The Interwar Peace Church Conferences
Following the First World War, an increasing ecumenism and cooperative spirit led to a number of conferences between the Peace Churches. The first major conference occurred in 1922 at Bluffton College, a General Conference Mennonite school in Bluffton, Ohio. This early conference sought to overcome some of the isolation between the churches that marked previous peacemaking efforts. The encouraging response by the attendees led to eight more conferences from 1923 – 1932, until the Great Depression brought a momentary halt to the meetings.
The renewals of the conferences in 1935 brought about the most significant of all the meetings when H. P. Krehbiel convened the Peace Church representatives in Newton, Kansas. Some of the most substantive plans for creating a more effective peace witness came from this conference. Attendees created and issued a formal statement, effectively outlining the peace stance of the churches. These statements included an affirmation of Christ’s teachings as the basis of the peace witness, a desire to love all mankind, a rejection of violence, a statement of allegiance to God, musings on the sinful nature of war, and a desire to put these tenets into practice. Furthermore, it was at this conference that the churches coined the term “Historic Peace Church” that is still in use today.
The 1935 conference in Newton was quite significant for the Peace Churches as they agreed to continue the cooperative efforts and they planned to present a cohesive voice to the federal government in the event that conscription returned to the United States. Most importantly, the cooperative spirit displayed at this conference, and the previous ones, led to a more unified lobby for conscientious objectors during World War II – something sorely lacking during the First World War.