A Statement of the Position of the General Conference of the Mennonite Church of North America on * Peace, War, Military Service, and Patriotism (General Conference Mennonite Church, 1941)
As approved by the General Conference, Souderton, Pennsylvania, August 17-22, 1941.
In view of the present troubled state of world affairs, and the present European conflict which threatens the peace of the world, we as representatives of The General Conference of the Mennonite Church of North America, desire to set forth in the following statement our faith and convictions concerning participation in war, military service, and our concept of patriotism.
In stating our convictions, we establish no new doctrine among us, but merely reiterate an age-old faith in 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), and which we have set forth on a number of former occasions since our settlement in America.
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 settling our problems as contrary to the spirit of our Saviour and 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 love 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 fellow men 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 principle 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 Concept of Patriotism
As members of an historic peace church we love out country and sincerely work for its highest welfare. True love for our country does not mean hatred of others. It is our conviction that only the application of the principles of peace, love, justice, liberty, and international good will makes for the highest welfare of our country; and the highest welfare of our country must harmonize with the highest welfare of humanity everywhere. Our faith is in security through love, protection through good will; and for such we are willing to make the necessary sacrifice. We are opposed to war as a method of settling disputes because it is un-Christian, destructive of our highest values, and sows the seed of future wars. We feel that we are true patriots because we build upon the eternal principles of right which are the only foundation of stable government in our world community.
Our Position on Military Service
In the light of the above principles of the Scriptures, we are constrained as followers of Christ to abstain from all military service and all direct means in support of war. 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 directly aid those who do so, and that, as a consequence, we cannot accept service under the military arm of the government, whether it be combatant or noncombatant, which ultimately causes us to be responsible for the destruction of the life, health, and property of our fellow man. This applies to all wars whether they be designated defensive or offensive.
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 which, under military orders, become a part of the war system in effect, even in method and spirit; however beneficial their peacetime activities may be.
3. We feel that we cannot consistently take part in the financing of war operations through the purchase of war bonds, and we are very sensitive to making voluntary contributions to organizations or activities which may indirectly make us supporters of war and the military program.
4. We cannot knowingly sanction the participation in the manufacture of munitions and weapons of war whether 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 peacetime 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 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 of war and war-time inflation, which would mean profiting from the shedding of the flood of our fellow men. 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 and the spreading of the Gospel of peace and love.
Our Substitution for War
In so far as our convictions are based on religious principles, in which we hold that war is contrary to the spirit, life and teachings of Christ, who renounced the weapons of worldly possession and used methods of love and self-sacrifice in their place, we therefore express our willingness, as a substitute for carnal warfare, 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 also willing to render such services as housing, road making, farming, forestry, hospitalization, and recreational work during time of peace as well as during time of war. Whenever we render such service it shall always be our purpose to spread the Gospel of Christ by word as well as deed.
An Expression of Appreciation
We want to express our appreciation to the governments of the United States and Canada to which we are grateful in that they have recognized our desire to exercise the freedom of our conscience in not bearing arms, or taking any part of service in the military machine, and that, in lieu of such service, we render service of national importance to our country and relief, to those who are in need, distress or suffering at home or abroad in the war zones. We also pray that the blessing and guidance of a beneficent God may continue to rest upon these nations, their institutions, and their people
Context of the Statement
This statement by the General Conference Mennonite Church came two years after Canadian Mennonites were already faced with World War II, and months before the United States entered the war. Denominational leaders on both sides of the border were concerned to arrange alternative service for their young, to avoid some of the misunderstandings that had arisen in World War I.
This resolution was presented by the Peace Committee of the Conference; the only Canadian among the seven members was John G. Rempel of Rosthern, Saskatchewan. Consequently the focus of the committee was the unfolding of events in the U.S. and the arrangements for Civilian Public Service camps in cooperation with other Mennonite bodies through Mennonite Central Committee. The Conference delegates also agreed to undertake a program of peace education and to support the Civilian Public Service camps up to $2.00 per member per year.
Context written June 2000 by Sam Steiner
- Official minutes and reports of the twenty-ninth session of the General Conference of the Mennonite Church of N.A. 1941. Newton, Kan. : The Conference, 1941: 163-170.