Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Goshen Conference - January 9, 1918

Northern Indiana was in the midst of a cold spell on January 9, 1918 (an official record low of -24 degrees was set three days later). That month is still on record for one of the greatest snow accumulations in history. Meanwhile, a special Annual Meeting for the Church of the Brethren was held that day in Goshen, Indiana. The purpose was to speak Peace to the government.

When the United States entered World War I, a military draft was instituted. Brethren who held to the traditional values of peace and nonviolence were suddenly the object of severe persecution. Those who refused to serve in the military were imprisoned, and those who were inducted into the military were often the object of threats and derision if they made their objections known. The special conference was called for January 9 at the Goshen City Church of the Brethren to deal with this problem.

The result was a resolution approved by the delegates that became known as the "Goshen Statement." It affirmed the traditional Brethen position on peace and military service and was sent to President Woodrow Wilson and other government officials. The delegates also appointed a Central Service Committee to deal with peace concerns and a Committee for Relief and Reconstruction.

Official government reaction was swift and harsh. Officers of the special meeting and authors of the Goshen Statement were threatened with prosecution for sedition by the War Department. Efforts to reach a compromise were unsuccessful and after a great deal of prayer and consideration, the members of the General Service Committee agreed to withdraw the Goshen Statement from circulation and affirmed their loyalty to the U.S. government.

This experience led the Brethren to join other historic peace churches in lobbying the government for recognition of their religious objection to military service. By the time the draft was instituted again for World War II, there was official recognition for conscientious objector service.

Resource: Planting the Faith In A New Land: Church of the Brethren in Indiana

Ninety years later, the Church of the Brethren continues to hold an official position which states: "We believe that war or any participation in war is wrong and incompatible with the spirit, example, and teachings of Jesus Christ" (1918). "It is our conviction as humble followers of Christ, that all war is sin. We cannot therefore encourage, engage in, or willingly profit from armed conflict at home or abroad. We cannot, in the event of war, accept military service or support the military machine in any capacity" (1934).

January 9, 2008. Have you taken the opportunity to speak a word of peace to the government today?