Friday, March 5, 2010

New Guy F. Hershberger biography highlights role in developing Mennonite ethic of pacifism

"War, Peace and Social Conscience: Guy F. Hershberger and Mennonite Ethics" can be purchased from various retailers, including the Goshen College Bookstore, or by visiting

GOSHEN, Ind. – Guy F. Hershberger, a Mennonite historian who studied and advocated pacifism, has become the subject of historical research in a recently released book more than 30 years in the making.

Hershberger, a professor of history at Goshen College from 1925 to 1966, is the subject of a newly released biography titled "War, Peace and Social Conscience: Guy F. Hershberger and Mennonite Ethics." The book was released by Herald Press in late 2009, and was written by Theron F. Schlabach, professor of history at Goshen College from 1965 to 1995.

The volume follows Hershberger's life as a Mennonite scholar, ethicist and peace advocate, and especially examines his role in the formation of the Alternative Service Program during World War II.

"What's very important," said Schlabach, ":is that he was applying our pacifism to the military service system. But he went much beyond that to develop a whole application of the Gospel and New Testament to social questions."

The title of the biography is itself homage to Hershberger's work. During World War II, Hershberger wrote "War, Peace and Nonresistance," a book that has become nearly synonymous with Mennonite pacifism. Schlabach began his biography of Hershberger in 1976 after writing a short biographical tribute to Hershberger for the book "Kingdom, Cross and Community: Essays on Mennonite Themes in Honor of Guy F. Hershberger."

"I did that little biographical piece and then kind of decided that my next project really ought to be this biography," said Schlabach ."I didn't get started right away, but sometime in the 1980s, I started doing some research on it.  By the early 1990s I was very seriously into the research. I had decided to make it a project in my retirement, and not go out and try to solicit a lot of support, which was a good decision in some ways, but it also slowed it down."

Hershberger interacted with Schlabach both socially and in the scholarly sphere. As a student, Schlabach was employed as Hershberger's assistant briefly, and the two were neighbors on Eighth Street in Goshen years later.

"I knew Guy professionally," said Schlabach. "He was a historian. I was a historian. Guy was always very interested in what younger scholars were doing."

Schlabach was involved in several projects that caught Hershberger's attention, one of which was the Mennonite Experience in America (MEA) project, a four-volume book series following the Mennonite story from it's European background to the 1970s. Hershberger died with the third volume of the MEA series, written by James C. Juhnke, on his nightstand.

Orie O. Miller, a Mennonite leader during the period between World Wars I and II, may have prompted Hershberger's rise to prominence as a Mennonite ethicist. During the interwar period, Schlabach said, Miller approached Hershberger, then a professor at Goshen College, and asked him to do some writing on peace. Hershberger accepted, and wrote throughout the 1930s in the "Gospel Herald" and "Mennonite Quarterly Review," while also accepting speaking engagements at various Mennonite gatherings.

The biography has received favorable reviews from religious scholars across the United States:

"[Schlabach's] account is not only a crucial account of Hershberger's life, but of Mennonite life – an accounting I hope non-Mennonites will find instructive not only because it may help them understand Mennonites, but more importantly how Mennonites help us better understand what being Christian entails," said Stanley Hauerwas, professor of theological ethics at Duke Divinity School.

Lisa Schirch, professor of peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University said: "This book is like a handrail on a rocky stairway, steadying us today on the journey toward a practical pacifist faith."

Hershberger died on Dec. 29, 1989, at home with his wife, Clara, who lived another eight years. The couple had two children, Elizabeth (Bauman), and Paul.

"War, Peace and Social Conscience: Guy F. Hershberger and Mennonite Ethics" can be purchased from various retailers, including the Goshen College Bookstore, or by visiting

– By Chase Snyder

Editors: For more information about this release, to arrange an interview or request a photo, contact Goshen College News Bureau Director Jodi H. Beyeler at (574) 535-7572 or


Goshen College, established in 1894, is a residential Christian liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. The college's Christ-centered core values – passionate learning, global citizenship, compassionate peacemaking and servant-leadership – prepare students as leaders for the church and world. Recognized for its unique Study-Service Term program, Goshen has earned citations of excellence in Barron's Best Buys in Education, "Colleges of Distinction," "Making a Difference College Guide" and U.S. News & World Report's "America's Best Colleges" edition, which named Goshen a "least debt college." Visit

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