Sunday, June 15, 2008

Anniversary of John Kline's Death

We are thankful to Frank Ramirez for this account of the murder of John Kline on this date in 1864.

John Kline (1797-1864) of Linville Creek, Virginia, was one of a kind. Although it was not unheard of for Brethren elders to travel back and forth among their scattered flock, sharing news, praying, and preaching in their homes, Kline was exceptional. Over the course of his life he traveled by his record over 100,000 miles, on foot, by train, but most of all on his faithful horse, Nell.

His sermons, as they are recorded, include humor as well as a strong biblical foundation. When asked, he defended the faith with his pen, writing an essay and a short book on the topic of baptism. But Kline was not only a preacher, he was also a farmer, a doctor and a carpenter. He was a much beloved visitor among the Brethren, especially the children, for whom he always kept some candy with him.

Kline's life was not without tragedy. He and his wife, Anna, lost their only child at birth. She suffered from incapacitating mental illness.

Had the Civil War not intervened, Kline would still have been remembered as one of the towering figures among the 19th century Brethren. But southern Brethren faced many hardships because of their unwavering stance against slavery and violence. They were victims of theft, persecution, and even murder. Early in the war Kline was arrested and imprisoned along with other Brethren and Mennonites for his refusal to take part in the so-called "Glorious Cause."

And as one of the few Brethren on either side of the Mason-Dixon line who refused to honor the boundary between the two sides, he drew particular ire. He was elected Moderator of the Annual Meeting from 1861 to 1864, in part as recognition of the great risk he took in traveling to the northern states.

By 1864 his friends and relatives were pleading with him to stay home because of the rumors of his impending murder. He refused. On May 19, 1864, as he journeyed back from his last Annual Meeting, Kline said, "Possibly you may never see my face or hear my voice again. I am now on my way back to Virginia, not knowing the things that shall befall me there. It may be that bonds and afflictions abide me. But I feel that I have done nothing worthy of bonds or of death; and none of these things move me; neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I may finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God."

John Kline was ambushed and killed by cowards masquerading as soldiers on June 15, 1864. Although sometimes referred to as Confederate guerillas, those who did not serve in the army had usually found a way to avoid duty in order to swagger about and give orders to the few left at home. It is said that everyone in the Linville Creek area knew exactly who had murdered Kline, but no one was ever brought to trial, making the whole community complicit in the murder.