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In the broadest sense disarmament means divesting of arms. The term is often used to refer to any effort to regulate, reduce, or eliminate armaments, though it sometimes has a narrower meaning focused on eliminating (rather than controlling) weapons, especially nuclear weapons.

The 20th century has seen a renewed interest in disarmament. After World War I there was widespread public pressure for disarmament. It was often expressed in English-speaking countries in a liberal pacifism which was relatively hopeful about human nature and confident that war could be eliminated as its irrationality was demonstrated. Most Mennonites (here meaning North American unless otherwise specified) apparently had little to do with the disarmament movements of the time. They tended to be rather isolated, both geographically and psychologically. Many objected to the theological liberalism of the wider pacifist movement and held to a church/world dualism which made them skeptical of disarmament schemes. Nevertheless, some U.S. Mennonites, mostly from the General Conference Mennonite Church, were involved at least on the edges of this movement. Perhaps the clearest Mennonite institutional expression of this involvement was the Kansas Institute of International Relations at Bethel College, 1936-40.

The experience of World War II and Reinhold Niebuhr's theological critique destroyed the liberal pacifist movement in North America and reinforced in Mennonites a sense of separation from the world and of the futility of pacifism or disarmament as public policy options. This perspective was expressed in a critique of "pacifism" by some Mennonite writers who defended "nonresistance" instead.

But after the war the atomic bomb provided a powerful impetus toward disarmament, particularly nuclear disarmament. Mennonites were rapidly becoming sociologically less separate from the wider society and were influenced by the general ups and downs of disarmament campaigns. After unsuccessful nuclear disarmament efforts following the war, by the 1950s disarmament had been rejected by most as idealistic. It was not widely discussed in Mennonite circles during this time. In the late 1950s and early 1960s pressure for nuclear disarmament mounted again in response to the dangers of atmospheric tests. With greater frequency writers and groups (e.g., Frank H. Epp, the Church Peace Mission and the General Conference Peace and Social Concerns Committee) called Mennonites to support disarmament. Concerns were also expressed by small groups of Mennonites in Japan and Europe, particularly among the Dutch Mennonites.

Public pressure and crises in Berlin and Cuba led in 1963 to the first major nuclear arms agreement. It confined tests to underground. It also marked a shift in thinking on nuclear disarmament from "disarmament" (seeking to eliminate nuclear weapons) to "arms control" (regulating them, dealing with more specific, negotiable problems). Although this new approach resulted in several other important agreements, after the test ban treaty pressure for nuclear disarmament declined dramatically both among Mennonites and more generally, particularly as the war in Vietnam took center stage.

In the late 1970s and the 1980s disillusionment with "arms control" set in on both ends of the political spectrum in the West. While right and left were bitterly opposed on many issues, both rejected the notion of managing nuclear arsenals in favor of drastically reducing them or eliminating them. Nuclear "disarmament" came back into public view and with it massive disarmament campaigns. Nuclear weapons became the central focus of American Mennonite peace concern in official circles, such as the Mennonite Central Committee (U.S.) Peace Section. Disarmament also had high visibility in Canadian Mennonite circles where Project Ploughshares, with heavy Mennonite involvement and sponsorship, became one of the main private organizations devoted to disarmament research and education. In Europe some Mennonites participated in the efforts to prevent new deployments of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) missiles. But no consensus on disarmament activity was clear by the mid-1980s. Some argued that attention to disarmament distracted from the essential mission of the church (and that in a fallen world such weapons may be necessary for the state and could not be abolished). Others worked within political structures and in private groups seeking to influence policy through legislation (often taking a gradualist, "realistic" perspective). Still others, for the first time on a significant (though still very small in overall Mennonite perspective) scale, engaged in prophetic acts of civil disobedience against the idolatry of trusting nuclear weapons for security. The most visible protests in the Mennonite world took place at Rocky Flats, near Denver. In general one can say that some Mennonites in the 20th century moved toward a more activist, pro-disarmament stance, although by the 1980s most remained largely uninvolved and the movement toward this posture had been somewhat sporadic.


Mennonite (6 November 1962): 707-9.

Gospel Herald (19 May 1959): 465.

Various articles by Frank H. Epp, Delton Franz, Alan Kreider, Carl Kreider, Ernie Regehr, and John Stoner in Bibliography on War and Peace. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1987 under Arms, Armament.

Loewen, Theodore W. "Mennonite Pacifism: The Kansas Institute of International Relations." unpubl. paper, Bethel College Library and Archives.

Hiebert, Erwin W. The Impact of Atomic Energy. Newton, KS: Faith and Life, 1961, esp. 280-88 (Mennonite statements and activities on disarmament from World War II through 1960).

Koontz, Ted. "Has SALT II Lost its Savor?" Mennonite (4 December 1979): 733.

Kraybill, Donald B. Facing Nuclear War: a Plea for Christian Witness. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1982.

Canadian Mennonite (23 May 1958): 1.

Mumaw, John R. "Nonresistance and Pacifism." Scottdale, 1952.

Regehr, Ernie and Simon Rosenblum. The Road to Peace: Canada and Disarmament. Toronto: James Lorrimer, 1988.

NATO Watch 1986-, a small publication by European Mennonites and North American Mennonite workers in Europe seeking to make a peace witness to NATO.

Niebuhr, Reinhold. "Why the Christian Church is Not Pacifist," in Christianity and Power Politics. New York: Scribner's, 1940.

Papers from the MCC Peace Section Assembly, 1982.

Sider, Ronald J. and Richard K. Taylor. Nuclear Holocaust and Christian Hope. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1982.

Smucker, Donovan E. "A Mennonite Critique of the Pacifist Movement." Mennonite Quarterly Review 20 (1946): 81-88.

Stoner, John K.,  Executive Secretary of MCC U.S. Peace Section from 1976-1988, strongly advocates active resistance to nuclear weapons in many articles and pamphlets.

Stoner, John K. "SALT II: Opiate or Opportunity?" [MCC] Peace Section Newsletter 9 (February-March, 1979): 10-11.

Additional Information

Project Ploughshares

Author(s) Theodore J Koontz
Date Published 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Koontz, Theodore J. "Disarmament." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 27 May 2022. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Disarmament&oldid=143537.

APA style

Koontz, Theodore J. (1989). Disarmament. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 27 May 2022, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Disarmament&oldid=143537.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 236-237. All rights reserved.

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