An Example of Nonviolence: Anabaptism (Part 2 of 2)
“The commandment ‘You shall not kill,’ has absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty.” – Pope Francis, February 21, 2016
My Family Legacy
I was blessed to have not only loving parents of faith, but two sets of loving and devoted grandparents of faith. I was raised by a village of close relatives who loved me, loved God, and loved others deeply. It was/is said of all of my grandparents how kind and loving they are/were, or how how faithful they were to God. Below, I will go over the stories of each of my grandfathers, as well as one of my great-grandfathers as it pertains to the theme of nonviolence.
Clair S. Bauman
My Grandpop Bauman was a strong man, whose faith warmed you as he embraced you, or as he spoke of others. I have clear memories of sleeping over as a child, and how Grandpop would read his bible by a single light as others slept. I have clear memories of his warm smile, working hands, and blue overalls that were manifestations of the wonderfully humble loving soul that he was. He was a man of deep convictions and compassion for his faith and for the well being of others.
Although I have no record of his words on nonviolence, I do remember him having a “support all peacemakers” bumper sticker, and memories of him being against war, and even against voting. As to physical evidence of his actions for nonviolence, I do have record of Him serving as a Conscientious Objector (CO) in WWII as part of Civilian Public Service(CPS) from 1945 – 1947. Grandpop Bauman served on the CPS Camp 18, Unit 1 in Denison, Iowa, and on Camp 34, Unit 5 in a subunit located in Newton, Kansas. In Iowa, He worked to build up dams, and in Kansas, he served by working on highways, canning foods, and something with forestry, as told to me by his eldest son, Duane Bauman.
My Uncle Duane also served as a CO during the Vietnam war, objecting for religious reasons like his father before him, but also expressing the internal conflict felt when your friends, classmates, and teammates were sent off to war, and you stayed behind. Being a CO was not an easy thing to do, but it felt like it was in comparison with those who entered the war.
J. Walter Hackman
Grandpop Hackman, my Mom’s dad, was also a CO during WWII. Thankfully, due to an interview conducted by my cousin Andrew, the family has a written record of Grandpop’s experiences and thoughts on being a CO. I am going to dictate some of my grandfather’s words and responses to some of my Cousin’s questions below:
On why he became a CO:
“I became a religious objector as soon as I knew anything about it. I knew I couldn’t take a life of another person, created by God.”
“At that time we weren’t paid by the Government. We got no financial reimbursement in the regular CO camps. They were in the old CC camps from [the] depression to keep people off [the] street and put them in jobs.”
On What COs did:
“They [COs] were mostly making parks and maintaining state and federal parks. Then they needed help in hospitals and in mental hospitals. Business men that were COs were put in management”
On the perception of others, and of themselves:
“If someone died in the front [lines], it made no sense to a lot of people that we were here. But all of the serious religious objectors would have given up our lives if it was needed so that others might live.”
“The important thing is that it is a sincere commitment and that those around us could see it. Sincerity in our desire to follow Christ is very important. That comes first, and also our fellow men, we are concerned about their lives, and their souls. However, sincerity alone isn’t everything. You can be sincerely wrong, you must base your sincerity on the Scripture”.
On the roles of the Christian and Government:
“I feel that the government has their job to do, and the church has theirs. I feel that you, as a citizen, have the right to follow your own conviction, if you conviction for following the Lord is number one. That right was honored if you were against taking a life [because the government allowed for religious objectors], and even if it wasn’t, we still would have had to take that path whatever the punishment would have been.”
On the thankfulness of the government:
“The government was very kind to us in allowing us to take our position. In World War 1, this was not the case. Many of them were punished in the regular army camps because they wouldn’t put on the uniforms.”
“I was very much concerned at what was going on. I feel that being a citizen of a country is a privilege and that we were certainly given a privilege in being able to take our stand. Many of our [anabaptist] forefathers were burned at the stake and some drowned and persecuted for taking stands on various issues. I felt our country was giving us an opportunity. Since it sometimes has been abused, I fear for our younger generation if we should have a draft like we had before”
On the Mennonite church, and on others joining the service:
“Some of our men did go into the armed forces. But if they went, they would be excommunicated from our denomination. Looking back, I feel this wasn’t a fair practice, but it was done. I have very good, Christian friends in the service and I would be in no way judgemental of their decisions.”
In response to the question: Would you make the same decision today [peace time]?
“ I still want to be a pacifist – war or no war.”
My Grandpop Hackman had some convicting words to say in what I just quoted – he not only defended why he chose the route of nonviolence, but he recognized the internal conflict he went through while staying in the states while his peers went to war. Not only did he recognize this struggle, he stated that he made no judgements on Christians who did go to war. He did not take the nonviolent route out of fear of dying, or as a draft dodger, but out of religious conviction which superseded any other authority.
After his time as a CO, Grandpop Hackman moved with his wife to Allentown to start city missions, and soon he started to sell bibles and books from a truck which eventually became a Christian bookstore. This bookstore has been serving the Allentown area for over 65 years, and is called Hackman’s Bible Bookstore, located in Whitehall, Pa. Grandpop saw his store as his mission. But in addition to this mission, He also organized monthly programs at Lehigh County Jail for nearly 30 years.
Wilmer R. Yoder
My great-grandfather Wilmer Yoder, who I never met, was too young for the draft in WWI, and too old for it in WWII, but he still felt a responsibility to help people. He, along with 55 other crew members from the historic peace churches, and other places traveled to Poland in 1946 on the USS Virginian, which was a retired Navy Troop ship. These men were nicknamed the “Seagoing Cowboys”, and you can read a little more about them in your own time, if interested.
Wilmer’s journal is mainly what you would expect from a daily log – full of the day’s events, current emotions at the time, and memories of home. However, my grandmother Ruth Hackman put together some of his other writings in that diary that were not part of the daily log, and here are two of them that pertain to our topic:
“If Hitler had the enthusiasm for religion as he had for war, I am sure there would have been no war in Europe. “
”Wars, I’m sure, make more hatred than love.”
For Wilmer, and those in my tradition of Christianity, to be religious meant to follow Christ and seek to live like him, and so, if Hitler was religious like he claimed to be, his love of Christ would force his prejudice to cease.
Conclusion – An Active Nonviolence
Whether it be through the example of the anabaptist movement, or through my more personal examples, we can see that these people of faith not only were committed in not taking a life, but they were just as committed to improving the lives of others. They were not “arm-chair pacifists”, or draft-dodgers, and they did not resemble any sort of cowardice.
As argued before, passive nonviolence does not do anyone good. Its when people actually live out nonviolence, and its end results, that we can see something beautiful coming out of the hatred and anger of the world.
But something that has stuck with me ever since I read my Grandpop Hackman’s interview was how he didn’t judge his Christian, even his Mennonite, brothers who joined the service. And how he disagreed with the way his denomination handled them when they came home. Neither of my grandfathers would endorse, based on writings, and what I know of their character, any sort of disrespect for a serviceman or woman. They cared about regular citizens, Christians, soldiers, criminals, and even enemies lives.
To those who are pacifist, or accept the nonviolent ethic: Let me say to you to always be careful in how you talk about this issue. Always respect the veterans. Know also that for many, your nonviolent religious conviction is synonymous with the soldier hating hippie-led peace movement that veterans of Vietnam came home to.
The Active Nonviolent teachings of Jesus lead us to peace with all men and women – soldiers, criminals, enemies, and neighbors. Live out that teaching, and be a light to the world.
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