The Disarming of New Jersey Quakers, 1776

Shrewsbury

Friends Burial Ground, Shrewsbury, NJ

Earlier today I was reading the Journal of the Votes and Proceedings of the Convention of New Jersey (Burlington, NJ: Isaac Collins, 1776).  This is essentially the minutes of the New Jersey Provincial Congress) in the weeks leading up to and following the Declaration of Independence.  (The NJ Provincial Congress is the body that sent delegates to the Continental Congress, endorsed independence, and wrote the New Jersey State Constitution)

On July 1, 1776, the minutes state:

Whereas by a regulation of the late Congress the several committees in this colony were authorized and directed to disarm all the non-associators and persons notoriously disaffected within their bounds.  And whereas it appears that the said regulations hath not been carried into effect in some parts of the colony; and it being absolutely necessary, in the present dangerous state of publick affairs when arms are much wanted for the publick defense, that it should be instantly executed.  That the several colonels in this colony do, without delay, proceed to disarm all such persons within their districts, whose religious principles will not permit them to bear arms; and likewise all such as have hitherto refused and still do refuse to bear arms; that the arms so taken be appraised by some indifferent person or persons; that the said colonels give vouchers for the same, and that the appraisement and receipt be left in the hands of the person disarmed.  (Italic mine).

For those blog readers who know a thing or two about the American Revolution, have you ever seen a case in which a state legislature (or some other body, such as a local committee of safety) confiscates guns from those with a religious conviction against bearing arms (in this case, New Jersey Quakers)?   And if you have seen something like this before, were they reimbursed with vouchers or something similar?

Is Rand Paul a Pacifist?

PaulRand Paul is out of the presidential race, but he is still a United States Senator from Kentucky.  He is also historian David Swartz‘s Senator.  Swartz, the author of the excellent Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism, teaches at Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky.

In an ongoing series at his blog titled “Unexpected Sites of Christian Pacifism,” Swartz turns his attention to Paul.  I love how Swartz frames this post. He knows that virtually everyone is going to be mad at him for pointing to Rand’s pacifist streak, but he definitely seems to be on to something.

Here is a taste:

This post on politician Rand Paul, the latest in a series that has included Pentecostals, holiness groups, and Charles Spurgeon, will probably perturb everyone. Conservatives will object because they won’t want to be linked to the “liberal” position of pacifism. Libertarians will object because theirs is not a principled pacifism, but a fiscal one. Pacifists will object because theirs is a not a fiscal one, but a principled one. Progressives will object because they, though perhaps admiring Paul’s rhetoric of peace, don’t want to be linked to the right wing. But Rand Paul is a person, not a platonic ideal, and he, even more than most people, defies easy categorization.

Back in May 2013, Paul, a Kentucky senator and likely presidential candidate in 2016, gave an extended interview to the Christian Broadcasting Network. (You can watch the entire 28-minute feature here.) It didn’t get much press at the time, but Paul, as he is prone to do, pushed back against established narratives. Concerned about the Republican enthusiasm for international conflict, he contended that Jesus “wasn’t really involved in the wars of his days.” He continued, “Part of Republicans’ problems and, frankly, to tell you the truth, some in the evangelical Christian movement I think have appeared too eager for war. . . . I think you need to remember that [Jesus] was the ‘Prince of Peace.’”

Paul has persisted in this anti-violence refrain. In June at the Freedom and Faith Conference, he articulated a strong pro-life message on abortion (pro-life groups say he has a 100% pro-life voting record on 8 votes in the Senate). He also declared, “Jesus reminds us what our goal should be when he proclaims, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God,’ . . . It’s unacceptable to have, and appoint, leaders who really show no reluctance for war.”

Read the entire post here.

Pacifism and the Brethren in Christ Church

Brooke Strayer in action

As some of you know, the college in which I teach has historic connections to the Brethren in Christ Church, a denomination informed by strands of Wesleyanism, Pietism, and Anabaptism.  Though Messiah College no longer has a direct connection to the Brethren in Christ Church, it still enjoys what some describe as a “covenant relationship” with the denomination.  The Brethren in Christ denominational headquarters is located on the campus of Messiah College, the school supports an institute devoted to the study of the three strands of Christianity mentioned above, and the college does not fly a flag on campus (with the exception of the sporting facilities–flags are required by the NCAA) out of respect for an Anabaptist tradition that values the Kingdom of God over the nation-state.  I do not come from the Brethren in Christ tradition, but I have tried to learn as much as possible about the denomination during the twelve years I have been teaching at Messiah College.

Today I attended a presentation on the Brethren in Christ peace tradition.  The speaker was Brooke Strayer, a Messiah College senior who double-majored in History and Peace and Conflict Studies. (I also got the privilege of being her academic adviser, although I did not advise this project).  Her lecture was the culmination of a year-long project on the way that the Brethren in Christ Church has largely abandoned what was once a very strong commitment to pacifism, non-resistance, and non-violence.  I could go on, but I think I will just direct you to my Twitter stream: #strayerpeace.  I have posted my Storified tweets below..  You can also get a synopsis of the event at Devin Manzullo-Thomas’s Brethren in Christ blog, The Search for Piety and Obedience.

Brooke did the Messiah College History Department proud today.  Her presentation was characterized by poise, a mastery of her subject, solid historical thinking, and much conviction.  It was a perfect blend of two of Brooke’s passions:  history and peace studies.  Nice work.

What Happened to Pentecostal Pacifism?

You would never guess from folks like John Ashcroft and Sarah Palin that the Assembly of God denomination has pacifist roots, but over at The Anxious Bench blog David Swartz introduces us to a new book revealing that Pentecostalism has a long tradition of pacifism.  The book is edited by Jay Beaman and Brian Pipkin and it is entitled Pentecostal and Holiness Statements on War and Peace.  

Here is a taste of Swartz’s post:

This twenty-first-century iteration of Pentecostalism, however, would have been utterly foreign to movement progenitors. In the wake of the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles in 1906 and at the founding of the denomination in 1914, the Assemblies of God were officially pacifist. As late as October 1940, the Assemblies of God still claimed that “military service is incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that a Christian cannot fully follow the teachings of his Lord and Master if he engages in armed conflict.” Several scholarly works have already recovered this forgotten history. Robert Mapes Anderson’s Vision of the Disinherited: The Making of American Pentecostalism (1979) and Grant Wacker’s Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture (2003) treated this lightly. More recently, Paul Alexander narrated a full-scale account of Pentecostal pacifism in Peace to War: Shifting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God (2009).

ut Beaman and Pipkin’s book Pentecostal and Holiness Statements on War and Peace (2013) offers something new: hundreds of fascinating primary sources showing the pacifist orientation of the Pentecostal movement. Take, for instance, this 1938 column from the Foursquare Church, founded by the colorful Aimee Semple McPherson: “Should a Christian take up arms in time of war? The question is perhaps, a little late. It already has been answered—IN THE BIBLE. Until the Ten Commandments are repealed the Christian has no alternative but to stay aloof from war and its consequent destruction of human life. Should one be drafted? Well, prayer changes things. And the God who saved Noah from the flood, and preserved Daniel in the lions’ den and his brethren in the fiery furnace, surely can ‘handle’ so inconsequential a thing as a little draft-board. Prayer, wisdom and the proof of patriotic loyalty on our part, couple with a willingness to serve our country in non-combatant service should turn the trick for any obedient child of God.” Beaman notes that the Foursquare Church grappled with the pacifist impulse until WWII, when it capitulated (or came to its senses, depending on your theological persuasion) and embraced the use of lethal force and the preservation of a “Christian America.”

Constantinianism Debated

Over at The Anxious Bench David Swartz of Asbury University calls our attention to an ongoing debate within evangelicalism over whether the earliest Christians were pacifists.  Much of this debate surrounds the 2010 publication of Peter Leithart‘s Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom.  It seems that many pacifist-minded anti-Constantinians are rushing into print to counter Leithart’s argument, which is directed against neo-Anabaptist theologian John Howard Yoder and his disciples.

Swartz sorts it all out for us.  Here is a taste:

The rebuttal to Leithart is on. The book immediately sparked lively conversations online here and here andhere and here. The October 2011 issue of Mennonite Quarterly Review offered quick and substantive responses from four critics. John Nugent argued, in a theological vein, that God calls his people away from imperial identities—whether that is Roman, German, or American—to lives ‘of vulnerability, trust, and service to all those created in God’s image.” Alan Kreider offered a historical criticism, contending that Leithart’s sources on Christian participation in the military were sparse and questionable compared to evidence against involvement in state-sponsored violence. Constantine’s reign did indeed signal a fundamental shift: “from the gestalt of early Christianity to another gestalt—Christendom.” Responding in the same MQR issue to this battery of criticism, Leithart was unrepentant. “Because Christ is king,” he wrote, “kings should be Christians and exercise their earthly dominion in a righteous manner.” Leithart raised the stakes theologically. “The rub,” he declared, is that “we do not agree on the Gospel.”

The debate continues as a small avalanche of books rolls off the press. Last year Ron Sider released The Early Church on Killing: A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment. Also in 2012 Wheaton professor George Kalantzis published Caesar and the Lamb: Early Christian Attitudes on War and Military Service. And now Goshen College’s John Roth, author of Choosing Against War, is releasing a more direct rebuttal of Leithart entitled Constantine Revisited: Leithart, Yoder, and the Constantinian Debate. It is an edited volume featuring an impressive lineup of Anabaptist theologians and ethicists including Stanley Hauerwas and Mark Thiessen Nation. Together, these books argue, in the words of Kalantzis, against “recent scholarship [that] accepts as axiomatic that there was ambivalence among the earliest Christians. . . . I do not believe that such a conclusion is borne by the literary evidence.” They marshal writings by Pliny the Younger, Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian of Carthage, Lactantius, and others. Jesus Christ, they say, inaugurated “a new call to non-violence, unrecognizable by the culture around them, for it took the form of civil disobedience as the mark of a transnational community bound together with the bonds of baptism. A community that honored Caesar by disobeying his commands and receiving upon their bodies the only response a state based on the power of the powerful could meet—an imitation of Christ.” The bottom line: “With remarkably univocity they speak of participation in the Christian mysteries as antithetical to killing, and the practices of the army.”

Swarthmore Students Force Commencement Speaker to Withdraw

Robert Zoellick is a 1975 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Swarthmore College.  He was also deputy secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration and was nominated by Bush as president of the World Bank. He is a neoconservative.

According to this article at Inside Higher Ed, some students at Swarthmore think that Zoellick’s support of the Iraq war is at odds with the college’s Quaker (pacifist) roots.  Apparently the criticism was enough to force Zoellick to withdraw as the 2013 commencement speaker.  In a letter to Rebecca Chopp, the president of Swarthmore, Zoellick wrote: “I don’t want to disrupt what should be a special day for the graduates, their families, and friends.”

I could write a rather snarky post about how Swarthmore College, this educational bastion of diversity and open-mindedness, has succumbed to liberal fundamentalism, but I won’t do that. Instead, I will take things in another snarky direction.

I am glad to see that so many Swarthmore students are interested in defending the college’s “Quaker roots.” In the future I am fully expecting  the college to start cracking down on students who “marry out of meeting,” imbibe too much “spirituous liquor,” and reject the belief that the Bible and Inner Light are the inspired words of God.

Remembering the Dead on Independence Day

Richard Kauffman, the book review editor at The Christian Century, feels “out of step with the rest of American culture” on the Fourth of July.  I will let him explain:

The fourth of July joins Memorial Day and Veterans day as the three times a year I feel out of step with the rest of American culture. While I’m grateful for my country’s freedoms and opportunities, and I want to mourn with those who mourn the losses of war, I cannot participate in rituals that glorify war.

Eamon Duffy, who teaches the history of Christianity at Cambridge University, has helped me to better articulate my own discomfort with memorializing war. Remembering the war dead is a highly tribal act, Duffy argued in a speech he gave for Remembrance Day 1998 in the UK (a speech included in his collection Walking to Emmaus). We are remembering our own war dead. There’s no room in our rituals for remembering others’ losses, especially not those of our enemies.

The dead themselves are silent; we hijack them and use them for our own purposes. “They become ventriloquist’s dummies,” says Duffy, “through whom we utter the words we think we need to hear.” Behind all the trappings of the ceremonies is a nostalgic longing for the moral clarity of a nation united around war, in which divisions are silenced and people have a clear sense of right and wrong. Or rather, of who is in the right and who is in the wrong—of our enemies’ uniform as the embodiment of evil.

Most of the people killed in war aren’t heroes. Most of them are victims of war. Though they were fallible, sinful human beings, we make them into secular saints by virtue of them having been killed in war. Of course, the ones who actually fight the wars often have their own misgivings.

Read the rest here. Thanks, Richard.