This is the fourth in a series of posts about war tax resistance as it was reported in back issues of Gospel Herald, journal of the (Old) Mennonite Church.
World War Ⅰ was another opportunity for Mennonites to refine their doctrines concerning nonresistance and conscientious objection. When I went over the back issues of The Mennonite, I noted that from the looks of it, the General Conference Mennonite Church was utterly unconcerned about the implications of buying “Liberty Loan” war bonds, even as I knew from prior research that there were many examples of American Mennonites who were persecuted for refusing to buy such bonds.
I was eager to learn whether the Mennonite Church, at least as represented in Gospel Herald, would be different in this regard. As it turns out, the two magazines were as different as night and day. Read on:
An article on “War Problems for Nonresistant People” in the edition discussed the nuanced differences between conscientious objection to bearing arms in the military, to non-combatant military service, and to civilian support for the military by such means as paying taxes. Excerpt:
Our objection to noncombatant service is not against the humanitarian work [such as service in military hospitals] but against the matter of serving as a part of the system the avowed aim of which is to kill and to cripple before there is any work for the surgeon and the nurse to do.
What is the difference between paying taxes and raising food for the support of the army and supporting it in noncombatant military service?
No difference at all — if that is your purpose in paying taxes and raising crops. But if, as nonresistant people usually do, you pay your taxes in accordance with the command to pay tribute to whom tribute is due and cultivate your farm that you may have something to provide for your own or care for the needy or help evangelize the world, there is as much difference between that and noncombatant service as there is between day and night.
This note about “liberty bonds” appeared in the edition:
Beware of Fakirs. — Word reaches us that in certain quarters there were men around trying to compel people to buy “liberty bonds” by making them believe that the law made such purchase compulsory. Such misrepresentation is enough to arouse suspicion. If they misrepresent one point, what assurance have you that they represent the government at all and that their object is not to pocket the money and give you a worthless paper instead. There is no law which dictates to any man how he should invest his money. Whether it is conscience, lack of funds, or disinclination to invest that keeps you from investing in these bonds, it is your privilege to do as you think best. Whatever may be the business of any agent soliciting your patronage, be sure that he carries proper credentials. And in the investment of your means don’t fail to apply the scriptural injunction “Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
Olivia G. Honderich penned an article on “The Sin of Indifference” for the edition in which she struggled to find the appropriate boundary for a conscientious objector to war, particularly when it comes to taxpaying:
The live question of the hour to us seems to be, How can I best obey the Bible injunction, “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you?” Some say to be strictly nonresistant we must do this, others say we must do that. Is not the question rather one of the motive, in this instance, than of the deed? To be strictly out of all work that lends aid to our armies, we must either be helpless invalids or else engaged in some mental or moral occupation and hopeless paupers. Our tax money helps, our farm produce is a big factor in the proposition; in fact, we can scarcely live a normal, active life and not be a factor in the war proposition, even though we do not so intend to be.
[E]very citizen of the U.S. is called to do his part, and must do it, in support of our armies at the front. Not one of us can escape war service in some form or another. We must work to live and so we pay our tithes to the government whether we mean to do so or not.
In the edition, Aaron Loucks directly confronted, and tried to find an escape from, the question “Am I not aiding in the war if I pay taxes to the government?”:
The Scriptures teach that Christ’s followers should render therefore “to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom;” “not only for wrath, but for conscience’ sake.” We are not to “despise governments.” When Jesus was asked, “Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not” He answered, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
…If, by the payment of taxes and being engaged in agricultural pursuits we become responsible for having part in the war, then God bears responsibility for this war. Does He not send the rain and sunshine by which this earth is made fruitful and the human family is fed? We need to produce the necessaries of life, not only for ourselves, but for others who will have need and cannot be producers. There is a civil population of our own country — the working man and his family — and unless food becomes more plentiful prices will continue to advance until they will be beyond the reach of the common population. Thousands of exiles destitute and paupers in Europe and Armenia, who have been driven from their homes with no earning power, need to be supplied with food. How shall they be helped? To continue in the peaceful pursuits of life cannot be wrong when by so doing we are supplying the necessities of life for ourselves and our fellowmen.
We hold that to become a party to wage carnal warfare, regardless of the kind of service we are asked to perform, we are guilty of violating the principle of nonresistance as taught by our Savior and His apostles. A man cannot become a willing partner in business, crime or other association, without assuming full responsibility for what the other fellow does. We do not mean to say that certain service, such as hospital, etc., is the same as killing men, but the principle that involves me, by willing association with and aid to those who do the killing, would morally bind me and I would share responsibility with them. Even so in the case of war, I would share responsibility with those who bear arms and kill, even though I performed such service only that I was not required to bear arms but was necessary to the prosecution of the war.
Daniel Kauffman (who was by this time the editor of Gospel Herald, and as much as anyone expressed the orthodoxy of the Mennonite Church) wrote about “The Mennonite Church and the Present War” for the issue. He also took the tack that taxes were different from voluntary contributions when it came to complicity in war funding:
It is one thing to make voluntary contributions to help win the war, and quite another thing, in submission to the powers that be, to submit to any levy of taxes or confiscation of property that may be imposed upon us by state or nation.
James Norman Kaufman, in the edition, wanted to emphasize that voluntary contributions to the war effort — like the “Liberty Bonds” that The Mennonite treated so blithely — were off-limits:
The President has so far honored our faith that he has already declared that we shall be exempted from what he designates “combatant service” and it is not likely that we as a people will be called upon to violate in any form the principles for which we stand. In order to show our gratitude to government for this privilege some have suggested that we offer to assist the government financially in the form of helping to pay war bills, buy liberty bonds, etc.; but in my estimation this would be but an indirect method of helping to “win the war” and we would become a part of the great military machine.
Jonas S. Hartzler would later write the book Mennonites in the World War, or Nonresistance Under Test in which he described instances of mobs who attacked Mennonites who refused to buy war bonds. In the edition of Gospel Herald he promoted a sort of passive resistance to military taxation (through reducing taxable transactions). This was the first time I’d seen the notion expressed in the Gospel Herald that Mennonites ought to critically examine the taxes they pay because of the military spending such taxes fund, and should respond by trying to reduce those taxes out of pacifist motives:
How much will you pay in taxes, duties, and extra prices for necessities in which money will be used directly to help on the war? In some of these things you have no other recourse, nor should you try to evade them except as you can do so through careful economy. Does the Lord not have reason to expect just as much from you (yea, more) fully as much to carry on His work as you are giving to further the destruction of human life which is a direct violation of the Sacred Scriptures? Will you willfully do less than the Lord expects of you? With this staring you in the face, will you cling to your money and still continue to say, “Lord, Lord?”
An uncredited short editorial (probably therefore the work of editor Daniel Kauffman) in the described some of the pressure “bond slackers” were subject to:
A brother was approached recently about the sale of “liberty bonds.” He tried as best he could to give the nonresistant position with reference to the support of war. The solicitor wanted to know what he would do if he were forced to buy them. The brother replied that if the money were forced from him he would not resist; that in case the government saw fit to do this and afterwards offered to return the money he did not see any wrong in accepting the return of the money but thought it wrong to take any interest for money taken for such purposes. The brother had the true conception of the proper attitude of nonresistant people. Our prayers continue to ascend, however, that soon the powers that be may recognize our convictions with reference to war and acknowledge in full our liberty of conscience.
An uncredited essay (probably also Kauffman’s work) in the issue tried to turn on its head one criticism of Mennonite conscientious objection: that Mennonites were hypocrites for refusing to support the war effort by enlisting while they continued to support it by paying taxes and through agriculture. If this is true, he wrote, then why complain in the first place that Mennonites aren’t doing their part?:
Our critics… talk about the inconsistency of withholding all support of war measures when at the same time we pay taxes and raise crops — and thereby convict themselves when they charge that we are doing nothing in return for governmental protection and prove their insincerity when they refuse to recognize that we have not been lacking in effort to provide necessities and relief for suffering humanity through we decline to support war.
An author identified only as “R.” (possibly Jacob Andrews Ressler) brought this news from Canadian Mennonites in the issue:
Approached by the Government with the request that they buy Liberty Loan Bonds, the Russian Mennonites of the Canadian Northwest declined to do this, but agreed to make a contribution to the Red Cross work. In fifteen congregations the recent donations to this form of relief work amounted to $13,654.55. This shows what may be done with but a little effort. In the States our people have not seen fit to support the Red Cross work as a body because of its close affiliation with the military. But the work of war sufferers’ relief is entirely free from this objection and our people should readily embrace the opportunity to prove their willingness to help the cause of suffering humanity.
That issue also carried a story, about A.D. Wenger’s visit to conscripted conscientious objectors at Camp Lee, that The Mennonite borrowed (I described some of that story in ♇ 6 July 2018 when I was going through back issues of The Mennonite).
John L. Stauffer shared his “Reflections Caused by Present War Experiences” in the issue, and was unusually strong in taking to task Mennonites who were willing to purchase war bonds. Excerpts:
The Money Question
“Nothing goes without money,” is a current saying. Especially is this noticeable in the present vast expenditures of the nations of the world. The missionary work of the apostle Paul needed funds and yet many people in these days seem to think that the Lord’s work will run on its reputation. Wealth has been accumulating on every hand. God has been prospering, especially this country, but contributions to the Lord’s cause have not correspondingly increased. Wealth that is in excess of actual needs is rusting according to James 5 and will bring down the just judgment of God upon the holder. Many Scriptural references show the folly of riches. Hoarded wealth will net a heavy tax to the government. It seems that many are seeking to evade this by investing in Liberty Bonds as they will be free of taxation.
Recently a workman in the shops was loud in his denunciation of Mennonites who refused to fight and yet purchased government bonds. He said, “They’re not consistent.” He thought it did not seem fair that the people who could not conscientiously assist in the prosecution of this terrible war and destruction of human life, could still loan their money to the Government at 3½ or 4 per cent. interest when the money is invested in manufacturing and maintaining the necessary accessories to taking human life, making children fatherless, women husbandless and widows. A member of the Church would come into disrepute if he loaned his money to a saloonkeeper or rented a building for the operation of a saloon, yet some members have been known to have invested in the greatest war of the world and draw interest from that source.
Note that you wouldn’t know from reading The Mennonite that Mennonites had any issues with buying war bonds at all. So there was a very stark divide on this question between the two magazines.
“Are Mennonites Slackers?” asked John Ellsworth Hartzler in the issue:
To the present time the churches have not seen fit to purchase Liberty Loan Bonds. We can not consistently take part in the military service of the country and be true to the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. We can not send our boys to the trenches, the ammunition plants nor any other services which contributes directly to the killing of our fellowmen. The principle of non-resistance is fundamental in Christian faith and can not be denied by the church if we would live.
But we are called “slackers,” because of religious convictions, we refuse to go to the trenches, buy Liberty Bonds, etc.…
Every member of the church should do more than a soldier on the firing line. We should do more than buy Liberty Bonds. We must do more than simply contribute to the Red Cross fund. We must go the “second mile,” and as a church we must do more toward relief and reconstruction than can possibly be done through military avenues.
If the church will start something soon we can relieve the anxiety of hundreds of brethren who are sure to do something. Some brethren have purchased Liberty Bonds because they felt it the best and only way to make contributions at this time. If the church will start something soon we can have both money and men and the world will have no occasion to point the finger at us and say “Slacker.”
Brethren, whether the term “slacker” as applied to nonresistant people be just or unjust let us be up and doing. Let us not content ourselves in walking with the “be good” fellows who passed by the man who fell among thieves. Let us join hearts and hands with the “do good” man who came with oil and wine and carried the half dead man to the hotel and paid all his doctor bills. The good Samaritan was non-resistant but he did a service which the world shall never forget. No people on earth are in better position to do a similar service just now than are the Mennonites.
In the issue, John H. Mosemann wrote about the difficulty in finding ways to donate or invest money in ways that would be helpful to sufferers during the war without also aiding the prosecution of the war:
Our Church has been approached again and again from various angles with strong and determined effort to have her take part in some way in the greatest slaughter of human lives ever recorded in history. Individuals here and there among us, for the sake of friendship with the world, love of fame, safe investment of money, etc., have yielded, seeking to do a “little” evil that “much” good may come.
Since the Church has tenaciously clung to her Lord and His Word conscientiously refusing any compromise to assist or lend encouragement to war in any form she has been looked upon as being stingy, miserly, unpatriotic, slackers, etc., by such who are of the worldly kingdom and some also who are professors of the religion of Jesus Christ. It was necessary in order to maintain consistency with the teaching of Christ and the Apostles on the doctrine of nonresistance to hold aloof from buying “Liberty Bonds,” Red Cross Work, Y.M.C.A. Hut Fund, all of which has been found to be a part of the war machinery. (The writer himself gave to the Red Cross fund, not thinking that it was a part of the war machinery for the furtherance and successful prosecution of the war.)
An unsigned editorial (likely Daniel Kauffman again) in the issue also addressed that theme:
We are under pressure to do many things in support of war which as believers in nonresistance we can not conscientiously or consistently do…
While those who favor the support of war are purchasing liberty bonds and contributing to such organizations as army Y.M.C.A., Knights of Columbus, Red Cross, etc., let us be equally zealous in our support of work along lines which we can conscientiously endorse.
Let us not forget the principal object of our contributions. While it will be convenient to be able to say to the next government solicitor that comes around that we are giving more to the cause of relief for the needy than most people in similar financial circumstances who have no conscientious scruples against war are contributing towards war support, that is simply incidental. Our giving should be out of a heart overflowing with sympathy for suffering humanity and our reward looked for “at the resurrection of the just.” “As every one purposeth in his heart, so let him give.”
Another unsigned editorial in the issue tried to walk the fine line — Mennonites want to support the government, perhaps even more during wartime when the government faces such challenges, but they are unwilling to support the government’s war effort itself in any way. The writer also urged Mennonites to draw that line in the sand and defend it, as compromise could end up eroding conscientious objection entirely:
There are many things we may do with a clear conscience, and these duties we should not hesitate to perform. The nonresistant attitude on war is this: Since we have no part in war, we can not consistently have any part in support of war. At the present time this is expressed in the phrase, “no service under the military establishment.” But this does not mean that we have no obligations to government or no increased burden because of the world’s great suffering brought on by war. If we can not serve under the military establishment, there are other ways in which we may serve, if called upon. If we can not subscribe to the Red Cross while that organization is enlisted in the work of the war, we can contribute to relief work in other lines. If we can not subscribe for liberty bonds, we can subscribe for farm loan bonds or other government bonds not floated in support of war measures.
Compromise means later disaster or surrender.
A generation ago many of the Mennonites accepted noncombatant military service as a compromise to satisfy the government. Today their sons are at the front, killing and being killed. This war is perhaps the first war in history in which there were Mennonites on opposite sides. The paramount question is not “noncombatant service,” “liberty bonds,” “Red Cross,” or any other side issue mentioned in the present struggle, but Shall we as followers of the Prince of Peace have any part in carnal warfare? To compromise on any of these side issues means to surrender the whole question later on. Militarists make no secret of their position that all these things are a part of the grand scheme of destructive warfare — except when in the work of winning over nonresistant people step by step. Keep straight o.n the entire nonresistant program — no military service, combatant or noncombatant; no part in the support of any war measures — if you mean to preserve for yourself and your posterity the precious faith for which thousands of our forefathers gave their lives. But, says some one, shall we invite persecution by refusing to do what we are asked to do? No; don’t “invite” persecution, but stand by your convictions, whether that brings persecution or not. We say, “God bless you, stand firm,” when our boys in camp meekly but firmly take their stand against military service. And should not we outside the camp do the same thing? In the end you will fare better if you stand by your convictions and suffer for it than if you keep on giving way bit by bit until you see that you must stop compromising or surrender the whole nonresistant ground. Then you will face the alternative of either suffering worse than you would have done had you remained firm from the beginning or of surrendering your nonresistant faith entirely. Better keep a clear conscience, make a clear record, and save a clear faith for yourself and your posterity.
Imperfect man is liable to err.
Sometimes our overseers are asked, “What are you going to do with the boys who accept noncombatant service? or the man who buys liberty bonds? or the member who does other things not according to the nonresistant faith?” The faithful overseer invariably replies, in substance: “We mean to help every one in trouble.” These are trying times. Many have done things they ought not to have done because they were intimidated, or misinformed, or compelled to act unwittingly on the spur of the moment. They need sympathetic help rather than censure. It is not so much a question, What did they do under circumstances when they were not normal? as, What will be their attitude after they come to themselves and will have time for sober reflections? Here is the practical point: If you find yourself in error, arm yourself for the next test, that you may be able to stand.
One attempt to find a way for Mennonites to contribute to the common cause along with their neighbors, without contributing to the cause of bloodletting, was with “Farm Loan Bonds” — like Liberty Bonds, these were loans of money to the government, but they were not as obviously connected with the war effort. Here is how this was described in the Gospel Herald:
Farm Loan Bonds.
Several weeks ago Bro. [Aaron] Loucks sent out several hundred circular letters to about as many brethren, discussing some of the problems of the war, and asking the judgment of the brethren in the matter of purchasing Farm Loan Bonds — something that would aid the Government fully as much as the purchase of Liberty Loan Bonds would, and something that nonresistant people could consistently do without feeling that in so doing they would have a direct part in aiding and abetting war. The response to this letter has been quite free, the brethren from all sections manifesting a unity of spirit and purpose similar to that manifested at our General Conference . Following is a sample letter, giving an idea of what many of our brethren are thinking about and how they feel:
Dear Brother Loucks: — I am in full harmony with your suggestion for our people to buy Land Bank Bonds to help the U.S. Treasury. I think every congregation should appoint a committee to see that food laws are observed, that War Relief Fund is properly supported, that Land Bank Bonds are bought by those able, that all are encouraged to not break over in violation of the nonresistant faith. ⁂ Put it up to the people through the Gospel Herald.
The Mission Board discussed this option at their annual board meeting on , and the Gospel Herald reported:
A special meeting of the Bishops present was held during an intermission and the following resolution was prepared and submitted to this meeting. It was unanimously accepted.
Recognizing in the Farm Loan Bonds an opportunity for our people to aid the Government in a financial way without violating the principles of the non-resistant faith, we recommend that, in addition to generously supporting the War Relief work, through the Mennonite Relief Commission for War Sufferers, those of our people who are financially able to do so, invest in these Bonds, and that Aaron Loucks prepare a circular of information, and instructions to send to the various congregations.
The Eastern Amish Mennonite Conference met on and considered their own plan:
Mr. Crooks of Columbus, Ohio, gave a talk on the advisability of our members availing themselves of the opportunity of the Bank Loan System of Liberty Bonds, after which the following was passed: “The plan submitted to the Eastern A.M. Conference by Mr. Crooks, a representative of the Fourth National Bank, Cleveland, Ohio, by which our brethren would be permitted to loan money to their Local Banks in lieu of Liberty Loan Bonds. We respectfully submit the following resolution by the above representation:—
Resolved, that since the above plan was favorably received, yet because the proposition was new to most of the congregations represented by this Conference, a committee of three be appointed to take up the matter with our local congregations, and representatives of sister conferences and the General Conference and report within 30 days.
An unsigned editorial in the issue tried to sum up the latest thinking on how Mennonites ought to respond to the demands placed on them to cooperate with the war effort. Here are some excerpts that touch on war bonds and other such financial support:
It has been the editor’s privilege to spend the past two weeks in fellowship with his brethren from many fields in a prayerful effort to help solve some of the problems confronting us as a people… As near as we were able to comprehend what was in the minds of our brethren concerning the war situation it may be summarized as follows:
- That the withholding of our support from such war measures as Liberty Loan Bonds, Thrift Stamps, War Chests, etc., is based upon the same convictions [“that such… would be bearing the noncombatant end of an organized effort to take human life and overcome the enemy by means of violence — a service that nonresistant people can not consistently render”].
- That nonresistant people may consistently purchase Farm Loan Bonds or any other government bonds floated in support of a cause which we can conscientiously support.
- That the purpose of such purchases, is not (or ought not to be) to “do our bit” in an indirect support of war but to lend our mite in supporting our government in a cause which we can endorse without doing violence to our convictions of right and wrong.
- That for nonresistant people to go against their convictions and lend support to any war measures is a surrender and a compromise which would eventually end in a surrender of the entire nonresistant ground.
- That our danger is not in a complete surrender of the whole ground, but a giving away bit by bit until there is nothing left worth standing for.
It’s hard to overstate how much more thoughtful this is than anything I could find coming out of the General Conference Mennonite Church at this time.
The Illinois Mennonite Church Conference met on and endorsed an alternative loan program:
Owing to the critical condition brought to bear upon the church because of our nonresistant principles, a plan was submitted wherein our brethren would be privileged to loan money to their local banks to be used for local purposes in lieu of buying liberty bonds, the following resolution was submitted: Resolved, that since the plan submitted in no way involves a violation of any principle of our faith, we commend the plan, and that a committee of three be appointed to co-operate with other committees appointed in further developing the plan.
the Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference met and came to a similar conclusion:
Bro. Aaron Loucks of Scottdale, Pa. gave a plan of depositing money in the local banks for local use in lieu of the purchase of Liberty Bonds. Conference passed the following:
Whereas a plan has been submitted to our brethren and acted upon by several of our sister conferences whereby our brethren would be privileged to loan money to local banks for local use only in lieu of purchasing Liberty Bonds, be it,
Resolved, That a committee of three of which Bro. D[aniel]. D. Miller shall be one, be appointed to work conjointly with brethren appointed by other conferences to work out the details of said plan, or to find a better plan and submit their findings to the brotherhood of this conference as soon as possible. Decided that the moderator appoint other two. Brethren S.S. Yoder and J[onas].S. Hartzler were appointed.
That Conference’s “War Problems Committee” also met, and concluded, on the same subject:
[T]he following motions were adopted:
- That Brethren Aaron Loucks and Daniel Kauffman be appointed a committee to correspond with Mr. Crooks of Westerville, Ohio, and such others as may be deemed advisable, relative to a proposed plan whereby Mennonites may aid the government by loaning money to local banks for local purposes in lieu of buying Liberty Bonds; and that the information they receive be given to the committees appointed by the different conferences on this subject.
An unsigned editorial in the issue told readers that the Farm Loan Bonds option had not worked out as originally hoped:
About Farm Loan Bonds.
Many of our people have been waiting for a circular of information concerning Farm Loan Bonds, which Bro. Aaron Loucks prepared some time ago. These are times of fleeting changes. About the time this circular was completed it developed that the plan would not work as satisfactory as had been hoped for, and another proposition whereby we might loan money to local banks was submitted by a government official to the Eastern A.M. Conference. This proposition has been taken under advisement and a committee appointed by representatives of the Eastern A.M. Conference, the Illinois Conference, and the Indiana-Michigan Conference is working on a plan which they hope will be more satisfactory than that of the Farm Loan Bonds. As soon as these plans have been perfected the committee wishes to submit its work to our people for their consideration. We will likely hear from this committee within the next two weeks. In the meantime let us remember this committee and its work before the Throne.
An unsigned editorial in the issue reminded leaders of congregations of their responsibility to spread the word about how Mennonites ought to stand up to pressure to buy war bonds and related war funding measures:
[Every minister should feel himself divinely called upon… t]o give his congregation faithful instruction as to what is the nonresistant’s consistent attitude toward such war measures as Liberty Loan Bonds, Thrift Stamps, War Chests, etc.
Lest some one should give this a twist and read into it a meaning which was not intended to be put into it, we might explain that we are emphatically against any active, open, defiant attitude of opposition toward any government enterprise. We are totally out of sympathy with the attitude of I.W.W.’s and kindred organizations whose opposition to the present war is backed up by war-like resistance. “The servant of the Lord must not strive.” We should at all times maintain a submissive attitude toward government even if it is to submit peacefully to any punishment that may be meted to us because our understanding of God’s Word will not allow us to comply with the directions of Government with reference to military service, combatant or noncombatant. But in these trying times there are many perplexing questions that arise, and our members have a right to expect that their leaders throw some Gospel light on these problems by giving faithful instructions concerning each issue as it arises. This is a right that is conceded by all intelligent people, both inside the Church and out of it. It is a duty which no minister should neglect.
[W]hen a person is truly nonresistant in heart and life it does not take a master mind to understand that if it is wrong to fight it is also wrong to encourage or help others to fight. People who profess nonresistance but at the same time declare it their duty to “do their bit” in the support of war by means of money contributions or of noncombatant service are either misled or insincere.
An unsigned editorial in the issue urged the government to view the contributions of conscientious objectors in a positive light:
A… waste of energy is going on… in an endeavor to force nonresistant people to support such war measures as Liberty Loan Bonds, War Chests, etc. We are not discussing the merits or demerits of the nonresistant position with reference to these matters. But recognizing conditions as they are, we raise the question as to whether it would not be the part of wisdom to look for a solution of present problems in a way that would provide for a service on the part of all men along lines which they can conscientiously render. Let us view this matter from a constructive business standpoint.… Would it not be better to come to an understanding with “conscientious objectors” whereby they may invest their money in a way which their conscience approves and at the same time be of service to their nation and humanity in general, rather than to try to force them to violate their conscience in the support of enterprises in which they feel they should have no part? — In other words, would it not be the part of wisdom to use conscientious people in a way in which their conscience would be a help rather than a hindrance to their usefulness? Even if it were possible to force every nonresistant draftee into noncombatant military service and compel every nonresistant man out of camp to support war measures (something which few men believe to be possible) it would be a waste of effort because it would be forcing abnormal conditions, since man is never at his best when compelled to live in violation of his own conscience. The solution of this problem is not a difficult one, since nonresistant people have never refused to serve, have never asked for easy places, have repeatedly declared their willingness to bear more than their share of the burden resting upon humanity, making the single reservation of being permitted to serve in a capacity which their conscience approves.
So far as the Government and nonresistant people are concerned, all friction could be removed instantly on two conditions:
- That the convictions of nonresistant people be fully recognized.
- That provisions be made whereby they might make their contributions to causes not connected with the military establishment but equally important to Government — and sufficiently large that no one could reasonably entertain a charge of favoritism.
The following story comes from a edition of Gospel Herald, but concerns a case of mob violence against a Mennonite “bond slacker” that took place in :
A pastor pays a price for peace
by Gerlof Homan
American Mennonites, Amish, and Hutterites were severely tried and tested during World War Ⅰ when the nation was swept up in a wave of patriotic hysteria and intolerance. This was a time when lack of support or criticism of the war effort, any form of dissent, and all things German were viewed with much intolerance and suspicion.
Especially Mennonites and other Anabaptist sects became objects of severe criticism and harassment. Their patriotic neighbors could not understand why many Mennonites, Amish, and Hutterite young men did not want to perform military or even noncombatant service. They were angry when they learned that Mennonites and other nonresistant groups were very reluctant to contribute to the Red Cross, purchase Liberty Bonds, or give to local war chests.
Furthermore, they could not comprehend why Mennonites refused to display the flag at home or in their churches and continued to speak German or some related dialect. Because of their nonconformist stand and behavior many Mennonites, Amish, and Hutterites were harshly treated in military camps or in their local communities. In the camps many were tortured or ridiculed. Of those at home some were tarred and feathered or otherwise physically abused.
One who suffered considerable mental and physical abuse was Niles M. Slabaugh, pastor of Howard-Miami Mennonite Church, located about 12 miles northeast of Kokomo, Indiana. Slabaugh was born in and ordained in . He served his church until his death in . Much to the anger of his fellow citizens, Slabaugh, like many other Mennonites, refused to contribute to the Red Cross, purchase Liberty Bonds, or contribute to war chest funds. That kind of unpatriotic behavior came to the attention of the Loyal Citizens Vigilance Committee of Miami County, which decided to question Slabaugh as well as his brother-in-law, Joseph B. Martin, on .
During World War Ⅰ many local communities established committees to ferret out “unpatriotic” citizens and to ensure “one-hundred percent loyalty.” In the Vigilance Committee of Miami County counted almost 2,500 members, including some of the most prominent citizens of the area. Its meetings were well attended, and on , when Slabaugh and Martin were interrogated, “the hall was crowded and every bit of seating capacity used.”
Apparently, Slabaugh offered no resistance when they came to his home, but Martin hid in his bed where members of the Vigilance Committee found him. Later when Slabaugh was being interrogated Martin jumped up and ran away. However, he was caught and brought back. Unlike his brother-in-law, Martin finally agreed to contribute to the war chest.
During the questioning Slabaugh acknowledged he had not contributed to the Red Cross and the local war chest fund, nor purchased savings stamps or liberty bonds. He admitted he did not want to help the country in the war effort and did not believe in killing human beings. Instead of violence, Slabaugh suggested prayer as a means of winning the war and bringing the boys home.
Slabaugh’s attitude provoked the anger of the Vigilance Committee as well as the local reporter of The Peru Republican, who concluded that within a few minutes the former had demonstrated Miami County was not the place for him to live. Yet, surprisingly, the committee allowed Slabaugh to leave.
After the ordeal of , Slabaugh appealed to Aaron Loucks, chairman of the War Problems Committee of the Mennonite Church, for help. In the letter below he describes his experiences of that fateful day. (The original spellings and punctuations have not been changed.)
I will this evening write you in regard to the way the Miami County Ind. Vigilance Com. is doing and wondering whether it would be possible or advisable for you to bring this before the attention of Secretary Baker at Washington with the hopes he would in some way show his disapproval of the same and also whether it would be possible to have those of our brethren who have been scared into signing the Miami War Chest to become released. several men came to my home and Joe Martin’s home who is my brother-in-law and demanded that we go with them to Peru our county seat. We wanted to know why but they said they were U.S. Deputys and showed their Star and demanded that we go with them or they would take us by force so we went and were brought before a mob of about 700 people mostly masked who questioned us inside about an hour asking all kinds of questions regarding our stand in not supporting the war. I answered as best as I could but they just ridiculed me and finally when I refused to sign the war chest card for conscientious reasons they took me down a dark alley, shook me by the neck called me a damn S. of B., a dirty cur, said I was not even a human and threatened to take my life but I wouldn’t yield so they finally in about two hours sent me home stating that I couldn’t live in the county. They treated my brother-in-law similarly and finally got him to sign up just because he was scared. Now they are taking others the same way. I am satisfied that the U.S. government is not pleased with such outlaws. Of course they then took parts of our answers and made it sound as though we were working against the U.S. Government. Please let me know what you think best regarding this.
yours, Niles M. Slabaugh
Unfortunately, Slabaugh’s troubles were not over. On , a group of twelve individuals went to his home to punish and frighten this Mennonite pastor. This is how The Peru Republican describes the event of that day:
A week or more ago when Nicholas [Niles] Slabaugh was arraigned before the Loyal Citizens’ Vigilance Committee of Miami County he insisted he would do nothing towards helping his Uncle Samuel in winning the war from the Huns. It will be remembered he said he would let the enemy destroy his home before he would offer any physical assistance.
Slabaugh would have another story to tell had he been interviewed but the alleged slacker citizen was not to be found. The chances are he will be under cover for a while to come and thereby hangs a story.
Twelve citizens, one-hundred percent loyal, called on said Slabaugh about and putting the story as briefly as possible they acted thusly.
Slabaugh had retired as had the other members of the family. Slabaugh was taken, partly dressed about twelve miles from his home. His head and face were shaved and a coat of yellow paint applied to his body. The manner in which the paint was used would cause one to believe it was the work of an artist and that it was a masterpiece, so skillfully was the job done.
Slabaugh threw himself on his knees and with his hands upraised begged for forgiveness and prayed aloud to be spared the punishment. Of course no attention was paid to his pleadings. The captors worked fast and like clockwork. Last seen of Slabaugh with only an old hat to cover his bald pate he was seen running down the road as fast as his two legs could carry him…
The identity of the masked men could not be learned other than they were loyal citizens and in no way connected with the Vigilance Committee. It appears the Vigilance Committee is not the only committee looking after Miami’s loyalty.
Aaron Loucks — who was involved in trying to come up with some alternative to Liberty Bonds that would be acceptable to Mennonite consciences and also something that “bond slackers” could point to as their own contributions to the commonwealth as a way of deflecting mob violence — answered some queries at the meeting of the “Committee of War Questions”:
- In your investigations what have you found to be the mind of the United States Treasury Department in regard to the purchase of Liberty Loan Bonds?
The question of finding some method of bearing our share of the burden in these times of world distress has received prayerful consideration by many of our people. Several plans have been proposed by which those who could not conscientiously support war measures could contribute to causes which would be a direct help to our Government and to humanity in general and yet would be consistent with their faith.
One of these was to purchase Farm Loan Bonds or other Government Bonds not floated in support of war. At first the plan was considered with favor both by our people and Government officials, but upon further consideration was not considered feasible.
Next, a Government representative, Mr. W.L. Crooks, submitted to the brethren of Fulton County, Ohio, a plan during the third Liberty Loan drive which gave our people an opportunity to loan money on time deposits to the local banks in lieu of purchasing Liberty Bonds, such money to be used for local purposes only. This plan seemed to have some advantages over the Farm Loan proposition. This plan was endorsed by several conferences and committees were appointed to work conjointly with the various other committees and with Mr. Crooks in getting the matter before the proper officials at Washington. Since that time we have been diligently at work to get this plan, or some other feasible one adopted so that it might be generally accepted. We were informed that this plan would receive official endorsement by the Treasury Department, but later in direct communication with the Department we were advised by wire that the plan would not be officially endorsed, that, since it is not compulsory to purchase Liberty Loan Bonds, the Treasury Department cannot give any official sanction to such a plan, as this is a matter of private contract between the depositor and the bank. The Department, however, will not interfere with any arrangements which may be made between congregations or conferences and local institutions or Loan committees. The situation at present, warrants the following observations:
- Up to this time no official arrangements have been made whereby our people may contribute financial aid to the Government, in lieu of supporting War Measures.
- L.B. Franklin, Director of the War Loan Organization makes the following statement: “The Treasury Department is strongly opposed to the sale of Bonds by methods not strictly in accordance with the law and does not countenance threats of violence or compulsion of citizens.”
- Where there is a question of conscience regarding the support of war measures a meeting may be called to discuss the situation. If thought advisable a committee may be appointed to confer with the local Liberty Bond Committee and if possible arrive at a conclusion satisfactory to all concerned.
- We should always be willing to contribute to causes which we can support in amounts greater than those asked of us for the support of the war. We should not shrink from hardships or sacrifices, but show that it is wholly a matter of conscience with its. Let us prove our sincerity.
- It should be kept in mind that many persons who have felt they could not consistently “aid or abet war” by investing in securities in direct support of war, are willing to support the Government in other ways such as lending money to local banks, purchasing Farm Loan Bonds, or other measures not directly in support of war. They have also contributed liberally by donations to War Sufferers Relief. Donations for the past eight months for this purpose alone were over $165,000.00.
- In all cases it is essential that everyone concerned clearly distinguish between persons who act with Government authority and those who do not. We should ever be ready to obey the requirements of the Government so far as we can conscientiously do so. We are deeply grateful for the consideration accorded us by those in authority. However, there may be those who do not appreciate our position, look upon us as disloyal, and therefore feel called upon to resort to threats of violence, and methods of compulsion to bring about their ends. Not only the Government but all reputable citizens condemn and deplore such methods. Unpleasantness may in most cases be avoided by coming to a tactful understanding with the local Government authorities, for we believe that when our position is fully understood, our fellow citizens will accord us such respect as will correspond with the high ideals for which our country has always stood.
An unsigned editorial in the issue, titled “War Measures and Nonresistant People”, spelled out what all this meant for Gospel Herald readers in light of the upcoming fourth Liberty Loan drive:
In common with most people, we wish that this subject would never need to be mentioned again. But we are face to face with living issues, and it behooves us to face them with open eyes and act as intelligently, as wisely, and as scripturally as we know how. A few weeks more, and we shall be in the midst of the fourth Liberty Loan drive… In response to numerous inquiries concerning the present status of affairs, especially with reference to the question as to whether an agreement has been reached whereby nonresistant people who can not conscientiously support war measures can contribute to other Government enterprises which they may conscientiously support, we submit the following:
So far, all efforts to get official Government sanction to any agreement whereby “conscientious objectors” may have an opportunity to contribute to other Government enterprises not connected with war (in lieu of Liberty Bonds, Thrift Stamps, etc.) have failed.
The position of officials at Washington (if wee have the right conception of their attitude) is as follows: Since there is no law compelling any one to contribute to such war measures as Liberty Bonds, Thrift Stamps, War Chests, etc., there is no ground for any agreement, officially, whereby certain classes may be excused from such contributions. The Government, however, has put itself on record as “strongly opposed to the sale of bonds by methods not strictly in accordance with the law, and does not countenance threats of violence or compulsion of citizens.”
The Government is not opposed to any local agreement which might be made between local congregations or conferences and officials or committees representing counties or districts which are satisfactory to all concerned. This means two things: (1) The impressions that gained such widespread credence that people were compelled by law to contribute to these purposes were not in accordance with fact, as the support of these measures has from the start been upon the voluntary basis. (2) Whatever arrangements are made that will be satisfactory to all concerned must be between local congregations or conferences and local committees or officials, rather than between any Church and the Government at Washington.
Our general attitude before God and man should include two things: (1) a conscientious regard for all truth and loyal obedience to God in all things; (2) a spirit of sacrifice that does not shrink from hardships or self-denial.
Whether it is nonresistance, nonconformity to the world, faithful service, or any thing else that is under consideration, we should know but one thing — to seek and to do God’s will. “What saith the Scripture?” should settle all questions of right or wrong. That point settled, there should be no hesitation on our part to do the right. We should know no other course but to live or die for the faith of the Gospel and hope of eternal salvation.
Sefishness should have no part in our makeup. Self denial lies at the very gateway of Christian service. Living in luxury is a sin, especially so in a time like this. There is no such thing as a “conscientious profiteer” from war conditions, neither can any man in whose heart the love of God abounds live in ease and luxury while millions of his fellow creatures are facing starvation and millions more are dying without the Gospel. Your attitude as a “conscientious objector” will receive more ready recognition as people see that your voluntary sacrifices are greater than the sacrifices called for in the support of war measures. These are among the marks of every self-sacrificing child of God: (1) supreme devotion to God and His Word; (2) economy and simplicity; (3) generous contributions to charitable and religious purposes; (4) hard work; (5) no hoarding of wealth; (6) “in honor preferring one another;” (7) the Golden Rule in business.
There should be an early understanding between local congregations or conferences and local communities whereby all bitterness may be avoided as much as possible.
Much of the bitterness which existed in former drives might have been avoided if an amicable understanding could have been reached between nonresistant people and the communities in which they live. It should be understood, (1) that it is obedience to God and His Word and not selfish desire that prompts nonresistant people to take the stand that they have; (2) that they are not unwilling to bear their full share of the burden imposed upon common humanity, looking only for an understanding providing for an opportunity to contribute to causes which they can conscientiously support; (3) that in former drives many conscientious people yielded to pressure and did what they would not have done if they had not been intimidated; (4) that with the single claim of full recognition of their conscience our people are willing to co-operate with the powers that be in the support of the Government and the uplift of humanity. While there are some people who can not be reached by reason there are others who can, and to this end all should be done that can be done to reach an understanding that will satisfy all reasonable minds and provide an opportunity for our people to bear their full share of the burden without violation of their own conscience.
Care should be taken that nonresistant people manifest their peace principles in the way they deal with these perplexing problems.
“A soft answer turneth away wrath; but grievous words stir up anger.” There is a difference between “speaking the truth in love” and “fighting for peace.” If our judgment disapproves of the course of nations in their efforts to obtain peace, we must not imitate the course which we disapprove. “The servant of the Lord must not strive.” With hearts full of love, words softened by the tone of kindness, and hands ready to minister to the wants of the needy, there are many opportunities of showing to the world that nonresistance as the principle of love in action is more than a mere tenet of our faith. Read Rom. 12:17–21.
Remember the Espionage Law.
There is nothing in this law that any child of God should dread. One of the things which our church has always taught is that as “strangers and pilgrims in the earth” we should be submissive to the Government under which we live and should in no way seek to interfere with the enforcement of its laws. The Espionage Law, therefore, is simply a law which provides for the punishment of people who are guilty of certain things which we have always taught against. But some have placed a construction on this law which Avould make it a crime punishable by fine and imprisonment for nonresistant people to do that which the Bible commands them to do and which the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees them the right to do. We are persuaded to believe, however, that in the final test this construction of the law will be declared to be a wrong application of the law and that it was not intended to question any man’s freedom of speech or of religion. But it is important that we give full consideration to the law, that we may not unwittingly violate it. While we should never hesitate to obey any of the commandments of God even though obeying it would cost us our liberty or our life, and while we should do our full duty by our people in the way of teaching them the full Gospel and freely giving information which our members seek, we should be careful that we do not unnecessarily offend or violate this or any law of our land.
To surrender to the mob and, for the sake of avoiding persecution, do that which we believe to be wrong, is not only dishonoring God and disobeying His Word, but it encourages mob violence.
It should be borne in mind that this is a question of conscience, a question of duty, a question of right or wrong; not a question of getting through the easiest way or of standing for our “rights.” There are only two considerations that should prompt us in our actions in this or in any other case: (1) What is the right thing for me to do? (2) What course may I take in order to accomplish the best possible results? In other words, duty and results should determine our course of action in everything we do allowing God’s Word rather than expediency to determine our convictions of duty.
In this connection it may be well to notice that the better classes of people deplore and discourage mob violence. They recognize in the mob the power of anarchy; and while for the time being it may be used in support of a cause which popular opinion approves, no cause is safe and all kinds of outrages are liable to be perpetrated when law and order are set aside to make way for the passions of the mob. In his timely address denouncing mob violence, President Wilson struck a responsive chord in the hearts of all liberty-loving people, as was shown by the chorus of approval coming from many reputable newspapers as well as religious periodicals, many of which printed the address entire.
Let there be no confusion of issues.
In this connection we hear of some who advise: “Buy Liberty Bonds, and turn these bonds over to some religious or charitable institution or enterprise. By so doing you will satisfy Government, and at the same time you will be making a contribution to a worthy cause.” Let us take a good, square look at this advice. In the first place, let it be understood that in this discussion we are not saying yea or nay to the proposition of buying Liberty Bonds. What we do say is that that proposition should be decided upon its own merits. Should you invest? Do you say, Yes? Then invest, regardless of what you meant to do with the Bond after you have it. Do you say, No? Then the worthy disposition of the Bond has nothing to do with the principles involved in its purchase. The plea we wish to make at this point is that the issue be not clouded by some other issues that have nothing to do with the principles involved.
Let us keep close to God at all times.
Not only when the trial of our faith is most severe should we keep near to God, but at all times we should have a conscience void of offence toward God and men. The taking of our cross should be a daily hourly experience. We should “come boldly unto a throne of grace,” remembering the promise that God will sustain those who cast their burden upon Him. Though at times we may suffer for conscience’ sake, as millions of others have, yet walking with God in prayerful, faithful, trustful, loyal service, we can hope for but one result: the overcoming life in time and the crown in eternity.
A short filler paragraph in the issue brought readers up to date on how the Canadian government was dealing with conscientious objectors to war bonds:
Special provisions were made by the Minister of Finance of Canada granting to “conscientious objectors” the privilege of making their contributions “for relief work only” during the drive for the Government Bonds.
However I did find one indication, in an article boosting a Mennonite Children’s Home in the issue, that Gospel Herald readers were not entirely averse to Liberty Bond purchases:
In response to our appeal for a ten thousand dollar building fund which appeared in the issue of the Gospel Herald, one brother from Minnesota has obligated himself to furnish the first thousand in Liberty Bonds. Who will be second on the list?…