A Statement of Our Position on Peace, War and Military Service (Mennonite Church, 1937)
(Prepared by the Peace Problems Committee and adopted by the Mennonite General Conference at Turner, Oregon, August, 1937)
In view of the present troubled state of world affairs, with wars and rumors of wars threatening the peace of the world, we, the representatives of the Mennonite Church, assembled in General Conference near Turner, Oregon, on August 25 and 26, 1937, and representing sixteen conferences in the United States and Canada, one in India and one in Argentina, S. A., do desire to set forth in the following statement our faith and convictions in the matter of peace and nonresistance as opposed to participation in war and military service, earnestly admonishing our membership to order their lives as becometh Christians in accord with these principles.
In doing so we do not establish a new doctrine among us, but rather give fresh expression to the age-old faith of the Church which has been held precious by our forefathers from the time that the Church was founded in Reformation times in Switzerland (1525) and in Holland (1533), at times even at the cost of despoiling of goods and exile from native land, and in some cases torture and death. On a number of former occasions since our settlement in America we have set forth our nonresistant, peaceful faith in memorials to officers of state, such as the petition of 1775 to the colonial assembly of Pennsylvania, and in addresses to the President of the United States and to the Governor General of Canada during and after the World War in 1915, 1917 and 1919, and at other times, thus testifying to our rulers and to our fellow citizens of our convictions. Since our position has been fully and authoritatively expressed in our confession of faith, known as "The Eighteen Articles," adopted in Dortrecht, Holland, in 1632 and confirmed at the first Mennonite Conference held in America in Germantown in 1725, reaffirmed in the declaration of the 1917 General Conference at Goshen, Indiana, and in the statement of faith adopted by the General Conference at Garden City, Missouri, in 1921, we do not consider it necessary at this time to set forth our position in detail, but rather merely to affirm in clear and unmistakable terms the main tenets of our peaceful and nonresistant faith as they apply to present conditions.
Our Position on Peace and War
1. Our peace principles are rooted in Christ and His Word, and in His strength alone do we hope to live a life of peace and love toward all men.
2. As followers of Christ the Prince of Peace, we believe His Gospel to be a Gospel of Peace, requiring us as His disciples to be at peace with all men, to live a life of love and good will, even toward our enemies, and to renounce the use of force and violence in all forms as contrary to the Spirit of our Master. These principles we derive from such Scripture teachings as: "Love your enemies;" "Do. good to them that hate you;" "Resist not evil;" "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight;" "Put up thy sword into its place; for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword;" "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves;" "If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head;" "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good;" "The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle to all men;" "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal;" "Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps, who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; who ... when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not;" "Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing;" "If a man say I love God and hateth his brother, he is a liar ... and this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God loveth his brother also;" and other similar passages, as well as from the whole tenor of the Gospel.
3. Peace within the heart as well as toward others is a fruit of the Gospel. Therefore he who professes peace must at all times and in all relations with his fellowman live a life that is in harmony with the Gospel.
4. We believe that war is altogether contrary to the teaching and spirit of Christ and the Gospel, that therefore war is sin, as is all manner of carnal strife; that it is wrong in spirit and method as well as in purpose, and destructive in its results. Therefore, if we profess the principles of peace and nevertheless engage in warfare and strife we as Christians become guilty of sin and fall under the condemnation of Christ, the righteous judge.
Our Position on Military Service
In the light of the above principles of Scripture we are constrained as followers of Christ to abstain from all forms of military service and all means of support of war, and must consider members who violate these principles as transgressors and out of fellowship with the Church. Specifically our position entails the following commitments:
1. We can have no part in carnal warfare or conflict between nations, nor in strife between classes, groups or individuals. We believe that this means that we cannot bear arms personally nor aid in any way those who do so, and that as a consequence we cannot accept service under the military arm of the government, whether direct or indirect, combatant or noncombatant, which ultimately involves participation in any operation aiding or abetting war and thus causes us to be responsible for the destruction of the life, health and property of our fellowmen.
2. On the same grounds consistency requires that we do not serve during war time under civil organizations temporarily allied with the military in the prosecution of the war, such as the Y. M. C. A., the Red Cross, and similar organizations which, under military orders, become a part of the war system in effect, if not in method and spirit, however beneficial their peace time activities may be.
3. We can have no part in the financing of war operations through the purchase of war bonds in any form or through voluntary contributions to any of the organizations or activities falling under the category described immediately above, unless such contributions are used for civilian relief or similar purposes.
4. We cannot knowingly participate in the manufacture of munitions and weapons of war either in peace time or in war time.
5. We can have no part in military training in schools and colleges, or in any other form of peace-time preparation for service as part of the war system.
6. We ought carefully to abstain from any agitation, propaganda or activity that tends to promote ill-will or hatred among nations which leads to war, but rather endeavor to foster good will and respect for all nations, peoples and races, being careful to observe a spirit of sincere neutrality when cases of war and conflict arise.
7. We ought not to seek to make a profit out of war and war-time inflation, which would mean profiting from the shedding of the blood of our fellowmen. If, however, during war time, excess profits do come into our hands, such profits should be conscientiously devoted to charitable purposes, such as the bringing of relief to the needy, or the spreading of the Gospel of peace and love, and should not be applied to our own material benefit.
Our Willingness to Relieve Distress
According to the teaching and spirit of Christ and the Gospel we are to do good to all men. Hence we are willing at all times to aid in the relief of those who are in need, distress or suffering, regardless of the danger in which we may be placed in bringing such relief, or of the cost which may be involved in the same. We are ready to render such service in time of war as well as in time of peace.
Our Attitude During War Time
If our country becomes involved in war, we shall endeavor to continue to live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty; avoid joining in the wartime hysteria of hatred, revenge and retaliation; manifest a meek and submissive spirit, being obedient unto the laws and regulations of the government in all things, except in such cases where obedience to the government would cause us to violate the teachings of the Scriptures so that we could not maintain a clear conscience before God (Acts 5:29). We confess that our supreme allegiance is to God, and that we cannot violate this allegiance by any lesser loyalty, but rather must follow Christ in all things, no matter what it cost. We love and honor our country and desire to work constructively for its highest welfare as loyal and obedient citizens; at the same time we are constrained by the love of Christ to love the people of all lands and races and to do them good as opportunity affords rather than evil, and we believe that this duty is not abrogated by war. We realize that to take this position may mean misunderstanding and even contempt from our fellowmen, as well as possible suffering, but we hope by the grace of God that we may be able to assume, as our forefathers did, the sacrifices and suffering which may attend the sincere practice of this way of life, without malice or ill-will toward those who may differ with us.
If once again conscription should be established, we venture to express the hope that if service be required of us it may not be under the military arm of the government, and may be such that we can perform it without violating our conscience, and that we may thus be permitted to continue to enjoy that full liberty of religious faith and conscience which has been our privilege hitherto.
Resolution of Appreciation
We desire to express our appreciation for the endeavors of our governments, both in the United States and Canada, to promote peace and good will among nations, and to keep from war. In particular, do we desire to endorse the policy of neutrality and non-participation in disputes between other nations. We invoke the blessings of God upon the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Canada as well as upon the heads of state in the various lands in which our missionaries are serving, in their difficult and arduous duties as chief executives, and pray that their endeavors toward peace may be crowned with success.
We cherish our native lands, the United States of America, and the Dominion of Canada, as homelands to which our forefathers fled for refuge in times of persecution in Europe, and we are deeply grateful for the full freedom of conscience and liberty of worship which has been our happy privilege ever since the days of William Penn and which is vouchsafed to us as well as to all our fellow-citizens, by the national constitutions and the constitutions of the several states and provinces. We pray that the blessings and guidance of a beneficent God may continue to rest upon our nations, their institutions and their peoples.
We hereby adopt the above statement as representing our position on peace, war and military service, and we instruct the Peace Problems Committee to bring this statement to the attention of the proper governmental authorities of the United States and Canada. and other lands in which our missionaries are laboring. We would likewise suggest to each of our district conferences that they endorse this statement of position and bring it to the attention of every congregation and of all the members individually, in order that our people may be fully informed of our position and may be strengthened in conviction, that we may all continue in the simple, peaceful, nonresistant faith of the Scripture as handed down to us by our forefathers of former times.
As a matter of practical application, we request our Peace Problems Committee, as representing the Church in these problems, to carefully and prayerfully consider the problems which may arise in case our members become involved in conscription, giving particular attention to the proposed legislation on this matter which is now before congress or its committees.
Context of the Statement
This statement, approved by the delegates to the Mennonite Church's General Conference in 1937, responded to the threat of war in Europe. The memories of the church's unpreparedness for World War I remained strong, and the major Mennonite groups had met with other peace churches during the 1930s to consider how best to respond to the eventuality of war.
The Peace Problems Committee was a standing committee of the Mennonite Church from 1919 until 1965 when it was merged with the Committee on Economic and Social Relations to form the Committee on Peace and Social Concerns. During the time this statement was prepared, the committee was composed of six members -- three from the United States and three from Canada. The committee that composed the 1937 statement included Elias Frey, Orie O. Miller and Harold S. Bender from the United States, and S. F. Coffman, Jesse B. Martin and Moses H. Shantz from Canada.
The statement embodied the concept of nonresistance as it was being articulated by Guy F. Hershberger and Harold S. Bender. Although the Mennonite Church was willing to cooperate with other Christian peace groups, it maintained a clear distinction from the secular pacifist movement active in the 1930s.
Context written 1999 by Sam Steiner
Mennonite General Conference held at Turner, Oregon August 25-27, 1937. S.l. : Mennonite Church, 1937: 123-126.