This week we will continue with the Methodist Church still trying to convince the US government to ignore the threats of Hitler and Tojo. Meanwhile Germany stepped up its preparation for war in violation of the Versailles Treaty by enlarging its weapons arsenal and putting in order its plans to wipe a selected group of people off the face of the earth…Jews. On the other side of the world Japan is stepping up its Asian aggression as it prepares to unleash mass murder on the Chinese people while conficating resources Japan so dearly needed. On the side lines the world had another conflict happening…the Spanish Civil War. This turned out to be a ‘proving ground’ for Hitler’s military.
Frederick Brown Harris, pastor of prominent Foundry Methodist Church in Washington, DC, chaired a “Save Czechoslovakia Committee” that implored the US to condemn Germany. [“Invoke Pact,’Save Czechs’, Group Asks”, Washington Post (September 26, 1938) Page X2]. In the pre-WW II conflict despite his calls for non-intervention, Bishop McConnell in 1937 had criticized a US arms embargo against both leftist and rightist forces in the Spanish Civil War, which he called “clearly discriminatory against the Spanish people and in favor of the Fascist powers.” [“Methodists Would Ban War Sales to Fascist”, Washington Post (July 5, 1937) Page 3]. Then in 1938, McConnell’s Methodist Federation for Social Service urged “labor and progressive forces in every country” to end aid to “aggressor nations.” The group complained that neutrality helped the “Fascist powers”, and regretted that Chamberlain’s appeasement “left no hope for peace.” [“Methodists in NY Assail Neutrality”, Washington Post (June 6, 1938) Page X20].
The northern bishops in 1938, meeting in Atlantic City, urged the US to protest anti-Jewish riots in Germany as “inhuman and unjustifiable.” They hoped for a “public opinion in the world that would help prevent such outrageous excesses” as the “growth of racial and religious prejudice and intolerance.” [Methodist Bishops Ask Protest to Reich”, New York Times (November 13, 1938) Page 37]. Chicago Bishop Edwin Hughes in 1938 joined former President Hoover, 1936 Republican nominee Alf Landon, and other clergy on national radio in denouncing Nazi Germany’s increasing persecution of Jews. [“Leaders Protest Nazi ‘Persecution'”, New York Times (November 15, 1938) Page 4]. That same year, the northern church’s Board of Home Missions condemned Nazi attacks on the Jews as a “mad, universal reign of terror.” It also expressed “shame” over US exports to Japan despite its war on China and urged an “end to a traffic from our country which is compelling us to be a partner in the destruction of the Chinese people.” [“Methodists Ask Reich to End Persecution”, New York Times (November 19, 1938) Page 2]. That call to end exports to Japan was responded to by the US and led to the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
Maybe at this point in time I should step away from the history of the Methodist Church temporarily to explain my writing. Some may think that I am anti-church which could not be further from the truth. I believe that when a Christian church sees wrong that is has an obligation to say something and to take a stand. Up to this point that is what I have been writing about. I do not disagree with the actions of the Methodist Church as I see it the responsibility of the church to be the conscience of the government. Where I am at cross conflict with some in the church is when I am told that politics does not belong in the church. I ask myself at what point in time does that become a fact. Has ‘political correctness’ scared some church leadership from taking a stand against that which is clearly wrong or anti-Biblical? We have enough governments in this world that have ‘no conscience’. Do we want the United States to join that group? I write this in an effort to find out at just what point in time in the history of our nation was conscience no longer needed? Let us continue in what is in my meager opinion the appropriate stance for the Methodist Church leadership to take, even though we…the Church…cannot let ourselves be blinded by the way we would like things to be and not the way that they are.
In early 1939, the southern church’s General Missionary Council, meeting in San Antonio, condemned US sales of potential war implements to Japan that would facilitate its war upon China or to any other “aggressor nation.” [“US War Sales Condemned”, Christian Science Monitor (January 12, 1939) Page 7]. Later that year, the northern Methodist World Peace Commission organized “Peacemakers Sunday” involving an anticipated 15,000 Methodist ministers, to urge continued US neutrality between Nazi Germany and the Western Allies.
Detroit Bishop Edgar Blake in 1939 condemned FDR for “feverish haste to build up fighting forces”, lamenting “no President…has ever so completely surrendered a national administration to the war-makers as he.” [“Bishop Scores Arms Spending”, Los Angeles Times (February 4, 1939) Page 6]. The northern Methodist Peace Commission condemned President Roosevelt for plans to fortify Guam. A prominent Baltimore Methodist minister lamented that FDR was turning America into a ‘munitions factory’ for France and England…falsely trying to preserve democracy. He even suggested meeting some German demands as “The Germans are people about like ourselves.” [“Pastor Attacks Munitions Policy”, Baltimore Sun (February 6, 1939) Page 4].
Not fearing expressing an alternate opinion…as some of today’s pastors are…Washington, DC, Foundry Methodist Church pastor Frederick Brown Harris, in contrast, declared : “Thank God in this solemn hour we have a man in the White House who sees clearly the present issue as it affects America.” [Dr. Harris Lauds President”, Washington Post (April 17, 1939) Page 13]. He warned against neutrality and derided the “pagan doctrines” of the Axis powers. He commented,”We can’t put peace above righteousness without committing national suicide.” [Dr. Harris Assails US Neutrality”, Washington Post (July 3, 1939) Page 11]. Back then I guess that conflict within the church was OK.
The 1939 New York Annual Conference also approved FDR’s putting the “moral and economic strength of America upon the side of the world’s democracies in their apparently belated decision to take a stand against the continued aggressions of the totalitarian states.” [“Methodists Back President’s Stand”, New York Times (April 17, 1939) Page 2]. Five northern bishops implored FDR to embargo war materials to Japan. [“Arms Embargo on Far East Urged by Methodist Group”, Baltimore Sun (July 8, 1939) Page 8]. It was about time as the Japanese were in China murdering thousands of Chinese. In one instance a reward was offered to Japanese soldiers for the first one to decapitate 100 Chinese. There was still those who refused to accept what was going on in the world. The 1939 Erie Annual Conference rejected war except as a “last resort where a clear-cut moral issue was involved.” [Methodists Oppose War”, New York Times (September 17, 1939) Page 29], only days after Germany invaded Poland.
FDR sent a message to the special 1939 General Conference that was called to reunify the northern and southern churches, along with the Methodist Protestant Church. He pledged the US would continue to “sustain before all the world the torch of complete liberty.” [“Methodists’ Unity Cheers President”, New York Times (April 27, 1939) Page 19]. Roosevelt’s 1936 presidential opponent, Republican Alf Landon, a Methodist and delegate, addressed the General Conference in person, criticizing FDR’s step away from neutrality and recommending “further discussion”with Hitler. [“Roosevelt’s Foreign Policy Means War, Landon Warns”, Chicago Daily Tribune (May 4, 1939) Page 12]. Delegates largely heeded Landon about neutrality but angered Landon by firmly supporting conscientious objectors. His effort against the stance was defeated. [“Methodists Sustain Objectors to War”, Atlanta Constitution (May 10, 1939) Page 12]. The General Conference pledged “undivided opposition to the spirit of war now raging through the world” and to “to exert every possible influence for peaceful settlement of international differences.” The delegates did acknowledge “the right of the individual to answer the call of his government in an emergency according to the dictates of his Christian conscience.” [“A Milder War Stand”, Kansas City Star (May 10, 1939) Page 1]. They asked the president and Congress to avoid “the entanglement of our country in a world-wide conflagration of war which we are convinced would bring our civilization into ruins.” Delegates rejoiced at the “freedom secured to mankind by this republic as among our own and the human race’s most precious possessions” while declaring,”Political liberty is indeed nothing less than a necessary fruition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so that devotion to it, of course, command the Christian’s utmost resource.” [Resolutions, Methodist Church General Conference (1939) Pages 698-699].
And thus while the world starts to ‘boil over’ the church finds that it is necessary to express the will of God as it sees it and as it applies to the politics that have gotten out of hand. Next week we continue our search for that time in history when politics no longer belonged in the Church.
– Bob Munsey
“Insight is better than eyesight” TD Jakes
Commentary: I would like to thank East Coast Christian Center of Merritt Island, Florida, for opening up the Church this past Sunday for worship. Well, for those who think politics doesn’t belong in the church…’NEWS FLASH!’…it’s there whether you like it or not. When politicians decide what is essential or not and whether a church can open or not, that’s politics in action. How long can some continue to take a “blind eye” to the reach politics is trying to make into the church?