Politics and the Church – The Hypocrisy of Politics in the Church [Part 12]

Later in 1930, Sloan warned Goddard against a policy of “complete disarmament.”  As an “illustration” he cited “Red Russia”, which is “without honor”, and would not disarm even if they agreed.  “A deep conspiracy against the peace of the world would have no moral difficulty for them”, he wrote, believing that Russia would respond to world disarmament with “military conquest and the overthrow of democracy”. [Harold Paul Sloan letter to Alvin C. Goddard,  September 2,1930, Sloan Papers, United Methodist Archives Center, Drew University]. Later that year, Goddard cabled US Secretary of State Henry Stimson at the Naval Disarmament Conference in London threatening that the Methodist World Peace Commission would oppose with a “nation-wide campaign” any treaty allowing the US to increase its navy. [“Will You Help the President, Your Country and Humanity?” Christian Advocate (February 27, 1930) Page 263].  

     Southern Methodist bishops asked their 1930 General Conference to back the new international Kellogg-Briand Pact to “abolish war as an instrument of national policy”, and to urge Congress’ support for “international peace.” [Journal of the Twenty-First General Conference, Methodist Episcopal Church, South (1930), Page 374].  At more length, the northern bishops, speaking to their 1932 General Conference, declared: “We have gone beyond the day when war-mindedness is of any value in our program of progress.”  They surmised that science had “put an end to war-winning.”  They urged America to “take the lead in the reduction of war machinery” which was the only way for America to “preserve herself” and “help save the world.”  The bishops saw “militarism” as humanity’s “chief enemy.”  And they expected another war to present a “definite choice between Christ and anti-Christ.” [Journal of the General Conference, Methodist Episcopal Church (1932) Page 188]. (I cannot help but wonder what Hitler and Tojo were doing during this timeframe?)

     The northern church’s 1932 General Conference more aggressively denounced war, urging international abolition of “aggressive” weapons such as tanks, airplanes and aircraft carriers.  It also called for the League of Nations to renounce placing “sole guilt” for World War I on Germany and urged ending demand for any further war reparations from Germany…thus giving Hitler funds to rebuild Germany’s war fighting capability.  They also asked the US government to grant conscientious objector status to Methodists just as to Quakers and other pacifist churches while seeking an end to all compulsory military service. [General Conference Reports and Resolutions, Methodist Episcopal Church (1932) Pages 561-563].  Condemning any French move against Germany, a 1934 survey of 100,000 clergy revealed northern Methodists to be the most pacifist of all denominations. [“Religion: Churchmen on War”, TIME (May 21, 1934)].

     The dean of United Methodist Drew University in New Jersey warned the 1934 New York Annual Conference that Hitler’s regime was “menacing and dangerous”, because German “nationalism has lifted its head with a type of primitive naturalism which threatens Christianity.” [“Methodist Leader Assails Hitlerism”, New York Times (April 13, 1934) Page 10].  However a German staffer for the northern church’s Women’s Foreign Missionary Society insisted to a 1934 agency meeting in Washington, DC, that “there is a definite place in the new Germany for the Methodist Church, and the future in that country is bright.”  She noted that there were 50,000 Methodists in Germany, and that the church’s young people’s group was now a “unit of the Hitler Youth.” [“Bright Future for Methodism in Reich Seen”, Washington Post (October 20, 1934) Page 13].

     Methodist Bishop R.J. Wade of Sweden told the northern bishops meeting in Atlantic City in 1935 that Hitler was “not altogether a bad man” but has “poor advisors” and “is wrong on the Jewish question” while “learning on the religious question.”  He further commended Hitler, who, unlike “certain” US presidents, was a “total abstainer from alcohol and tobacco.”  He added that the “youth of Germany are loyally behind Hitler”, who had “saved Germany from chaos.” [“Hitler is Not So Bad, Bishop Wade Asserts”, New York Times (November 14, 1935) Page 10].

     In contrast, the 1935 New Jersey Annual Conference urged a boycott of the upcoming 1936 Olympics in Berlin, condemning Nazi rule as “an example of a ruthless government, bloated with temporal power.” [“Methodists Urge US to Shun Olympics Under ‘Ruthless’ Nazis”, New York Times (September 22, 1935) Page N1].  The National Council of Methodist Youth even more strongly urged a boycott.  While in the same timeframe, the 1935 New York Annual Conference lambasted the “militaristic program of the Roosevelt administration” for “its extraordinary military and naval budgets”, whose “plans and preparations for mobilizing industry and man-power indicate that the United States is getting ready for war.”  New York Methodism insisted on “universal disarmament” and ” resistance to war and preparations for war.” [“Roosevelt Policy on Arms Assailed”, New York Times (May 11, 1935) Page 18].

     The 1936 northern General Conference found it necessary to restate its convictions which were that Methodism “does not endorse, support, or propose to participate in war”, hoping instead for “non-violent methods of overcoming evil.” [General Conference Reports and Resolutions, Methodist Episcopal Church (1936), Pages 660-661].  The bishops insisted that “advocates of war” are “on the defensive, as never before.”  They insisted,”Idealism dwells with the pacifists,” and surmised that any “militarist” who quits Methodism because of its “peace pronouncements” has “none other refuge” within Protestantism.  They warned that another World War would fuel “communistic experiments and bullying dictatorships.” [Journal of the General Conference, Methodist Episcopal Church (1936), Pages 140-141].

     Not to be outdone, the southern bishops complained to their 1938 General Conference that “all the leading nations of the world are preparing for a threatened cataclysm”, including the US.  The bishops insisted :”This whole hellish business must be done away” and war plans “must stop”, although, as most folks with good intentions tend to be, they did not explain how it should be done. [Journal of the Twenty-Third General Conference, Methodist Episcopal Church, South (1938), Pages 248-249].  I suspect that Hitler and Tojo agreed as they planned to rule the world.  And in the fine tradition of ‘fake news’, Bishop Francis McConnell editorialized in 1938: “This nation seems about to embark on a militaristic policy the like of which nobody has ever before dreamed of.”  He complained that during World War One the “most frightful description of outrages by Germans” was concocted for “patriotic” reason, and he expected “the liars will all forthwith be mobilized” for “another war.” [Bishop F.J. McConnell,”Public Should Know Reasons for Administration’s Armaments Policy”, Religious News Service, February 21, 1938, Bishop McConnell Papers, United Methodist Archives Center, Drew University].  

     In another outlet, Bishop McConnell admitted Nazi Germany was guilty of “inhumanity of the most dreadful kind” against the Jews.  He condemned the German seizure of Austria, predicting further “degradation of the Jews” and assault on the church in Austria, but still warning against war, which might mean “we sooner or later would be doing the same inhuman things.”  He believed “there is left enough honor and decency among Germany’s people to feel the shafts of criticism of the rest of the world.” [Bishop F.J. McConnell,”Americans Must Refuse to Get Used to Tragedy”, Religious News Service, April 11, 1938, Bishop McConnell Papers, United Methodist Archives Center, Drew University].  McConnell explained that a “stiff standing against a reckless bandit who has a gun is not always the part of wisdom”, this after British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain appeased Hitler in 1938 by agreeing to partial German conquest of Czechoslovakia.  This he justified by sympathizing with Hitler’s anti-communism stand, ignoring Hitler’s “world wide” war against the Jews. [Bishop F.J. McConnell,”Should We Be Surprised at Chamberlain’s Policy?”, Religious News Service, October 10, 1938, Bishop McConnell Papers, United Methodist Archives Center, Drew University].

     Next week we will continue with the church’s involvement with political commentary right up to the start of the Second World War.  Will we ever find when politics was no longer appropriate for the church?

– Bob Munsey

A brief commentary:  Some may believe that by writing these series I am anti-church.  Quite the contrary!  My ‘beef’ is with churches that sit back and let politics and politicians run all over them thinking that they can say nothing and all will be OK.  Well two church groups…one in Oregon and one in North Carolina chose to not be silent. The churches filed law suits arguing that the states’ social-distancing directives were unconstitutional.  Federal judges in Oregon and North Carolina sided with the churches.  Those who believe that politicians always make good decisions may need to be educated on just what some politicians are trying to do to this country.  What better source of education than the pulpit?  It’s not going to come from the government.

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