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Muste was born in Zierikzee, the Netherlands, and became a naturalized United States citizen in 1896. He attended Hope College, where he was class valedictorian, captain of the basketball team, and a member of the college's Fraternal Society (Omicron Kappa Epsilon). He earned a Bachelor's degree (A. B.) in 1905 and a Master's degree (M. A.) in 1909 from the Theological Seminary of the Dutch Reformed Church (now the New Brunswick Theological Seminary). He earned a bachelor of divinity (B. D.) from Union Theological Seminary in 1913. He also attended New York University, and Columbia University.
Muste taught Latin and Greek at Northwestern Classical Academy (now Northwestern College) in Iowa from 1905 to 1906. He was ordained a minister of the Reformed Church in America in 1909. Muste served as minister of the Fort Washington Collegiate Church on Washington Heights from 1909 until 1914 when he left the Reformed Church because he no longer ascribed to the Westminster confession. He then became minister of Central Congregational Church, Newtonville MA on February 23, 1915. On Easter Sunday, March 31, 1918, he preached there on the futility of war shortly after one of the prominent sons of the church had been killed in World War I. The congregation called a congregational meeting following the service and terminated Rev. Muste. He and his family had to move out of the church parsonage that very afternoon. He was famously quoted in his saying that, "There is no way to peaceâ€”peace is the way."
Muste volunteered for the American Civil Liberties Union and was enrolled as a minister of the Religious Society of Friends in 1918. Active in labor affairs from 1919, he was general secretary of the Amalgamated Textile Workers of America from 1920 to 1921. He also taught at Brookwood Labor College from 1921 to 1933. From 1940 to 1953, he was the executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, during which time he became an advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. He was the author of Non-violence in an Aggressive World (1940).
After leaving Brookwood Labor College, he founded a socialist movement which, through a fusion with the Trotskyist organisation, became the Workers' Party of the United States. Later he renounced Marxism and again became a Christian pacifist; throughout his life he remained an active participant in the activities of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. He supported the presidential candidacies of Eugene V. Debs and Robert M. La Follette, Sr., and also had close friendships with John Dewey and Norman Thomas.
In 1957, Muste headed a delegation of pacifist and democratic observers to the 16th National Convention of the Communist Party. He was also on the national committee of the War Resisters League (WRL) and received their Peace Award in 1958. Always a creative activist, he led public opposition with Dorothy Day to civil defense activities in New York City during the 1950s and 1960s.
At the end of his life, Muste took a leadership role in the movement against the Vietnam War. Fellow peace activist Andrea Ayvazian tells of Muste standing outside the White House every night during the Viet Nam War, holding a candle, regardless of whether it was raining or not. One evening, a reporter approached him, and asked if he really thought that by standing outside the White House holding a candle night after night, he would change the policies of the country, to which Muste replied: "Oh, you've got it all wrong. I'm not doing this to change the country. I do it so the country won't change me."
In 1966, Muste traveled with members of the Committee for Non-Violent Action to Saigon and Hanoi. He was arrested and deported from South Vietnam, but received a warm welcome in North Vietnam from Ho Chi Minh.
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