Statement of Our Position on Military Service (Mennonite Church, 1917)
A Statement of Our Position on Military Service as Adopted by the Mennonite General Conference, August 29, 1917
Inasmuch as present war conditions call for an official utterance from our Church, we, the bishops, ministers, deacons and delegates of the Mennonite Church in General Conference assembled at the Yellow Creek Church, near Goshen, Indiana, August 29, 1917, representing sixteen conferences in the United States, Canada, and India, desire to present the following as an expression of our position on the doctrine of nonresistance as applied to present conditions brought on by the world war now raging.
Our Position Defined
As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, we interpret His command, "Resist not evil," by His other teachings on this subject; viz., "Love your enemies." "Do good to them that hate you." "Pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you." "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight." "All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." The Bible also teaches us not to avenge ourselves (Romans 12:17-21), that "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal" (2 Corinthians 10:4), and that "the servant of the Lord must not strive" (2 Timothy 2:24). Believing that the children of God should imbibe and practice these teachings, we hold that Christian people should have no part in carnal warfare of any kind or for any cause. Our attitude on the question of military service is correctly stated in that clause of the Selective Draft Law enacted May 18, 1957, which provides for exemption for members of every church "whose existing creed or principles forbid its members to participate in war in any form and whose religious convictions are against war or participation therein." We deeply regret, however, that this exemption is practically nullified (save in the matter of bearing arms) in the further provision empowering the government to impress nonresistant people into non-combatant service.
In our Confession of Faith, adopted at Dortrecht, Holland, in 1632, the position of our church is defined as follows:
Regarding revenge, whereby we resist our enemies by the sword, we believe and confess, that the Lord Jesus has forbidden His disciples and followers all revenge and resistance, and has thereby commanded them not to "return evil for evil, nor railing for railing"; but to "put up the sword into the sheath," or, as the prophets foretold, "beat them into plowshares." Matthew 5:39, 44; Romans 12:14; 1 Peter 3:9; Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3.
From this we see, that, according to the example, life, and doctrine of Christ, we are not to do wrong, or cause offense or vexation to any one; but to seek the welfare and salvation of all men; also, if necessity should require it, to flee, for the Lord's sake, from one city to another, and suffer the "spoiling of our goods," rather than give offense to any one; and if we are struck on our right cheek, rather to "turn the other also" than to revenge ourselves or return the blow. Matthew 5:39, Matthew 10:23; Romans 12:19.
And that we are, besides this, also to pray for our enemies, comfort and feed them, when they are hungry and thirsty, and thus by well doing convince them and overcome the evil with good. Romans 12:20-21,
Finally, that we are to do good in all respects, "commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God," and according to the law of Christ, do nothing to others that we would not wish them to do unto us.—2 Corinthians 4:2; Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31.—Article 14, Page 25.
This position has been uniformly held by our forefathers from Reformation times and their loyalty and devotion to their faith is attested by their suffering, even to the extent of martyrdom and banishment by those governments enjoining military service upon their citizens, and for which cause they gratefully accepted the hospitality and the guarantee of religious liberty of this land, historical records bearing ample witness to these facts.
In relation to governments we believe that every child of God, besides being a citizen of the Heavenly Kingdom (John 18:36; Philippians 3:20), should also be in subjection to civil governments (Romans 13:1-5; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-17). Even laws which may seem unwise and unjust should be submitted to uncomplainingly and no thought should be entertained of doing anything but comply with all that they ask of us—unless they prescribe conditions contrary to the Gospel; in which case we should meekly but faithfully stand true to the principles of the Gospel, even if the consequences entail suffering. This position has been exemplified by the apostles (Acts 5:20 and our early church fathers.
Past Favors Acknowledged
It is with grateful hearts that we recount the favors and considerations accorded our people in the past. In the days of William Penn our fathers accepted his invitation to immigrate to this land where they might enjoy the freedom of conscience in religion and exemption from military service. These benefits were later confirmed to them by the Constitution of the United States and by State Constitutions. We rejoice that freedom of conscience is thus recognized by the laws of our land. We appreciate the exemption accorded our brethren, both in the North and in the South, during the Civil War, when once their position with reference to war became fully known. We still have among us brethren who suffered for conscience' sake during that period, but recall with much gratitude the freedom from military service which that exemption secured for them.
We are grateful for the exemption clause for non-resistant people in the new Selective Draft Law, and hereby express the hope that when the powers that be fully understand our position with reference to military service, this clause referring to noncombatant service may be accordingly modified.
We acknowledge with deep humiliation that not all of our people have lived in full conformity with the Gospel standard or consistent with our profession of a holy life. Some, contrary to the teachings of the Church, have been entangled in politics, in commercialism, in pleasure-seeking, and in other forms of worldliness; but it should be borne in mind that such conduct has been without regard to the express wish and teaching of the Church. The Mennonite Church having continually stood for the surrendered life, a consistent separation from the world, and an attitude of peace toward all men, we call upon our people to bear in mind our obligations (Ephesians 4:1) that in all places they may be known by the Scriptural designation—"A peculiar people, zealous of good works."
The Present Issue
Recognizing with gratefulness the consideration given our religious convictions, as previously stated, we take this opportunity of giving expression of our attitude concerning the issue as it now confronts us. As a Christian people we have always endeavored to support the government under which we lived in every capacity consistent with the teaching of the Gospel as we understand it, and will continue to do so; but according to this teaching we cannot participate in war in any form; that is, to aid or abet war, whether in a combatant or non-combatant capacity. We are conscious of what this attitude, under existing circumstances, may mean. No one who really understands our position will accuse us of either disloyalty or cowardice; for our record has proven our submissiveness to the powers that be, and to maintain our position under present conditions requires greater courage than to accept non-combatant service. But believing as we do, that any form of service under the military arm of the government means responsibility, either directly or indirectly, for the taking of human life and other destructive acts of war, we cannot consistently do otherwise than hold aloof from every form of military service. Our people have at all times refrained from voluntary enlistment for service in any form under previous military laws, and for us now to accept service under the military arm of the government, would be equivalent to a denial of the faith and principles which we have held as vital to our spiritual wellbeing and eternal salvation.
We appeal to the President of the United States and all others in authority to bear with us in this attitude and not to construe our position as a lack of appreciation for past favors or as an act of disloyalty; also to grant unto us full liberty of conscience and the free exercise of our faith.
1. To the Brotherhood.—We recommend that in humility we seek at the throne of grace the blessings which others have sought to secure through the power of the sword. That we continue our prayers in behalf of the rulers of our land and all others in authority, continue to pray for the peace of nations; that we maintain a calmness of mind and heart that naturally accompanies a trust in God; that we refrain from uncharitable criticism in any form, and avoid heated controversy with those who do not agree with us on points of doctrine, missing no opportunity of complying with the Scriptural injunction of returning good for evil.
2. To Our Brethren Liable for Military Service.—We recommend that they comply with every requirement of the government, availing themselves of every opportunity to present their claims for exemption, exercising care that they do not commit any acts that could be rightfully interpreted as desertion or treason—and at the time when they receive the summons to enter the military service, they present themselves to the authorities and meekly inform them that under no circumstances can they consent to service, either combatant or non-combatant, under the military arm of the government, citing them to the fact that they are members of a church whose creed and principles forbid them to have part in war in any form, and that their consciences coincide with this position; submitting to any penalty the government may see fit to inflict, trusting the Lord for guidance and protection.
3. To Our Conferences and Congregations.—We recommend that they make every provision for the wellbeing of our brethren who may be called upon to suffer on account of their faith as a result of this trying situation. While we expect an attitude of submission and loyalty on the part of our members, we should not deal harshly, but charitably and with consideration, with our brethren who may be put to the test in these days of trial.
With a fervent prayer to Almighty God that He may bless and so direct the rulers of our land that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, in the full exercise of our religious convictions; that we, as His children, may be faithful to and contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints; that God in His wise providence may overrule all to the glory of His name and the strengthening of His cause among men, we humbly subscribe our names to these declarations and pledge our powers in devotion to the principles herein set forth.
L. J. Heatwole, Dale Enterprise, Va. J. A. Ressler, Scottdale, Pa. Sanford C. Yoder, Kalona, Ia. S. Gingerich, Wayland, Ia. Andrew Shenk, Oronogo, Mo. N. B. Stauffer, Aldersyde, Alta. A. J. Steiner, North Lima, O. D. G. Lapp, Roseland, Nebr. T. M. Erb, Hesston, Kans. E. A. Mast, Kokomo, Ind. J. S. Mast, Elverson, Pa. Menno Esch, Mio, Mich. David Garber, Lyndhurst, Va. Aaron Loucks, Scottdale, Pa. J. C. Driver, Garden City, Mo. Peter R. Nissley, Mt. Joy, Pa. Peter Kennel, Strang, Nebr. J. M. Shenk, Elida, Ohio D. H. Bender, Hesston, Kans. Jonathan Kurtz, Ligonier, Ind. J. E. Zimmerman, Wood River, Nebr. E. S. Hallman, Grand Bay, Alta. J. M. Kreider, Palmyra, Mo. Jacob K. Yoder, Wellman, Ia. Daniel Kauffman, Scottdale, Pa. A. I. Yoder, West Liberty, O. S. E. Allgyer, West Liberty, O. I. S. Mast, Minot, N. Dak. S. F. Coffman, Vineland, Ont. D. A. Yoder, Elkhart, Ind. Elias L. Frey, Wauseon, Ohio Abr. Metzler, Martinsburg, Pa. D. D. Miller, Middlebury, Ind. J. S. Shoemaker, Freeport, Ill. E. B. Stoltzfus, Hudson, Ohio S. G. Shetler, Johnstown, Pa. Lewis Shank, Broadway, Va. Jacob K. Bixler, Elkhart, Ind. Benj. Weaver, East Earl, Pa. S. J. Swartzendruber, Bay Port, Mich. Noah E. Miller, Springs, Pa. J. S. Gerig, Smithville, Ohio John Nice, Morrison, Ill. D. J. Johns, Goshen, Ind. John Blosser, Rawson, Ohio John Garber, Goshen, Ind. C. A. Hartzler, Tiskilwa, Ill. D. Burkholder, Nappanee, Ind.
Silas L. Weldy, Wakarusa, Ind. J. A. Heatwole, La Junta, Col. E. D. Hess, Masontown, Pa. Paul E. Whitmer, Bluffton, O. L. J. Miller, Garden, Mo. J. L. Hershberger, Wellman, Iowa H. F. Reist, Scottdale, Pa. David D. Miller, Kalona, Iowa O. S. Hostetler, Topeka, Ind. John L. Stauffer, Altoona, Pa. C. F. Derstine, Eureka, Ill. Oscar Burkholder, Breslau, Ont. H. W. Stevanus, Sherkston, Ont. Peter Ropp, Pigeon, Mich. Harvey Freisner, Vistula, Ind. Isaiah W. Royer, Orrville, O. N. A. Lind, Medina, Ohio John E. Hartzler, Goshen, Ind. D. Hostetler, Weilersville, O. A. L. Buzzard, Metamora, Ill. J. B. Hartzler, W. Liberty, O. J. N. Kaufman, Dhamtari, C. P. India C. A. Graybill, Schellburg, Pa. I. R. Detweiler, Goshen, Ind. John W. Hess, Palmyra, Mo. Amos Gingerich, Versailles, Mo. E. M. Detwiler, Calla, Ohio B. B. Stoltzfus, Lima, Ohio Ed. Miller, Elk Lick, Pa. Peter Boshart, Milverton, Ont. Ben B. King, Ft. Wayne, Ind. J. M. Brunk, Wichita, Kans. S. E. Graybill, Freeport, Ill. Niles M. Slabaugh, Greentown, Ind. John D. Miller, Louisville, O. S. D. Grieser, Archbold, Ohio A. G. Heishman, Broadway, Va. J. W. Weaver, Union Grove, Pa. C. K. Brenneman, Canton, O. F. J. Gingerich, Beaver Crossing, Nebr. C. D. Yoder, Windom, Kans. Calvin Mast, Millersburg, Ohio J. S. Martin, Dayton, Va. J. Y. King, West Liberty, O. A. M. Eash, Chicago, Ill. J. A. Good, Webb Summit, O. I. B. Witmer, Leetonia, Ohio Y. C. Miller, Shipshewana, Ind. Wm. Jennings, Concord, Tenn. J. J. Miller, Shipshewana, Ind. C. Z. Yoder, Wooster, Ohio A. M. Shank, Nampa, Idaho J. W. Christophel, Wakarusa, Ind. D. F. Driver, Versailles, Mo. Ezra B. Yordy, Eureka, Ill. L. J. Johnston, Cherry Box, Mo. J. S. Horner, Greentown, Ind. C. A. Shank, Wakarusa, Ind. Jos. H. Byler, Belleville, Pa. A. B. Snyder, Preston, Ont. J. R. Shank, Purvis, Mo. A. S. Miller, Spencerville, Ind. H. R. Buckwalter, Palmyra, Mo. J. H. Moseman, Lancaster, Pa. M. H. Shantz, New Hamburg, Ont. S. H. Miller, Sugar Creek, O. D. B. Kauffman, Kenmare, N. Dak. Jonas Loucks, Nappanee, Ind. A. H. Leaman, Chicago, Ill. R. L. Hartzler, Topeka, Ind. D. J. Fisher, Kalona, Ia. J. J. Warye, West Library, O. J. D. Mininger, K. C., Kans. S. W. Sommer, Fairville, Mich. E. F. Hartzler, Marshallville, O. L. W. Yoder, Nappanee, Ind. P. R. Lantz, Marshallville, O. A. C. Good, Sterling, Ill. Henry Weldy, Wakarusa, Ind. J. B. Smith, Elida, Ohio Aaron Eberly, Dalton, Ohio C. J. Garber, Alpha, Minn. C. D. Esch, Dhamtari, C. P., India Jonas D. Yoder, Belleville, Pa. H. R. Schertz, Metamora, Ill. Levi Plank, Bellefontaine, Ohio Daniel J. Wyse, Archbold, O. Silas Yoder, Goshen, Ind. P. E. Brunk, Delphos, Ohio J. H. McGowan, Nappanee, Ind. Noah Mack, New Holland, Pa. D. D. Troyer, Goshen, Ind. George D. Ross, Elida, Ohio John H. Bare, Nappanee, Ind. Peter Unsicker, Tuleta, Texas Henry Rychener, Pettisville, O. A. W. Hershberger, Kent, O. A. Nusbaum, Middlebury, Ind. L. A. Blough, Holsopple, Pa. Amos S. Cripe, LaGrange, Ind.
W. B. Weaver, Elkhart, Ind.
J. R. Brunk, Windom, Kans. J. V. Fortner, Dakota, Ill. E. N. Eby, Lititz, Pa. M. Weidman, Pegion, Mich. A. S. Landis, Goshen, Ind. Menno Steiner, Fairview, Mich. Menno J. Yoder, Topeka, Ind. H. D. Heller, Witmer, Pa. J. C. Frey, Archbold, Ohio Noah Weaver, Foraker, Ind. S. J. Schumucker, Nappanee, Ind. John Emmert, Topeka, Ind. J. C. Lugibill, Grabill, Ind. Jos. Mishler, Clarkesville, Mich. E. D. Yoder, West Liberty, O. Jas. J. Mishler, Shipshewana, Ind. D. H. Coffman, Goshen, Ind. Ira S. Johns, Goshen, Ind. A. I. Hartzler, Orrville, Ohio Noah W. King, Amboy, Ind. J. G. Wenger, Hesston, Kans. J. C. Hershberger, Middlebury, Ind. J. I. Weldy, Wakarusa, Ind. Melvin D. Lantz, Topeka, Ind. S. P. Good, Elida, Ohio H. V. Albrecht, Tiskilwa, Ill. Sam Smeltzer, Wakarusa, Ind. G. L. Bender, Elkhart, Ind. F. J. Martin, Ft. Wayne, Ind. Jonas Brubaker, Elkhart, Ind. H. B. Weaver, Goshen, Ind.
Henry T. Nice, Morrison, Ill.
D. S. Weaver, La Junta, Colo.
We, the undersigned, bishops, ministers, and deacons of several other branches of the Mennonite Church, while not affiliated in conference relations with those whose names are signed to the above document, most heartily endorse this as a statement of our. position on the doctrine of non-resistance.
S. L. Swartzendruber, Bay Point, Mich.
C. L. Ressler, Nappanee, Ind.
E. G. Swartzendruber, Wellman, Ia.
A. F. Wiens, Chicago, Ill.
J. S. Troyer, LaGrange, Ind.
B. F. Esch, Washington, Ill.
C. N. Amstutz, Apple Creek, O.
Mennonite Brethren in Christ
A. B. Yoder, P. E., Elkhart, Ind.
D. W. Hunsberger, Deacon, Elkhart, Ind.
C. K. Curtis, Pastor, New Paris, Ind.
Wm. Moyer, Deacon, Elkhart, Ind.
H. M. Metzger, Pastor, Elkhart, Ind.
C. R. Egli, Bishop, Chenoa, Ill.
D. N. Claudon, Deacon, Meadows, Ill.
E. M. Slagle, Pastor, Pioneer, Ohio
After the adoption of this statement by the delegates, it was accepted by the whole congregation.
A petition to government was read and approved. The following is the petition in full.
Military Service Appeal to Civil Government
We, the Mennonites of the United States, in General Conference assembled at the Yellow Creek Church near Goshen, Indiana, August 29, 1917, giving due recognition to the preponderous problems which are confronting the nation in the present world conflict realize that this condition has brought with it complicated and trying problems which we can little comprehend or appreciate. We as a people seek to adjust ourselves to the new state of affairs in willing submission in so far as we can do so without violating a law or principle of Christ whom we recognize as Lord of lords and King of kings and whose law we consider as the supreme guide of our lives.
As a people we stand united in expressing our gratitude to our President and those who are in authority for the recognition that has been given those of our faith in the matter of army conscription and further submit this humble petition that full recognition be given to our position on the great question of Non-resistance which has been one of the fundamental tenets of our faith and for which our forefathers suffered exile and death in the old world and which principle has been cherished and kept alive in the bosom of those who carried their faith with them to the land of our present abode under the protection of whose government in times past they enjoyed liberty of conscience and free exercise of their faith in full confidence that those who were in authority would verify every pledge and promise given them when they settled here.
Under the stress of the hour we humbly present this petition in which we seek to define clearly our position with regard to military service. As a people we recognize the same principle to which our government has justly given recognition in its construction and interpretation of law; that he who knowingly and willingly and with the intent to give aid; aids, shelters or otherwise lends to the comfort or efficiency of any in violation of law he becomes a transgressor and is subject to punishment. With this same principle in mind we must assume the painful duty to decline military service in any form, whether combatant or noncombatant, by which we would become a part of the military organization which is devised for the prosecution of war and the destruction of lives and property, and limit our activities to such pursuits of civil life as are in keeping with the laws of God.
With a deep sense of humility before God and a prayer that the authorities before whom this may come may be guided in their decisions by the divine will that we may continue to dwell in godliness and follow the pursuits of peace, we respectfully submit this petition.
MENNONITE GENERAL CONFERENCE,
E. L. Frey, Moderator,
J. S. Hartzler. Secretary.
A similar petition was suggested for the Premier of Canada. On motion the Resolution Committee and Bro. S. F. Coffman were asked to write up such petition. Decided that the Executive Committee appoint a delegation to carry the petition to the proper authorities at Washington.
This resolution followed up the 1915 resolution with a more detailed outline of the Mennonite Church position, especially underscoring their concern about non-combatant service. Conscription was now a reality in both the United States and Canada.
A side benefit of the resolution was the cooperative spirit between a variety of Mennonite denominations. This resulted in a brief resolution on Christian Unity.
The Resolutions Committee presented the following which was accepted:
Resolved, That we appreciate the circumstances of the present occasion being such that we are drawn together in common interests and feel that this opportunity of co-operation tends toward unifying the power of the Church in her special activities. We also appreciate the possibility of increasing the unity of faith by a careful and consistent teaching of the Word of God, and encourage continued fellowship of the brotherhood in promulgating these teachings and the practice of Christian charity toward all the brethren both in teaching and practicing the principles of the Word which we believe as one and which makes us one.
Mennonite General Conference. Report of Tenth Annual Meeting held at Yellow Creek Mennonite Church near Goshen, Ind., Aug. 29 and 30, 1917. Scottdale, Pa.: Mennonite Publishing House, 1917.