The War and the Prophets (1)
"We are one in Christ and can never be at war."
Can kings or presidents, a congress or a parliament, define who is my neighbor and who is my enemy? If they proclaim it by a declaration of war, can I still love those who are now my enemies?
In July 1914, an ecumenical conference was held at Constance in Switzerland by Christians seeking to prevent the outbreak of war in Europe. Convinced that war was near, some 150 Christians came together, seeking desperately to find a way to head off the outbreak of hostilities. Before the conference ended, however, World War I had started and those present had to return to their respective countries. They hurried to catch trains back to their respective homelands.
At the railroad station in Cologne, Germany, two of the participants, Henry Hodgkin, an English Quaker, and Friedrich Siegmund-Schultze, a German Lutheran, pledged to find a way of working for peace even though their countries were at war. Believing that the bonds of Christian love transcended all national boundaries, vowed that they would refuse to sanction war or violence and that they would sow the seeds of peace and love no matter what the future might bring. As they shook hands in farewell, they agreed that they were “one in Christ and can never be at war.”
Out of this vow the Fellowship of Reconciliation was born. The formal beginning came four months later at Trinity College, Cambridge, where 128 English members elected Hodgkin as their first chairperson. The founding of the German branch, Versuhnungsbund, came later. Schultze was arrested twenty-seven times during World War I and was forced to live in exile during the Nazi period.
In 1915, Hodgkin came to the United States to meet with sixty-eight men and women at Garden City, New York where the American FOR was founded on November 11, with Gilbert A. Beaver as its first chairperson. Leaders during those early years included Edward Evans, Norman Thomas, Bishop Paul Jones (who had been removed from the Episcopal Diocese of Utah because of his pacifism), and Grace Hutchins.
They set out the principles that had led them to do so in a statement which became known as "The Basis". It states:
· That love as revealed and interpreted in the life and death of Jesus Christ, involves more than we have yet seen, that is the only power by which evil can be overcome and the only sufficient basis of human society.
· That, in order to establish a world-order based on Love, it is incumbent upon those who believe in this principle to accept it fully, both for themselves and in relation to others and to take the risks involved in doing so in a world which does not yet accept it.
· That therefore, as Christians, we are forbidden to wage war, and that our loyalty to our country, to humanity, to the Church Universal, and to Jesus Christ our Lord and Master, calls us instead to a life-service for the enthronement of Love in personal, commercial and national life.
· That the Power, Wisdom and Love of God stretch far beyond the limits of our present experience, and that He is ever waiting to break forth into human life in new and larger ways.
· That since God manifests Himself in the world through men and women, we offer ourselves to His redemptive purpose to be used by Him in whatever way He may reveal to us.
(Because the membership of the FOR included many members of the Society of Friends (Quakers), who reject any form of written creed, it has always been stressed that the Basis is a statement of general agreement rather than a fixed form of words. Nonetheless the Basis has been an important point of reference for many Christian pacifists.)
John Haynes Holmes, Unitarian minister and one of the early FOR members, pointed out that most people believe war is wrong in general, but nonetheless go on to justify each particular war. Placing the claims of the nation state below that of religious faith, Holmes wrote: “No one is wise enough, no nation is important enough, no human interest is precious enough, to justify the wholesale destruction and murder which constitute the science of war.”
This is the first in a series occasioned by the centennial of the Great War 1914-1918 with applications to our world.