Persecution & Hospitality

“When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, ‘Lord, should we strike with the sword?’ Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him.’ — Luke 22:29-51, NRSV

I have always been intrigued by this story of how Jesus healed the ear of the high priest’s slave. As he was being arrested, Jesus rebuked one of his disciples for his violent action. Nonetheless, Jesus was still arrested and taken away. History holds many stories of people who showed incredible perseverance in the midst of great persecution. However, the stories of hospitality in the midst of the persecution are much fewer.

My wife and I recently moved to Lancaster City, Pa., which is the oldest inland city in the United States. As a history enthusiast, I have been excited to explore some of this history. While out for a drive through the countryside, we drove through a small town in northern Lancaster County called Lititz. Driving through Lititz we discovered a Moravian community. The Moravians are a Pietistic denomination and oldest Protestant church—even preceding the Lutheran tradition.

In December, we visited the historic Moravian city of Bethlehem, Pa. and grew more fascinated by the church. Upon coming across an historic Moravian community in Lititz, we parked and began to explore the various buildings which served as the foundation for the town. After taking some time to explore the village, I wanted to do some further research on the Moravians in Lititz, which led me to find a fascinating piece of their history.

As you might remember, I wrote a post a few months ago called Contrary to Their Religious Persuasion looking at the 1777 Oath of Allegiance issued by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. A province founded on religious liberty had changed as a result of the revolution, expecting its citizens to pledge allegiance to the state and furthermore support or join the military. This posed a problem for many groups in Pennsylvania which espoused pacifist theologies—this included the Moravians.

In 1775 a document was created by Lancaster County’s Committee of Correspondence & Observation and was sent to various religious groups. The document stated:

“The Committee do therefore join in earnestly recommending it to such Denominations of People, in this County, whose religious Scruples forbid them to associate or bear Arms, that they contribute towards the necessary and unavoidable Expences of the Public, in such Proportion as may leave no Room, with any, to suspect that they would ungenerously avail themselves of the Indulgence granted them; or, under a Pretence of Conscience and religious Scruples, keep their Money in their Pockets, and thereby throw those Burthens upon a Part of the Community, which, in a Cause that affects all, should be borne by all.”

This tract petitioned churches which opposed military participation to financially support the war efforts. While not necessarily a requirement, this letter strongly encouraged people to consider their involvement in the revolution. It would set the stage for later persecution of the Moravians in Lititz for not fully supporting the war.

“This issue continued to trouble Pennsylvania and led to the 1777 Test and Militia Acts, which punished severely those who refused to swear loyalty to the state of Pennsylvania or to associate with a militia company. Many Lititz brethren refused both demands and, in October 1777, nine single brothers and four married brothers ‘were carried off’ by six militia men, fully armed…” — Scott Gordon, Lehigh University English Professor

Facing the harsh persecution from the Committee of Observation, the Moravians would undergo even more pressure in the coming year. That same month, the Continental Army abruptly entered Lititz with wounded soldiers as a result of skirmishes to the east of Lancaster County. Herbert Huebener Beck quotes the diary of the Lititz Moravian Aufseher Collegium:

“During the evening meeting six armed soldiers entered the Sisters’ House—dreadfully frightening, with their brutal swearing, the house-watcher and the few sisters who were at home. Their intent was forcibly to enter the dormitory and press, for their own use, the blankets off the beds. However they had the goodness to let themselves be dissuaded from their purpose.” — The Military Hospital at Lititz, 1777-1778, p. 7

The soldiers even forced the Moravians to carry their provisions. The town of Lititz had been turned upside down and the Moravians extended hospitality even in the midst of persecution. By December, the military had essentially taken over the town, which later led to fear of having to completely leave Lititz.

A doctor by the name of Canada (Kennedy) brought us the news that by order of General Washington, 250 sick and wounded soldiers must be quartered here. He inspected our house (the Brethren’s House) which suited his purposes exactly, and ordered that it be immediately vacated, for we might expect the first of the sick in four days. We could however retain kitchen and cellar for our own use.” — p. 7

Eventually, the Moravians would write a letter to George Washington regarding their concerns. By this time, the Moravians had several of their own people taken away for refusing to join the army and their town was overtaken by a rather disorderly group of injured soldiers. The most unique thing about this scenario is how remarkably similar it was to British soldiers forcibly quartering soldiers in peoples’ homes and businesses—the very same grievance and one of the Intolerable Acts leading to the revolution and the basis for the Third Amendment to the constitution:

“No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.” — Third Amendment

Nonetheless, the Moravians upheld a Christlike spirit of hospitality in the midst of this trying time period. In July, 1779 the diary of the Aufseher Collegium indicated that the military doctor was appreciative of the Moravians:

“Dr. Allison and family, who remained here, by our consent, after the removal of the hospital, left for Shamokin where he will have a similar charge. He was very thankful for all the kindness they received here.” — The Military Hospital at Lititz, 1777-1778, p. 12

In the midst of great resistance, the Moravians held true to the gospel and extended peace to people who opposed them. Likely seen as unpatriotic, cowardly, and potentially as British-sympathizers, the Moravians in Lititz were able to create a different story for soldiers who had been wounded in battle. The Moravians exemplified Christian love in a very real way. I see a similar attitude between them and Jesus as he was being arrested.

What does it look like to extend hospitality in the midst of persecution? What does it mean for us to care for others during our own challenges? What does it mean to love when we are not loved? I believe we can look to stories throughout history where people sought to respond like Jesus—the Moravians in Lititz are just one of these stories.

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