I forgot about Cordell Christian College. And World War I. OK, maybe I didn’t forget about WWI, but when I said that the churches of Christ were predominantly pacifistic up until WWII, I was forgetting the first world war. (Which wasn’t really the first world war, but they’re not going to change the history books now)
On my shelves, I have the book Decades of Destiny: A History of Churches of Christ from 1900-2000. I’ve read the book and thoroughly enjoyed it. So how could I forget that Lynn McMillon’s chapter on 1910-1920 is titled “The End of Pacifism”?
So let’s back up a bit. During the Civil War, the Restoration Movement found itself divided, both geographically and philosophically. Generally speaking, the churches in the North supported the war, while those in the South discouraged their members from fighting. (I’m painting with broad strokes, I know) More than doctrine, this is what led to the split between the Disciples of Christ and the churches of Christ (a scenario which played out in many other religious groups).
Leaders like David Lipscomb took strong stands against Christians joining the military. When the Spanish-American War came, it wasn’t hard for Christians to see through the pretenses behind the war and refuse to get involved. But then came World War I.
By the time World War I arrived, churches of Christ no longer found themselves on the wrong side of the tracks. [You might read Mike Casey’s article “From religious outsiders to insiders: the rise and fall of pacifism in the Churches of Christ.” Not sure how long that link will be valid, but you can read the article there for now.] Now an accepted part of society, they felt a stake in the preservation of that society.
What’s more, the government saw to it to persecute Christians who dared use their influence to discourage others from participating in the war. Two large targets were attacked directly. One was the Gospel Advocate, a publication long known for its pacifist views. During the Spanish-American War, the magazine had republished a letter presented to the governor of Tennessee during the Civil War which declared that the churches of Christ “believe that all Military Service or connexion with Military Service is entirely incompatible with the Spirit and requirements of the Christian religion.” During World War I, Caesar, err, the government threatened to arrest J.C. McQuiddy under the Espionage Act if he didn’t stop publishing pieces promoting pacifism. In July 1917, the Advocate stopped publishing peace articles for the rest of the war. McQuiddy also helped the government persuade preacher Price Billingsley to stop denouncing pro-war Christians.
Tomorrow I’ll do my best to retell the story of Cordell Christian College. Those who know it better than I can be prepared to chime in. And you’re always more than welcome to offer comments and corrections on the story thus far.