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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10 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

  3. Michael Snow says:

    Thank you. It is always refreshing (despite the sad lapses) to read of churches that once believed it wrong for Christians to bear the sword. I grew up ‘mainstream’ not knowing that such Christians existed. https://spurgeonwarquotes.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/living-our-resurrection-faith-following-our-king/

  4. Gary Cummings says:

    Daniel Sommer, the main founder of the Church of Christ in 1889, was NOT a pacifist. He was very pro-war, as well as segregationist. He left the main imprint on the COC to be for war.. Then he was joined by David Lipscomb, an ardent abolitionist and a pacifist. By the 1906 [census] the COC was officially recognized as a new church in America. There were power struggles over war and peace and racial equality vs segregation. Up until WW1, the COC had a good many pacifists. Then the war was pressed on people as a test of American loyalty, and only a small portion of the COC kept the pacifist faith. Between WW1 and WW2, Foy E. Wallace Jr. made it his personal mission to rid the COC of pacifists. He succeeded for the most part, and most COC men served in WW2. There were a few holdouts, mostly among the Non-Sunday School COC’s. Then Vietnam came along, and war was the mainstream COC view. The young men raised in the COC knew their dads served in “the Great War”, so the majority saw nothing wrong with going to war in Vietnam.
    Me, I was raised in a military home. My first contact with the COC was with a Non-Sunday School COC, and the minister was not pro-war. He planted a seed. Then I went to mainstream COC colleges. I heard the word C.O. mentioned and I asked what that was, and they said “Conscientious Objector’. The one or two CO’s I knew were laughed at and considered “not right”. As I studied the Sermon on the Mount, I became convinced that pacifism was God’s way. I had not even heard of Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, or David Lipscomb as pacifists. I learned later, when I tried to minister to a pro-war church during the Vietnam War.

    • R.L. Brockman says:

      You sound like a very vindictive and proud man who has left much of the truth out of your comments which is often the fact of those whom fail to truly appreciate,value, and honor New Testament 1st century Christianity.

      • Gary Cummings says:

        I believe in history and the facts. My comments are historically true about Sommer and the Churches of Christ. The most vndictive people are pro-war. I do honor the pacifism of the early followers of Christ which waned severely after Constantine and Augustine altered the teaching about religion and violence. Daniel Sommer was a racist and pro-war Southerner and he brought that into the Church of Christ he founded in 1889. “New Testament 1st century Christianity” does not exit now, especially in the Churches of Christ. Have a nice day in your delusions.

  5. Rodney Hampton says:

    Hi. Just wanted to remind Mr. Cummings and everyone that Daniel Sommer, David Lipscomb or any other man had absolutely nothing to do with the founding of the church of Christ. God the father and Jesus Christ Himself built and founded the church of Christ. Mt. 16:18, Acts 2:47. I respectfully disagree with your view or concept that “new testament 1st century Christianity does not exist now, especially in the Churches of Christ”. In order to make that broad assessment of the Lords churches you must have certainly been to every church throughout the world and worshipped there long enough to fairly assess that each church had departed from the faith or first century Christianity, as you say? Daniel Sommer came along approx. 1880 years after the Church of Christ was founded. And approx. 1880 years after Christians were abstaining from fighting in the military. Would welcome your response.

    • Mark says:

      It’s a circular argument: “We are the Lord’s Church, the Lord’s Church was established in AD33.”
      “Well, wait, your tradition, doctrines, and method of worship were not in existence until 1810, and especially not in the first century.”
      “Nope, the Lord’s Church was established in AD33. We are the Lord’s Church, therefore our worship, doctrines and traditions have been in existence since AD33.”

      • Rodney Hampton says:

        Hi Mark. You once believed that according to the inspired scriptures Christ founded and built his church in the first century and Christians continued steadfast in the apostles doctrine (Acts 2), not Daniel Sommers or some man in 1810. I listed 2 passages that supports this fact. Do we not agree on this?

        Not sure where you read that the doctrine of Christ and methods of worship he set in place we’re not in existence until 1810. Take for example, the breaking of bread that we practice. Are you saying this was not in existence until 1810. Or our listening to preaching on the first day (like at Troas) was not in existence until 1810? Not sure where you are getting your information. Look forward to your reply.

    • Gary Cummings says:

      Sommer founded the Church of Christ in 1889, and was joined by David Lipscomb to create the Southern wing of the Church of Christ. This historically racist and pro-war sect is the “Lord’s Church” only in very uninformed imaginations. The Church of Christ was not founded in 33 AD. That is a historical lie and fantasy.

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