At church Sunday we had a tribute to our veterans. They stood up, were recognized and received a round of enthusiastic applause. This is our custom on Veterans Day and Memorial Day surrounded as we are by five military bases. The American flag adorns our stage and numerous active and retired military personnel populate our congregation.
While I have no problem with this recognition I could not help but think about a rich part of our spiritual heritage in the churches of Christ that to some has been all but lost.
Beginning with both Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone there was a very strong pacifist sentiment within our movement from the start. Based upon a more literal understanding of Biblical teachings like the Sermon on the Mount, they developed a definitive kingdom outlook that encouraged pacifism.
Later such brotherhood luminaries as David Lipscomb and James Harding also considered Christ’s teachings such as “turning the other cheek”; “loving your enemies”; and John 18:36- where Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” – as literal kingdom principles and believed it was a Christian’s duty as a citizen of the heavenly kingdom to not participate in warfare. Lipscomb, in particular, lived this out in a vivid way while the Civil War raged around him.
Other prominent but lesser known leaders such as R.H. Boll and J.C. Bailey followed in the footsteps of this tradition. Some of our colleges and publications in the early part of the twentieth century were well steeped in pacifist teachings. The Gospel Advocate actually came close to losing its mailing privileges during World War I because of its pacifist views. And then there was Cordell Christian College.
Cordell in Oklahoma was the largest college among the churches of Christ before WWI but because of its pacifist teachings was forced to close under government surveillance and community pressure. O.N. Enfield a leading preacher in Oklahoma was imprisoned in Leavenworth because of his anti-war sentiments during this time.
After WWI pacifist ideas- although not as common- still prevailed in some areas. This idea was still strong enough in parts of Canada that several preachers and church leaders sat out World War II on prison work crews instead of fighting.
For the most part the bombs dropped on Pearl Harbor and the patriotic fervor of WWII effectively ended the active pacifist ideals within the churches of Christ. And while I am sure pacifist voices continued to be heard, growing up in and around the Church of Christ and attending an affiliated college in the south, I never heard this viewpoint.
Now as we participate in a Christian culture heavily involved in the politics of war and American patriotism, pacifist ideals are at best, dismissed and at worst, denigrated. To many now- pacifism is just completely foreign to the American Christian perspective of God and country and should not even be considered.
But the voices of the past remain with us. Do they still have any relevance? Were that many of our spiritual ancestors so wrong? Does their interpretation of Christ’s kingdom principles have any merit? Is there room for like-minded voices in our brotherhood today?
So many questions! Any answers?