- Pacifism, an ideological opposition to violence and war, emerged at the time of the Reformation and became the opinion of the majority of the groups of the Radical Reformation. As early as 1527, the Schleitheim Articles devoted seven paragraphs to the Christian's relationship to the sword, defined as the coercive power of the state to punish the wicked to the point of death. The Christian was to withdraw from any use of the sword. The Dordrecht Confession (1632) was more concise, disavowing the use of force to protect believers from their enemies.The development of pacifism among Mennon-ites and later groups such as the German Brethren,Quakers, and other Free Church communities, was in part a reaction against two violent episodes, the campaigns of Thomas Münzer (c. 1490-1525) and the communal experiment at Münster in Germany. In 1524, Münzer, a former Catholic priest, concluded that he had a right to assume the authority of a prince for the purpose of carrying out God's will. He led an army against the German princes who supported Martin Luther. Before his defeat in 1525, his army destroyed a number of monasteries and castles.Then in 1534-35, a group of dissidents took power in the city of Münster, Westphalia. A communal society was instituted and increasingly bizarre rules set in place. Unable to resolve the situation by more peaceful means, Catholic forces under Philip of Hesse finally overran the city and executed its leaders. The incident at Münster was very much in the mind of Jacob Hutter (d. 1536), founder of the Hutterites, when he wrote in 1535, "sooner than strike our enemy with the hand, much less with the spear, or sword, or halbert, as the world does, we would die or surrender life."Pacifism among Christian groups draws upon the New Testament admonition to follow a path of love toward one's neighbor (Luke 10:25-28; I Corinthians 13) as well as passages against retaliation (Matthew 5:38-48; I Thessalonians 5:15). The early church was pacifist, and soldiers who converted were told to find another occupation. A radical change came with Constantine (c. 280-337) and the identification of Christianity with the ruling authorities. Just one year after Constantine gave Christianity legal status in the Roman Empire, the Council of Arles (314) threatened to excommunicate those who refused to engage in combat. A century later (following the Barbarian sack of Rome), Augustine (354-430) developed the theory of a "just war," which has remained the standard position of the Christian church in the intervening centuries.Prior to the 20th century, Protestant pacifism was largely confined to the older Peace Churches, the Mennonites, Hutterites, Amish, Brethren, and Quakers, who were often persecuted for refusing to cooperate with the war plans of various rulers. They were the foundation for William Penn's Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Quaker control led numerous European pacifist sectarian groups to migrate to Pennsylvania, which gives a unique flavor to the religious life of some Pennsylvania counties (especially Lancaster) to the present.In the 20th century, the Peace Churches took on a more proactive stance. They pushed for new laws recognizing conscientious objector status in many countries. When World War I began, the Hutterites faced a conscription crisis in the United States; as a result of government pressure to join the armed forces, they abandoned their land and moved to the more accommodating atmosphere in Canada. Peace Churches have also been active in developing programs that promote peace and nonviolent means to resolve conflicts. The development of a new intelligensia by the Peace Churches has led to a renewed respect for the pacifist position even by Protestant leaders who disagree with the position.Following World War I, there was a noticeable emergence of pacifism within the Social Gospel movement. The desire to prevent war took on organizational form in 1914 with the founding of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) in Europe and soon after in the United States. The list of Protestant pacifists in the 1920s and 1930s reads like a who's who of liberal Protestant leadership: A. J. Muste (1885-1967), Kirby Page (1890-1957), and Harry F Ward (1873-1966), to mention but a few. The abandonment of pacifism by ethicist Reinhold Niebuhr, who adopted the position as a result of World War I and abandoned it as World War II began, became a major event in the development of Protestant thought.New bastions of pacifism emerged in some unexpected places. There has been a pacifist strain among American sectarian groups, the Seventh-day Adventist Church being a notable example. Alexander Campbell (1788-1866), Dwight L. Moody, and John Alexander Dowie (1847-1907) also identified themselves with pacifism. In the 19th century, a number of Quakers close to the Holiness movement spread pacifist ideas to some of its adherents. Pacifism in the early 20th century Pentecostal groups has been traced to Charles Fox Parham, whose wife was a Quaker, and Ambrose J. Tomlinson (1865-1943), a Quaker who became the leader of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee). British Pentecostal pioneers Donald Gee (1891-1966) and Howard (1891-1971) and John Carter (1893-1981) were also pacifists, and pacifist sympathies were visible in the early Pentecostal organizations across Europe.World War I proved a crisis for Pentecostals. African-American bishop Charles H. Mason (1866-1961), head of the Church of God in Christ, for example, was jailed for his pacifist leanings. Meanwhile, independent Pentecostal congregations scurried to create pan-congregational associations that could approach the United States government on behalf of their draft-age members. Though still present, there has been a significant erosion of support for pacifism in the decades since the end of World War I.Though pacifism lost much of its support in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and with the emergence of the more realistic theology of Neo-Orthodoxy, it still found expression in such organizations as the World Conference of Religions for Peace, which had among its founders United Methodist bishop John Wesley Lord (b. 1902), and experienced a resurgence in the 1960s, inspired by the nonviolent strategies for social change generally associated with Mahatma Gandhi. While attending Crozer Theological Seminary, Martin Luther King Jr., was first exposed to pacifism in both its liberal Protestant form of teacher A. J. Muste, and its Indian form in his writings on Gandhi. He developed a new synthesis of pacifist thought to support a program of nonviolent protest that led to the passing of the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s, and to his repudiation of the American involvement in vietnam.Since his assassination in 1968, King's disciples have attempted to perpetuate his nonviolent philosophy of social change. It has been challenged within the African-American community by leaders who have suggested that the potential of King's approach has been exhausted. A strain of pacifism also continues in organizations such as the Fellowship of Reconciliation, which makes common cause with the Peace Churches as new issues emerge. Support peaked in the 1970s during the last years of the Vietnam War, but has since been able to garner only marginal support.Further reading:■ Peter Brock and Nigel Young, Pacifism in the Twentieth Century (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1999)■ Clyde L. Manschreck, A History of Christianity (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1964)■ Geoffrey Nuttall, Christian Pacifism in History (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958)■ J. C. Wenger, Pacifism and Biblical Nonresistance (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1968)■ Walter Wink, ed., Peace Is the Way: Writings on Nonviolence from the Fellowship of Reconciliation (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2000)■ John Howard Yoder, Nevertheless; a Meditation on the Varieties and Shortcomings of Religious Pacifism (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1971)■ ----, The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster (Carlisle, U.K./Grand Rapids, Mich.: Paternoster Press/William B. Eerdmans, 1994).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.