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Title:The Peace-Loving Preachers of War: Understanding the American Clergy’s Shift toward Interventionism in the First World War
Author(s):Hild, Adam
Geographic Coverage:United States
Abstract:During the First World War, Christian clergy in the United States demonstrated a dramatic shift in attitude. At the outset, most clergy condemned the conflict; by 1917, however, they openly embraced American intervention. The dominant approach among scholars views the clergy’s shift as indicative of their underlying hypocrisy and malleability in the face of government propaganda, a view largely developed by Ray Abrams’ seminal 1933 monograph Preachers Present Arms. Although recent scholars have indicated a more sympathetic perspective on the clergy’s support for American intervention, they have yet to provide a comprehensive framework for understanding the shift that occurred in the ministers’ attitudes from 1914 to 1917. This paper presents a fresh analysis of that shift. Utilizing a wide selection of the Great War era clergy’s sermons, lectures, books, and pamphlets, I suggest an alternative understanding of the preachers’ evolving support for interventionism. My work makes use of both traditional texts and recently digitized online archives to survey the attitudes of America’s most prominent clergymen during the war. I further provide an analysis and critique of the secondary literature on the subject and demonstrates how this paper’s approach correlates to scholarly perspectives on the following topics: Great War pacifism, German wartime atrocities, the role of government propaganda in the conflict, and the early twentieth century American religious landscape. This paper argues that the clergy’s attitude toward American intervention in the First World War cannot be adequately understood outside the dominant Christian ideological trend of the period: the Social Gospel movement. Ministers influenced by the Social Gospel developed a vision for international brotherhood that directly informed their approach to politics and the war. Rather than abandoning this internationalist vision as they moved to calls for American intervention, the clergy demonstrated a coherent version of their ideology that had evolved naturally in response to their growing fear of the German Empire. German militarism posed a clear threat to the ministers’ hope for international fellowship and American intervention in the war countered this threat in a way that was ultimately consistent with the clergy’s desire for world peace.
Issue Date:2018
Date Available in IDEALS:2018-04-10

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