Holiness Pacifist Groups

Before the American Civil War a small number of groups emerged in an attempt to renew the Methodist Church, but after the Civil War, numerous renewalist groups were born.  This movement, focused around the belief in sanctification, or holiness, as an experience that dramatically energized and focused the christian life.  Many of these groups originated before 1900 and they began to have wide cultural currency in the last century.  Much of what today is termed evangelical is the offspring of the Holiness movement.  These sect groups promoted a two-stage view of salvation, including conversion and sanctification.  In the words of the Methodist hymn writer, Charles Wesley, “Be for sin the double cure, save from wrath, and make me pure.”  Holiness groups created a number of institutions over time to reproduce their culture and make a difference in the larger society; camp meetings, revival meetings, printing presses, bible colleges, and mission agencies.  Their urban face would include local congregations and mission churches or gospel missions.  As Holiness groups matured, they became institutionalized and another group of sects emerged to renew the Holiness movement, and these were the Pentecostal sects, who also later became the face of the evangelical subculture.  Even before 1900, the Holiness sects were having profound interaction, through camp meetings and revival meetings, with historic peace churches, like the Quakers and Anabaptist groups such as Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren churches.  In fact, some number of these historic peace churches became thoroughly Holiness churches themselves.

In the process, and given both groups penchant for taking the new testament as a literal blueprint for church life, it is little wonder that both groups produced pacifism as a central ethical feature of their church life.  In the groups which I list as Holiness Pacifist Groups, you can see their teachings and beliefs that promoted pacifism, some of them in the Spanish American War, and some of them during World War One.  Many of their adherents in WWI would ask for conscientious objection to war, and some number would be jailed for peace and others would serve as non-combatants in the military.

In this website I include both evidence of their beliefs in statements and publications, as well as documentation examples of their conscientious objection, usually in the form of draft registration as conscientious objectors, many times listing the actual holiness sect group right on their draft card.  Radical holiness advocates were often called Holy Rollers in derision, for their impassioned style of seeking God’s blessing.  They also thought God’s blessing changed how they lived with other people in community, to shalom or peace.  I like to say, in the words of Cat Stevens, “Peace train is a holy roller.”

The list of groups here is incomplete.  For a more complete listing of Holiness Pacifist groups, see Jay Beaman and Brian Pipkin, Pentecostal and Holiness Statements on War and Peace, 2013.