Kingdom to Commune

Kingdom to Commune: Protestant Pacifist Culture between World War I and the Vietnam Era

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Kingdom to Commune
    Book Description:

    American religious pacifism is usually explained in terms of its practitioners' ethical and philosophical commitments. Patricia Appelbaum argues that Protestant pacifism, which constituted the religious center of the large-scale peace movement in the United States after World War I, is best understood as a culture that developed dynamically in the broader context of American religious, historical, and social currents.Exploring piety, practice, and material religion, Appelbaum describes a surprisingly complex culture of Protestant pacifism expressed through social networks, iconography, vernacular theology, individual spiritual practice, storytelling, identity rituals, and cooperative living. Between World War I and the Vietnam War, she contends, a paradigm shift took place in the Protestant pacifist movement. Pacifism moved from a mainstream position to a sectarian and marginal one, from an embrace of modernity to skepticism about it, and from a Christian center to a purely pacifist one, with an informal, flexible theology.The book begins and ends with biographical profiles of two very different pacifists, Harold Gray and Marjorie Swann. Their stories distill the changing religious culture of American pacifism revealed inKingdom to Commune.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0597-5
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    In 1946 the aging peace evangelist Kirby Page published a collection of nontraditional worship services in a volume hopefully called “The Light Is Still Shining in the Darkness.” One of these services was dedicated to peace.¹ Some elements of the service would have been familiar to any mainline Protestant, such as readings from the Bible and an uplifting hymn. Other elements were less common—a period of silent meditation, for example. The Bible readings centered on the theme of following Jesus, and the nearest equivalent to a sermon was a long reading excerpted from an imaginative retelling of Jesus’ life.²...

  5. 1 “Character ‘Bad’” HAROLD GRAY
    (pp. 10-24)

    In 1934, in the midst of the pacifist travails of the 1930s, several books appeared that shaped pacifist memory and charted future directions. Vera Brittain’sTestament of Youthwas said to speak “for her sex, and for her generation” about the experience of the war.¹ Richard Gregg’sThe Power of Non-Violenceoffered a new paradigm for the relationship between pacifism and political action. But there is no better introduction to the mental world of midcentury American pacifists than Harold Studley Gray’sCharacter “Bad.”

    Character “Bad”was an edited collection of letters written by a young man who turned to conscientious...

    (pp. 25-44)

    Historians of pacifism have long known that Protestant participation in the peace movement between the world wars extended far beyond the “historic peace churches.” Most mainline Protestant organizations took formal antiwar positions during the 1920s and 1930s. The Federal Council of Churches, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., the Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Disciples of Christ acted as whole bodies. The Northern Baptist Convention and the General Council of the Congregational and Christian Churches strongly urged individual pacifist commitments, while the Protestant Episcopal bishops affirmed that “the cross is above the flag.” Polls and public statements showed widespread crossdenominational...

  7. 3 The Protestant Heart PACIFIST THEOLOGY
    (pp. 45-60)

    “In the first three decades of the twentieth century, the agenda of America’s elite divinity schools and Protestant denominations was set by liberals who advocated biblical criticism, reconciliation with science, ecumenical cooperation . . . and the social gospel,” writes historian of theology Gary Dorrien.¹ By one estimate, in 1920 over a third of mainline pastors, and perhaps half of all mainline organizations and publications, promoted liberal views.² This was the environment that shaped mainline Protestant pacifist theology, with liberalism dominant but far from exclusive.

    Most historians of pacifism have located the theological origins of twentieth-century pacifism in the nonresistance...

  8. 4 The Pacifist Vernacular
    (pp. 61-71)

    In 1936 Kirby Page invited the British pacifist George Lansbury to conduct a speaking tour of the United States on behalf of the Emergency Peace Campaign. Among Lansbury’s speeches was a radio broadcast in which he pleaded with “the nation” to “take the Gospel message at its face value”: “Unless we are prepared to see the whole of our present civilization wrecked, we must turn to Jesus of Nazareth and without any reserve accept as true his statement that love and service are the law in life. . . . The Kingdom of Heaven is within us. Our duty is,...

  9. 5 Performing Pacifism WORSHIP, PLAYS, AND PAGEANTS
    (pp. 72-88)

    Pacifist culture was highly verbal, but pacifism was not expressed in words alone. It was also performed. Harold Gray enacted his pacifism in legal and practical actions and in symbolic and ritual gestures. World War II objectors planted trees, volunteered for research projects, and experimented with communal living. But these examples tell us little about activists in peacetime; about those who were not subject to military service; about group or community performance; or about performance as a means of influencing public opinion or educating children. All of these were forces in pacifist history.

    The range of pacifist performance is wide....

  10. 6 Swords and Plowshares PACIFIST ICONOGRAPHY
    (pp. 89-109)

    In an Armistice Day poster from about 1920, headed “Let Us Have Peace,” a mother and child sit enthroned in front of a semicircular border reminiscent of a halo, with a city skyline in the background. On one side of them stands a man holding a book; on the other, a man with a hoe. A dove hovers overhead. In the left foreground is a pile of the implements of progress, such as books and a telescope. The right foreground is dominated by a plow.¹

    An iconography of peace—a vocabulary of peace imagery—grew up with the interwar peace...

  11. 7 “The Practice of the Presence” PACIFIST SPIRITUALITY
    (pp. 110-127)

    Despite the concreteness and materiality of visual images, many pacifists entertained the conviction that true religion was grounded in “mysticism”—direct, experiential contact with the divine. This contact, they argued, would motivate and sustain the actions of pacifist life, both everyday and extraordinary. Thus in 1940 a “plan in the event of war or conscription,” drafted by the prominent Christian pacifist A. J. Muste, advised pacifists to face the trials of wartime with “continual practice of the presence of God.”¹

    Muste was not alone: in the following year, a Civilian Public Service camp newsletter reported on a lecture by Douglas...

    (pp. 128-142)

    We have looked at theological, performative, visual, and spiritual dimensions of mainline Protestant peace culture, and at the ways they built up to a paradigm shift in the years around 1940. This chapter considers another essential aspect of that culture: everyday practice. My concern is not with large-scale public gestures such as marching or performing civil disobedience, but with the ordinary ways pacifists tried to live out their convictions and build peace in the world. The next chapter will examine a committed, all-encompassing mode of living that also emerged from the paradigm shift.

    The bedrock of peace activism was discussion,...

  13. 9 Milking Goats for Peace A NEW PARADIGM
    (pp. 143-162)

    The idea of the pacifist cooperative farm caught fire quite suddenly around 1940. Over the next two years there was an unusual proliferation of pacifist cooperatives of all kinds, but especially of subsistence homestead farms. Indeed, in 1942 the FOR Commission on Rural Life asked, “Can it be said, ‘Rural life is the paci-fist pattern?’ Should a rural culture be the foundation of pacifism?”¹

    The cooperative farm was understood as a paradigmatic form of pacifist living—not the only model for such living, but unquestionably an essential and central one. The association of cooperative, self-sufficient life on the land with...

  14. 10 “Victories without Violence” PACIFIST STORIES
    (pp. 163-183)

    Long after the paradigm shift of the 1940s, the Cambridge, Massachusetts, songwriter Fred Small recorded an original ballad, based on news reports, called “Scrambled Eggs and Prayers.” The song tells the story of an elderly woman and an escaped prisoner. The woman is alone when the convict invades her home with a shotgun. She invites him to sit down and firmly orders him to “put that gun away.” She then engages him in conversation, asks him about his mother, and talks about prayer and the Bible. She prepares bacon and eggs after he confesses that he hasn’t eaten for three...

  15. 11 “Bad Mother” MARJORIE SWANN
    (pp. 184-202)

    In the summer of 1959 Marjorie Swann, a mother with four children at home, participated in a civil-disobedience action at a nuclear-weapons site near Omaha, Nebraska. She was tried and sentenced to six months in federal prison. The judge who sentenced her said, among other things, “You are a bad mother.” An article in a national magazine, and later a play for children and youth, took up the “bad mother” comment as a way to explore the role of women in pacifist activism. Considered alongside Harold Gray’s account of his “bad character” forty years earlier, Marjorie Swann’s “bad” motherhood illustrates...

  16. Epilogue
    (pp. 203-216)

    Within a few years of Marjorie Swann’s action, American pacifism moved from abeyance structures into a large-scale movement reacting against the Vietnam War. That movement invoked an ideology of love, a spiritual practice of meditation, a folk aesthetic, and, later, a renewed back-to-the-land movement. It insisted on consistency of word and action, and its members were confident of basic human goodness and human improvability. The peace movement of the 1960s had many sources, of course, but it undoubtedly drew on the abeyance structures of post–paradigm shift pacifism—the older pacifist organizations like the FOR and the AFSC; the earlier...

  17. Appendix: HYMN TEXTS
    (pp. 217-220)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 221-280)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 281-314)
  20. Index
    (pp. 315-330)