Position of the Mennonite Church on Carnal Warfare (Mennonite Church, 1915)

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We believe that in the light of the life and teachings of Christ and the apostles no Christian should engage in carnal warfare under any circumstances, nor for any cause. Matthew 26:51-52; John 18:36; Romans 12:17-21; 2 Corinthians 10:4. Our testimony should be for peace and our life should correspond with our testimony.—2 Timothy 2:24. This was the position of the Church in Reformation times, as seen in Article 14 of our Confession of Faith adopted in 1632, in the Civil War (1861-65), and at other times when the trial of our faith meant persecution or death.

When our government becomes involved in war we should pray for our rulers (1 Timothy 2:1-2), have a meek, quiet and submissive attitude toward our government (Romans 13:1-7), relieve suffering whenever and wherever opportunity affords Galatians 6:10), but under no circumstances should we enlist as soldiers and fight, choosing rather to suffer affliction and persecution than to inflict violence upon others.

Brethren drafted for military service should state their position on nonresistance meekly but unhesitatingly, get relieved if that is possible, but if forced by violence into the army should suffer themselves to be imprisoned or court-martialed rather than do anything which could in any way result in the loss of life at their hands. As a Church we should disown all members who bear arms as soldiers, as that term is commonly understood, but at the same time we should stand by all our brethren in trouble (Galatians 6:2, 10) and lend assistance to all brethren suffering because of conscription laws. Our position should be made plain to our governments, and our prayers should ascend for peace.

The following is a copy of the letter drawn up to be sent to the President of the United States:

To the President of the United States:

Inasmuch as these are days of stress and trial owing to the conditions of war existing among many of the leading nations of the world and the threatening conditions existing which seem to imperil the peace and safety of still other nations, and since the existing conditions involve the spiritual and moral life as well as the material welfare of the citizens of these nations, and especially those whose religious convictions are opposed to the use of carnal weapons, and engaging in carnal warfare, and who hold that the teaching and example of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace should be followed in loving one's enemies and doing good to all men, in returning good for evil and suffering wrong rather than doing wrong, which principles and practices are dear to many Christian people, and especially to the Mennonite Church,

Therefore, we the Mennonite General Conference, representing congregations in United States, Canada, and India, assembled at Archbold, Ohio, August 18-20, 1915, reaffirm our position on carnal warfare, and believe it to be the Christian duty of our people to refrain from taking up arms.

We hereby express our appreciation of the religious principles hitherto enjoyed by our people in the United States during previous occasions of war. We desire to commend the President in his efforts to secure and maintain peaceable relations with Europe and Mexico.

We also desire to express the loyalty of our people residing in the United States in the support of the nation in every Christian duty in the practice of peaceable vocations, respecting authority and praying for divine guidance of those who rule over them, praying also that God may preserve the nation from war and continue her beneficence to her people.

The letter to the Governor General [of Canada] was the same, except as the different conditions required a little different wording.

[edit] Commentary

This meeting of the Mennonite Church's General Conference was the first after the commencement of World War I in August 1914. The minority of the church's members, who were located in Canada, lived in a country already at war; the majority of members, who lived in the United States, were still in a neutral country. There was no conscription in either country at this time.

A question came to the floor for discussion: "Will the Conference state the position which the Mennonite Church holds with reference to carnal warfare?" The Resolutions Committee of the conference asked for a day to frame a resolution; and the moderators of the conference were asked to appoint a committee to draft a letter to be sent to the President of the United States and the Governor General of Canada. The persons appointed were S. F. Coffman (Canada), J. E. Hartzler (U.S.) and George R. Brunk (U.S.).

The resolution appeared to be approved with minimal discussion.

[edit] Bibliography

  • Report of the Ninth Regular Meeting of the Mennonite General Conference held at the Central A.M. Church near Archbold, Ohio, August 18th to 20th, 1915. Scottdale, Pa.: Mennonite General Conference, 1915: 15-18.
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