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Peace churches are Christian churches, groups or communities advocating Christian pacifism. The term historic peace churches refers specifically to three church groups: Church of the Brethren, Mennonites (including Amish), and Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).
The peace churches agree that Jesus advocated nonviolence. Whether physical force can ever be justified, either in defending oneself or others, remains controversial. Many believers adhere strictly to a moral attitude of nonresistance in the face of violence. But these churches generally do concur that violence on behalf of nations and their governments is contrary to Christian morality.
Among all Christian denominations, there have always been groups of members who advocate nonviolence, but certain churches have consistently supported it since their foundation. Besides the three historic peace churches, they include the Amish, Hutterites, Old German Baptist Brethren, Old Order River Brethren, the Brethren in Christ, and others in the Anabaptist tradition; Doukhobors, Dunkard Brethren, Molokans, Bruderhof Communities, Schwenkfelders, Moravians, the Shakers, and even some groups within the Pentecostal movement. The largest Pentecostal church, the Assemblies of God, abandoned pacifism around the time of the Second World War. These groups have disagreed, both internally and with each other, about the propriety of avoiding non-combatant military roles, such as unarmed medical personnel, or performing non-battlefield services that assist nations in wartime, such as manufacturing munitions. One position might argue that Jesus would never object to helping people who are suffering, while another might object that doing so contributes indirectly to violence by freeing other people to engage in it.
At one time, active membership in and acceptance of the beliefs of one of the peace churches was required for obtaining conscientious objector status in the United States, and hence exemption from military conscription, or for those already in the military, honorable discharge. But after a series of court rulings, this requirement was dropped. One may claim conscientious objector status based on a personal belief system that need not be Christian, nor even based on religion.
Peace churches, especially those with sufficient financial and organizational resources, have attempted to heal the ravages of war without favoritism. This has often aroused controversy, as when the Quakers sent large shipments of food and medicine to North Vietnam during the Vietnam War, and to U.S.-embargoed Cuba. The American Friends Service Committee and the Mennonite Central Committee are two charitable denominational agencies set up to provide such healing.
In the 1980s, the Quakers, Brethren, and Mennonites came together to create Christian Peacemaker Teams, an international organization that works to reduce violence and systematic injustice in regions of conflict. One motive for its foundation may have been to forestall the criticism that peace churches rely on states and their military establishments for protection.
Although non-credal and not explicitly pacifist, the Community of Christ (formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) 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.
Once containing a relatively large nonviolence faction, Churches of Christ are now more conflicted. Contemporary Churches of Christ, especially those that hold with the teachings of David Lipscomb, tend toward pacifist views. This means that they believe that the use of coercion and/or force may be acceptable for purposes of personal self defense but that resorting to warfare is not an option open to Christians.
Jehovah's 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 constitutes idolatry. Early Jehovah's Witnesses were expected not to shoot to kill where they were compelled to participate as combatants. Whereas they had purchased Liberty Bonds for financial support to the allied cause in World War I, a practice of neutrality was later assumed. Their position may be summarized as neutrality rather than pacifism.
As noted above, there are peace groups within most mainstream Christian denominations. The Fellowship of Reconciliation was set up as an organization to bring together people in these groups and members of the historic peace churches. In some countries, e.g. the United States, it has broadened its scope to include members of other religions or none, and people whose position is not strictly for nonviolence. However in other countries, e.g. the United Kingdom, it remains essentially an organization of Christian nonviolence.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has a long history of noncombatancy with respect to military service. Though some church members choose combat, the church stands by its official position, which dates to a resolution made in 1867.
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