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American Religious Pronouncements and Reactions to World War I
An incomplete list compiled primarily by SCPC summer interns, 2017
The Amish, following a core religious principle known as nonresistance, were opposed to military service along with other forms of participation in government such as holding public office. Most Amish men drafted during WWI became C.O.s. The Herold der Wahrheit published these statements: “We again encourage our brethren not to accept any service, either combatant or non-combatant, under the military arm of the government in violation of their conscience and the creed of the Church” (15 September 1917) and “We can’t have anything to do with the war machine whatsoever” (1918).
“Military Service and Conscription” (2003) by Albert N. Keim, pp. 43-64 in The Amish and the State edited by Donald B. Kraybill
Apostolic Christian Church
The Apostolic Christians held a doctrine of nonresistance, refusing to perform military service. However, most members accepted noncombatant status in the two world wars.
Pacifism in the United States: From the Colonial Era to the First World War by Peter Brock (1968)
Assemblies of God
On the eve of World War I, the Assemblies of God didn’t forbid combatant service outright, but it did urge its members to refuse it. “…We, as a body of Christians, while purposing to fulfill all the obligations of loyal citizenship, are nevertheless constrained to declare we cannot conscientiously participate in war and armed resistance which involves the actual destruction of human life, since this is contrary to our view of the clear teachings of the inspired Word of God, which is the sole basis of our faith.”
Pacifism in the United States: From the colonial era to the First World War by Peter Brock (1968); “The Pentecostal Movement and the Conscription Law,” The Weekly Evangel, 4 August 4, 1917
Brethren in Christ
In 1862, forming the official church known as Brethren in Christ, church leaders wrote “a statement of their belief in nonresistance for presentation in Washington” (796). In 1874, the Brethren of Christ wrote in a Confession of Faith: “…it is not the Christian’s privilege to take up the sword or fight with carnal weapons, yet it is his duty to be strictly loyal to the Government under which he lives, in all things that do not conflict with, or are not forbidden by the Word” (906).
Pacifism in the United States: From the colonial era to the First World War by Peter Brock (1968)
There was no papal pronouncement on war and peace, and it was a matter of personal decision whether to participate in war or not.
“Conscription and the Conscientious Objector” in the Conscientious Objection/Objectors Subject File, Swarthmore College Peace Collection.
Christadelphians selected their name when they claimed exemption from military service on the grounds of conscientious objection to war during the Civil War. They consistently maintained that their faith prohibited participation in the army or navy of any country, whether in times of peace or times of war. “Looking for the personal return of the Lord Jesus Christ to set up the Kingdom of God in the earth; Christadelphians are, and have always been against war and participation therein, in any form under the jurisdiction and authority of any human government.”
New International Encyclopedia (1922). Dodd, Mead Co.); “Census of Religious Bodies” (1936); U.S. Department of Commerce, Government Printing Office; “Christadelphians: Denominational History Covering a Period of Ninety (90) Years” in the Conscientious Objection/Objectors Subject File, Swarthmore College Peace Collection; “The Historic Position of the Christadelphians as Religious Conscientious Objectors” in the Conscientious Objection/Objectors Subject File, Swarthmore College Peace Collection; “Declaration and Articles of Association of the First Christadelphian Ecclesia of Baltimore, MD” in the Conscientious Objection/Objectors Subject File, Swarthmore College Peace Collection.
Church of Christ & Saints of God
Although some leaders considered war as totally incompatible with Christian discipleship, there was no official position from the various groups within the Churches of Christ sect. Each man was to decide for himself what he could conscientiously do in the light of his best understanding of God’s will.
Pacifism in the United States: From the colonial era to the First World War by Peter Brock (1968); “The Decision is Yours” by Huber F. Klemme in the Conscientious Objection/Objectors Subject File, Swarthmore College Peace Collection.
Dunkards (Church of the Brethren)
Officially, the Church of the Brethren held a nonresistance doctrine, stemming from religious pacifism. It was considered one of the Historic Peace Churches.
The Hutterites believed that they were constrained as followers of Christ to abstain from all means of support of war and must consider members who violated these principles as transgressors and not of fellowship with the Church. “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 non-combatant, 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.”
“A Statement of the Position of the Hutterian Church: Our Position on Military Service” in the Conscientious Objection/Objectors Subject File, Swarthmore College Peace Collection.
International Bible Student Association (Jehovah’s Witnesses)
International Bible Students (later known as Jehovah’s Witnesses) refused participation in war service because of their strong desire to stay separate from the world; it was not based strictly on pacifist premises. “…We have long advocated that the fully consecrated abstain from voting on political issues… obedience to the laws on the part of Bible Students does not imply military duty. Similarly with the oath of Allegiance required by those who enter the Army – they are required to swear allegiance to the king and obedience to the officers of the king in all things. This oath is not required of aliens, foreigners, and is objected to by Bible Students, not because they are opposed to law and order or unwilling to be regulated by the government under which they live, but because they have already given allegiance to the higher power – the heavenly Lord.”
Pacifism in the United States: From the colonial era to the First World War by Peter Brock (1968); “Conscience and the War,” Zion’s Reprint, 15 July 1916, from “The Association of Bible Students: Its Historic Position Toward War” in the Conscientious Objection/Objectors Subject File, Swarthmore College Peace Collection.
Israelite House of David / Israelite of the House of David
This group proclaimed “that our religious convictions as to war would not permit us to take part therein ‘in any form,’ (as stated in the law), and that we could not therefore be party to any war preparation, such as the manufacture of war munitions, or any war camp duties, or hospital service… or any other work which might be considered as noncombatant, believing as Jesus said He that delivereth me unto them hath the greater sin… and like Paul, who condemned himself unto death for merely holding the garments of those who persecuted and killed their fellow man; that we would thereby be partakers and assistants in the act of killing our fellow man, and therefore could not inherit eternal life.”
“Israelite House of David” in the Conscientious Objection/Objector Subject File
Judaism recognized the right of the conscientious objector to claim exemption from military service in any war to which he could not give his moral assent, and pledged support.
“The Jewish Conscientious Objector” in the Conscientious Objection/Objectors Subject File, Swarthmore College Peace Collection.
In its attempts to show its members as patriotic, during a time when anyone with German ancestry was suspect, Lutherans were likely to join the military without question.
From their earliest history as Anabaptists, Mennonites were nonresistant, against any participation in war and military service. The majority of conscripted Mennonites refused service of any kind under the military. A substantial minority accepted noncombatant service, while a few accepted combatant service. Some were also exempted to work on farms and in other areas of food production. “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.”
“Peace Perspectives” by Derek Suderman (1955, 1989) in the Conscientious Objection/Objectors Subject File, Swarthmore College Peace Collection; “Conscientious Objection” by Guy F. Hershberger, Albert N. Keim, and Hanspeter Jecker in the Conscientious Objection/Objectors Subject File, Swarthmore College Peace Collection; 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.
Mennonite (Old) / Mennonite Church (General Conference)
This strain of Mennonites (based primarily in the midwestern and western states of the U.S., and made up of many Russian immigrants) was not as strictly nonresistant. Most of its members became noncombatants.
The Methodist Church had a few conscientious objectors among its ranks, but the great majority of its men participated fully in the war effort.
Molokans / Molochan (Spiritual Christian Jumpers / Holy Jumpers)
Members of this sect were forbidden to take part in the carrying of arms and in military service. Those who lived in California registered for the draft, and were exempted as (Russian) resident aliens [?], but those in Arizona obeyed their leader’s vision that the Holy Spirit forbade registration. In the end, six from this group were sent to camp and then to prison, enduring much abuse.
“Molokan C.O. Information” in the Conscientious Objection/Objectors Subject File, Swarthmore College Peace Collection; True Believers: Prisoners for Conscience. A History of Molokan Conscientious Objectors in World War One by Alex F. Wren.
The official position of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints was that conscientious objection was a matter to be decided by the individual.
“War, Conscription, Conscience, and Mormonism” in the Conscientious Objection/Objectors Subject File, Swarthmore College Peace Collection.
Old German Baptist Brethren Church (Old Order Dunker /Old Order German Baptist)
This group believed that Christ had forbidden to his followers the swearing of oaths and partaking in war.
“Statement by the Old German Baptist Brethren Church: National Conference Decisions in Regards to War”
Pentecostal Assembly of God
“We as the Pentecostal Fire-Baptized Holiness Church are opposed to war and forbid any of our members participating in same.”
“Discipline and General Rules of the Pentecostal Fire-Baptized Holiness Church” in the Conscientious Objection/Objectors Subject File, Swarthmore College Peace Collection.
“Our views on pacifism have never been made the subject of any definite publication… Our ideas on the subject of pacifism have not yet fully crystallized. Only we know that the entire subject of war is offensive to us. It is our official stand that our members will not bear arms or be trained in their use, although we are willing to perform other duties under military direction. Most of our men are, therefore, classified I-AO and enter military service as non-combatants. This, however, is not obligatory. Each man is left to his own individual conscience. Many of our men have entered the service without any special claims.”
Letter from Rev. W. T. Witherspoon, National Chairman of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ to Ellen Starr Brinton, Curator of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection in the Conscientious Objection/Objectors Subject File, Swarthmore College Peace
“From its very inception, the Pentecostal Movement …. has been characterized by Quaker principles. The laws of the Kingdom, laid down by our elder brother, Jesus Christ, in His Sermon on the Mount, have been unqualifiedly adopted, consequently the movement has found itself opposed to the spilling of the blood of any man, or of offering resistance to any aggression…. When the war first broke out in August of 1914, our Pentecostal brethren in Germany found themselves in a peculiar position. Some of those who were called to the colors responded, but many were court marshalled and shot because they heartily subscribed to the principles of non-resistance. Great Britain has been more humane. Some of our British brethren have been given non-combatant service, and none have been shot down because of their faith. It has not been seriously considered that the General Council of the Assemblies of God (one of the prominent branches of the Pentecostal Movement in the United States) would find it necessary to interpret its attitude toward war, until the war clouds gathered and actual war was declared. Neither the General Council, nor any other wing of the movement that we know of, have ever written a creed, therefore it was found necessary for a number of the official members of the Executive Presbytery to assemble together and draw up a resolution interpreting the established principles or creed of all sections of the Pentecostal Movement, and especially that part represented by the General Council. A resolution was formulated, approved by the Executive and General Presbytery, and forwarded to President Wilson on April 28th, 1917. The letter to the President and the resolution were as follows:…. We, as a body of Christians, while purposing to fulfill all the obligations of loyal citizenship, are nevertheless constrained to declare we cannot conscientiously participate in war and armed resistance which involves the actual destruction of human life, since this is contrary to our view of clear teachings of the inspired Word of God, which is the sole basis of our faith.”
“The Pentecostal Movement and the Conscription Law,” The Weekly Evangel, 1917
“My name is C.H. Mason; I am General Overseer of the church of God in Christ. Along last summer I sent out the certificates of membership to the various pastors of my Church and the Overseers…. The members of said church are not allowed to carry arms, to shed the blood of any man, and still be members of said church. Scriptures that forbid them in their creed: Matt. 5:38-42: there the Lord says resist not evil (Rom 12:17; 1 Thess 5:15; Heb 10:30). Vengeance belongs to God. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed (Gen 9:6, Rev 13:10).”
Pentecostal and Holiness Statements on War and Peace, Beaman and Pipkin (156-157).
The Plymouth Brethren accepted noncombatant service as the best way to resist war duty but also be involved in helping others. “The Christian is to obey the Government wherever he can without disobeying the Word of God. There are many ways in which he can do this without misrepresenting Christ. There are lines of duties, as clerical, ambulance service on the field of battle, ministering to the wounded and dying in the hospitals – ministering Christ, as we minister to the body. Above all, let us put away from us any spirit of cowardice – whether it be physical dread of danger, or moral cowardice which fears mockery, and to confess Christ and His word” (1917).
“Should a Christian Go to War?” by Samuel Rideout in the Conscientious Objection/Objectors Subject File, Swarthmore College Peace Collection.
Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
The Friends were considered one of the Historic Peace Churches. “We feel bound explicitly to avow our unshaken persuasion that all war is utterly incompatible with the plain precepts of our divine Lord and Law-giver and the whole spirit of His Gospel, and that no plea of necessity or policy, however urgent or peculiar, can avail to release either individuals or nations from the paramount allegiance which they owe to Him who hath said, ‘Love your enemies’ (Matt. 5:44, Luke 6:27” (28).
“Friends, the Religious Society of (Quakers)” in the Conscientious Objection/Objectors Subject File, Swarthmore College Peace Collection.
Seventh Day Adventists (Russellites)
Adventists did not regard themselves to be conscientious objectors as much as noncombatants. Most were not particular about their noncombatant assignments as long as it did not require bearing arms.
“Conscientious Cooperators: the Seventh-Day Adventists and Military Service, 1860-1945” (1970) by Roger Guion Davis in the Conscientious Objection/Objectors Subject File, Swarthmore College Peace Collection.