Where did Pacifism Go in the Churches of Christ?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed for opposing Hitler.   I recently watched a documentary on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the leading German minister who opposed Hitler. He was hanged just as WW2 was ending.

One of the points in the documentary was the fact that almost all the German preachers (Lutheran and Catholic) were in favor of attacking the French in WW1, and prayed to God for victory. There was great disillusionment when two and half million Germans died in the war and four million were wounded, and many came home with PTSD. So Bonhoeffer and his family were skeptical when they were pressured to support German war initiatives in WW2.

But this has always been how history unfolds. Each side gets the blessing of their religious leaders, especially in the Civil War in the United States, the north praying for victory over the south, and the south praying for victory over the north, though many preachers in the Churches of Christ in the South discouraged their members from fighting, leading to the split between the Disciples of Christ and the churches of Christ.

David Lipscomb was against Christians joining the military, and he influenced many to avoid joining the Spanish-American War. However patriotism rose in the United States until pacifism died out in the Churches of Christ by 1920.

Conservative churches in the United States, of which the Churches of Christ are part, generally support the Republican party and candidates, and whatever wars the presidents involve the United States in.

I remember a marriage seminar 25 years ago in a Church of Christ in Detroit. The speaker said that in his surveys he found that wives knew how their husbands took their coffee, but husbands seldom knew how their wives took their coffee. He encouraged husbands to learn how their wives took their coffee. But this was really a product of the status of wives in Churches of Christ 25 years ago. The person in power knows far less about the person not in power than vice versa. The employee figures out what the boss needs to keep him happy. The boss spends far less time figuring out what the employee needs, especially now that employees have few alternatives to find other work.

Did the Roman Empire spend much time figuring out how to make the nations they conquered happy? I doubt it. Just so, the United States spends very little time figuring out how to make the nations we drop our bombs on happy. Why should we? We are the ones in power. They are the ones who should be making us happy, right? So as we have the 20 million people of Shenzhen, China make our cell phones and laptops, we do not ask what their lives are like or what they want. They ask us what we want. And we tell them loud and clear.

A major part of Churches of Christ history has to do with pacifism. Where did it go? And why have people in the Churches of Christ stopped influencing Christians to go against  selfish decisions of the government, and become part of the patriotic machine?

About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
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2 Responses to Where did Pacifism Go in the Churches of Christ?

  1. Jenny says:

    I seem to remember reading somewhere that a big change came with the heavily propagandized Civil War, World War I, and World War II. I also seem to remember reading that a number of denominations experienced the same sort of change around the same time. Craig M. Watts’s ‘Disciple of Peace: Alexander Campbell on Pacifism, Violence and the State’ discusses the some of the history of pacifism within the Restoration Movement.

  2. Gary Cummings says:

    The Churches of Christ were created by a religious hijacker named Daniel Sommer in 1889 in Illinois. He had previously been a member of the Disciples of Christ. He was a rationalist, legalist and non-pacifist. Later he made the acquaintance of David Lipscomb, an abolitionist and pacifist. David was a great man of God. He united with Sommer, and in 1906, the Churches of Christ was recognized as a distinct religious denomination in the United States. During WW1, many COC members were pacifists, but patriotism was advanced by the “Yellow Press”, and churches were forced into conformity. Lipscomb apparently caved in to Sommer and stifled his dissent from war for the sake of “unity”.

    Now after the first world war, another man came on the scene by the name of Foy Wallace. His big mission in life was to eradicate any vestige of pacifism from the Churches of Christ. He bullied preachers and churches into submission to war, and editors who opposed him into silence. More than any other person, Foy Wallace was the main person responsible for the Churches of Christ leaving pacifism in the dust
    Thanks, Gary Cummings
    Former member and minister of the Churches of Christ

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