It did not permit them to provide medical or humanitarian aid to the enemy side, which was common in other wars. More than 2,000 Mennonites were drafted, and, for the first time, spent time in military camps. Another 600 to 800 left the United States for Canada. Finally, in 1918, the Farm Furlough Bill allowed COs to do farm labor in lieu of military duty due to the extensive labor shortage (ibid)
Not every CO could change his status, however. Each situation was taken by itself and evaluated separately to determine if the individual was truly a conscientious objector. In fact, about ten percent of those Mennonites who declined all service to the military were court-martialed and sent to jail, sixty percent found some other option of service such as farm labor or reconstruction work, and thirty percent of those drafted remained in army camps without opportunity to meet with the Board of Inquiry. Thus, the First War was a unstable time, since the Mennonites once again faced persecution for their positions in many areas of the country -- two churches were set on fire, numerous buildings were painted yellow, and one cleargyman was even grabbed by a mob and tied to a telephone pole. After World War I ended, the Mennonites' work continued, as they organized to help the needy around the world (ibid).
Prior to World War II, members of the Historic Peace Churches -- Mennonites, Brethren in Christ and the Quakers -- sent a letter to President Roosevelt outlining their peace position and requesting special provisions before any war ensued. The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 granted that those opposed to war because of religious beliefs should be given "work of national importance under civilian direction," such as forestry, soil conservation, public health, and agriculture and instrumental in the mental health system. The Mennonites embraced this Civilian Public Service (CPS) system not only as a substitute for armed services but, more importantly, as an expression of biblical faith and dedication to their society. Over 4,600 Mennonites served in the CPS program and about 3,900 served as noncombatants conscientious objectors in the military (
(Towes, 1930, p.141). Similarly, in the Vietnam War, they aided both sides with food, money, and relief work around the world, and they will continue to pursue this outlet in the future.
The church actively continues to participate in peacemaking, conflict resolution, counseling conscientious objectors, supporting individuals who elect not to pay "war taxes" -- or the percentage of their income tax going to the military. In addition, a group called Christian Peacemaker Team that places peacemakers in violent situations around the world, such as Iraq, to "get in the way" of violence. They accompany people who may otherwise be killed and document human rights abuses. In addition, Mennonites have historically been involved in relief and development work. Most members know someone who has given at least three years as a volunteer (Mennonite newsletter).
As with other formal religions, the profile of the Mennonites is changing, as can be seen in a 2006 survey vs. one that was done previously. The religion is experiencing a rapidly aging membership, where the average age of a member is now 54 years, five years older than in 1989. In 1972, 54% of Mennonites were under age 45 -- within childbearing age. This number decreased to 45% in 1989 and is only 30% today. However, on the other hand, there is the growth of racial/ethnic congregations, with increasing numbers of African-American, Latino/Hispanic, Native American, Asian and "other than Anglo." In the past five years, 25% of the denomination's new members have been racial/ethnic, compared with just 6% among those members who entered the denomination more than five years ago (Mennonite Newsletter). It is positive that other ethnic and racial groups are growing, but overall, the concern is that traditional religion does not play as important a role in the lives of individuals, especially young men and women and their families as in the past. One of the other main trends is that fewer individuals are living and working on the farms and increasing numbers are employed in city businesses. These two groups regularly come in conflict because of their traditional vs. non-traditional value structure.
Bernhardt, a.F. (1909) German element in the U.S. with special reference to its political, moral, social and educational influence. NY: Houghton Mifflin.
Klees, F. (1950). Pennsylvania Dutch. New York: Macmillian.
Lederach, J.P. (2000) From the ground up: Mennonite contibutions to international peacebuilding. Oxford: Oxford Univeristy Press.
Melton, G.J. (1988). "Mennonites," the Encyclopedia of American Religions. Detroit: Gale Research.
Mennonite Newsletter. "Look in the mirror." Retrieved March 27, 2007. http://themennonite.lightsky.com/php/magazine.cover.story.php?mag_id=147
Schmidt, K.D. (2001). Sacred Farming or Working Out: The negotiated lives of conservative mennonite farm women. Journal of Women Studies