(WSJ) Joseph Loconte–What World War I Taught the Clergy

Throughout the 1930s Christian leaders played down the differences between Western democracies and the fascist regimes in Italy and Germany. When Britain declared war on Germany in 1939, Charles Clayton Morrison, editor of the Christian Century, denounced a potential Anglo-American alliance as “a war for imperialism.” Harry Emerson Fosdick, the popular social-gospel minister at New York’s Riverside Church, warned that American involvement in the war against Nazism would be “a colossal and futile disaster.”

Some Christian thinkers repented their pacifism as the Nazi blitzkrieg enveloped Europe. Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, on launching the magazine Christianity and Crisis, excoriated liberal churchmen for evading the problem of radical evil: “This utopianism contributed to the tardiness of the democracies in defending themselves against the perils of a new barbarism.” Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, who fought in France during the Great War, told a friend on the eve of World War II that “death would be much better than to live through another war.” Nevertheless, he saw no moral alternative in a world ravaged by the will to power.

“We know from the experience of the last twenty years,” Lewis wrote in 1944, “that a terrified and angry pacifism is one of the roads that lead to war.” It is a truth that bears repeating as the world reflects on the tragedy of World War I.

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Posted in Church History, History, Ministry of the Ordained, Religion & Culture