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Kingdom to Commune

Protestant Pacifist Culture between World War I and the Vietnam Era

Patricia Appelbaum

Publication Year: 2009

American religious pacifism is usually explained in terms of its practitioners’ ethical and philosophical commitments. Patricia Appelbaum argues that Protestant pacifism, which constituted the religious center of the large-scale peace movement in the United States after World War I, is best understood as a culture that developed dynamically in the broader context of American religious, historical, and social currents. The book begins and ends with biographical profiles of two very different pacifists, Harold Gray and Marjorie Swann. Their stories distill the changing religious culture of American pacifism revealed in the book.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5

Contents and Illustrations

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pp. v-vii

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Acknowledgments and Abbreviations

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pp. ix-xi

First of all, I am indebted to the numerous libraries and archives whose collections have been available to me and to the staff members who know and maintain them. Thanks above all to the Swarthmore College Peace Collection; also the American Baptist Historical Society, Andover Harvard Library, Congregational...

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pp. 1-9

In 1946 the aging peace evangelist Kirby Page published a collection of nontraditional worship services in a volume hopefully called “The Light Is Still Shining in the Darkness.” One of these services was dedicated to peace.1 Some elements of the service would have been familiar to any mainline Protestant, such as readings...

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1. “Character ‘Bad’”: HAROLD GRAY

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pp. 10-24

In 1934, in the midst of the pacifist travails of the 1930s, several books appeared that shaped pacifist memory and charted future directions. Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth was said to speak “for her sex, and for her generation” about the experience of the war.1 Richard Gregg’s The Power of Non-Violence offered a...

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pp. 25-44

Historians of pacifism have long known that Protestant participation in the peace movement between the world wars extended far beyond the “historic peace churches.” Most mainline Protestant organizations took formal antiwar positions during the 1920s and 1930s. The Federal Council of Churches...

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3. The Protestant Heart: PACIFIST THEOLOGY

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pp. 45-60

“In the first three decades of the twentieth century, the agenda of America’s elite divinity schools and Protestant denominations was set by liberals who advocated biblical criticism, reconciliation with science, ecumenical cooperation . . . and the social gospel,” writes historian of theology Gary Dorrien.1 By...

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4. The Pacifist Vernacular

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pp. 61-71

In 1936 Kirby Page invited the British pacifist George Lansbury to conduct a speaking tour of the United States on behalf of the Emergency Peace Campaign. Among Lansbury’s speeches was a radio broadcast in which he pleaded with “the nation” to “take the Gospel message at its face value”: “Unless we are...

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5. Performing Pacifism: WORSHIP, PLAYS, AND PAGEANTS

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pp. 72-88

Pacifist culture was highly verbal, but pacifism was not expressed in words alone. It was also performed. Harold Gray enacted his pacifism in legal and practical actions and in symbolic and ritual gestures. World War II objectors planted trees, volunteered for research projects, and experimented with communal...

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6. Swords and Plowshares: PACIFIST ICONOGRAPHY

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pp. 89-109

In an Armistice Day poster from about 1920, headed “Let Us Have Peace,” a mother and child sit enthroned in front of a semicircular border reminiscent of a halo, with a city skyline in the background. On one side of them stands a man holding a book; on the other, a man with a hoe. A dove hovers overhead. In the left...

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7. “The Practice of the Presence”: PACIFIST SPIRITUALITY

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pp. 110-127

Despite the concreteness and materiality of visual images, many pacifists entertained the conviction that true religion was grounded in “mysticism”—direct, experiential contact with the divine. This contact, they argued, would motivate and sustain the actions of pacifist life, both everyday and extraordinary...

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pp. 128-142

We have looked at theological, performative, visual, and spiritual dimensions of mainline Protestant peace culture, and at the ways they built up to a paradigm shift in the years around 1940. This chapter considers another essential aspect of that culture: everyday practice. My concern is not with large-scale public...

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9. Milking Goats for Peace: A NEW PARADIGM

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pp. 143-162

The idea of the pacifist cooperative farm caught fire quite suddenly around 1940. Over the next two years there was an unusual proliferation of pacifist cooperatives of all kinds, but especially of subsistence homestead farms. Indeed, in 1942 the FOR Commission on Rural Life asked, “Can it be said, ‘Rural life is the pacifist...

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10. “Victories without Violence”: PACIFIST STORIES

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pp. 163-183

Long after the paradigm shift of the 1940s, the Cambridge, Massachusetts, songwriter Fred Small recorded an original ballad, based on news reports, called “Scrambled Eggs and Prayers.” The song tells the story of an elderly woman and an escaped prisoner. The woman is alone when the convict invades...

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11. “Bad Mother”: MARJORIE SWANN

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pp. 184-202

In the summer of 1959 Marjorie Swann, a mother with four children at home, participated in a civil-disobedience action at a nuclear-weapons site near Omaha, Nebraska. She was tried and sentenced to six months in federal prison. The judge who sentenced her said, among other things, “You are a bad...

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pp. 203-215

Within a few years of Marjorie Swann’s action, American pacifism moved from abeyance structures into a large-scale movement reacting against the Vietnam War. That movement invoked an ideology of love, a spiritual practice of meditation, a folk aesthetic, and, later, a renewed back-to-the-land...

Appendix: HYMN TEXTS

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pp. 217-220


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pp. 221-279


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pp. 281-313


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pp. 315-330

E-ISBN-13: 9781469605975
E-ISBN-10: 146960597X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807832677
Print-ISBN-10: 0807832677

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Pacifism -- Religious aspects -- Protestant churches -- History -- 20th century.
  • Protestant churches -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Pacifism -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • United States -- Church history -- 20th century.
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