In June 1941, scores of men, women, and children gathered near Nappanee, Indiana, at a campground nestled on the banks of Waubee Lake, for the annual General Conference of the Brethren in Christ Church. Delegates to the meeting anticipated several busy days of intense discussion of church matters. Yet before delegates settled in to their business sessions, they heard an impassioned sermon from one of the luminaries of the denomination at that time: Henry G. Brubaker, a California minister and the president of Beulah College, the church’s Bible school on the West Coast. “[W]e are living in momentous times,” Brubaker began. On the one hand, a boiling conflict in Europe and the Mediterranean threatened to engulf the world in “barbarous force.” On the other hand, developments within North American society threatened to alter the traditional ways of the Brethren in Christ. Our church and its members “are shifting gears from agriculture to semi-urban life and activity,” Brubaker noted. “The mechanical power used in farming, the speed of the tractor, automobile, and airplane, and the world communication via the radio, all force the Brethren in Christ away from the position of a recluse and of social isolation.” Brubaker chided the Conference delegates to take seriously these threats, both global and local. “As a church,” he concluded, “we need a fresh baptism with the Holy Spirit” in order to confront the challenges of the day.
Brubaker’s sermon hinted at the multiple fundamental ways in which social, cultural, and economic transformations within the United States and Canada had taken their toll on the avowedly separatist Brethren in Christ by midcentury. The post-New Deal collapse of the farm economy, increasing levels of professionalization and industrialization among individual church members, migrations from rural areas to semi-urban and suburban regions, growing reliance on new media—all these and more had begun to reshape the theological, social, and vocational patterns of the small religious community.2 Further changes were yet to come: Months after Brubaker delivered his speech, the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor brought a previously foreign conflict to the doorstep of the United States, resulting in a declaration of war and the inauguration of mandatory military conscription. These developments forced the pacifist Brethren in Christ to determine how they would respond to wartime mobilization, both at home and abroad.3
In the decade preceding Brubaker’s impassioned homily, Brethren in Christ leaders moved to mitigate the impact of these cultural transformations. Historically the Brethren in Christ—like many other subcultures in North American society—had struggled to balance the relationship between the individual and the group. So too in responding to the massive changes of the early twentieth century, church leaders wrestled with how best to enforce the traditional “ways of the Brethren” at a time when some individual members appeared to embrace adaptation. In the end they chose, more often than not, to emphasize conformity to community standards over personal choice. Several Conference-level initiatives reflected this effort to bring individuals into compliance with communal expectations. For instance, in 1935, in response to growing concerns about laxity in plain dress standards among church members, the General Conference imposed an official and detailed church uniform. Two years later, in 1937, the Conference passed a new doctrinal statement on sanctification, arguing that the experience was an instantaneous second work of grace subsequent to conversion through which “the believer is . . . cleansed from the defilement of the sinful world.” In the throes of the Great Depression and the midst of a cultural transformation within the small community, church leaders hoped that a full-throated endorsement of holiness would help to resolve the community’s sense of peril. The year after Brubaker’s sermon, in 1942, Conference passed yet another declaration, this time promising to discipline any church member who chose combatant or noncombatant military service in response to the wartime draft. Finally, in 1944, the General Conference formed a Committee on Indoctrination, with a mandate to design “a more careful and systematic program of instruction in the Doctrines and practices of the church,” specifically targeted at Brethren in Christ young people, whom leaders saw as especially vulnerable to the lure of “worldly” culture.
Leaders intended these actions as attempts to reinforce the church’s doctrines of nonconformity and nonresistance in the face of massive transformations within North American society. Yet their efforts largely floundered. Adherence to the new church uniform varied throughout the church, with some districts demanding greater obedience than others; meanwhile, some critiqued church uniforms as mere “companions to salvation,” not necessary practices. Some congregations experienced shrinking membership rosters as young men flouted the General Conference prohibitions on military enlistment; other congregations, refusing to discipline the enlisted men within their midst, experienced internecine conflict. Ultimately, even General Conference was forced to admit that their indoctrination program had little practical effect at the grassroots level.
To be fair, conflict and tensions over nonconformity and nonresistance are hardly the full story of Brethren in Christ communal life in the middle decades of the twentieth century. The church as a whole managed to survive these turbulent years without a major schism; the historical record does not record any congregations dividing irrevocably over the practice of the church’s distinctive doctrines during this period. Moreover, many Brethren in Christ who came of age in the 1930s and 1940s remember these decades fondly, recalling the emotional warmth, spiritual vigor, and social unity of both family and congregational life. Even after accounting for how memory can distort lived reality, such recollections cannot be entirely ignored. Much of what happened in the midcentury Brethren in Christ Church reflected anything but discord and disunity.
Even so, the 1930s and 1940s represented a watershed moment in the church’s history. Deep and sometimes persistent divisions wracked the church in these years, particularly over the practice of nonconformity and nonresistance. How did the Brethren in Christ Church resolve the conflicts over nonresistant and nonconformist practice that roiled the community in these decades? One scholar of Brethren in Christ history has argued that this “indoctrination period” ended abruptly in the late 1940s because of a “spiritual revolution” experienced by the Brethren in Christ during these years. This revolution, he concludes, ultimately led the church to identify with the post-World War II evangelical movement, to alter traditional practices associated with the doctrines of nonconformity and nonresistance, and to enter a period of unprecedented church growth. Such an argument has considerable merit. After 1950, the Brethren in Christ indeed began to identify to a greater extent with the larger American evangelical movement. Scholarship has demonstrated that becoming “born-again Brethren in Christ” enabled this once small, sectarian community to give theological justification to its social acculturation, to join a conservative Protestant mainstream, and to liberalize the practices associated with nonresistance and nonconformity without entirely losing the theological rationale for those practices. Yet while a period of “spiritual revolution” may have helped usher in the Brethren in Christ’s evangelical turn, this same period of time also witnessed significant internecine conflict within the Brethren in Christ community. Church leaders and members alike not only pursued spiritual renewal during this period, but also focused on more practical and utilitarian concerns, including how to hold together a religious community that sometimes seemed to have little organic unity.
This essay seeks to understand what happened to the Brethren in Christ community between 1935 and 1950. What developments during these turbulent decades helped to resolve conflicts and pave the way for the church’s entrance into the evangelical mainstream after midcentury? To answer this question, this essay explores how Brethren in Christ leaders refashioned their group’s religious identity by transforming the way that they talked about the relationship of the individual member to the larger group. Through articles in the denominational newspaper and sermons at church gatherings, these leaders crafted a new rhetoric of community. In contrast to older modes of thought that emphasized group uniformity and called upon individuals to sacrifice their will for the good of the whole, this new rhetoric of community emphasized “unity in diversity.” Leaders contended that the Brethren in Christ should enforce communal adherence to several central tenets or principles, while allowing individual members the freedom to determine their own convictions about certain more peripheral topics. This rhetorical reconstruction of community provided the Brethren in Christ with an intellectual and theological framework for thinking of themselves not as closed-off sectarians but rather as one part of a larger Christian community, thus facilitating their eventual move into the evangelical mainstream.
The symbolic construction of community
In making its case, this essay draws upon the theoretical insights of the anthropologist Anthony P. Cohen. Rejecting structuralist definitions of community, Cohen argued for a cultural definition of community. He contended that a community is a cultural entity whose meaning is shaped by a complex array of symbols. These symbols are interpreted, valued, and used differently by different members, often resulting in different definitions of the community and its boundaries even by those considered insiders to the group. He rejected objective explanations of community; he asserted that scholars should not ask, “What does it [a given community] look like to us?” but rather, “What does it appear to mean to its members?” By paying attention to the symbols with which community members set the boundaries for their group—symbols such as language, ritual, image, and others—Cohen believed that scholars could better understand the community itself, its function, and its identity.
This emphasis on the symbolic construction of community offers a means by which to understand how different leaders in the Brethren in Christ Church approached a new definition of its communal boundaries in the 1940s and 1950s. In these decades, different leaders deployed different terms—particularly “unity” and “diversity”—to make sense of the church community and its boundaries. As Cohen demonstrates, these words are symbols, freighted with meaning and used toward different ends in defining who the Brethren in Christ are or should be. Paying attention to how leaders used these words reveals how the Brethren in Christ community reinvented itself during the early twentieth century.
Distinctive doctrines and a “divided house”
From their origins in the late eighteenth century, the Brethren in Christ shared a number of commonalities with their Anabaptist co-religionists. While they differed from Mennonites and Amish groups in their convictions about a pietistic experience of God’s grace through conversion, they nevertheless held in common a reputation as “the quiet in the land.” In part, this quietistic reputation developed from a literal yet selective interpretation of the biblical injunctions to “resist not evil” and “come out from among them, and be ye separate.” Members refused to serve in the military, swear oaths, pursue litigation, hold political office, or exercise the franchise—all distinctly countercultural practices codified as the church’s doctrine of nonresistance. Along with nonresistance, the Brethren in Christ also embraced a doctrine of nonconformity, a theological and social-structural arrangement intended to distinguish members from their North American neighbors through alternative patterns of dress, speech, consumption, and recreation. Nonconformity demanded separation from certain social activities and individual vices such as dancing, watching movies, drinking alcohol, using tobacco, and playing organized sports. It also necessitated prescribed forms of dress. These practices drew sharp and visible boundaries between the faithful remnant and the larger culture. By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Brethren in Christ added to nonconformity and nonresistance a doctrine of sanctification, which promised Christian perfection through an instantaneous personal experience of God’s grace. Many leaders believed that this experience could help individual church members live up to the high expectations demanded by the doctrines of nonconformity and nonresistance.
These key doctrines gave the Brethren in Christ a clear theological identity. To this theological identity, they added elements of a particular ethnic identity: commitments to values such as simplicity, humility, the shunning of frivolity, and an aversion to internal conflict, as well as shared Swiss or South German ancestry, patterns of regional settlement, endogamy, and mutual aid. Along with these practices of peoplehood, the Brethren in Christ also used affective language to cement their corporate bond: Members referred to the community as a “brotherhood” and to individual members as brother or sister. Taken altogether, these theological and ethnic identities gave the Brethren in Christ a sense of themselves as a distinctive group.
As the Brethren in Christ became increasingly acculturated between 1910 and 1950, their distinctiveness—and especially their doctrines of nonconformity and nonresistance—came “under stress,” according to the church historian Carlton O. Wittlinger. Members’ migrations from rural to suburban and urban areas, their vocational moves from agriculture to industry and the professions, their increasing use of new communication mediums such as radio and film, and their encounters with the rhetoric of wartime mobilization all transformed the lived practice of these doctrines. As previously indicated, church leaders attempted a number of solutions to these transformations within nonconformist and nonresistant practice, but by the mid-1940s most leaders admitted that their efforts had been largely unsuccessful.
For the Brethren in Christ, threats to the doctrines of nonconformity and nonresistance were especially troubling because of the way the group tied the practice of these doctrines to their group identity. Historically, the Brethren in Christ had situated nonconformity and nonresistance as both corporate stances and individual testimonies—evidence of a communal commitment to group unity, as well as a personal religious commitment. Yet by the 1940s, some members of the Brethren in Christ community came to the sudden—and, for some, alarming—realization that the group had lost its sense of “essential unity,” particularly on the thought and practice of nonconformity and nonresistance. Writing in the Evangelical Visitor, the official church periodical, leaders and laypeople alike cited sermons, debates over doctrine, and reports of laxity in religious practice as evidence of this disunity. Despite General Conference’s efforts to lay down specific standards of dress and military nonparticipation, and despite the church’s efforts to disseminate materials for teaching its distinctive doctrines from the pulpit and in Sunday school classes, nonconformity and nonresistance had now become divisive points of contention within the community. As one writer opined within the Visitor, “Our historic and Bible-centered fundamentals of faith and practice are being undermined, and the whole distinctive mission of the Church sacrificed by a divided house.”
Seeking “loyal adherence to common purposes”
The earliest solutions to this denominational disunity emphasized the need for communal accord. Echoing previous rhetorical approaches to nonconformity and nonresistance, writers in the early to mid-1940s entreated the individual to sacrifice her or his own desire and beliefs for the sake of corporate unity. For instance, in his sermon to the General Conference of 1943, the Pennsylvania minister and Messiah Bible College president C. N. Hostetter, Jr., drew upon the biblical story of Queen Esther to illustrate this point. He noted that she defied Persian law and “gave herself in utter self-surrender and saved her nation.” He then drew a parallel between Esther’s sacrificial act and the challenge before the Brethren in Christ. In this modern age of individualism and materialism, Hostetter argued, “the individual must be willing to surrender his personal rights for the good of the group.” Another church leader, the Canadian bishop E. J. Swalm, made a similar point in describing specifically the costs of embracing the doctrine of nonresistance. In taking such a stand, Swalm averred, an individual might need to undergo “the crucifixion of personal ambitions.” The ideas espoused by these church leaders also made their way into Brethren in Christ educational materials. One program in a youth curriculum, for instance, urged young people to consider difficult issues as a group, not just on an individual or personal basis.
No single church leader more vocally supported this appeal to corporate unity than Jesse W. Hoover, the editor of the Evangelical Visitor from 1943 to 1947. Born in Ohio, Hoover attended the Brethren in Christ’s denominational college in Pennsylvania but eventually transferred to and graduated from Wheaton College, a prestigious evangelical school in Illinois. Yet his heart remained with his natal denomination, and after graduation he became increasingly involved in church affairs as a minister, evangelist, administrator, and editor. Hoover’s loyalty to the church and its doctrines emerged in his multiple editorials, revealing a rigid doctrinal stance and earning him a reputation for being unyielding in his perspective. “If the Brethren in Christ is not to remain distinctive, she has no good excuse to remain at all,” he once argued.
Given this approach, Hoover perhaps predictably embraced the notion of corporate unity over individual liberty in resolving the church’s sense of crisis. He first addressed the topic in a series of successive editorials in 1944. Hoover feared that the Brethren in Christ’s lack of unity might lead to watered-down relativism, materialism, or gross individualism: “[I]f the Church tolerates within its membership every divergence from accepted biblical doctrines and standards, in a short time she will be no different from the other popular church bodies who have no creed but individual conscience, no god but their own gratification and no law but their own lust.” He therefore defended the right of a voluntary group, such as the Brethren in Christ, to protect “corporate purity and unity.” He even argued that the church should maintain its expectations about belief and practice even to the point of “breaking fellowship with recalcitrant persons.” While emphasizing the ideal of reconciliation between individuals or an individual and the group, he also emphasized that there is no obligation on the part of any church “to tolerate in its folds those who are incompatible and incorrigible.” For Hoover, maintaining the unity of the community was far more important than championing the centrality of individuals.
Hoover continued to address the topic in the post-World War II years. In 1945, for instance, he proposed a spiritual solution to persistent claims of disunity in the church, urging members to “[g]et down on your knees and pray fervently, persistently, effectually for the achievement of unity.” One year later, in 1946, for instance, he argued that the church as a whole had so compromised on nonresistance and nonconformity that it now faced the “complete collapse of all standards.” Without mincing words, he described pleas for the exercise of individual conscience as misguided attempts to ease the burden of biblical standards. The solution to such worldliness, he claimed, was spiritual: Members must seek “a genuine revival of willingness to ‘submit to one another in the fear of God.’” He predicted that as members purged themselves of carnality and died to their own individual wills, the church as a whole would experience “concentrated, unified, and loyal adherence to common purposes.” In this way, the community would regain its sense of unity. 
Leaders, including Hoover, admitted that recovering or maintaining such unity would not come easily. Hoover himself admitted as early as 1944 that in nations with religious freedom, church membership was voluntary; therefore, no church can compel its members to accept or practice a particular belief, and individuals must choose to subordinate their own will to the will of the group. More specifically, in 1946, a California layman named Wendell Harmon argued that the small, geographically scattered Brethren in Christ community, pressed on all sides by powerful external forces of social and political change, would have difficulty maintaining past emphases on unity, especially among its young people. As a solution he suggested a special binational youth conference, drawing together Brethren in Christ young people from across the United States and Canada; such a corporate event would illustrate that the issues faced by young people were collective, not individual. Yet virtually all who heralded the call for corporate unity believed that the very intergenerational survival of the doctrines of nonconformity and nonresistance was at stake.
Seeking “unity in diversity”
Even as Hoover and others called for “loyal adherence to common purposes,” still others raised notes of caution. Such calls begged for uniformity, they argued, not unity. These leaders contended for mandating certain doctrinal essentials while allowing for and sometimes even encouraging a variety of opinions on certain more peripheral matters. They claimed that the church should not attempt to enforce total conformity but rather should allow for “Christian liberty” and the free exercise of individual conscience in the practice of doctrines such as nonresistance and nonconformity—matters on which, as one church leader argued, “one interpretation might be just as orthodox as the other.”
Perhaps the most articulate proponent of this view was John A. Climenhaga. A Pennsylvania minister, former missionary, and an associate editor of the Visitor, Climenhaga had a reputation for being a serious and dedicated churchman. By this time he had served on numerous denominational boards and committees, including as secretary for the committee tasked with revising the church’s Constitution and By-Laws, the same document that had formalized the church uniform and the new doctrine of sanctification. Yet that reputation did not keep Climenhaga from critiquing his tribe when he felt it needed critique. Thus in a 1947 editorial, Climenhaga proposed the most direct counter-argument to the dominant unity thesis propounded by Hoover and other church leaders. He began his article by affirming unity as both a practical goal and a biblical ideal. Referencing Ephesians 4, Philippians 2, and 1 Peter 3, he noted that Christians should strive to “be of one mind.” But he questioned the meaning of unity in these passages. The goal, he claimed, was not uniformity nor the elimination of one’s individual view, but rather “unity in diversity.”
Climenhaga rooted his claim in a discussion he had had with members of his local ministerium. Reflecting on that conversation, Climenhaga opined that “often . . . denominational differences are not differences of faith but of polity and that too often the thing which keeps us apart is neither faith nor polity but men.” While such artificial divisions are often touted as efforts to preserve one group’s “unity,” they amount in reality to little more than group chauvinism, Climenhaga claimed. Most damningly for him, these divisions ultimately hinder the work of these churches in their neighborhoods.
Climenhaga then turned his sights on his own denominational community. Like Hoover and others, he called attention to the Brethren in Christ’s lack of unanimity on a variety of points: plain dress, the “prayer veiling,” sanctification, nonresistance, and more. Yet unlike Hoover and others, Climenhaga affirmed this diversity. “In frowning upon the eclectic we become narrow and dogmatic, selfish and judicious, unkind and uncharitable,” he asserted. He championed the integrity of the individual: Every person, he declared, “[should] be strictly honest in his convictions,” even if and when those convictions diverge from the majority view.
But Climenhaga also made clear the acceptable limits of such diversity. Believers should make certain that their convictions “are God-given and not man-formed, that they are measured by the standard of God’s Word, the Scriptures, [and] that they are propounded for God’s glory and the advancement of His cause without any degree of selfishness in them.” Emphasizing the authority of the Bible and the “literal interpretation” of it, Climenhaga differentiated between “orthodoxy” (which he did not explicitly define) and beliefs on which there may be conscientious disagreement. Moreover, displaying his knowledge of the divisions within the wider American Protestant community of his day, Climenhaga made clear that his call for unity in diversity should not be misinterpreted as a call to liberal ecumenism and church union. Rather, he clarified, he sought to determine whether there existed issues about which the Brethren in Christ might say, “May we . . . have diversity of thought and [still] be brethren?”
In closing, Climenhaga offered what might have been his most trenchant critique of the Brethren in Christ at midcentury. He lamented the tendency of some Brethren in Christ leaders to bar “the other view-point” from public presentation in the church’s “pulpits [and] periodicals.” Such obvious censorship, he warned, has no place in the Christian church, since truth “is never found in the quelching [sic] process.” To the contrary, leaders and members of the Brethren in Christ Church should be allowed to share their opinions openly—including, he implicitly suggested, from the pulpit or in the pages of the denominational paper—and engage in debate on matters over which there are honest differences. “Of all organizations,” Climenhaga concluded, “the Church should be a democratic body and not a dictatorial one. It can and will be, not by destroying individualism but by having unity in diversity.”
Climenhaga’s article represented a new direction for the Brethren in Christ community, a new rhetorical approach to the group’s persistent efforts at boundary maintenance. Embodying a conciliatory approach that contrasted sharply with Hoover’s more acerbic rhetoric, Climenhaga challenged the notion that sacrificing one’s own beliefs for the good of the group naturally leads to unity. In effect, “Unity in Diversity” provided an alternative vision of community for a group beset by disagreement and infighting.
This alternative vision of community held natural appeal for a church in crisis. Indeed, the tide was turning within the group. A few months after Climenhaga’s article appeared in print, General Conference acted with no explanation to replace editor Hoover with the New York minister John N. Hostetter. One scholar blamed Hoover’s caustic style and doctrinaire approach for the abrupt departure; “the church,” this scholar concluded, “was [now] prepared to choose leaders of a more conciliatory temperament.” Whatever the reason for Hoover’s sudden dismissal, leadership style was changing in the Brethren in Christ Church.
It is not clear how fully Climenhaga’s new rhetoric of community influenced other church leaders. Though a senior churchman, Climenhaga was not a bishop or an administrator; he did not necessarily carry the clout of others in leadership roles. Nevertheless, the approach he advised does have echoes in the writings of many of his fellow ministers in the years after 1947. Though none explicitly used the phrase “unity in diversity,” these leaders articulated the same sentiments. For instance, the new Visitor editor John Hostetter made a case similar to Climenhaga’s when he argued that God might “convict” one believer about certain beliefs and practices “that He does not necessarily convict someone else on,” but those different convictions should not divide the group. In a later editorial, he made much the same point: “[Our f]ellowship is enhanced when somehow we can major on the chords in which we harmonized and avoid the sharps or flats in which even so much as a half-step creates discord.” Another leader, the Pennsylvania bishop Charlie Byers, opined in a Visitor article that the Brethren in Christ should allow differences on certain matters for the sake of church unity; he argued that “we must be [one] like the Bible is one—different men, different dispensations, different times—united in a oneness that makes the unity in Scripture.” Similarly, the Ohio layman C. W. Boyer addressed the same issue when he posed an incisive rhetorical question to readers of the Visitor: “Should we not recognize that [there] are areas where conscience and personal convictions may play an important role in determining individual conduct and practice?”  In these articles and in others, church leaders expanded upon and operationalized Climenhaga’s rhetoric of community, encouraging diversity on peripheral matters while urging unity on the “essentials of the faith.”
Opting for the mainstream
Analyzing this new rhetoric of community used by Brethren in Christ church leaders in the 1940s and 1950s is necessary because it helps in part to explain the next major evolution in the church’s history: their abrupt turn toward identification with the mainstream American evangelical movement after 1950. As a generation of historical scholarship has demonstrated, American evangelicals much more readily embraced notions of individualism and more frequently appealed to individual conscience and religious liberty than did sectarian groups such as the Brethren in Christ. Thus, as Brethren in Christ began to emphasize the centrality of the individual in religious matters, identifying as evangelical became more possible.
Such rhetoric of individual conscience and religious liberty runs through much of evangelical corpus, especially literature produced at midcentury. For instance, at the inaugural convention of the National Association of Evangelicals in 1942, William Ward Ayer—senior pastor of Manhattan’s famed Calvary Baptist Church and one of the most influential evangelicals in the United States—boasted of evangelicalism’s championing of religious individualism, even as he called for greater cooperation among evangelical groups. Ayer argued that “the boast of evangelical Christianity is its liberty of thought, freedom of expression, and . . . right to differ.” Yet he also warned of the danger posed by evangelical Christianity’s “fragmented condition.” Splintered into various factions and denominations and overshadowed by mainline Protestant groups, evangelicalism risked losing its “genuine . . . testimony to the world,” Ayer contended. “There must be a hub in which the spokes of our several organizations can meet in order to make for firmness of purpose and service, and for solidarity in testimony,” he concluded. “There must be unity,” he concluded, “even in division.” In other words, while proclaiming evangelicalism’s gospel of individualism, Ayer also called for unity in diversity.
Ward’s speech helped to establish the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), a parachurch organization founded as an evangelical political lobby in Washington D.C., as well as a clearinghouse for pan-evangelical cooperation on issues such as broadcasting, education, missions, and more. By the 1960s, the NAE had united a variety of denominations and confessional groups—fundamentalist Baptists, holiness Wesleyans, Dutch Reformed Calvinists, peace churches, and more—under its aegis. The Brethren in Christ became a member denomination in 1949, an initial foray into the evangelical mainstream. The rhetoric of community offered by Climenhaga in the late 1940s, striking parallel in many ways to the rhetoric of evangelicals in that same era, likely played a role in paving the way for Brethren in Christ involvement in the NAE.
In addition to facilitating the Brethren in Christ’s turn toward the evangelical mainstream, this new rhetoric of community made its lasting mark on the Brethren in Christ in another way: in urging a focus on the enduring principles undergirding their doctrines of nonconformity and nonresistance, rather than focusing on proscribed practices. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Brethren in Christ did not abandon their doctrines of nonconformity and nonresistance. But, unlike their efforts in the 1930s, in these midcentury decades church leaders did not articulate particular practices associated with the doctrines. Rather, reflecting the logic of Climenhaga’s appeal to unity in diversity, they promoted the principles behind the doctrines without mandating specific applications.
Such rhetorical moves occurred as early as 1951, when the Visitor editor and New York minister John Hostetter stated, “Convictions [about nonconformity and nonresistance] should be anchored to unchanging principles,” rather than legalistic proscriptions. Hostetter made much the same point two years later. In an editorial reflecting on some changes to the church’s membership guidelines, he observed happily that the new guidelines “majored on Scriptural principles” behind nonconformity and nonresistance, rather than on specific mandatory practices, as former statements had done. Other church leaders also articulated this language of principles. In 1954 Arthur Climenhaga, a missionary to Africa who would later become a bishop for the California churches, argued in a sermon that the Brethren in Christ “must come to understand the principles underlying” the doctrines of nonconformity and nonresistance “and adapt them to the present age.” He concluded that “understanding the principle . . . must supercede [sic] any tendency toward legalism and save us from ritualism.”
Even official church documents embraced this language of principle. In the mid-1950s and 1960s, General Conference revised the church’s membership guidelines, eliminating the 1935 church uniform requirement and the 1942 ban on military enlistment, among other practices. A 1957 statement on the woman’s head covering—once considered part of the church uniform, but now salvaged and maintained separately as a practice for membership—typified the tendency to emphasize principles over specific practices. Arguing that the “form of head covering for a woman is not specifically prescribed in Scripture,” the statement advised church leaders and members alike to “seek primarily to promote commitment to [the] principle” behind the covering. Observance of this head covering principle “should be motivated by a concern for spiritual victory, obedience to the teaching of the prayer veiling or the covering [in the Bible], and the welfare and unity of the group,” the statement concluded. In making the case for supporting and observing the principle behind the concept of the head covering, rather than requiring a particular application of that principle, the Brethren in Christ implicitly embodied the call for unity in diversity urged by Climenhaga a decade before.
This emphasis on maintaining the principles of nonconformity and nonresistance without mandating specific practices, clearly rooted in the logic of the unity-in-diversity argument propounded by Climenhaga and others, may help to explain why the Brethren in Christ never gave up on the doctrines of nonconformity and nonresistance during the course of the twentieth century. By emphasizing principle over proscription, church leaders sought to modify decades of denominational practice. While neither advocating for the abolition of certain church doctrines nor entirely disregarding the denomination’s commitment to corporate confession, leaders’ rhetorical work affirmed members’ right to exercise individual conscience on certain matters, especially those associated with nonresistance and nonconformity. In other words, rather than abandoning what had become contentious theological issues, church leaders and others instead revised how those doctrines should be practiced in everyday life.
Perhaps predictably, by de-emphasizing specific practices, traditional elaborations of nonconformity and nonresistance among the Brethren in Christ gradually faded away throughout the late twentieth century. Plain dress all but disappeared, more slowly in some regions than in others. During the Vietnam War, only 61 percent of Brethren in Christ affirmed the statement that “the Christian should take no part in war or any war-promoting activity,” implying that a not-insignificant minority could affirm participation in the military. The church also grew exponentially during these years: by almost 300 percent between 1955 and 1989, to just slightly less than 20,000 members in the United States and Canada. Members no longer shared a common ancestry, and practices that had shaped the distinctive sense of peoplehood among early twentieth century Brethren in Christ—endogamy, mutual aid, and more—became less and less common. Nevertheless, members still referred to one another as part of a “brotherhood,” and even at times referred to one another as brother or sister. Ironically, despite the gradual disappearance of practices that had given the Brethren in Christ a distinctive communal identity, by the end of the twentieth century the church still used language that tied the group back to its ethnic roots.
These changes in Brethren in Christ thought and practice took shape in the late 1950s and 1960s, gaining momentum in subsequent decades. But they could not have occurred without the development of a new rhetoric of community in the 1940s and early 1950s. Revising the historical pattern of privileging the group over the individual, and refusing to laud calls for unity that explicitly demanded uniformity, a small group of progressive church leaders articulated a new way of thinking about being Brethren in Christ. Emphasizing unity in diversity, they called for the enforcement of communal adherence to several central theological tenets or principles, while allowing individual members freedom to determine their own convictions about certain more peripheral topics. Revolutionary for its time, this new rhetoric of community paved the way for greater changes in the church in the 1950s, the 1960s, and beyond.
 Henry G. Brubaker, “The Urgency for God Power (The General Conference Sermon),” General Conference Minutes, 1941, 4. For a biography of Brubaker, see Miriam A. Bowers, “Henry G. Brubaker: Servant of the Western Church,” Brethren in Christ History and Life 5, no. 2 (December 1982): 163-176.
 For general studies focused on the impact of industrialization, urbanization, and new media on American society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see Gordon Colin, ed., Major Problems in American History, 1920-1945 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999); Jackson Lears, Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920 (New York: HarperCollins, 2009); and David M. Kennedy, Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005). On the transformation of the agricultural economy in this same period, see David B. Danbom, Born in the Country: A History of Rural America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), ch. 9, and R. Douglas Hurt, American Agriculture: A Brief History, rev. ed. (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2002), chs. 6-7. On social, geographical, and cultural transformations within the Brethren in Christ Church, see Carlton O. Wittlinger, Quest for Piety and Obedience: The Story of the Brethren in Christ (Nappanee, IN: Evangel Press, 1978), ch. 15.
 On the challenges faced by Brethren in Christ during World War II, see Wittlinger, 376-400; M. J. Heisey, Peace and Persistence: Tracing the Brethren in Christ Peace Witness Through Three Generations (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2003), chs. 2-6; and David L. Weaver-Zercher, “Open (to) Arms: The Status of the Peace Position in the Brethren in Christ Church,” Brethren in Christ History and Life 22, no. 1 (April 1999): 95-100.
 The church uniform was proposed in 1935 and confirmed by the approval of new membership bylaws in 1937. See “Article VIII: Christian Apparel,” Constitution-Doctrine, By-Laws and Rituals of the Brethren in Christ Church, tentative unapproved edition ([Nappanee, IN: E. V. Publishing House, 1935]), 19-21, and “Article VIII: Christian Apparel,” Constitution-Doctrine, By-Laws and Rituals of the Brethren in Christ Church, Adopted at the General Conference held at Cross Roads Church, Florin, PA, June 4, 1937 to become effective August 1, 1937 (Nappanee, IN: E. V. Publishing House, 1937), 22-24. For the debates leading up to the passage of this revised doctrinal statement, see Wittlinger, 350-356.
 Constitution-Doctrine, By-Laws, and Rituals of the Brethren in Christ Church, Adopted . . . June 4, 1937 (Nappanee, IN: E. V. Publishing House, n.d.), 15-16. For the debates leading up to the passage of this statement, see Wittlinger, 321-331. On the Brethren in Christ and holiness in the early twentieth century, see Devin C. Manzullo-Thomas, “From Second Work to Secondary Status: The Shifting Role of Holiness Theology in the Brethren in Christ Church,” Wesleyan Theological Journal [forthcoming].
 General Conference Minutes, 1942, 22. For the debates leading up to the passage of this statement, see Wittlinger, 388-393.
 General Conference Minutes, 1944, 110-111 (quotation from 110). On the church’s indoctrination program, see Wittlinger, 428-433.
 Some districts tended to be more conservative in matters of dress than districts in other regions. For anecdotal evidence demonstrating the conservatism of districts in Pennsylvania, southern Ontario, and Ohio from the 1920s through the 1940s, see Esther Snyder, interview with Megan Dourte, October 21, 2002, Vertical File—Interview Transcripts, Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives (Mechanicsburg, PA); Mary (Wideman) Sider, “Growing Up Brethren in Christ: The Influence of Home and Congregation,” Brethren in Christ History and Life 31, no. 2 (August 2008): 262-266; Ruth Myers Dourte, “Reflections of an Octogenarian,” Brethren in Christ History and Life 33, no. 2 (August 2010): 321-336; and Grace Herr Holland, “Planting Seeds: A Missionary Story,” Brethren in Christ History and Life 39, no. 2 (August 2016): 3-6. For anecdotal evidence demonstrating the comparative progressivism of districts in California and Kansas from the 1920s to the 1940s, see Earl Engle, interview with the author, October 14, 2011, and Marilyn Byer Smith, interview with the author, July 17, 2017. Both of these interviews are housed in the author’s unprocessed collection at the Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives (Mechanicsburg, PA).
For criticism of the church uniform, see H. G. Brubaker response to Committee on Indoctrination questionnaire, Committee on Indoctrination file, Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives (Mechanicsburg, PA.), quoted in J. Norman Hostetter, “Challenging Tradition, Finding a Ministry: John and Nellie Hostetter in the Brethren in Christ Church,” Brethren in Christ History and Life 21, no. 2 (August 1998): 103.
 Some congregations were more likely to discipline members whose actions violated proscribed church practices. For instance, John Zercher, a member of the Grantham congregation in Pennsylvania, was placed on disciplinary probation (but not disfellowshiped) because he enlisted in the military in October 1941. Only after he made a sufficient confession of error and resigned his post in the Army reserves was he received back into full fellowship. See Weaver-Zercher, “Open (to) Arms,” 95-97, and E. Morris Sider, “Brief Biography of John E. Zercher,” in Lantern in the Dawn: Selections from the Writings of John E. Zercher, eds. E. Morris Sider and Paul Hostetler (Nappanee, IN: Evangel Press, 1980), 17.
Still, such instances of congregational discipline for military enlistment were few and far between, and continued to be so into the 1950s. The historian David Weaver-Zercher reports that of the 313 Brethren in Christ men drafted by the U.S. military between 1951 and 1957, 149 (approximately 48 percent) chose combatant or noncombatant military service over alternate service; of those 149, only 26 were subjected to church discipline by their congregations, despite the fact that such discipline had been instituted by the General Conference of 1942 and re-affirmed by the Conference of 1948 as a means of addressing violations of the church’s nonresistant practice. See Weaver-Zercher, “Open (to) Arms,” 97.
In other congregations, efforts to bar enlisted men from full fellowship in the church were met with strong opposition. At the Upland congregation in California, several mothers of draft-age men in the congregation banded together after the General Conference’s 1942 decision to disfellowship any man choosing combatant or noncombatant military service. They approached the congregation’s minister, making clear that if their boys’ names were taken from the rolls of the church for serving in noncombatant roles in the military, the mothers’ names would need to be removed also. The boys’ names remained. See Donald Lane Clucas, “Serving God and People: The Lives of Dwight and Faye Bert,” Brethren in Christ History and Life 31, no. 2 (August 2008): 205. Similarly, at the Carlisle (Pennsylvania) congregation, James Alderfer—who entered the U.S. Army as a noncombatant in the medical corps—was refused communion by the district bishop when he showed up to the service dressed in his military uniform. The congregation’s pastor, Roy Wenger, opposed the bishop and declared that he himself would not participate in communion if Alderfer was denied. The bishop eventually relented. See Thelma Heisey Book, “In Search of Great Spoil: A Biography of C. R. Heisey,” Brethren in Christ History and Life 20, no. 2 (August 1997): 124-125.
 Lois Raser, “Youth’s Response to Indoctrination,” Evangelical Visitor, May 31, 1948, 180; General Conference Minutes, 1948, 33.
 See, for instance, the recollections shared in the series of articles by various authors titled “Growing Up Brethren in Christ: The Influence of Home and Congregation,” Brethren in Christ History and Life 31, no. 2 (August 2008): 242-333. In analyzing these personal narratives, Harvey and Erma Sider observed that “all [of the authors] express remarkably similar and positive feelings” about growing up in the church during these decades. See Harvey and Erma Sider, “Growing Up Brethren in Christ: Observations,” Brethren in Christ History and Life 31, no. 2 (August 2008): 334. While such autobiographical reflections do not represent the experience of every community member who came of age in the 1930s and 1940s, they do provide one set of recollections about the lived experience of the Brethren in Christ Church at midcentury.
 Historians have long represented memory as the antithesis of history, yet since the 1980s and 1990s historians have increasingly drawn on analysis of memory as one method by which to understand the past. For one such example see Jacques Le Goff, History and Memory (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). For a similar analysis of memory as a tool for doing history, specifically Brethren in Christ history, see E. Morris Sider, “Community, Memory, and the Brethren in Christ,” Brethren in Christ History and Life 18, no. 3 (December 1995): 396-407.
 Frank Demmy, “The Spiritual Revolution in the Brethren in Christ Church as a Prelude to a Decade of Reorganization,” paper written as a History Department honors project, Messiah College, 1973, catalog number 1000-0000-2938, Academic Documents, Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives (Mechanicsburg, PA). Demmy’s essay, while never published, evidently informed Wittlinger’s analysis of this same period in his classic work on Brethren in Christ history. See Wittlinger, 498n11.
 See, for instance, David L. Zercher, “Opting for the Mainstream: The Brethren Join the National Association of Evangelicals,” Brethren in Christ History and Life 10, no. 1 (April 1987): 48-70, and Devin C. Manzullo-Thomas, “Born-Again Brethren in Christ: Anabaptism, Evangelicalism, and the Cultural Transformation of a Plain People,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 90, no. 2 (April 2016): 203-237.
 Anthony P. Cohen, The Symbolic Construction of Community (London: Tavistock Publications, 1985). Quotation from 20 (emphasis mine).
 The earliest members of this community adopted the name “River Brethren,” because many of the members lived near the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Foundational studies of the Brethren in Christ include Wittlinger, Quest for Piety and Obedience; Martin H. Schrag, “The Brethren in Christ Attitude Toward the ‘World’: A Historical Study of the Movement from Separation to an Increasing Acceptance of American Society” (Ph.D. diss., Temple University, 1967); Owen H. Alderfer, “The Mind of the Brethren in Christ: A Synthesis of Revivalism and the Church as Total Community” (PhD diss., Claremont Graduate School, 1964); and Luke L. Keefer, Jr., “The Three Streams in Our Heritage: Separate or Parts of a Whole?” Brethren in Christ History and Life 19, no. 1 (April 1996): 26-63. An important regional study is E. Morris Sider, The Brethren in Christ in Canada: Two Hundred Years of Tradition and Change (Hamilton, ON: Canadian Conference of the Brethren in Christ Church, 1988). On differences between the Brethren in Christ and their Mennonite and Amish co-religionists, especially in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, see Royden Loewen and Steven M. Nolt, Seeking Places of Peace, A Global Mennonite History series, vol. 5: North America (Intercourse, PA/Kitchener, ON: Good Books/Pandora Press, 2012), 34-40.
 Respectively, these injunctions appear in Matt. 5:39 and 2 Cor. 6:17 (KJV).
 On Brethren in Christ nonconformity and nonresistance before the mid-twentieth century, see Heisey, Peace and Persistence; Wittlinger, 102-124; and Schrag, 55-76, 154-192.
 In this essay, I follow the sociologist Milton Gordon in conceptualizing ethnicity as a “shared feeling of peoplehood.” An ethnic community is primarily a community that perceives a shared ancestry and future, although that community may also be a primordially rooted collectivity as well as a group with shared interest or national origin, or both. See Gordon, Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion, and National Origins (New York: New York University Press, 1964), 24, 29.
On the notion that the Brethren in Christ embraced a particular ethnic identity, I am indebted to Douglas Jacobsen, “The History and Character of Messiah College, 1909-1995,” in Models for Christian Higher Education: Strategies for Success in the Twenty-First Century, eds. Richard T. Hughes and William B. Adrian (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 328. While Jacobsen tends to emphasize the commitment to certain values embedded within this ethnic identity, I also include common ancestry, patterns of regional settlement, endogamy, and mutual aid as elements of that particular ethnicity.
 See Wittlinger, ch. 15.
 On “essential unity,” see Jesse W. Hoover, “At the Crossroads,” Evangelical Visitor, June 3, 1946, 3.
 Jesse W. Hoover, “‘Divided Against Itself,’” Evangelical Visitor, June 4, 1945, 3.
 C. N. Hostetter, Jr., “Conference Sermon: Meeting Today’s Crisis,” General Conference Minutes, 1943, 4.
 E. J. Swalm, “A Free Conscience,” in Nonresistance Under Test, comp. Swalm (Nappanee, IN: E. V. Publishing House, 1949), 268.
 “Christian Life,” first half of 1942, Board for Young People’s Work, VIII-2—2.1, Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives, cited in Heisey, Peace and Persistence, 224n165.
 To date, no full-length biography of Hoover has been written. Biographical details are available in a short biography in the Visitor and in a series of oral histories conducted by archival staff members at Wheaton College’s Billy Graham Center Archives. See “Jesse W. Hoover,” Evangelical Visitor, November/December 2004, 18, and Interview with Jesse W. Hoover, October 7, 1985, tapes T1-4, Collection 319, Oral History Interview with Jesse W. Hoover, Archives of the Billy Graham Center, Wheaton, IL
 Jesse W. Hoover, “Indoctrination,” Evangelical Visitor, July 15, 1946, 3.
 Jesse W. Hoover, “Quill Quirks,” Sunday School Herald, January 30, 1944, 4; “Quill Quirks,” Sunday School Herald, April 23, 1944, 4; and “A Question of Liberty,” Evangelical Visitor, December 4, 1944, 3.
 Hoover, “‘Divided Against Itself,’” 3.
 Hoover, “At the Crossroads,” 3, 13.
 Hoover, “Question of Liberty,” 3. Hoover saw this reality as essentially right; he rejected the common argument that corporate unity is a violation of individual conscience or religious liberty.
 Wendell E. Harmon, “E Pluribus Unum,” Sunday School Herald, May 26, 1946, 4.
 J. A. Climenhaga, “Unity in Diversity!” Evangelical Visitor, February 24, 1947, 3.
 For a biography of Climenhaga, see Donna Climenhaga Wenger, “John and Emma Climenhaga: A Study in Commitment,” Brethren in Christ History and Life 23, no. 3 (December 2000): 393-480.
 Climenhaga, “Unity in Diversity,” 3-4.
 Ray M. Zercher, “For One Hundred Years, A Tie That Binds,” Brethren in Christ Historical Society 10, no. 3 (December 1987): 149.
 John N. Hostetter, “Faith Versus Greater Faith,” Evangelical Visitor, November 26, 1951, 4.
 John N. Hostetter, “Fellowship,” Evangelical Visitor, June 7, 1954, 2.
 Charlie Byers, “That They All Be One,” Evangelical Visitor, March 15, 1954, 3.
 C. W. Boyer, “Distinctive Emphases and Church Extension,” Evangelical Visitor, May 14, 1962, 6.
 Critical studies of American evangelicalism include but are not limited to George M. Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987); Joel A. Carpenter, Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); and Molly Worthen, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).
 William Ward Ayer, “Evangelical Christianity Endangered by Its Fragmented Condition,” in Evangelical Action!: A Report of the Organization of the National Association of Evangelicals for United Action (Boston, MA: United Action Press, 1942), 41-42, facsimile reprinted in Joel A. Carpenter, ed., A New Evangelical Coalition: Early Documents of the National Association of Evangelicals (New York: Garland Publishing, 1988).
 An early, hagiographic history of the NAE is James DeForest Murch, Cooperation without Compromise: A History of the National Association of Evangelicals (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1956). For a scholarly analysis of the early NAE, see Carpenter, “A United Evangelical Front,” ch. 8 in Revive Us Again.
 Ibid., 54-55.
 Hostetter, “Faith Versus Greater Faith,” 4. For a detailed discussion of the Brethren in Christ use of the term “legalism” between 1945 and 1965, see Devin C. Manzullo-Thomas, “Between Legalism and Liberalism: The Brethren in Christ Construct a New (Evangelical) Identity,” Brethren in Christ History and Life 34, no. 3 (December 2011): 347-386.
 John N. Hostetter, “Business Sessions of General Conference,” Evangelical Visitor, July 6, 1953, 16.
 “Maintaining Our Sense of Direction: Report on a Sermon by Arthur Climenhaga,” Evangelical Visitor, March 1, 1954, 11.
 This work was undertaken by a body appointed by General Conference and called the Church Review and Study Committee. On the work of this body, see Wittlinger, 481-492. On the ways this revision process was inspired by Brethren in Christ’s contact with evangelicals, see Wittlinger, 479-481, and Manzullo-Thomas, “Born-Again Brethren in Christ,” 213-215.
 “Article XIII: Report of the Church Review and Study Committee Re. Statement of Position on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16,” General Conference Minutes, 1957, 37. Wittlinger notes that this finalized version was less embracing than the original proposal, which “recognized the possibility of difference of conviction and practice regarding the [head covering] and [thus] called upon members who disagreed on the matter ‘to manifest genuine Christian courtesy and love toward one another.’” General Conference refused to go this far, thus necessitating the development of a modified version that passed in 1957. Even so, the emphasis on principle rather than a specific proscribed practice suggests the influence of unity-in-diversity rhetoric. See Wittlinger, 491.
 Interestingly, the statement also encourages maintenance of “the welfare and unity of the group,” suggesting continued attempts to balance individual conscience with corporate confession.
 On the persistence of the doctrines of nonconformity and nonresistance among the Brethren in Christ in the twentieth century, see Manzullo-Thomas, “Born-Again Brethren in Christ,” 232-237.
 Anecdotal and photographic evidence from the 1970s and 1980s suggests some persistence of plain dress, particularly among older Brethren in Christ, but by and large cape dresses had disappeared and neckties had become more common by these decades.
 J. Howard Kauffman and Leland Harder, Anabaptists Four Centuries Later: A Profile of Five Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Denominations (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1975), 133, cited in Weaver-Zercher, “Open (to) Arms,” 98-99.
 Statistics cited in Weaver-Zercher, “Open (to) Arms,” 105, 111n41 and n42.
 One church leader celebrated the fact that “non-ethnic Brethren in Christ names are multiplying” in congregations both old and new. See Harvey R. Sider, “Church Growth and/or Doctrine—Which?” Evangelical Visitor, April 25, 1980, 3.
 See, for instance, Mrs. Aurea Rickel, [letter to the editor], Evangelical Visitor, September 10, 1980, 3.
Author: Devin C. Manzullo-Thomas
Devin Manzullo-Thomas is the director of the Sider Institute for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan Studies and an adjunct instructor at Messiah College, and assistant editor of Brethren in Christ History and Life, the journal of the Brethren in Christ Historical Society. He holds degrees from Temple University (M.A., 2012) and Messiah College (B.A., 2009), and is enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Temple University. He and his wife Katie and their young son live in Harrisburg, PA.