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Pacifism

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Pacifism is the opposition to war or violence as a means of settling disputes. Pacifists Christian denominations are known as the peace churches. The term historic peace churches refers specifically to three church groups: the Church of the Brethren, the Mennonites and the Society of Friends.[1]

Many peace churches teach that Jesus was himself a pacifist who taught and practiced pacifism, and that his followers must do likewise. Some vary on whether physical force can ever be justified in self-defense or protecting another, as many adhere strictly to nonresistance when confronted by violence, but all would traditionally agree that violence on behalf of a country or a government would not be permissible for Christians.

There has always been at least a faction of pacifism in all large Christian groups, but certain churches have consistently taken a pacifist stance since their founding. Besides the historic peace churches, these include the Amish, Hutterites, and others in the Anabaptist tradition, Doukhobors, Molokans, Bruderhof Communities, Schwenkfelders, Moravians 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. Although non-credal and not explicitly pacifist, the Community of Christ has emerged as an international peace church through such ministries as the Community of Christ International Peace Award, the Daily Prayer for Peace and campaigns to support conscientious objection to war.

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, 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.

Churches of Christ, especially those who hold with the teachings of David Lipscomb, tend toward weak pacifist views. This means that they believe that the use of coercion and/or force may be okay, but that resorting to warfare is not an option open to Christians. Many conservative members of the Church of Christ reject this position and do not consider themselves to be pacifists.

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.

In the 1990s, the Quakers, Brethren and Mennonites came together to create Christian Peacemaker Teams, an international organization that works to reduce violence and systematic injustice in areas of conflict. The CPT is viewed by some as a response to criticisms that peace churches rely on states and militaries to protect them from forced dissolution.

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