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  • Edwin Shank

Plain People and Conscientious Objectors


photo taken by Wesley Shank


"And Jesus answered and said unto them... Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake." —Matthew 24:9



Plain People and Conscientious Objectors

Good morning friends,


Today's post might be short. That will make Rodrick happy. He is regularly telling me, "Dad, your posts are good, but they are too long. Most people are not going to read that much. You should make them shorter and just post more often."


Maybe he is right. Brevity has never been my strong point. Let's see if I can improve this week.


So here is this week's question. It was sent in relation to the post entitled Of Peace Churches and War Taxes.


"Edwin, Thank you for this insightful post. I have a question that maybe you can answer. Are Mennonites able to register as conscientious objectors?


Thanks, and God bless your family."


This is one of those questions that I feel like I need to say, "Yes. No. Maybe so. It all depends."


Because it does all depend.


The answer to this conscientious objector question depends on which country we are talking about. It depends on which period of time we are talking about. And sometimes it even depends on the particular officials in charge.


Since Mennonite history spans many centuries and since plain people live and have lived in hundreds of different countries across the world, you can see how this could be a complex answer.


But, if we assume that this reader is asking about registering as a Conscientious Objector (C.O.) in USA or Canada currently, it makes the question easier to answer.


Yes, Mennonites as well as members of other peace churches are able to register as conscientious objectors. We are very thankful for this.


This has not been true of many countries of the world historically nor currently. Generally speaking, the freer and more sensitive to humanitarian values that a country is, the more civil they will treat those who object to war as a matter of faith.


As you may guess, Nazi Germany, Russia, China, North Korea, and other oppressive regimes like them, have not been kind to C.O.s over the years. But actually, many other countries, especially in the 'old world', have historically been also very intolerant of our plain people's life commitment to full obedience to Jesus' teachings.


There is a reason why...


There is a reason why plain, non-resistant faiths who had their historic roots in the Middle East, Asia and Europe had largely moved to the Americas by the late 1800’s. Freedom of religion and faith, and freedom to exercise the deep tenants of that faith is what brought us here.


Even though the US government has treated C.O.s much better than totalitarian and communistic countries have, to take a stand as conscientious objectors during the fervor of a nation caught up in the spirit of war has never been easy. Plain people C.O.s through the various wars in American history have faced ridicule, mockery, physical brutality and emotional trauma. A few died from the rough treatment especially during the Civil War and WWI.


But we are not surprised.


To our people, even though we naturally like to be appreciated and honored in the country in which we live, we know full well that when the command of Jesus, "Love your enemies," runs counter to the command of the government, "Fight and kill your enemies," that we will not be appreciated when we choose to follow Jesus.


Jesus told us it would be this way sometimes. "And Jesus answered and said unto them... Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake." (Matthew 24:9)


And Timothy, bishop of the early church, also understood that fact. He wrote, "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." (2 Timothy 3:12)


So at least we know what to expect.


Until next time,


Your Mennonite Christian Friend

~ Edwin Shank


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If you'd like true, real-life stories of conscientious objectors, I recommend the two books below:



Report for Duty - Lily A. Bear

World War I stirred hearts with intense patriotism. John soon found out that soldiers had no patience or mercy toward conscientious objectors. Though verbal and physical abuse took an awful toll, John's heart was set to follow Christ's example, and God gave him grace to endure. This is the true account of John Witmer: although drafted into the army, he followed a higher calling… one with a cross.




A Change of Allegiance - Dean Taylor Review: There are a number of books available on the subject of nonresistance, but A Change of Allegiance by Dean Taylor is one of the best I’ve ever read. One of the things that makes this book unique is that it is written from the perspective of a soldier. Both Dean Taylor and his wife Tania were soldiers in the U. S. Army when they came to the conviction from reading Scripture that war is wrong. This book reads like an exciting novel (with a surprise ending!) as Taylor tells the story of what happened after Tania and he applied to be discharged from the army as conscientious objectors. At that point in time, they were stationed in Germany, and the Gulf War of 1990 was just beginning. All of these events in their lives were happening against the backdrop of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. As Taylor unfolds the suspenseful drama of his own situation, he also explains the biblical basis for his decision, together with the facts of Christian history he learned. He discusses the early Christians and their firm stand against war and then describes how things changed with Constantine. He goes on to talk about the Crusades, the endless wars between professing Christians throughout history, and even how German Christians fought for Hitler in Nazi Germany.


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Song of the Week Click on the title to hear the song:

Lord, Make Us Instruments of Your Peace Lord, make us instruments of your peace, Where there is hatred, let your love increase. Lord, make us instruments of your peace, Walls of pride and prejudice shall cease, When we are your instruments of peace. Where there is hatred, we will sow his love. Where there is injury, we will never judge. Where there is striving, we will speak his peace. To the people crying for release, We will be his instruments of peace. Lord, make us instruments of your peace, Where there is hatred, let your love increase. Lord, make us instruments of your peace, Walls of pride and prejudice shall cease, When we are your instruments of peace. Where there is blindness, we will pray for sight. Where there is darkness, we will shine his light. Where there is sadness, we will bear their grief. To the millions crying for release, We will be his instruments of peace. Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Lyrics by Don Moen... Taken from the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi below: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen. St. Francis of Assisi



For maximum worship experience, read and contemplate on the lyrics while listening. Just let the message sink into your heart. Sing along if you wish. Remember... it's only the message of the words that feeds the soul!


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