place Award of Excellence for theological writing in 2018 and an Award of Merit in 2019.

Session Topic: The witness of Jesus has inspired Mennonite Christians to develop an ethics of nonviolence, which has been a tradition that has sustained the spiritual life of congregational members who have resisted conscription into violence on behalf of the state. While this tradition has focused on what churches allow or disallow within their membership, Isaac will explore how a commitment to peace should involve a politics of anti-violence in society as our devotion to love neighbors as ourselves.

Melissa Florer-Bixler is the pastor of Raleigh Mennonite Church. She serves as the chair of L’Arche North Carolina and on the steering committee for Women in Leadership for Mennonite Church USA, and she writes for Sojourners magazine, Christian Century, The Bias, Anabaptist World, and Geez Magazine. Her book Fire By Night: Finding God in the Pages of the Old Testament was published in 2019. Her new book about how to have enemies will be available in July 2021.

Session Topic: For pacifist Christians, the terrain of enmity is complex. We hold a commitment to love our enemies alongside the promise of God to send the rich away empty and to save us from the hands of those who hate us. How are individuals both participants in and victims of systemic oppression? We’ll explore the importance of identifying enemies for our participation in the reign of God.