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The Origins of Christian Anti-Internationalism

The Origins of Christian Anti-Internationalism: Conservative Evangelicals and the League of Nations

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 256
  • Book Info
    The Origins of Christian Anti-Internationalism
    Book Description:

    The roots of conservative Christian skepticism of international politics run deep. In this original work Markku Ruotsila artfully unearths the historical and theological origins of evangelical Christian thought on modern-day international organizations and U.S. foreign policy, particularly in the fierce debates over the first truly international body-the League of Nations. After describing the rise of the Social Gospel movement that played a vital, foundational role in the movement toward a League of Nations, The Origins of Christian Anti-Internationalism examines the arguments and tactics that the most influential confessional Christian congregations in the United States-dispensational millenialists, Calvinists, Lutherans, and, to a lesser extent, Methodists, Episcopalians, and Christian Restorationists-used to undermine domestic support for the proposed international body. Ruotsila recounts how these groups learned to co-opt less religious-minded politicians and organizations that were likewise opposed to the very concept of international multilateralism. In closely analyzing how the evangelical movement successfully harnessed political activism to sway U.S. foreign policy, he traces a direct path from the successful battle against the League to the fundamentalist-modernist clashes of the 1920s and the present-day debate over America's role in the world. This exploration of why the United States ultimately rejected the League of Nations offers a lucid interpretation of the significant role that religion plays in U.S. policymaking both at home and abroad. Ruotsila's analysis will be of interest to scholars and practitioners of theology, religious studies, religion and politics, international relations, domestic policy, and U.S. and world history.

    eISBN: 978-1-58901-452-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Christian Anti-Internationalism
    (pp. 1-7)

    The creation of the League of Nations in 1919 remains one of the pivotal turning points in American and world history. It marked the point of departure between a world system that had been structured around unfettered national sovereignties and merely ad hoc alliances and a new era of increasingly circumscribed sovereignty and institutionalized cooperation. By providing all nations with equal access to decision making, the League of Nations helped promote ethnic and religious egalitarianism. And by institutionalizing social reform in new multilateral agencies, it advanced purposive social renovation in ways that nation-states could never have done on their own....

  5. Chapter One The Social Gospel and Modern Internationalism
    (pp. 8-26)

    In 1870, British prime minister William Ewart Gladstone wrote an anonymous article, “Germany, France, and England,” for the Edinburgh Review. In this article, this devout Anglican addressed his hopes for the future of Christendom and sketched a coming new world order of morally enlightened, democratic nations preserving the peace of the world through voluntary cooperation. Later, the “Grand Old Man” of political liberalism elaborated on this vision by enunciating his celebrated six “right principles of foreign policy.” The fifth of those principles was the inalienable equality of the nations of Christendom, which Gladstone saw as a spiritual family bound together...

  6. Chapter Two Dispensationalists: Prefiguring the Latter Days
    (pp. 27-52)

    The Protestant community’s most active and passionate opponents of the League of Nations were the dispensational premillennialists. They were anti-internationalists long before the Covenant of the League of Nations had even been sketched, let alone publicly discussed, and much that the Social Gospel campaigns helped fuel their opposition, it is safe to assume that they would have resisted the League even had their liberal rivals not been its apologists. In the course of World War I, they developed a distinct premillennialist critique of internationalism from which few in later generations of prophecy thinkers diverged. This critique traced the League of...

  7. Chapter Three Calvinists: Contesting the Public Means of Grace
    (pp. 53-78)

    The creedally oriented conservatives of the Calvinist tradition were just as critical of the League of Nations as were the leading dispensationalists. Their contributions to Christian anti-internationalism issued from a biblical literalism rooted in the traditional confessional orthodoxies of the Reformed tradition. Being highly church centered, these Calvinists outlined their case in theological journals, scholarly sermonizing, and denominational pamphleteering—of which the majority of Americans was largely unaware. They joined the political debate over League ratification no more than did the dispensationalists, but in their own community, they did develop a cogent confessional version of Christian anti-internationalism that supplemented and...

  8. Chapter Four Lutherans: The Two Kingdoms and the Antichrist
    (pp. 79-102)

    Since the mid–twentieth century, the Lutheran confessional tradition has been known for the pioneering internationalism of its Lutheran World Federation. Under the auspices of this organization, Lutherans have involved themselves in international cooperation in a range of ecumenical and secular fields, and, with some exceptions, they have acquired a worldwide reputation as a group particularly open to interfaith dialogue and to cooperation with secular humanitarian organizations. It may therefore appear surprising that when the League of Nations was being debated in 1919 and 1920, of all the major nonfundamentalist clusters of evangelicalism, American Lutherans showed the most pervasive skepticism...

  9. Chapter Five Methodists and Episcopalians: A Few Dissenting Voices
    (pp. 103-121)

    Among the denominations that were most supportive of the League of Nations were the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Protestant Episcopal Church. Probably no other denominations yielded as many passionate protagonists for Christian internationalism as these two, and nowhere was the anti-League position weaker and less influential. These two denominations also happened to be the ones that in 1919 were the most fully suffused by the presuppositions and goals of the Social Gospel, of which they had been the leading pioneers and corporate advocates from the start. Both denominations prided themselves on the significant role they had played in shaping...

  10. Chapter Six Religion and the League of Nations Fight in the Senate
    (pp. 122-146)

    All strands of Christian anti-internationalism found their way into the political debate on the ratification of the League of Nations Covenant. Whether only nominal Christians or actual lay activists, the politicians and publicists who participated in this debate showed great interest in borrowing evangelical formulations. Most of their own critiques of the Covenant revolved around such clearly nonreligious issues as American freedom of action, European and imperialist control of League machinery, and the insufficiency and fatuity of proposed collective security arrangements. But these issues, too, came to be permeated with religion when some of the League’s leading political critics addressed...

  11. Chapter Seven Religion and the League for the Preservation of American Independence
    (pp. 147-170)

    The Irreconcilable and Reservationist senators were not the only politicians who resorted to religious arguments when they campaigned against the League of Nations. Concurrently with their debates, there was afoot in the country a number of other anti-League publicity, propaganda, and persuasion campaigns, some of them coordinated with or by these senators, some of them independent and pursuing manifestly different goals. Of the former type, by far the most important was the campaign undertaken by the cumbersomely named League for the Preservation of American Independence, which here will be called the Independence League. Though the Independence League proffered the whole...

  12. Chapter Eight The Persistence of Christian Anti-Internationalism
    (pp. 171-186)

    The League of Nations controversy set the parameters for all subsequent conservative evangelical commentary on modern internationalism. Some contextual modifications were later effected, but these changes were minor and did not materially unsettle any core parts of the corpus of interpretations that had been devised in 1919 and 1920. All the themes in the evangelical critique of the League of Nations survived throughout the interwar years and were carried over, largely in toto, into the cold war experiment with the United Nations. They survived beyond the cold war, too, and resurfaced in the early-twenty-first-century debates about the international community’s response...

  13. Conclusion: Christian Anti-Internationalism in Historical Context
    (pp. 187-192)

    Two crucial consequences of the religious League of Nations controversy stand out. First, it had an important proximate result in that it helped conservative evangelicals of very different denominational traditions acknowledge each other as allies in a struggle against shared churchly and secular enemies. This realization assisted in paving the way to the cultural and political agitation that started during the League fight and culminated a few years later in the fundamentalist/modernist controversy.

    Before the League controversy, conservative evangelicals and churchly modernists had combated each other over purely theological and clearly ecclesiastical issues in the areas of missionary work, denominational...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 193-214)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 215-234)
  16. Index
    (pp. 235-246)