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Pacifism is the refusal to participate in any wars. "Conscientious objector" laws usually permit pacifists to avoid a draft (mandatory enlistment) in war. Some are assigned to non-combat military service (with pay and veteran's benefits); some are assigned to civilian work in hospitals (without pay and without veteran's benefits). Those who refuse to participate in any way are imprisoned.

Pacifism is supported by peace churches, such as the Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, Brethren (Dunkers), Schwenkfelders, and Jehovah's Witnesses

American Revolution

The peace churches - Quakers, Mennonites, Brethrens, Schwenkfelders, and Moravians - attempted to take no position during the American Revolution. Claiming a higher sovereign than either Parliament or Congress, they sought to remain aloof from the dispute. Such a position was impossible without persecution, however. Those who refused to bear arms were taxed, and the tax money was used to support the war effort. Thus there was no escape from involvement in the secular issue of Independence.[1]

World War I

Pacifism was badly handled in World War I; many men were drafted and severely hazed or punished by the military for their pacifism.

At its founding in 1880, the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) viewed pacifism as an expression of holiness, but it was unable to sustain this view through World War I and the pressures of Americanism. The church's commitment to pacifism was never securely grounded.

World War II

In 1940, as war seemed imminent, the historic peace churches - the Mennonites, the Church of the Brethren, and the Society of Friends - formed the National Service Board for Religious Objectors (NSBRO) to serve as the administrator for the projects of the Civilian Public Service (CPS). The CPS was used by the federal draft agency (the Selective Service System) as a program that provided nonviolent work alternatives for persons conscientiously opposed to participating in the military. There were conflicts among the peace churches along with the issue of the separation of church and state in the administration of the program.


In World War II there were 135 Catholics among 11,887 individuals who registered their dissent within the law and were granted conscientious objector (CO) status. These men were placed in Civilian Public Service (CPS) camps. The CPS was created by the Historic Peace Churches as a means of alternative service. The only Catholic group to support CO's was the Catholic Worker. A special group which emerged from the Catholic Worker for this purpose was the Association of Catholic Conscientious Objectors (ACCO). During the war, the ACCO operated two CPS camps for Catholic CO's, published a newspaper, and also worked with 61 Catholics who were imprisoned because they refused to register their dissent within the law. There is no way to show the precise relationship of the Catholic faith to the personal decisions of these men, but 73% contended that their faith had a bearing on their decision.[2]

Other movements

There is a small but slowly increasing concern for replacing war and violence with peaceful methods of conflict resolution. Recently, many Christian denominations have recognized the validity of the pacifist option for their members who are conscientiously opposed to participation in military operations. Since pacifism has come to be associated with left-wing movements, pacifists and conservative church members tend to locate toward opposite ends of the liberal-conservative socioreligious-political continuum. Although a majority of Mennonites adhere to their traditional pacifism rooted in a conservative biblicism, a minority do not. A major survey of Mennonite church members reveals their pacifist and political leanings, and rejects the hypothesis that conservatives would accept pacifism more strongly than liberals would.[3]


Quakers have gradually reversed their position on nonresistance. During the Civil War a few were 'disowned' for bearing arms. A change began during World War I when many served in combat units, although more than twice their number worked in alternative civilian relief and rehabilitation tasks. World War II found those in combat units held a four-to-one margin over those in civilian alternate service, to which they were legally entitled as members of a 'historic peace church.' A study of Quakers in Kansas showed that in 1950 only three men registered a protest against combat service.[4]

Biblical references about Christian nonviolence

The following verses and interpretations are used by some Biblical scholars as evidence for Christian nonviolence.

  • "Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:10 NIV)
  • "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NIV)
  • "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." (Matthew 5:38-42 NIV)
  • "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:43-48 NIV)

See also


  1. Richard K. MacMaster, "Neither Whig Nor Tory: the Peace Churches in the American Revolution," Fides et Historia 1977 9(2): 8-24,
  2. Patricia McNeal, "Catholic Conscientious Objection During World War II," Catholic Historical Review 1975 61(2): 222-242,
  3. J. Howard Kauffman, "Dilemmas of Christian Pacifism Within a Historic Peace Church," Sociological Analysis 1989 49(4): 368-385,
  4. Cecil B.Curry, "The Devolution of Quaker Pacifism: a Kansas Case Study, 1860-1955," Kansas History 1983 6(2): 120-133, 1

Further reading

  • MacMaster, Richard K. Conscience in Crisis: Mennonites and Other Peace Churches in America, 1739-1789. Interpretation and Documents Scottdale, Pa.: Herald, 1979. 575 pp.

External links