Previous | Next

Fall 2018 · Vol. 47 No. 2 · pp. 184–206 

The Complicated History of Anabaptist-Mennonite Nonresistance

Bruce L. Guenther

During 1 the mid-1990s I had the privilege of serving as a local school board trustee in Hepburn, a rural community with a substantial number of Mennonites located forty-five kilometers north of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. In preparation for annual Remembrance Day celebrations, the new school principal, an enthusiastic woman with Roman Catholic roots, invited students to ask their grandparents for wartime pictures that would be used to create a bulletin board display.

There has never been unanimity among Anabaptists and Mennonites about the extent to which the use of force is permissible.

And they did. As the display took shape three distinctly different stories began to emerge: some grandparents sent pictures of life in Alternative Service camps where Mennonite (and other) conscientious objectors worked at forestry, medical, and railway projects. A smaller number sent pictures of life within the Allied armed forces with Mennonite men participating in both noncombatant and combatant roles. A third group sent pictures of life within Germany, some as desperate immigrants and others as members of the Wehrmacht, the German army. This visible and public display of Mennonite diversity during the Second World War took {185} the community by surprise and challenged what many local Mennonites and non-Mennonites alike had assumed to be a truism, namely, that Mennonites have always been uniformly pacifist.

This experience, along with the decision to become a member of a Mennonite Brethren congregation in 1993, piqued my interest in the history and theology of Anabaptist and Mennonite nonresistance and peacemaking. The more I read, the more I discovered examples of disparity between Anabaptist and Mennonite confessional statements that adamantly reject the use of the sword and participation in war, and the actual practice of Anabaptists and Mennonites. The agonizingly difficult tensions that led to such disparity often resulted in significant conflict within families and congregations. I discovered that the Anabaptist and Mennonite past is more complicated and variegated than the often-simplistic versions of normative Anabaptist-Mennonite theology used by many Mennonite historians and church leaders throughout the last century, despite the significant historiographical shifts that were already being introduced during the latter part of the twentieth century. 2

Questions about the theology and practice of nonresistance have regularly confronted me in my role as a professor of church history and Mennonite studies at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary. In innumerable conversations with seminary students, in dozens of credentialing interviews while serving on the Pastoral Ministries Committee for the British Columbia Mennonite Brethren Conference of Churches, and in many presentations on Mennonite Brethren history and theology at national orientation events for pastors beginning their ministry with the Mennonite Brethren denomination in Canada, the one topic that comes up for discussion more frequently than any other is “peacemaking,” “pacifism,” 3 and the so-called Mennonite “peace position” (as if there is only one position). As one new pastor put it: “Exactly how pacifist do I have to be to be in order to be a Mennonite Brethren pastor?” Many Mennonite congregations have members who are employed as police officers, or are active in public politics, or serve as chaplains in a variety of places including prisons and the armed forces. These members regularly encounter questions about the meaning and application of nonresistance in their everyday worlds. Theological questions about nonresistance, about the way it has been presented in the past, and about its applicability within contemporary situations, deserve candid and careful answers. 4

In this essay, I examine briefly four eras in the Anabaptist and Mennonite story that offer a window into the persistence of the inconsistency between the confessional affirmation of nonresistance and its practice in daily life. These eras demonstrate that there has never been unanimity among Anabaptists and Mennonites about the extent to which the use of force, {186} including participation in military, is permissible, particularly during times of war. The extent of such diversity has often been obscured and minimized by Mennonite church leaders and historians as relatively insignificant isolated instances, or presented as examples of deviance from “true” Anabaptism. 5 My hope is that these four historical case studies will facilitate not only a more transparent and constructive conversation that includes identifying the contextual factors and theological tensions underlying such historical ambivalence and disparity, but also help identify the similarities that might be present in contemporary circumstances in which Mennonites find themselves and the implications these stories have for contemporary theological discussions about Mennonite peacemaking.


Many accounts of sixteenth-century Anabaptism begin with actions taken in Zürich in 1525 by former followers of Ulrich Zwingli, including Conrad Grebel and Felix Mantz, both of whom were ardent advocates of nonresistance. Several years later, in 1527, Michael Sattler led a group of Anabaptists in the region in penning one of the most widely known Anabaptist statements from the sixteenth century—the Schleitheim Confession. A collection of seven articles outlining their theological beliefs, the Confession is starkly dualistic in the way it differentiates between the way of darkness and light. It poses the question of whether a Christian may use the sword against the wicked for protection and defense of the good, or for the sake of love. For genuine Christ-followers, the answer is clear: the example of Christ himself demands an unambiguous and emphatic rejection of the sword. The use of the sword is counterproductive: it only produces more hostility, vengeance, chaos, and, most significantly, destroys forever the possibility of repentance.


In his influential article entitled “The Anabaptist Vision,” Harold Bender identifies Zürich as the birthplace of Anabaptism, and portrays it as a separatist and thoroughly pacifist movement. 6 However, as historians Martin Haas and James Stayer have shown, the early Swiss Anabaptists were not a sectarian or apolitical movement at the outset, and only gradually did the majority come to accept nonresistance as a norm. 7 Anabaptist co-workers with Grebel and Mantz, such as Wilhelm Reublin (who baptized Balthasar Hubmaier), Johannes Brötli, and Hans Krüsi, were closely connected to populist peasant uprisings that included rebaptizing citizens and renaming local churches as Anabaptist churches. All three supported the use of the sword for “just cause.” 8 Following the suppression of the peasant revolts, the concept of complete nonresistance was gradually accepted by most Anabaptists in the area, and eventually also by South German and Dutch Anabaptists. 9 {187}

Nevertheless, a variety of other positions were held by different Anabaptists during the sixteenth century regarding the use of the sword. One of the most notable Anabaptist voices was Balthasar Hubmaier, who led Anabaptist congregations in both Waldshut, Germany, as well as Nikolsburg, Moravia, where the majority of the citizenry accepted rebaptism. In addition to writing several works outlining his theological beliefs, he published a polemical pamphlet in 1527 entitled, “On the Sword,” in which he taught that Christians must not take the sword, but when the sword is legitimately given by government to defend property and life one should use it. He defended participation in “defensive” war as necessary to protect one’s neighbor, and left room for individual conscience in determining the justice of a particular initiative. 10

Less moderate was Hans Hut, a fiery, apocalyptic evangelist who argued in 1527 for what could be described as provisional support for nonresistance. Influenced by Thomas Müntzer, he taught that the sword has been put away until such a time when God will tell his people to take it out again for use in destroying the ungodly. 11 Hut and his followers (for example, Georg Nespitzer) preached and lived with the expectation of the imminent end of the world (sometime before Easter in 1528), after which God would use the “righteous” to judge the wicked, punish all sin, abolish all government, make all things common, and kill all who have not been rebaptized. 12

Hut’s eschatologically driven view has similarities to the “holy war” approach taken by the revolutionary Münsterites in 1535, except that they believed it was permissible to use violent means to set up the millennial kingdom of God on earth. This prompted them to capture and transform the quiet town of Münster into the so-called New Jerusalem. Their terror-filled reign in Münster, which was orchestrated by two charismatic Anabaptist “saints,” Jan van Matthijs and Jan van Leiden, did much to discredit the Anabaptist movement as a whole.

Shortly after this unfortunate debacle, Menno Simons, a Catholic priest-turned-Anabaptist, emerged as a leader among Anabaptist congregations in northern Germany not far from the small town of Münster. Simons was quick to denounce the blasphemy of the Münsterites and, like the proponents of Schleitheim, exhorted Anabaptists to follow strictly the commands of Christ, that is, to behave like Jesus and reject the use of the sword: “Our weapons are not swords or spears, but patience, silence and hope, and the Word of God.”

Although most sixteenth-century Anabaptists eventually rejected the use of the sword, the basis upon which they did so and the consistency with which it was applied varied. Arnold Snyder differentiates between those whose views are based on a literal (and often legalistic) approach {188} to obeying Christ’s commands as recorded in Scripture, and those, like Hans Denck and Pilgram Marpeck, who used a more spiritualistic emphasis on following Christ “in love” as a guide to the use of the sword and involvement in government. 13 Even Menno Simons, who rigorously emphasized nonresistance as part of “the law of Christ,” affirmed that the “office of the magistrate is ordained by God.” As one of the signatories of the Wismar Resolutions drafted in 1554, Simons (along with other Anabaptist leaders) permits the defensive use of weapons by both individuals and the state (Article 8). 14 Another two decades later in Holland, conspicuously absent in the twenty-five article Waterlander Mennonite Confession (1577) is any article on the use of the sword.

Several observations about this variety of views among sixteenth-century Anabaptists help illustrate how looking at both contextual factors and different approaches to Scripture informs an understanding of the different Anabaptist views regarding the use of the sword. First, the initial rejection of the sword on the part of the early Anabaptists was not a response to questions about participation in war. It was a rejection of what they perceived to be an inconceivable contradiction between how one group of people claiming to be Christians could use the sword as a means of violent coercion against another group of Christians. The sword should not be used by or within the church as a way of resolving conflict. The early Anabaptists emphasized the use of the ban within the church community instead because it was seen as a more Christian approach to church discipline. The critics of the Anabaptists were quick to extend the Anabaptist rejection of the sword to political situations in order to discredit the Anabaptists (see, for example, the transcripts of Michael Sattler’s trial). It was impossible for many to understand how a state could sustain itself without the use of force, particularly in view of the intense fear within western Europe that it might be overrun by the Ottoman Turks.

Second, the common and very real experience of persistent persecution reinforced a dualistic two-kingdoms perception of the world. Estrangement from society made the prospect of being valued, contributing citizens impossible to contemplate. As Stayer notes, “since it was impossible to resist the ruler, and equally impossible not to reject him, what the Anabaptists needed was a teaching on the sword which rejected the ruler without resisting him.” 15 The confrontation with power and intolerance and those who used the sword to impose their views made it easier to view the sword as an instrument of evil.

Third, an emphasis on the rejection of the sword helped Anabaptists differentiate themselves from supporters of various peasant uprisings as well as the incident at Münster (and similar attempts elsewhere including Oldeklooster, a monastery in the province of Friesland, and the city hall in {189} Amsterdam). Although the apocalyptic Münsterites represented a small minority of Anabaptists, they contributed considerably towards public perceptions of Anabaptism as a seditious and politically dangerous form of fanaticism.

Fourth, the plurality of views among Anabaptists was driven by different approaches to reading Scripture and different views about the proper relationship between the “true” church and government. Their debates are still germane to contemporary discussions about Mennonite political theology. Most Anabaptists agreed that the institution of government was necessary as a means for mitigating the effects of sin; government performs a divine function, for by rewarding good and punishing evil it keeps order in a world in which the spirit of Christ has not yet captured all human hearts and made them obedient. Government belongs to the “law,” while the church was given out of grace and belongs to the “gospel.” It is not coincidental that Anabaptists such as the Swiss Anabaptists and followers of Jacob Hutter who rejected the use of the sword also used a dualistic two-kingdoms approach to emphasize complete separation from the world. A Christian who truly loves their neighbor may not participate in the state because it is contrary to Christ’s teaching and example to use coercion, seek revenge, or kill. Other Anabaptists saw a contradiction between calling governments ordained by God (Romans 13) and a refusal to participate in government. Hubmaier, in On the Sword, rejected non-participation by arguing that the sword is specifically ordained for the preservation of order and the defense of the righteous, the innocent, and the helpless. Christians, if ordered to take up the sword for a just cause by the ruling government, should do so to protect their neighbors. The sword could be used for a defensive war, but never a holy war. Hubmaier was more theocentric in his approach to interpreting Scripture, while proponents of the Schleitheim Confession were more Christocentric. 16 More ambivalent was Pilgram Marpeck, who was frequently employed as a civil engineer by local governments while serving as an Anabaptist pastor. He held that a Christian did not necessarily violate the law of discipleship by serving as a magistrate. So, while permissible, the practical demands of governing would make it virtually impossible to act consistently according to the Christian law of love, which seeks to overcome evil by doing good. His emphasis on participation in the world in ways motivated by love stand in contrast to the strict two-kingdoms division used by the proponents of Schleitheim which relegated faithful Christians to one kingdom only.


The second historical era focuses more specifically on the followers of Menno Simons who made their way to West Prussia, an area with {190} a complex political history and filled with leaders who dreamed about the formation of an empire. It is a story in which Mennonites are torn between the desire for a place to call home, the transition from national indifference to identification as loyal citizens in a German nation, and the unrelenting social and political pressure to modify their initial refusal to participate in military service.

Mennonites first arrived in West Prussia (later a part of the Kingdom of Poland) as refugees during the 1530s from a variety of places in Europe including the Netherlands, Moravia, and Switzerland. Seeking a place where their religious beliefs and practices would be tolerated, they settled on both sides of the lower Vistula River, not far from the bustling prosperous city of Danzig. The land on which they settled was marshy, frequently flooded, and generally unproductive. It took enormous effort to build a system of dikes, drainage canals, and water mills before the land became fertile and productive. Gradually, the Mennonites managed to establish their own economically viable communities. Theological and ecclesiastical differences fragmented them into several groups (for example, Flemish, Frisian, Waterlander, High German, and Swiss Brethren). In 1552, the city council of Danzig granted Mennonites permission to pursue “livelihoods” including the practice of their faith but refused to allow them to worship within city limits or to grant them formal status as “citizens.”

During the late 1580s, several Mennonite congregations received permission to build church buildings in the area; more followed during the 1600s. 17 However, the ongoing ambiguity regarding their legal status meant they were often vulnerable to exploitation by local guilds and councils. In 1642, a royal decree recognizing the value of their contribution in land recovery promised the Mennonites a new level of toleration and freedom, along with a guarantee of exemption from military service, but always in exchange for a price, thereby formalizing an arrangement that had been in place for some time. 18 Despite such royal proclamations of support, skirmishes over access to specific trades and property ownership within city walls continued with local merchants who sought to have them taxed, restricted, and even expelled. On more than a few occasions, Mennonites appealed to their monarchs for intervention and protection. Instead of being seen as citizens entitled to freedom, equality, and legal protection, their identity as religious sectarians meant that they were at best “tolerated,” treated as “foreigners and residents without rights” whose circumstances could change according to the often arbitrary whims of local authorities. 19

During the 1700s, Mennonites gradually succeeded in constructing more churches, organizing institutions such as schools and homes for the elderly, and even in acquiring more land. As the region moved towards centralized rule under Frederick the Great as part of the Kingdom of {191} Prussia, Mennonites benefitted from his generosity, which was based in part on the principle that civil rights and privileges should not be dependent on religious creeds. Mennonites were “generally able to maintain their exemption from military service through a combination of civil service in wartime (for example, fighting fires, caring for the sick) and payment of additional taxes.” 20 This included an annual fee of 5,000 thalers for the support of a military school at Culm to compensate for the loss of Mennonite manpower. After numerous appeals from Mennonite leaders, Frederick even issued a Gnaden Privilegium (charter of liberties) in 1780, guaranteeing them permanent freedom from military service.

The leniency experienced under Frederick came to an abrupt end after his death. Because the obligation of military service was connected to land ownership, the numerical growth, prosperity, and territorial expansion of Mennonites intensified public pressure on the new king to prohibit any extension of Mennonite land holdings. For this reason Frederick William II issued a special decree in 1789 entitled the “Edict Concerning the Future of Mennonitism,” which continued to guarantee freedom of conscience regarding military service but sharply increased the price for such guarantees. In addition to the existing fees for military exemption, it became difficult for Mennonites to buy land, and Mennonite landowners were frequently forced to pay the church tax required of members of the Lutheran churches. Increased taxation and restrictions on property rights created constant pressure enticing Mennonites to become better subjects and citizens who would be willing to participate in the formation of a Prussian empire. 21 A few Mennonites in the village of Augustwalde began choosing to accept military service. In 1801, the edict of 1789 was further sharpened to make the purchase of any further land impossible. 22

The national crisis created by the Napoleonic Wars (1806–1814) intensified pressure on Mennonites to participate in military service. In addition to the compulsory war tax that all Prussians had to pay, Mennonites made several substantial “voluntary grants” to demonstrate their allegiance. In their words: “Although we are prepared to support in every way possible the state which protects and tolerates us, it is impossible for us to have any part in military service as long as we are Mennonites and remain so.” 23 The ongoing battles with the French prompted emergency appeals from local military and civilian leaders for more men, which became increasingly difficult to resist despite the contribution of additional funds, horses, clothing, caring for cavalry, and providing transportation. It also provided opportunity for government officials and others to argue that exemption from regular military service in royal proclamations should not apply because they had never been designed for desperate circumstances requiring the defense of their {192} homes. A seemingly endless number of appeals and petitions were necessary to keep former exemption promises intact.

Internal debates among Mennonites became more divisive as they wrestled with how to be perceived as both faithful Christians and loyal citizens, and how not to be perceived as cowardly traitors in times of war. 24 Maintaining a meaningful ethical distinction between providing substantial material support for the Prussian military and participating in combatant roles became more difficult. The formation of a “Home Guard” in 1813 further blurred the lines between involvement in military action and engaging in urgent self-defense. Some members and ministers argued that a position adopted during times of persecution “did not adequately address a situation where king and government were widely perceived to be deeply religious and devout.” 25 Despite the ongoing opposition from church leaders, a growing number of Mennonite young men opted to join the military, 26 a choice for which they were excommunicated. A prominent example includes David von Riesen, a member of the Elbing Mennonite Church, whose subsequent attempts to be readmitted as a member were rejected by church leaders, a decision supported by state authorities. 27

An examination of the debates and strategies around military service within Mennonite churches in the Prussian empire during the nineteenth century reveals a gradual transition. Many supported the increased payments as a strategy for alleviating pressure to participate in military service; some chose to immigrate to Russia or North America; others complied despite the threat of excommunication; and others opted to participate in noncombatant roles. Incrementally, as the association with Prussian German nationalism and the desire to be recognized as loyal subjects of the empire increased, the support for a complete prohibition on military service declined. In 1867, a law was passed officially annulling the Mennonite privilege of exemption from military service, although a subsequent modification authorized noncombatant service such as hospital orderlies, clerks, and transport support. In 1879, shortly after the euphoria that followed the end of the Austro-Prussian War which created a vast German empire, the Fürstenwerder congregation issued a statement that represented a shift among those Mennonites remaining in Prussia: “It appears to us to be very difficult to find an absolute prohibition of military service in the Holy Scriptures if such is required by the state of all citizens. [It is a Christian duty to vouch for the] prosperity, rights and preservation of the state in which God has placed us.” 28 The Danzig Mennonite congregation described war not as “evil” or the result of “sin,” but as a “terrible misfortune.” In accordance with the “commands of Jesus Christ,” the congregation was {193} committed “as much as it depends on us, to live with our neighbours in peace.” Working for peace was seen as the duty of every Christian, “but not one to be pursued in lieu of serving in the military. Because Mennonites were part of the state and were protected by it, they had an obligation to vouch for its rights, prosperity, and continuation with their lives.” 29 Despite such changes, Mennonites continued to be perceived as a minority. The tension between the demand to participate in the army as a symbol of full citizenship and the expectation of full civil rights and religious freedom was never fully resolved.

The transition of the Prussian empire into twentieth-century imperial Germany and their willingness to adopt an increasingly exclusive German national consciousness led Mennonites in a more sinister direction. The introduction of universal conscription signaled a transition from negotiating preferential arrangements with local nobles or monarchs who organized military forces at their behest to the mobilization of mass armies by nation states to achieve nationalistic purposes. The strength of modern nationalism, which assumed all residents had a stake in its success, proved to be difficult to resist. With German patriotism tightly connected to military service, the vast majority of Mennonites in early twentieth-century Germany renounced pacifism, adopting instead an “adaptive faith.” 30 The Union of Mennonite Congregations, first formed in 1886, endorsed the First World War (1914–1918) as a “holy war” they believed would “protect” vulnerable Mennonite congregations in France and imperial Russia.

Concern over the misfortunes of their Mennonite coreligionists in southern Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution and subsequent German occupation of the region were complicated by a collision of Mennonite identities. Union leaders in Germany initially saw these Mennonites as allies to be recruited as part of their vision of a transnational Mennonite Germanism and as potential allies to be repatriated. However, the Mennonites who remained in Russia after the First World War found it more advantageous to claim Dutch lineage rather than champion a German identity. 31 Union leaders eventually recognized that many were unlikely to accept any time soon a duty to defend the “Fatherland.” 32

The emergence of National Socialism during the 1930s amplified the relationship between Germanism and Nazi racist ideology. The aggression and fierce racism of the National Socialists polarized Mennonites as they struggled to respond to new demands, which included swearing allegiance to Adolf Hitler. Despite concerns over features of National Socialism—its anti-Jewish propaganda and persecution of Jews—some Mennonites participated in aspects of the Holocaust as Wehrmacht soldiers and even {194} as SS officers. As citizenship became linked more closely to genealogy, many German Mennonites willingly participated in genealogical (and biological) research and accepted the racialist narratives by which they were identified as Aryan. The level of compliance with National Socialism prompted coreligionists in other parts of the world to ponder whether Mennonites in Germany were in fact still Christian. 33

Following the end of the Second World War, the impending threat of Soviet occupation of the Vistula Delta where a great number of Mennonites had made their home for 400 years, prompted a desperate and hurried exodus. Some escaped to Denmark and eventually resettled in South America; others were transported into the interior of Russia; still others were scattered throughout Germany.


Mennonites arrived in southern Russia (now known as Ukraine) in the late 1700s (many from Prussia) at the invitation of Catherine the Great, who offered them a bill of “rights and privileges,” known as a Privilegium, that included among other things exemption from military service. 34 They settled in segregated colonies made up of small villages. The land was fertile, helping the Mennonites develop a simple, self-reliant, agrarian way of life. For decades, the Mennonite colonies existed in virtual isolation. Over time, Mennonite identity came to be based as much on birth as on personal religious conviction. As a result, their “community pacifism” was not always connected to personal conviction and was incapable of sustaining a unified response in times of crisis.

The need for expansion, along with agricultural, educational, and religious reforms gradually brought Mennonites into greater contact with their Russian neighbors. During the 1870s, the Tsarist government began making plans to implement universal military service. The fear of losing their exemption from military service precipitated a migration of 18,000 Mennonites to North America. Those who stayed agreed, after lengthy negotiations, to participate in some form of forestry work in lieu of military service. A considerable portion of the cost of this program was assumed by the Mennonites themselves, and over time involved approximately 6,000 men. For Mennonites in southern Russia, forestry service became the accepted expression of nonresistance until the outbreak of the First World War.

During the war many young men were diverted from forestry service and served instead with the medical corps, often taking wounded from the front lines on Red Cross trains. In 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution suddenly complicated the conflict, and the ensuing civil war in Russia plunged the region into terrifying chaos and anarchy. Initially, the territory in which {195} the Mennonite colonies were located was occupied by the German army, which provided safety and stability. The presence of the German army was warmly welcomed by the Mennonites. But the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in November of 1918, and the withdrawal of the German army, created a serious power vacuum in the region surrounding the Mennonite colonies, with the White Army (tsarist government forces) in the south, the Bolshevik Red Army in the north, and opportunistic bandits in the middle. The stories of the terrible atrocities perpetrated against Mennonites in Russia during these times are well known. 35

In an attempt to prevent the theft and destruction of property, the massacre of innocent people, and the brutal sexual molestation of women, some Mennonites decided, with the help of the German army, to create their own militias known as the Selbstschutz (self-defense leagues) to protect their villages. In the face of difficult circumstances, and with little time for careful reflection, Mennonite church leaders were divided about whether to endorse the organization of a Mennonite militia or encourage adherence to the principle of nonresistance. Following an intense three-day debate at an all-Mennonite conference in Lichtenau, Molotschna in early summer of 1918, the decision was made to allow individuals to follow their own conscience in making their decision about participating. In reality, a good number of Mennonite men had already decided to become involved in the Selbstschutz long before such permission was granted by church leaders. 36 But designating the question of nonresistance a matter of private interpretation empowered those organizing militias. As John B. Toews notes, “every crisis only augmented their power and soon there was little toleration for conscientious objectors.” 37

Thanks to the work of historians such as John B. Toews and Lawrence Klippenstein (and their recent collections of translated primary source documents), much more is now known about this initiative. It involved many more men than has been previously acknowledged by Mennonite leaders and historians. The young men from Molotschna formed twenty companies totaling 2,700 infantry and 300 cavalry, which, during the Russian Civil War, held back the forces of anarchist Nestor Makhno until March 1919. These militias were mobilized quickly without much regard for the views of church leaders. And their activities were not limited to protection and defense; some were involved in military action and even in committing atrocities of their own. 38 In hindsight, the actions of Mennonite militias provided only a brief respite for the colonies, leaving some Mennonite villages vulnerable later as targets of vicious and deadly acts of retribution. 39

Many have pondered the significance of the inability of the institutionalized nonresistance of the Russian Mennonites to provide a {196} unified response in the midst of crisis. Some have suggested that the suffering of Mennonites in Russia was a punishment by God for their sins, which included materialism, lack of love for neighbor, and compromise of their religious ideals. 40 As one Mennonite leader agonized:

Something that we possessed for hundreds of years and on account of which we were persecuted and emigrated, something that no government in Russia ever took away from us, something which we retained with every new mobilization in what was probably the most difficult war in Russia’s history, something that was even granted us when the revolution began and ruthlessly made all things equal—we let all this go in the fear for our lives and in concern for our possessions. 41

Such explanations obscure the influence of various external factors over which individuals had no control: the normalizing of brutality as part of the anarchy that followed the complete collapse of law and order; the use of force by competing groups to impose ideological and political interests; the longstanding animosity between German and Slavic cultures; and the presence of unrestrained evil. 42 It is hard to appreciate fully the desperation of these turbulent times; in the midst of confusing political circumstances and in the face of violent malevolence, Mennonites were understandably mixed in their response. 43 The chaos of the time made it impossible to foresee the eventual outcome. Some indicated that they chose to participate in the Selbstschutz because of conscience as a necessary response to arbitrary killings and the brutally violent attacks on women and children; others chose not to participate because of a commitment to religious principles; some condemned the initiative not on theological grounds but as a short-sighted political strategy; and others enthusiastically welcomed and endorsed the strategy.


The story of Mennonite immigration to Canada began as a search for isolation, religious freedom, and economic opportunity. 44 Many were attracted by the availability of land suitable for agriculture, the political stability of British rule, and the openness on the part of governments to negotiate exemption from military service. Unlike many countries, Canada has seldom mandated compulsory military training or service, and then only during times of war. Nor has Canada been as aggressively militaristic as the United States. As result, there have been fewer conflicts over nonresistance between the Canadian government and those (including Mennonites) who do not wish to participate in the military. Despite initial consistency among Mennonites in affirming nonresistance, this changed dramatically during the Second World War. {197}

Mennonites and Amish first arrived in the Niagara Peninsula during the 1780s, shortly after the American Revolution. Hailing from Pennsylvania, their arrival coincided with numerous United Empire Loyalists seeking refuge. These early Mennonites had opposed slavery but had largely remained neutral during the revolution. Their young men avoided militia service by paying a nominal annual fine. In anticipation of military conflict with the United States, Mennonites in Upper Canada successfully petitioned the government to exempt church members and unbaptized sons under the age of twenty-one as exempt from militia service. During the War of 1812, some Mennonite settlers of the Waterloo County area were pressed to use their horses and wagons to aid in military transport. 45

The threat by the Tsarist government in Russia to impose new conscription laws and the willingness on the part of some Mennonites to replace their earlier exemption with a proposal advocating alternative forms of civil service prompted a large contingent of Mennonites (often referred to as Kanadier) to leave for North America during the 1870s. Eager to attract new immigrants, the Canadian government provided written assurance through an Order in Council to 8,000 incoming German-speaking Mennonites of their full and unconditional exemption from obligatory military service, along with their freedom to educate their children in their own private German-language schools. Despite their desire for geographical isolation and religious autonomy on the prairies, these Mennonites were not exempt from pressure to assimilate from both public opinion and several provincial governments intent on making attendance at English-language public schools mandatory as a means for transforming non-English speaking settlers into patriotic citizens.

Suspicion of German-speaking Mennonites intensified as the clouds of war began to gather. Publishing in “enemy alien languages” was prohibited. Police occasionally monitored church meetings and censored several Mennonite periodicals. Despite the tense wartime atmosphere, Mennonite leaders were united in their appeal to the Canadian government to uphold their promise to grant Mennonite men exemption from military service. In order to mobilize more troops, in 1914 the Canadian government required all adult men to register for national service cards, and in 1917 passed the Military Service Act. The Act eliminated automatic exemptions on the basis of denominational membership and was vague on who might be considered eligible as a conscientious objector, as well as on the question of whether conscientious objectors could be called to serve in noncombatant roles.

The Act forced Mennonite men to appear before tribunals in order to make their claim for exemption from military service. Most were {198} exempted from all service, although occasionally difficulties arose. Church leaders played active roles in helping men prepare for their tribunal hearings and in signing exemption certificates. 46 Despite the firm resolve on the part of Mennonite leaders throughout the First World War, a small number of Mennonite men did volunteer for active service. If they were baptized members, these individuals were generally excommunicated. There was less unity among Mennonites around the question of whether it was appropriate to collect money for the Red Cross or to purchase Victory Bonds.

In anticipation of another major military conflict in Europe, many Mennonite denominations reasserted their position on nonresistance. As they did in 1919, the General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches passed a resolution in 1936 declaring “our opposition to war in any form and our determination to practice peace and love.”

True love for our country does not demand hate towards another country. It is our conviction that the practice of the principles of peace, love, justice, liberty and national and international goodwill serve towards the highest good for our country as well as that of all mankind . . . We choose it because we consider any activity which destroys or causes loss of human life as unjust and contrary to true discipleship of the Prince of Peace . . . We are against war as a means of settling differences because war is unchristian, it destroys, it works in opposition to the highest and noblest values of man and because it sows the seeds of future wars. 47

In 1939, Mennonite church leaders in Canada met in Winkler, Manitoba, to determine a common response in case of war. 48 Despite a common opposition to war, a line of division quickly became evident between those who wanted to use historic guarantees as the basis for ongoing exemption from all governmental service (military or otherwise) related to war, and those who opposed participation in military combat roles but favored alternative service options and did not strongly object to noncombatant military service. The alternative service option was vigorously promoted by leaders of the approximately 20,000 Mennonites who had arrived from southern Russia during the 1920s (often referred to as Russländer). Ambiguity over their eligibility for exemption from military service under the earlier Order in Council and their experience in Russia with both organizing alternative service programs and, in some cases, participating in the Selbstschutz, prompted these Mennonites to be proactive in their response. As was the case in Russia, adherence to nonresistance in Canada sometimes became associated more with its legality as a right and privilege and not always with a deeply rooted theological conviction and ethic. {199}

As Canada followed England into the war, the lack of patriotic fervor and reluctance to participate on the part of German-speaking Mennonites did not go unnoticed. A series of unpleasant incidents across the country reflected the popular level of suspicion and agitation. For example, in 1940 several Mennonite church buildings in Alberta were torched. The Mennonite Bible school in Drake was raided by the RCMP and a teacher driven out of town. The Herbert Mennonite Brethren Church was scheduled to host a national convention during the summer of 1940 but opted to cancel the event after consulting with political officials in Regina. Mennonite pupils in Fraser Valley public schools faced threats of violence. These moments amplified pressure to support war efforts.

While Mennonite church leaders staunchly continued to affirm their commitment to nonresistance and opposition to war in the lead-up to the Second World War (1939–1945), a discernable shift in wartime participation was noticeable among eligible young men. According to Ted Regehr, approximately 7,500 eligible Mennonite men identified as conscientious objectors and opted for alternative service during the Second World War, whereas approximately 4,800 Mennonite men were drafted or enlisted. 49 Others claim that the number of Mennonite men who participated in military service was actually much higher, closer to 7,500, depending on exactly how one defines “Mennonite.” 50 The reasons motivating such a significant percentage of Mennonite men to ignore church teaching are varied and complex: some were looking for adventure; some wanted to dispel suspicions that they were German sympathizers; some felt that military service demonstrated their sense of identity as Canadians; some were frustrated that alternative service opportunities did not always provide sufficiently sacrificial and meaningful work; some were influenced by the example of Mennonites in Europe who participated in the armed forces of their countries; some were compelled by a sense of the unfairness that Mennonites should benefit from the sacrifices of others without making equivalent sacrifices themselves; and still others by a sense of duty based on the conviction that the war was a justified response to aggression and evil. 51

The sharp contrast in the choices made by Mennonite men during the Second World War deeply impacted church and family life. Most of those who chose to enlist felt ignored and rejected by church leaders who failed to appreciate that their decision was frequently accompanied by intense personal anguish that included a search for scriptural and theological support. Many were removed from church membership without discussion or pastoral care. Many felt a deep sense of alienation and isolation as they simultaneously tried to cope with the demands and dangers of military life, and rejection and condemnation from their faith community at home. {200}

After the war, those who returned from alternative service were welcomed as heroes; those who had enlisted were welcome to return only if they demonstrated genuine repentance for their sins. As a result, many Mennonite men were permanently lost to their former faith community and scattered to other denominations. 52 The removal of the enlisted from membership in Mennonite churches and participation in Mennonite institutions not only helped Mennonite denominations retain the perception of strong support for nonresistance but also obscured a difficult and important chapter in Mennonite life in Canada.

Both those who participated in alternative service and those who served in the military experienced greater exposure to Canadian society. This increased familiarity expanded their awareness of career and educational opportunities. It also prompted a shift away from nonresistance as quietism and towards a more proactive and broader emphasis on peacemaking, reconciliation, and social justice. 53

The divide between confessional affirmation and practice of nonresistance among Mennonites continued to the present. A survey of over 3,500 Mennonites in North America (including five denominations), coordinated by Howard Kaufmann and Leland Harder during the 1970s, asked them to agree or disagree with the statement, “The Christian should take no part in war or any war-promoting activities.” Only 20 percent of the Evangelical Mennonite Church agreed with this statement compared to 87 percent of those from the (Old) Mennonite Church. Almost evenly divided were the Mennonite Brethren with 54 percent agreeing with such a position. (Only 29 percent of Mennonite Brethren thought it was wrong to own stock in companies producing war goods, and 78 percent thought that the Vietnam war was necessary to stop the spread of communism in Asia!) 54

Complicating further the contemporary meaning and applicability of nonresistance has been the dramatic increase in the number of Mennonites as employees within governmental bureaucracies and as members of various levels of municipal government, including school boards, health care boards, and municipal/city councils. Involvement in provincial and federal levels of government soon followed. 55 Many Mennonite congregations in Canada have members involved in occupations that at times require the use of force, such as policing, prison security, and the military.


Evident in this overview is the longevity and persistence of the diversity within the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition regarding the use of the sword and nonresistance. While glimpses into the complexity of this diversity have {201} been presented in recent articles and monographs that focus on specific time periods and geographical locales, a comprehensive study of the different views and approaches to nonresistance within the 500-year history of the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition remains to be done. Although far from being an exhaustive study, evident also in this overview is the way this diversity emerges out of a complex convergence of theological and contextual factors.

Understanding the diversity around Anabaptist-Mennonite nonresistance is complicated by considering the particular circumstances in which such diversity occurred. After centuries of negotiating privileges directly with local monarchs in Europe (and elsewhere) often involving an exchange of some kind (e.g., agricultural settlement for religious autonomy), Mennonites have been forced to adapt to life in the modern nation-state with its more institutionalized methods of decision-making, of creating and shaping a sense of collective identity, and of exerting pressure to conform and participate. In the midst of chaotic and brutal conflicts, Mennonites felt the desire to protect loved ones by preventing horrific acts of violence and evil. Mennonites were introduced to notions of individual rights and modern civic responsibility that accompanied the advent of more democratic forms of government. Many Mennonites felt the desire to be recognized by governments and neighbors as loving, contributing, and loyal citizens. But within these circumstances one encounters those who were blinded by patriotism to support the aggressive militarism of national empires, those who prioritized economic interests over theological and ethical consistency, and those who became perpetrators of violence rather than protectors when the opportunity to use force presented itself.

The two most notable theological tensions within this diversity include disagreements over the suitability of a sometimes sharply dualistic two-kingdoms paradigm for adequately understanding the place of the church within the world, and how best to understand the relationship between the injunctions of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount to “turn the other cheek” and “to love one’s enemies,” and the apostle Paul’s description in Romans 13 of government as ordained by God for the purpose (in part) of restraining evil. Put differently, the diversity exists not because some Anabaptists and Mennonites decided that the Sermon on the Mount was optional, or that the call to be ministers of reconciliation and peacemakers is not an integral part of discipleship, but because differences exist on the question of how Christians as individuals, and the church as a community of Christians, ought to relate to governments. The intensity of the tensions around these theological convictions always emerge out of a specific set of circumstances located in time and space, and never out of a cultural vacuum. {202}

Alongside these theological tensions, and the question of how they are to be applied to the contemporary contexts in which Mennonites find themselves, is the ongoing challenge of the relationship between theological method and historical method. That is, how does one best tell the Anabaptist-Mennonite story when doing Mennonite theology? To what extent should theological commitments shape the selection and interpretation of the experiences of those who were known as Anabaptists and Mennonites? One cannot exclude theological assumptions entirely from historical interpretations, but one can avoid using history primarily as a means for reinforcing one’s already held theological beliefs about Anabaptists and Mennonites. As noted above, despite recent historiographical shifts various versions of normative approaches to Anabaptist-Mennonite theology continue to persist that ignore or obscure the diversity around nonresistance. Consideration of diversity that is not recognized within particular normative approaches inevitably raises questions about Anabaptist and Mennonite identity. As Arnold Snyder put it in 1991, “Current Mennonite theology has yet to come to terms with [the] polymorphic and polygenetic understanding of Anabaptism.” 56 While contemporary Mennonite theologians are now generally familiar with the implications of a polygenesis model for understanding sixteenth-century Anabaptism, it is difficult to find contemporary Mennonite theologians who engage the implications of the diversity around nonresistance in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Mennonite experience in Poland, Germany, and Russia (and in other places around the world). Contemporary theological discussions about Anabaptist-Mennonite nonresistance must not be abstracted from careful historical investigations.


  1. This article was originally presented at “War, Peace and the Struggle for Shalom” Conference, Anabaptist-Mennonite Centre for Faith and Learning Symposium, Trinity Western University, 14 November 2015.
  2. For more on the seismic impact of polygenesis historiography for understanding the meaning of Anabaptism and the source(s) of Mennonite identity, see C. Arnold Snyder, “Beyond Polygenesis: Recovering the Unity and Diversity of Anabaptist Theology,” in Essays in Anabaptist Theology, ed. H. Wayne Pipkin (Elkhart, IN: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1994), 1–34; C. Arnold Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology: An Introduction (Kitchener, ON: Pandora, 1995), 397–408; and Bruce L. Guenther, “Rediscovering the Value of History and Tradition,” in Out of the Strange Silence: The Challenge of Being Christian in the 21st Century, ed. Brad Thiessen (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 2005), 194–97.
  3. The word “pacifism,” referring to opposition to war, militarism or violence, {203} was coined by the French peace campaigner Émile Arnaud, and came into use in the late nineteenth century. It is frequently used anachronistically to refer to the emphasis within the Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition of refusing to use the sword.
  4. A study conference in January 2013 entitled “Kingdom Citizens in a World of Conflict,” sponsored by the United States Mennonite Brethren Conference is a good example of such a contemporary discussion.
  5. Exploring the reality and complexity of diversity is not intended to diminish the courage and sacrifice made by thousands of individuals trying to live out their commitment to their understanding of nonresistance, or to undermine the importance of nonresistance within the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition and its witness within the larger Christian communion (see for example “Called Together to be Peacemakers,” Report of the International Dialogue between the Catholic Church and Mennonite World Conference, 1998–2003).
  6. “The Anabaptist Vision,” Church History 13, no. 1 (1944): 3–24; and Mennonite Quarterly Review 18, no. 2 (1944): 67–88.
  7. James Stayer, “The Doctrine of the Sword in the First Decade of Anabaptism,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 41 (April 1967): 165–166; James Stayer, Anabaptists and the Sword (Lawrence, KS: Coronado, 1972); Martin Haas, “The Path of the Anabaptists into Separation: The Interdependence of Theology and Social Behaviour,” in The Anabaptists and Thomas Müntzer, ed. Werner O. Packull and James M. Stayer (Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 1980), 72–84.
  8. Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology, 57–60, 64–65.
  9. See Stayer, “Doctrine of the Sword,” 165–66.
  10. See “On the Sword,” in Balthasar Hubmaier, Theologian of Anabaptism, trans. and ed. H. Wayne Pipkin and John H. Yoder (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1989), 492–523.
  11. See James Stayer, “Hans Hut’s Doctrine of the Sword: An Attempted Solution,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 39 (July 1965): 181–91.
  12. Walter Klaassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1981), 273–75; and Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology, 193–96.
  13. Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology, 189–90.
  14. Menno Simons insisted that the sword was not to be used by the church as a means for furthering Christ’s kingdom of heaven, and objected vigorously to the use of the sword against law-abiding Anabaptists, but acknowledged the necessity on the part of magistrates to use the sword to punish criminals (“Third Letter: An Epistle of Menno Simon, to the Brethren at Franeker, province of Friesland, Netherlands”).
  15. Stayer, Anabaptists and the Sword, 334–35.
  16. For a fuller discussion on the differences between Hubmaier and the proponents of Schleitheim, see Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology, 191–93.
  17. Peter J. Klassen, Mennonites in Early Modern Poland and Prussia (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), 205.
  18. Klassen, 199–200. {204}
  19. H. G. Mannhardt, The Danzig Mennonite Church: Its Origin and History from 1569–1919, trans. Victor G. Doerksen; ed. Mark Jantzen and John D. Thiesen (North Newton: KS Bethel College, 2007), 69.
  20. Klassen, Mennonites in Early Modern Poland, 168.
  21. Mark Jantzen, Mennonite German Soldiers: Nation, Religion, and Family in the Prussian East, 1772–1880 (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010), 7. Jantzen identifies the subtle influences at play underneath the formal events that marked transitions in the Prussian empire’s approach to religious minorities and the Mennonite response: evident is a “link between the ideology of national conscription and the modern nation-state, the impact of the pressure that popular nationalism and economic incentives put both on the state and on those religious minorities that did not conform to its expectations,” and “the way theological concepts shaped Mennonites’ acceptance or rejection of a broader German identity” (6–7).
  22. Increased taxation, the inability to acquire land, and concerns about the potential loss of military exemption prompted many Mennonites to migrate to southern Russia.
  23. Horst Penner, and Peter J. Foth, “West Prussia,” in Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.
  24. For a description of the polarized rhetoric, see Benjamin W. Goossen, Chosen Nation: Mennonites and Germany in a Global Era (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017), 45–46.
  25. Klassen, Mennonites in Early Modern Poland, 181.
  26. The same trend was evident among Mennonites in other places in Europe (Klassen, 181–82).
  27. Wilhelm Mannhardt, The Military Service Exemption of the Mennonites of Provincial Prussia (North Newton, KS: Bethel College, 2013), 44–47.
  28. Jantzen, Mennonite German Soldiers, 249.
  29. Jantzen, 250. An influential proponent of participation in military service was Wilhelm Mannhardt (1831–1880), the first German Mennonite to receive a doctorate. Not all late nineteenth-century Mennonites in Prussia renounced their commitment to nonresistance (see William Ewert, “A Defense of the Ancient Mennonite Principle of Non-Resistance by a Leading Prussian Mennonite Elder in 1873,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 11, no. 4 [1937]: 284–90).
  30. Goossen, Chosen Nation, 2.
  31. John B. Toews and Paul Toews, eds., Union of Citizens of Dutch Lineage in Ukraine, 1922–1927: Mennonite and Soviet Documents (Fresno, CA: Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies, 2011).
  32. Goossen, Chosen Nation, 100–107.
  33. Goossen, 156–66.
  34. For more on the story of the Mennonites in Russia, see James Urry, None but Saints: The Transformation of Mennonite Life in Russia, 1789–1889 (Winnipeg, MB: Hyperion, 1989).
  35. See for example, Harry Loewen, ed., Road to Freedom: Mennonites Escape the Land of Suffering (Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press and Herald {205} Press, 2000); Sarah Dyck, ed. and trans., The Silence Echoes: Memoirs of Trauma and Tears (Kitchener, ON: Pandora, 1997); and John B. Toews, ed., Journeys: Mennonite Stories of Faith and Survival in Stalin’s Russia (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 1998).
  36. The formation of the Selbstschutz was preceded by several precedents in which Mennonites organized for the purpose of protecting their property (see John B. Toews, “The Origins and Activities of the Mennonite Selbstschutz in the Ukraine [1918–1919],” Mennonite Quarterly Review 46 [1972]: 15).
  37. John B. Toews, ed. and trans., Mennonites in Ukraine amid Civil War and Anarchy (1917–1920): A Documentary Collection (Fresno, CA: Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies, 2013), 5.
  38. In one three-day battle, just prior to its disbandment, the Selbstschutz killed 760 men (John B. Toews, Czars, Soviets & Mennonites [Newton: Faith and Life, 1982], 90–91).
  39. Toews, Mennonites in Ukraine, 5–6.
  40. B. B. Janz, “We Have Sinned,” in Toews, Mennonites in Ukraine, 118–22.
  41. Adolf A. Reimer, “How Did it Happen?” Rundschau-Kalendar (1930): 38–54; translation by Toews in Mennonites in Ukraine, 167.
  42. Toews, Mennonites in Ukraine, 6–8.
  43. Abraham Friesen describes the “crisis of identity” experienced by Russian Mennonites following the loss of military exemption, the destruction of their prosperous way of life, the renunciation of nonresistance in the face of political chaos, and the conflicting claims to either Dutch or German ethnicity depending on the most favorable opportunities within rapidly changing political circumstances. See his In Defense of Privilege: Russian Mennonites and the State before and during World War I (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 2006).
  44. For a comprehensive overview of the Mennonite story in Canada, see Frank H. Epp, Mennonites in Canada, 1786–1920: The History of a Separate People (Toronto: Macmillan, 1974); Frank H. Epp, Mennonites in Canada, 1920–1940: A People’s Struggle for Survival (Toronto: Macmillan, 1982); and T.D. Regehr, Mennonites in Canada, 1939–1970: A People Transformed (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1996).
  45. For more about the War of 1812 and the Mennonites in Ontario, see Samuel J. Steiner, In Search of Promised Lands: A Religious History of Mennonites in Ontario (Kitchener, ON: Herald, 2015).
  46. Adolf Ens, Subjects or Citizens? The Mennonite Experience in Canada, 1870–1925 (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1994), 171–97.
  47. Year Book of the General Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Church of North America (Hillsboro, KS: Mennonite Brethren Publishing House, 1936), 60-63.
  48. David Reimer, ed., Experiences of the Mennonites of Canada during the Second World War, 1939–1945 (Altona, MB: D. W. Friesen & Sons, 1946). Also helpful are David Fransen, “Canadian Mennonites and Conscientious Objection in World War II” (MA thesis, University of Waterloo, 1977); and Kenneth Reddig, “Manitoba Mennonites and the Winnipeg Mobilization {206} Board in World War II” (MA thesis, University of Manitoba, 1989).
  49. Ted Regehr, “Lost Sons: The Canadian Mennonite Soldiers of World War II,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 66, no. 4 (1992): 461–80; Regehr, Mennonites in Canada, 35–59; and Nathan R. Dirks, “The Mennonites Go to War: Revisiting Canadian Soldiers during the Second World War,” Journal of Mennonite Studies 34 (2016): 63–87.
  50. Peter Lohrenz Neufeld, Mennonites at War: A Double-Edged Sword: Canadian Mennonites in World War II (Deloraine, MB: DTS Publishing, 1997), vii, 23–24. The exact number is probably impossible to determine.
  51. Regehr notes that the “overwhelming majority of the young Mennonite men who enlisted did so because they wanted to respond patriotically when their country called on them in its hour of need. They were not enthusiastic warriors who volunteered as soon as war was declared, but they responded to the unmistakable conscriptionist call of their country. They cherished and were willing to defend the religious freedoms and democratic way of life in Canada. For most, enlistment was a positive expression of patriotism, or at least of obedience to authorities they respected” (“Lost Sons,” 472).
  52. Regehr, Mennonites in Canada, 57.
  53. Abe Dueck, “North American Mennonite Brethren and Issues of War, Peace and Non-resistance,” in Bridging Troubled Waters: The Mennonite Brethren at Mid-Twentieth Century, Essays and Autobiographies, ed. Paul Toews (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 1995), 3–17; Royden Loewen and Steven M. Nolt, Seeking Places of Peace (Kitchener, ON: Pandora, 2012), 165–92; and Leo Driedger and Donald B. Kraybill, Mennonite Peacemaking: From Quietism to Activism (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1994).
  54. Mennonite Brethren Church Membership Profile, 1972–1982. The results prompted yet another formal response in the form of a resolution in 1981 at the General Conference of Mennonite Brethren convention: “We are concerned that a goodly number of our church members (including some pastors) view our position on ‘love and non-resistance’ as an optional doctrine. In some churches this doctrine is not taught; in some it is even opposed; and in some instances young men are even encouraged to take up arms in military service. This we consider to be a serious violation of our peace position and of the teachings of Jesus, as we have understood these in our history.”
  55. John H. Redekop, “Decades of Transition: North American Mennonite Brethren in Politics,” in Bridging Troubled Waters, 19–84.
  56. Snyder, “Reflections on Mennonite Uses of Anabaptist History,” in Mennonite Peace Theology: A Panorama of Types, ed. John Richard Burkholder and Barbara Nelson Gingerich (Akron, PA: Mennonite Central Committee Peace Office), 84.
Bruce Guenther is Professor of Church History and Mennonite Studies, and Associate Dean (Langley) at MB Seminary. He served as the first president of MB Seminary in Canada (2011–2016). He is the author of numerous publications in the areas of Mennonite studies and the history of evangelical Protestantism.

Previous | Next