Is War “Christian”?
Bruce Barton's prayerful anti-war sermon (Feb. 1951)
“No one could be stronger than I for national defense; no one could hate Communism more. My protest is against the dreadful callousness that has enveloped us.”
One of the most perplexing aspects of American political thought is that strange amalgamation of Christianity and radical militarism. Time and time again, come what may, there never seems to be any shortage of self-proclaimed disciples of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, lusting for yet another violent intervention somewhere.
When Bruce Fairchild Barton (1886–1967), famed New York ad tycoon, best-selling Christian author and former Republican Congressman, wrote the following anti-war message for his nationally syndicated newspaper column, the United States was in the first year of the Korean War.
An outspoken opponent of the Korea adventure, Barton was soon vindicated by its results. By the end of active hostilities in 1953, there were 36,574 dead Americans, 103,284 wounded, 7,800 missing, and $67 billion spent. All that without a victory.
Something to consider as Americans head to the polls this year...
February 11, 1951
Times like these are tough for a preacher. He wants with all his heart to be a loyal Man of God, yet he wants also to be a patriotic citizen. He is peculiarly sensitive to appeals for “unity,” for “freedom.” But his soul abhors war.
The Wrath of God
By Bruce Barton
Everything he has been taught about God, and the moral law, revolts against it. What shall he say to his people? How can he reconcile his loyalty to his government with his loyalty to a war-hating God?
I have thought a good deal about this, for my father was a preacher. He had no doubt that World War I was righteous—the “war to end all wars.” He marched down to the railroad station with every group of draftees that left our town. He prayed God’s blessing on them. In the succeeding years, as one after another of the Great Goals for which the war had been fought faded into nothingness, he was torn by doubts.
Had he lived I am sure he would now be mourning in the secret places of his heart. It would seem to him that somehow, slavishly, we had allowed the habit of war to impose itself upon us until it had, in fact, almost become the American way of life. That as a people we had surrendered our ancient capacity for righteous anger and revolt.
It was only yesterday that the “Custer Massacre”1 — the slaughter of American troops by Indians — called forth a hurricane of popular rage and horror. In the Custer massacre 24 Americans were killed. Now in Korea 50,000 Americans have been killed or wounded, and an estimated one million Koreans and Chinese. Except for the parents of our dead and wounded, who sheds a tear? Who cares?
No one could be stronger than I for national defense; no one could hate Communism more. My protest is against the dreadful callousness that has enveloped us. In their September, 1948 “Bulletin”, the Atomic Scientists pointed out that in the first World war “American public opinion was shocked by the sinking of passenger-carrying ships by German submarines; in the second World War American submarines sank all Japanese ships on sight”-- and nobody was horrified.
We unprotestingly “accepted terror bombing of whole cities as legitimate warfare” and “in the atomic bombardment of Hiroshima (arranged so as to inflict the maximum number of civilian casualties) we have compounded the terror of aerial war a thousand-fold.”
If I were a preacher, I would keep war out of the pulpit. I would preach about the Love of God, and the Peace of God.
But once in a while, saddened by the degree to which this nation has hardened its heart; so that the sending of its boys to kill and be killed has become almost a matter of course, I would preach upon that great and solemn phrase which appears often in the Scriptures, but seldom in sermons — that frightening, that majestic phrase, THE WRATH OF GOD.
1 The Battle of the Little Bighorn, aka Custer’s Last Stand — June 25–26, 1876
The Tyranny of Words — Bruce Barton on Aggression (1951)
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