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Mennonites, Brethren in Christ, and the Remembrance of War in Canada

A Mennonite woman and her son pause to examine a plaque remembering the sacrifices of nonresistant Christians during the War of 1812. (Photo by Melissa Bollinger Seiling / courtesy of Mennonite World Review)

Some readers of The Search for Piety and Obedience may already be familiar with this story; it’s been picked up by a number of news outlets.

2012 marks the bicentennial of the War of 1812, a conflict that embroiled the armies of a young United States and powerful British Empire in many battles and skirmishes. As a then-British principality, the Canadian province of Ontario saw much of the fighting. This year, many Canadians are remembering the two-centuries-old conflict with parades, re-enactments, and the erection of new monuments.

But the nation’s historic peace churches — including the Brethren in Christ — are protesting the fact that the nation’s remembrances do not incorporate the nonresistant experience.

After the jump: Read more about the ways in which Brethren in Christ and other peace churches are “engaging the powers” and seeking to reconsider the public remembrance of war.

Mennonite World Review‘s Sheldon Good offers this take:

Mennonite Central Committee Ontario has placed plaques and historical markers in the Niagara region to honor pioneers of peace from the Mennonite, Quaker and Brethren in Christ traditions. Events throughout the summer are focusing on their common history as peace churches.

Jonathan Seiling of St. Cath­arines, Ont., who chairs MCC Ontario’s 1812 Bicentennial Peace Committee, said the historical markers are significant because the war — which holds a much larger place in Canadian history than in the U.S. — “represents the first testing of conscientious objection in Canada.”

“These people were absolutely not the quiet in the land,” he said of early-19th-century Canadian peace churches. “They took every opportunity to advocate for themselves and improve legislation.”

Mennonites and Brethren in Christ in Stouffville, Ont., 30 miles north of Toronto, are becoming a part of this legacy by protesting events that they say do not accurately portray history.

A “Freedom of the Town” event on June 16 — proposed by Member of Parliament Paul Calandra and approved by the Whitchurch-Stouff­ville town council — included a traditional military exercise and a parade.

The event’s budget did not come from the $28 million that the government has allocated for bicentennial commemorations over the next three years.

About 60 Mennonites, Quakers and Brethren in Christ gathered in the heart of town before the commemoration. They read peace texts from Jesus, Menno Simons and William Penn, and prayed.

“Our history was effectively disqualified, erased and rewritten, with the powerful help of pomp and ceremony, tanks and cavalry,” Mennonite professor and minister Arnold Neufeldt-Fast said of the event.

At a May 1 town council meeting, 50 members of Stouff­ville’s Mennonite and BIC churches voiced concern about the event.

Read the whole article here.

The Mennonite World Review article mentions two congregations directly involved in the contest – the Heise Hill congregation in Stouffville, and the Bertie church in Fort Erie. I’m sure there are other congregations involved in voicing concerns, too.

I’m glad that Brethren in Christ people are contributing to this important conversation. As a historian, I’m very aware of the significant role of nonresistant Christians in a variety of international conflicts, from the War of 1812 to World War II and beyond. I sense that their petition for inclusion has sparked some controversy — though, from what I can tell in the article, not nearly as much controversy as a similar petition would likely spark here in the U.S.

Readers: What do you think? Does the nonresistant perspective deserve a place in the national commemoration of wars? Why or why not? And how should it be included — by the government, or by the churches themselves? Should nonresistant churches petition the government for inclusion, or should they provide alternative forms of commemoration?

3 responses to “Mennonites, Brethren in Christ, and the Remembrance of War in Canada

  1. I think it is fine for the peace churches themselves to take this opportunity
    to educate people about their peace  beliefs and the need for world peace today.  I had ancestors who went to Canada to escape persecution  from the   U. S.  just before the war of 1812.  Although they were not forced to fight in Canada, I have heard several storIes about how they were required to feed and house soldiers,  proclaim their loyalty to England, and suffered  physically and financially as a result of the war there.

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