Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Peace churches are Christian groups in the pacifist tradition. Most teach that Jesus was himself a pacifist and taught and practiced pacifism, and that his followers must do likewise. Some vary on whether violence could ever be justified in defense of one's own person or that of another, but all would traditionally agree that violence on behalf of what is essentially an abstraction like a country or a government would be beyond the pale of permissible action for Christians. Many peace church Christians see their religious body as having an historical antecedent from the earliest Christian church. Pacifism was an issue of great import to Christians in the Roman empire, especially for soldiers who were converted from paganism.
There has always been at least a faction of pacifism in all large Christian groups, but certain ones have always held it in predomination since their founding. These include the Society of Friends ("Quakers"), the Amish, Mennonites and others in the Anabaptist tradition, Doukhobors, many groups of Brethren, and many groups within the Pentecostal movement. Several other smaller groups have been peace churches, including some now extinct or nearly so such as the Shakers. These groups often differ with each other, and among themselves, about the propriety of non-combatant military or other governmental service such as performing services as unarmed medical personnel. One faction states that Jesus would never have had any objection to helping those who were hurting and in fact did so himself, while the other states that those doing so, in a military context at least, free up a person who does not object to violence then to fill a direct combat role and hence indirectly are contributing to further violence. Some groups once containing a relatively large pacifist faction are now almost devoid of one, such as the Church of Christ.
Another group that deserves mention in the context of peace churches is the Jehovah's Witnesses. Even though this group does not consider itself to be a church and objects to the use of that term to describe it, it nonetheless shares the major viewpoint discussed here, as that Witnesses believe and teach that no one who follows God has any right to lay down his life on behalf of the state, and that to do so in fact constitutes idolatry.
At one point, active membership in and acceptance of the beliefs of one of the peace churches was a requisite for conscientious objector status in the United States and hence exemption from military conscription or, for those already in the military, honorable discharge as an objector. However, after a series of court rulings this requirement was later dropped in the United States and one can claim conscientious objection based on a personal belief system that was not necessarily Christian or even religiously-based.
Peace churches, especially larger ones with greater financial resources, have traditionally attempted to heal the ravages of war without favoritism. This has often proven controversial in and of itself, as when the "Quakers" sent large shipments of foods and medicines to North Vietnam during the Vietnam War, and also to U.S.-embargoed Cuba. The American Friends Service Committee and Mennonite Central Committee are two of the denominational aid agencies set up by the Quakers and Mennonites respectively.
More recently, in the 90s, the Quakers, Brethren in Christ and Mennonites came together to create Christian Peacemaker Teams, an international organization that works to reduce violence and systematic injustice in areas of conflict. In many ways, CPT is an attempt to answer critics of peace churches who often claim that without others who did not share their views, they would have no right to exist.
- Who are the Historic Peace Churches (HPC)?
- Historic Peace Churches - article in Ecumenical Dictionary
- Every Church a Peace Church - organization working to create more Peace Churches
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