This article deals with the topic of voting among Mennonites only up to the late 1950s.
Voting in governmental elections was long restricted by property qualifications and other requirements, so that full universal and democratic male suffrage was a late development in the Western World. In the United States it came into general acceptance ca. 1825-40, in western continental Europe somewhat later, and in eastern Europe much later. Anabaptists as a non-tolerated group or as refugee non-citizens would scarcely ever have had the privilege of voting. Most Mennonites in Europe, by the time they legally had the right to vote, were sufficiently assimilated into the prevailing culture, or had dropped the original Anabaptist doctrines of nonparticipation in the magistracy and nonresistance, to the extent that they felt no obstacle in their faith or principles to voting. In some other places full citizenship, including the right to hold office, was not granted Mennonites until quite late, in West Prussia not until 1867, and here it was conditioned upon acceptance of military service as a universal obligation.
In the New World with its freedoms, Mennonites from the outset have had the right to vote, subject to the same qualifications required of others. The only exception was when temporarily during World War I the Canadian government suspended the right to vote for all groups officially standing for nonresistance. This action was quickly rescinded at the end of the war.
American Mennonites themselves have generally exercised their right of suffrage, including even very conservative groups like the Old Order Amish. It is claimed that the Mennonites in Colonial Pennsylvania, along with other nonresistant German groups, helped to keep the Quaker Assembly in power years after it would otherwise have lost at the polls. Only in recent times have some more conservative individuals concluded that they should not vote because it presumably involved them in the support of men in offices which they themselves could not occupy. Some have also felt that the doctrine of separation of church and state, or even of separation from the world, required abstinence from voting. However, there is no record of any group or conference action prohibiting voting, although sentiment in some areas has become so strong on the point, especially in the Mennonite Church, as to greatly reduce the number of Mennonite voters. Resolutions have been passed, however, discouraging or forbidding "electioneering," or "taking part in politics." It must be remembered of course that the percentage of voting in general in America is relatively low, often less than half of the qualified voters, and even in presidential elections seldom more than 50 per cent. Sentiment against voting becomes particularly strong in times of national stress and war or danger of war.
In areas of concentrated Mennonite population, Mennonite votes have been important, and Mennonites have been traditionally attached to one political party. In Canada most Mennonites were long thought to be supporters of the Liberal Party. In some areas, Iowa for instance, the Amish usually voted Democratic. In other areas such as eastern Pennsylvania, Mennonites were traditionally thought to be Republican.
Even Mennonites who did not vote in political elections usually voted in "local option" elections in favor of the prohibition of the sale of alcoholic liquor. George R. Brunk, a bishop (Mennonite Church) of Denbigh, Virginia, in one such election publicly urged his members to "vote out the saloon." On the other hand, some held that legislation was ineffective against liquor sale and consumption and that the Christian's method to work against such evils as not by political methods but by spiritual methods and education. Occasionally pamphlets have been published against voting, as well as articles in such church papers as the Gospel Herald. Among the pamphlets were one by S. D. Mast, an Old Order Amish minister, Das Christenthum und der Stimmkasten oder diet Ursache warum ich nicht an die weltliche Wahl gehe (c.1875, 10 pp.), and J. L. Stauffer's tract of about 1915, Questions for the Christian Professor Who Votes (12 pp.).
|Author(s)||Harold S Bender|
Cite This Article
Bender, Harold S. "Voting." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 18 Oct 2017. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Voting&oldid=143336.
Bender, Harold S. (1959). Voting. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 18 October 2017, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Voting&oldid=143336.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 860. All rights reserved.
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