The Hutterite Petition to Woodrow Wilson (1917)

To the Hon. Woodrow Wilson,
President of the United States,
Washington, D.C.

Our Dear President:—

We, the Hutterian Brethren Church, also known as Bruderhof or Communistic Mennonites, comprising about 2,000 souls, who are living in eighteen communities in South Dakota and Montana (organized as a Church since 1533), kindly appeal to you, Mr. President and your Assistants, briefly wishing to inform you of our principles and convictions regarding military service. Being men of lowly station and unversed in the ways of the world, we would ask your indulgence if in this letter we should miss the approved form.

The fundamental principles of our faith, as concerns practical life, are community of goods and non-resistance. Our community life is founded on the principle, “What is mine is thine,” or in other words, on brotherly love and humble Christian service, according to Acts 2:44, 45: “And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” Hence we differ fundamentally from non-Christian communistic systems, with their principle, “What is thine is mine.” We believe the community life, if not based on Christian love, will always fail. Our endeavors are of a religious nature throughout, and we know that very few people are willing to accept our faith, denying themselves and serving God by serving each other in community life, as we do.

We are free from political ambitions and recognize civil government as ordained of God. We honor our civil authorities and in our daily evening prayer meetings, which are regularly attended by all our members, as well as in our Sunday services, we pray for our government. We have always willingly paid taxes on our real estate and personal property, although we were told that our real property, being held by a religious corporation, is not taxable according to the law. It need not be said that we do not permit our widows and orphans, invalids and feeble-minded to become a burden to the country or state.

Our community life is based on God’s Word, and we could not serve God according to the dictates of our conscience if we were not permitted to live together in our communities. Our members would, by the help of God, suffer what He may permit, rather than consent to leave the community life.

On the principle of non-resistance our position is strictly in accord with the New Testament teaching. Our Confession of faith shows that we hold the government to be ordained of God for the reason that not all men are followers of the meek and lowly Savior, and that we further believe, the government should protect those who do good and punish evil-doers according to Rom. 13:17. The Church, however, must conform to the express teachings and examples of the Master. She is in the world, but not of the world. We have never taken any part in the election of civil officers. Without boasting we can say that our life has been consistent with this principle. To go to law is contrary to our convictions and is not permitted among us. Our young men could not become a part of the army or military organization, even for non-combatant service, without violation of our principles.

Our comprehensive Confession of Faith was written in 1540 and printed for the first time in 1565. The voluminous Chronicle of our Church, which gives our history since the year 1530, is mentioned in the article, “Mennonites” in the International Encyclopedia. The principal contents of our Church Chronicle were published by Dr. Joseph Beck, in 1883, under the title, “Geschichtsbuecher der Wiedertaeufer.” Our history is written with blood and tears; it is largely a story of persecution and suffering. We have record of over two thousand persons of our faith who suffered martyrdom by fire, water, and the sword. Our Church has been driven from country to country, and rather than to compromise their principles, have fled to various countries until at last they emigrated from Russia to this country in 1874.

We would further say that we love our country and are profoundly thankful to God and to our authorities for the liberty of conscience which we have hitherto enjoyed. We are loyal to our God-ordained government and desire to serve our country in ways and duties which do not interfere with our religious convictions. We humbly ask you, our dear Mr. President, not to lay upon us any duties which would violate our Christian convictions, and we hope, you believe with us, that we ought to be faithful to the teaching of God’s Word and the dictates of our conscience, and should suffer what He may permit, rather than to do that which we clearly recognize to be contrary to His Word.

Dear Mr. President, we humbly ask that we may be permitted the liberty to live according to the dictates of our conscience as heretofore. With the vow of baptism we have promised God and the Church on bended knees to consecrate, give and devote ourselves, soul and body and all, to the Lord in heaven, to serve Him in the way which, according to His Word we conceive to be acceptable to Him. We humbly petition our Honored Chief Executive that we may not be asked to become disobedient to Christ and His Church, being fully resolved, through the help and grace of God, to suffer affliction, or exile, as did our ancestors in the times of religious intolerance, rather than violate our conscience or convictions and be found guilty before our God.

For proof that our attitude on the points in question is one of conviction, and not of arbitrariness, we would respectfully refer you to our Confession mentioned above, as well as to our life and history. We desire to serve our country and be respectful and submissive in every way not interfering with serving our God consistently. We are sincerely thankful for having enjoyed full religious freedom up to the present time, and we are quite willing to do something for the good of our country, provided that it is not against our conscientious convictions.

Very respectfully yours,

Hutterian Brethren Church,
David Hofer.
Elias Walter.
Joseph Kleinsasser.

Der Herold: Ein Mennonitisches Familienblatt (Newton, Kansas), July 26, 1917, page 4.

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