just peace

Military Service and Civil Service

Author: Hans Ulrich Gerber 

Today’s Swiss Mennonites are clearly not the ‘quiet in the land’, like they were in the 19th and early 20th century. Having been a culturally and religiously distinct group in society until World War II, the Swiss Mennonite community as a whole has been subject to a development similar to that of other historic churches. From 1960 onwards, Anabaptists  evolved from being a homogeneous and isolated community to being recognized and involved. The joys and pains of highly diverse communities in post-Christendom transition apply to Mennonites just as they do to others, as the example of military or alternative service and related resistance movements illustrates. 

Non-combatant soldiers
In the 19th century, after military service became mandatory, many Anabaptists left Switzerland for North America where freedom of religion and conscientious objection seemed more tangible. Later on, informal reassurance and goodwill from Swiss authorities allowed Mennonites to be recruited into the army as non-combatant soldiers, i.e. without weapons, which was considered acceptable by the church elders.  However, when the army offered horses and later Land Rovers to soldiers (combatants), modest Mennonite farmers saw an incentive to become soldiers. With the late Pietist revival not promoting pacifist orientation, commitment to refusing armed service eroded.

 Conscientious objectors
By the late 1970s and early ‘80s, mostly under the influence of North American recovery of the ‘Anabaptist vision’, a number of young Swiss Mennonite men chose conscientious objection. Until the mid-‘90s they went to prison, a choice not always supported by their congregations. The debates over allegiance to the state according to Romans 13 versus resistance to killing according to the Sermon on the Mount were heated. The Swiss Mennonite Peace Committee, formed in the early ‘80s, joined the emerging political movement for the introduction of an alternative civil service. This was finally introduced in 1996.

 Social justice
Clearly, for Anabaptists there is  more than the question of military service versus  conscientious objection. There is still a lot of discussion around the issues of decisive engagement for social justice. The debate gets even more heated when it comes to engaging in active resistance to injustice and militarism and to state-committed violence such as when refugees are forcibly expelled. Possibly, the Swiss Mennonite community is as diverse as society at large in these questions.


Dutch Mennonites and Politics

Author: Gabe G. Hoekema

These days many Mennonites are involved in humanitarian aid work, and environmental and poverty issues. For a long time however, it was strongly believed that the church only called for  its members to form a community through catechismal teachings. Therefore Mennonites kept their distance from what happened in the (political) world. At the end of the eighteenth century, however, dissenters and patriotic Mennonites got involved with militant voluntary movements. They also became members of the First National Parliament. In the nineteenth century they got assimilated into society, but even in  the twentieth century it was not done to openly debate political ideologies. Even when the Nazis attacked and occupied the Netherlands, the Dutch Mennonites stayed silent. In the Mennonite weekly De Zondagsbode, we find barely any written pieces opposing Nazism. Only a minority of people addressed the worrying phenomenon of a variety of church members and ministers sympathising with Nazism and admiring Hilter for his socio-economic policy.


Vietnam and nuclear weapons

After the 1960s politics became more important. In Dutch society the Vietnam War and the threat of nuclear weapons were ardently debated. The central question for Mennonites was how to practice and promote peace and non-violence.


Mennonites and the  ‘polder model’

Dutch Mennonites live in a country where consensus plays a big part in the decision-making process. In order to make important decisions and share responsibilities, political movements and churches need counter-movements. The idea behind this 'poldermodel' is to find compromise-based solutions, not to polarise. Nowadays church members focus on what unites them versus what divides them when it comes to political issues. In church decision are made by consensus. Mennonites also have a strong tendency towards ecumenical thinking.


Christian Politics

Currently there are several Christian political movements in the Netherlands. Mennonites, however, have never organised themselves into a specific Mennonite political party. Many of them prefer to vote for either a liberal party or a social-democratic program. A minority swings between these parties, and only a few are inspired by more radical, mostly left wing ideas. Themes like climate-change and sustainability of earth and society are also important to the Mennonite voter.

Nevertheless, Mennonites have been active in parliament and some of them were members of government. The most famous Mennonite politicians are C. Lely (1854-1929) whose name is forever linked to the Afsluitdijk, a major causeway which connects the provinces of North-Holland and Friesland. Another Mennonite politician was S. van Houten (1837 – 1930) who initiated a law against child labour. More recent politicians are D. Tommel (1942-) and mayor of Almere, Mrs. A. Jorritsma-Lebbink (1950-).


References: C. van Duin, ‘De doperse gemeente – een politiek relevante zaak’, in: Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 2 (Amsterdam 1976), 62-71; E.I.T. Brussee-van der Zee, ‘De Doopsgezinde Broederschap en het nationaalsocialisme, 1933-1940’, in: Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 11 (Amsterdam 1985), pp. 118-130.

Christian Peacemaker Teams Europe (CPT)

Author: Marius van Hoogstraten

Millions of people around the world live in places where armed groups, soldiers or militias are in charge of civilians' everyday lives. Millions of others have had to leave their countries and become refugees. You often hear people say that this is just the way it is. They say the only thing we can do for these people is to send our army. But that often only makes the war worse.


New Politics

Christian Peacemaker Teams try to look for other ways. We go to violent places to work for peace with the people that live there. Instead of using weapons, we take pictures and write things down. Soldiers and other armed groups can recognize us by our hats and vests. This makes them less likely to use violence, because they know they're being watched.

We used to think this made us very special, but now we know there are local people working for peace almost everywhere, finding creative ways to resist violence or stop corporations from destroying their land. Through articles and videos, we try to make these local, grass-roots peacemakers known to an international audience. Non-violent resistance can mean many things – for example, forming a human chain  between soldiers and protesters, or just going to school or taking your sheep out, even when the army tries to stop you.


Non-violent resistance

In Canada, for example, many indigenous peoples are seeing their land and way of life threatened by large corporations. Here, CPT volunteers accompany indigenous non-violent resistance. For example, when roadblocks are put up to prevent logging companies from getting their trucks into the forest. CPT-ers also teach non-indigenous Canadians about the struggles of indigenous Canadians.

In Europe, we're concerned about the violence faced by refugees. There's almost no way to get to Europe safely, because the borders are highly militarized. This means many refugees try dangerous other ways, and thousands have died on the borders in the past years, particularly in the Mediterranean sea and between Greece and Turkey.


The story of Christian Peacemaker Teams started in 1984 at the Mennonite World Conference. The dream was to get thousands of Christians parachuting into conflict zones. We now see it was a little self-important to think that would be of any help. Nowadays, not only Christians work for CPT, and our cooperation with local groups is at the center of our work. We support grass-roots initiatives in Colombia, Palestine, Iraqi Kurdistan and Canada.



Responsibility in Society and World

Authors: Hermann Heidebrecht, Johannes Dyck

Russian-born Mennonites didn't have the possibility to conduct official mission or diaconic work. Soon after their new beginning in Germany, many Mennonite congregations established their own missionary projects in Germany and in different countries in the world. There are church planting projects in Germany (often in the new federal states) as well as in the countries of origin: Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Moldova, and other countries of the former Soviet Union. Later, many projects in South and East Europe (Romania, Bulgaria), Latin America (Brazil, Bolivia, Mexico etc.), Africa (Kenya, Ethiopia etc.), and other parts of the world were added. In addition to church planting, several churches support schools and orphanages.

The mission work of Russian-born Mennonites is done through their own newly created Mennonite organizations. Sometimes, missionaries are sent to work through other German or international mission societies.


Schools and diaconic social projects

In the last few years Russian-born Mennonites have launched several private denominational-based schools or worked together with Christians of other confessions in establishing these. An example is the Christian School Association Lippe (Christian Schulverein Lippe e.V.) which operates several schools in Detmold and its vicinity with more than 2.300 students and 200 teachers.

The importance of school projects of this kind for a successful integration of Germans from Russia into German culture was recognized by the governmental structures at different levels.

Museum of History of Culture of Germans from Russia

The founder of the Christian School Association Lippe and of a school in Detmold, Otto Hertel, a former physics teacher from Kyrgyzstan, had a strong understanding of the role of history in the formation of people’s identity. From the first days of the school, he prepared several expositions on Germans in Russia, and gave lectures on their important role in Russia’s culture and science. In 1996, a museum got a permanent place in a small building on the school campus. In addition, Hertel donated his books to the museum, as the start of a library with a special focus on Germans and Mennonites in Russia.


In July 2011, the museum was re-opened in a new building with an impressive exhibition covering the history of Germans in Russia from their very beginnings there until their re-immigration to Germany and their integration into society.


See more about the museum on the Internet (http://russlanddeutsche.de/).

‘A man with a mission’

Author: Nataly Venger

Jacob Hoeppner was a Mennonite entrepreneur in Polish Prussia who played an active role in arranging the resettlement of the Mennonites to the Russian Empire. He was one of the first individuals who believed in the possibility and the benefit of Mennonite emigration. With his attitude he inspired other, less decisive representatives of the congregation. His determination and his support for one of the main projects of resettlement started a new age in the history of the European Mennonites.   

Hoeppner was an entrepreneur who rented a small store and tavern in Danzig. George von Trappe, the Russian government emissary who happened to be one of Hoeppner’s clients, was impressed by his business skills. He shared information about Catherine II's Manifests and about the possibilities of the Mennonites’ emigration. When living conditions for Mennonites in Polish Prussia deteriorated under the rule of Emperor Frederick II, the Danzig congregation encouraged Hoeppner and his colleague Johann Bartsch to visit Russia. The goal of the visit was to clarify the terms of emigration and to find suitable lands for settlement.    

In the fall of 1786, Hoeppner and Bartsch left for Russia. They approved a place for settlement near Beryslav. In the spring of 1787, as a result of the negotiations with statesman G. Potemkin,  'Privileges’ was written. The document was signed by Catherine II in 1788.

‘Privileges’ guaranteed the emigrants favorable living conditions. It allowed for religious expression and self-governance and encouraged the adoption of human rights and economic rationality. Mennonites were promised lands, credits and the right to run businesses. Through signing this agreement, the deputies secured their own future as well. According to the document, they themselves had the right to inherit mills that had to be built with state funding and to own stores, breweries and vinegar businesses.   


The first group of emigrants went to Russia in 1787–1788.  As they progressed towards Beryslav, the Russian government changed the location of the Mennonite settlement because of threats coming from the Ottoman Empire. The new Chortitza lands were not as fertile as in Beryslav and the Mennonites accused Hoeppner and Bartsch of a fraud. Hoeppner was excluded from the congregation and put into prison. But when the new emperor Alexander I came to power, Hoeppner was accepted back into the congregation. He spent his last years in the Kronsweide colony.

According to the Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach (Canada) a memorial was put on Hoeppner’s grave in 1890. During the 1960-70’s it was moved from Ukraine to Canada as a remembrance to a new stage in European Mennonite history.


From individual to organized compassion

Author: Frédéric de Coninck

How can we explain why many people in favour of individual compassionate actions towards those in need have reserves immediately we initiate discussion concerning structures dealing with these problems?