Who are the Dunkers?

Mary McMahon

The Dunkers or Schwarzenau Brethren are members of a branch of the Protestant church which was founded in 1708 in Schwarzenau, Germany. The term “Dunkers” is actually a slang word which was applied by other people, referencing their baptismal practices; some members of this Christian sect find the term “Dunkers” offensive, along with the related “Dunkards” or “Tunkers.” This church is most strong in the United States, where many members fled after persecution in Germany.

The Dunkers do not believe in infant baptism.
The Dunkers do not believe in infant baptism.

Like other churches which arose in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation, the Dunkers do not believe in infant baptism. Instead, they believe that baptism must be undertaken at adulthood, as a personal affirmation and expression of faith. The Neue Täufer, or “New Baptists,” as they initially called themselves, believe in trine baptism, which involves fully immersing someone three times, representing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. This led to widespread mockery, and the nickname “Dunkers” for adherents to this sect.

Dunkers believe in the primacy of the Bible as the ultimate religious authority.
Dunkers believe in the primacy of the Bible as the ultimate religious authority.

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The Dunkers are also a peaceful church, who have notably been opposed to war and slavery. Their opposition to slavery became an issue in the Civil War, when several Dunker churches in the Confederate States were caught in the crossfire between North and South. A Dunker church played a notable role in the Battle of Antietam in particular; visitors to the battlefield today can step inside the simple church which served as a battlefield, hospital, and meeting place for the establishment of a treaty.

Along with other Protestant sects, the Dunkers believe that the Bible is the ultimate religious authority, and they place a heavy emphasis on personal faith and expressions of devotion which range from volunteering in their communities to honoring their family members. Adherents also believe in universal salvation, and like other peace churches, they are often very active in their communities, offering assistance to Dunkers and non-Dunkers alike in times of need.

Pennsylvania still hosts a fairly large population of adherents to this church, as many settled there after leaving Germany. They can also be found across the American Northeast, Midwest, and South, often settling in closely-knit communities where they can live simple, devout lives in fellowship with other members of the Schwarzenau Brethren. There are a number of official branches of this church, all of which include “Brethren” in their title somewhere, and they meet together annually at the Brethren World Assembly.

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