Response to Conscription and Militarism (Mennonite Church, 1969)

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Response to Conscription and Militarism (Mennonite Church, 1969)


Response to Conscription and Militarism

We are grateful that a group of young people have come to this assembly at considerable personal sacrifice to speak their Christian convictions regarding the evils of conscription. We have received the following message from them:

A Brief Statement on Mennonite Draft Resistance

The Mennonite Church, throughout history, had held the doctrine of nonresistance as central to its interpretation of the Christian faith. The practical application of nonresistance by the church has taken various forms historically, and has been met with varied responses by the nation-state.

Mennonites in the United States presently experience very little, if any, difficulty in the area of military service. The Selective Service System has given us an opportunity to fulfill our service obligation without directly becoming members of the military.

A small but growing number of Mennonite young people find the present arrangements with the United States government totally unacceptable. The Vietnam War and the continued military conscription have prompted us to examine our individual and church relationships with the Selective Service System. By cooperating with this agency we, in effect, are sanctioning its actions.

We are also disturbed by the pervasiveness of militarism and militaristic thought in the United States. In the spirit of what we hope is a prophetic witness both to the church and the state, we feel an obligation as Christians to resist these tendencies.

Selective Service System must be considered an integral part of the military. Its only purpose is to channel men into various vocations related directly of indirectly to killing. This channeling of men necessarily involves coercion and therefore interferes with Christian vocation as we understand it.

Christian service and a witness of peace cannot be coerced. They must be spontaneous in nature, and motivated by Christian love and concern for the individual and society.

It is for these basic reasons that we willfully refuse to cooperate with the Selective Service System. We feel that this is the stance we have to assume as Christians. We do not attempt to willfully rebel against the state, but recognize that our first loyalty and obedience is to God.

We do not advocate that the Mennonite Church should officially state that noncooperation is the practice it will now assume. Certainly we accept the existing arrangements as being viable for those unable to agree with, of accept the posistion of total noncooperation.

We feel that God is calling the Church to move in a new direction of prophetic witness.

In response to this message we take the following action:

  1. We reaffirm our position statements of the Mennonite General Conference made in 1937 and 1951 with regard to peace, war, military service, and positive Christian service according to the Church's interpretation of the life and teachings of Christ.
  2. We pledge to renew out efforts to educate the youth of the Mennonite Church in our historic nonresistant faith.
  3. We ask the Committee on Peace and Social Concerns and the MCC Peace Section to examine closely out present policy of cooperation with the Selective Service System.
  4. We recognize the validity of noncooperation as a legitimate witness and pledge the offices of our brotherhood to minister to young men in any eventuality they incur in costly discipleship.
  5. We instruct our counseling agencies to work more closely in assisting young men who have chosen to migrate to another country for conscience' sake.
  6. We ask the service organization of the church to express a willingness to accept individuals into service programs who cannot conscientiously cooperate with the Selective Service System.
  7. We increase our draft counseling programs both to Mennonites and non-Mennonites.
  8. We continue to support church-related alternate service as a legitimate option for those who do not feel called to a position of noncooperation. Even though some consider such service a compromise in our witness against war, we will support anyone who is willing to affirm the preservation and enrichment of life over the destruction of life by accepting an alternate service assignment.
  9. We commend to our brotherhood the position of Christian service as vocation not only for men conscripted by Selective Service, but also for those young men of draft age not conscripted, for young women, and for persons of all ages.
  10. We cousel our brotherhood to respect civil authority, to obey it in all areas where it does not violate conscience, and to reject the spirit of violence of our age.

Context of the Statement

By 1969 a small group of young Mennonite men, primarily located at Mennonite post-secondary institutions, had come to believe that non-cooperation with the U.S. military draft was a better Christian response than acceptance of Alternative Service under the Selective Service System. They were identified with a group known as Mennonite Draft Resisters. Some of these young men travelled from Goshen, Indiana to the 1969 Mennonite General Conference delegate session at Turner, Oregen. They were dressed like other dissidents of the 1960s, and some were sons of well-known Mennonite Church leaders.

John E. Lapp, chair of the denomination's Committee on Peace and Social Concerns, invited Doug Baker, a member of Mennonite Draft Resisters and a voting delegate from the Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference, to present the statement of the group. The encounter between the Mennonite Draft Resisters and members of the delegate body was mixed, with strong emotions expressed on both sides.

The statement was edited and proposed resolution drafted by members of the Peace and Social Concerns Committee, in addition to Harold Bauman (campus pastor at Goshen College) and Doug Baker. The resolution as finally presented was approved with several opposing votes. Expressions of apology for offense caused were made by both the Mennonite Draft Resisters and conservative leaders among the delegate body at the end of the meetings.

Statements by the Mennonite Church General Conference stated the understanding of the Mennonite Church at the time of the action. Statements had informal authority and influence in the denomination; they had formal authority as confirmed or endorsed by Mennonite Church area conferences and/or congregations.

Context written December 2005 by Sam Steiner


Thirty-eighth Mennonite General Conference (36th Biennial Meeting)[Proceedings]: Turner, Oregon, August 15-19, 1969. Scottdale, PA: Mennonite General Conference, 1969.