While the entrance of the United States into World War I in 1917 challenged the very beliefs of the young Brethren men caught up in the draft, the war also challenged the leadership of the Church of the Brethren. During the war the church faced two major challenges. The first was how to inform the government and the public about Brethren beliefs while also demonstrating patriotism. Second was how to best serve and strengthen the Brethren men called into military service. This second challenge served as a complex and difficult issue for church leadership.
Politics and political involvement has, at times, presented various issues and challenges to the Church of the Brethren. How involved could a Brethren become in the political process while remain true to their faith? If the government used force and fought wars, should the Brethren hold any governmental office or even vote? The answers to this question have changed over time from the beginning of the Brethren to the present day.
When the United States entered into World War I in April 1917, the Church of the Brethren faced a significant challenge to their peace witness. The traditional Brethren peace position placed them in opposition to American society’s definition of patriotism as doing everything possible to support the war (including fighting in Europe, buying war bonds, supporting the Red Cross, etc). How could they remain true to their peace position during a time of national war hysteria? Could they hold to their nonresistance while still demonstrating their loyalty to the United State? Nowhere was this challenge more prominent than for those Brethren in military camps following the beginning of the draft in June 1917.