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<i>The Deserter</i> (1916) by <a href="/content/Boardman_Robinson" style="color:blue">Boardman Robinson</a>.
The Deserter (1916) by Boardman Robinson.

Peace churches are Christian churches, groups or communities advocating Christian pacifism or Biblical nonresistance. The term historic peace churches refers specifically only to three church groups among pacifist churches—Church of the Brethren; Religious Society of Friends (Quakers); and Mennonites, including the Amish, Old Order Mennonite, and Conservative Mennonites—and has been used since the first conference of the peace churches in Kansas in 1935.[1][2][3][4][5]

The definition of "peace churches" is sometimes expanded to include Christadelphians (from 1863) and others who did not participate in the conference of the "historic peace churches" in Kansas in 1935.[6] The peace churches agree that Jesus advocated nonviolence. Whether physical force can ever be justified, either in defending oneself or others, remains controversial. Many believers adhere strictly to a moral attitude of nonresistance in the face of violence. However, these churches generally do concur that violence on behalf of nations and their governments is contrary to Christian morality.


Among all Christian denominations, there have always been groups of members who advocate nonviolence, but certain churches have consistently supported it since their foundation. Besides the three historic peace churches, they include the Amish,[7] Old Order Mennonites, Conservative Mennonites, Hutterites,[8] Old German Baptist Brethren,[9] Old Order River Brethren,[10] the Brethren in Christ,[11][12] and others in the Anabaptist tradition; Doukhobors,[13] Molokans,[14] Dunkard Brethren,[15][16] Dukh-i-zhizniki,[17] Bruderhof Communities,[18] Schwenkfelders,[19] Moravians,[20] the Shakers,[21] and even some groups within the Pentecostal movement.[22] The largest Pentecostal church, the Assemblies of God, abandoned pacifism around the time of the Second World War.[23][24] These groups have disagreed, both internally and with each other, about the propriety of non-combatant military roles, such as unarmed medical personnel, or performing non-battlefield services that assist nations in wartime, such as manufacturing munitions. One position might argue that Jesus would never object to helping people who are suffering, while another might object that doing so contributes indirectly to violence by freeing other people to engage in it.

At one time, active membership in and acceptance of the beliefs of one of the peace churches was required for obtaining conscientious objector status in the United States, and hence exemption from military conscription, or for those already in the military, honorable discharge. But after a series of court rulings, this requirement was dropped. In the United States, one may now claim conscientious objector status based on a personal belief system that need not be Christian, nor even based on religion.[25]

Peace churches, especially those with sufficient financial and organizational resources, have attempted to heal the ravages of war without favoritism. This has often aroused controversy, as when the Quakers sent large shipments of food and medicine to North Vietnam during the Vietnam War, and to U.S.-embargoed Cuba. The American Friends Service Committee and the Mennonite Central Committee are two charitable denominational agencies set up to provide such healing.

In the 1980s, the Quakers, Brethren, and Mennonites came together to create Christian Peacemaker Teams, an international organization that works to reduce violence and systematic injustice in regions of conflict.[26][27] This was motivated by the desire for Christians to take peacemaking as seriously as soldiers and governments take war-making.[28]

Other Christian pacifist groups

The Christadelphians are one of only a small number of churches whose identity as a denomination is directly linked to the issue of Christian pacifism.[29] Although the grouping which later took the name "Christadelphian" had largely separated from the Campbellite movement in Scotland and America after 1848, it was conscription in the American Civil War which caused their local church in Ogle County, Illinois to register as conscientious objectors in 1863 under the name "Christadelphians."[30] When the First World War was imminent Christadelphians in the British Empire took the same stance, though frequently faced military tribunals. During the Second World War Christadelphians were exempted and performed civil work – though some of the small number of Christadelphians in Germany were imprisoned and one executed.[31] The position was maintained through the Korean War, Vietnam War and today.[32][33]

The Doukhobors are a Spiritual Christian denomination that advocate pacifism.[34] On 29 June 1895, the Doukhobors, in what is known as the "Burning of the Arms", "piled up their swords, guns, and other weapons and burned them in large bonfires while they sang psalms".[35]

The Emmanuel Association, the Brethren in Christ and Christ's Sanctified Holy Church are denominations in the holiness movement known for their opposition to war today; they are known as "Holiness Pacifists".[36][37][38] The Emmanuel Association, for example, teaches:[38]

Adventists had sought and obtained exemption as conscientious objectors in 1864, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church from 1914 has a long history of noncombatancy service within and outside the military.[39] Though some church members choose combat, the church stands by its official position, which dates to a resolution made in 1867.[40]

The different groups evolving under the name Church of God (7th day) stand opposed to carnal warfare, based on Matthew 26:52; Revelation 13:10; Romans 12:19–21. They believe the weapons of their warfare to not be carnal but spiritual (II Corinthians 10:3–5; Ephesians 6:11–18).[41][42]

The Molokans are a Spiritual Christian denomination that advocate pacifism.[43] They have historically been persecuted for failing to bear arms.[44]

Partially pacifist groups

Although non-credal and not explicitly pacifist, the Community of Christ (formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) is emerging as an international peace church through such ministries as the Community of Christ International Peace Award, the Daily Prayer for Peace, and resources to support conscientious objection to war.[45][46][47] However, in the United States and worldwide, many church members are active in military service and the church provides active duty chaplaincy for outreach and ministry to military personnel.

Once containing a relatively large nonviolence faction, Churches of Christ are now more conflicted. Contemporary Churches of Christ, especially those that hold with the teachings of David Lipscomb, tend toward pacifist views.[48] This means that they believe that the use of coercion and/or force may be acceptable for purposes of personal self-defense but that resorting to warfare is not an option open to Christians.

As noted above, there are peace groups within most mainstream Christian denominations. The Fellowship of Reconciliation was set up as an organization to bring together people in these groups and members of the historic peace churches. In some countries, e.g. the United States, it has broadened its scope to include members of other religions or none, and people whose position is not strictly for nonviolence. However, in other countries (e.g., the United Kingdom) it remains essentially an organization of Christian nonviolence.[49]

See also

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