The Church of God, Anderson, Indiana, was perhaps the most well-known Holiness Pacifist Church, especially in WWI. Across the country, and on foreign mission fields, there were mostly little churches seeking to spread the message of holy living, or sanctification, and renewal of the church. Perhaps it was ironic that while seeking to spread a separatist sect, they saw themselves as a movement to bring people across all churches into unity around sanctification and revival. Through their evangelistic work in many major cities and their prolific publications they cast a long shadow over much of the evangelical church. Many of their young people would live together in large households and operate as evangelistic groups.
While there was not complete unity, they were largely pacifist to WWI, and even had some pacifist activity in the Spanish-American War. Their pacifist strain can even be evidenced today. Their leading publication, The Gospel Trumpet, carried numerous articles dealing with the issues of what a christian should do in times of war. Both in their pacifism and in their eschatology, they deeply influenced the Pentecostal movement. As to the latter, they called themselves the Evening Light Saints, meaning that the church shone brightest at beginning and end, and that they were prophetic or spirit-filled agents of a dawning new age. A portent of the new age, loving one’s enemies as Jesus taught, was a hallmark. This group made some strides in the struggle against racism, and published and organized to keep members from going to war. They helped members with printed affidavits to document their conscientious objection to war, including a pastor’s signature that the member was in good standing.
What Must We Do About War?
A prominent New York minister writing for the Independent, in speaking of the war, asks, “What must we do?” This same question has occupied a large place in the minds of many of us ever since war was declared. Every conscientious person desires to do his duty. But what one is expected to do does noa always coincide with duty as viewed from the standpoint of his religion and conscience. Many conscientious people believe it their duty to take up arms against their fellow men when their country is at war. But there are many others who believe that to kill a man, even on the battlefield, is not in harmony with the teachings of Christ.
“What, for instance, must a man do who believes that killing men on a battle-field is a sin”? asks the writer in the Independent, who says in answer to his own question: “He must refuse to fight. No government has a right to command a man to do what he believes is wrong to do. We should render to Ceasar [sic] the things which belong to him, but this is not of them. There is a line across which the civil power must not be permitted to pass. The apostles, at the very start of their career, had to face the question whether they were to hearken to the civil rulers rather than to God speaking to them in their conscience. They settled it then and there, and they settled it right. The decided, once for all, that no matter what it cost, they would obey God rather than men. They were thrown into prison, but they did not relent. They were scourged and detested, but they did not recant. Eventually, all of them but one met a martyrs death, but they died rejoicing. There are indeed things worth dying for, and one of them is the right to remain true to one’s conscience. Christians are servants of Jesus Christ. He is King of kings and Lord of lords. Higher than the stars and stripes there floats the banner of the cross. A Christian’s first allegiance is not to a nation but to humanity; not to the civil ruler, but to God. Every century has had its martyrs—why should the twentieth century go free?”
These are brave words for a man to utter in times of war, and yet few are likely to term the conscientious objector a slacker, for in reality more courage is required in being loyal to one’s conscience than in going with the crowd. It must not be inferred, however, that every man who believes it sinful to kill men on the battle-field is disloyal to his country. Such men are usually good citizens and ready to help relieve the sufferings of others in every way possible. Nor do we think the man who refuses to fight for conscientious reasons will weaken the hands of government by unwise talk.
There are many ways by which the conscientious objector may prove his loyalty—by raising food, by relieving the sufferings of the wounded, and by caring for those who are left without support—and they will not be slow to respond, either.
Gospel Trumpet June 14, 1917
WWI Draft Card examples from The Church of God, Anderson, IN
Note that Homer Abbott gave “creed, conscientious objector” as a reason for exemption from military service, John Gothard listed his membership in the Church of God, Roland Cook, “religious belief, Church of God,” and Roy Rilson, “member of Church of God which does not believe in war.”