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Reviewed by:
  • For All Peoples and All Nations
  • Paul Lauritzen (bio)
John Nurser , For All Peoples and All Nations (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2005), 220 pages ISBN 1-58901-059-0.

Article 68 of the Charter of the United Nations reads: "The Economic and Social Council shall set up commissions in economic and social fields and for the promotion of human rights, and such other commissions as may be required for the performance of its functions." The Human Rights Commission that was established under the authorization of this article is justly famous for drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The work of the original Commission and the stories of many of its members, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rene Cassin, P.C. Chang, Charles Malik, and others, are well known. Less well known is the work of the leaders of the Protestant ecumenical movement, both in the United States and worldwide, whose commitment to a stable post-war global order led them to embrace the cause of human rights and to work tirelessly to see that something like Article 68 was part of the UN Charter.

This fine book documents the role played by groups, like the World Council of Churches (WCC), in the fledgling human rights movement. In particular it highlights the contribution of Otto Frederick (Fred) Nolde, a Lutheran minister, to the establishment of the human rights regime. If there is one figure whose story deserves to be better known, it is probably Nolde's, and this book is a good start to giving Nolde his historical due. As Nurser puts it, Nolde should be considered a "hero" of the human rights movement, but "he is now virtually unremembered in either the UN or the World Council of Churches."1 We are indebted to John Nurser for correcting this injustice.

To understand the role Nolde played in securing Article 68 as part of the UN Charter and in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), particularly Article 18 on religious freedom, it is important to review the history of the Protestant ecumenical movement in the 1930s and 1940s. Thus, this book begins with a chapter exploring the evolution of some Christian churches toward a "nonterritorial, nonracial, nonpolitical Christendom" 2 that would be compatible with a conception of human rights that did not depend on Christian convictions. In speaking about a "nonpolitical" Christendom, however, Nurser does not mean to suggest that the ecumenical-movement churches were politically inactive. Indeed, as the book shows, the founding of the human rights movement would have been impossible without the political activity of various religious groups, especially Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish groups in the United States.

In the case of Nolde, two American Protestant bodies were particularly important, the Federal Council of Churches (FCC) and the Foreign Missions Conference of North America. For example, in 1940, the FCC set up a Commission to Study the Bases of a Just and Durable Peace (CJDP, also known as the Dulles Commission) and [End Page 517] this group in turn convened a National Study Conference on International Affairs at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio in 1942 and a "roundtable" at Princeton in 1943. Through his work at the National Study Conference, Nolde was invited to join the CJDP and he was subsequently named the secretary of the Princeton Roundtable. When the FCC and the Foreign Missions Conference set up the Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, Nolde was named executive secretary. It was through his role with the Joint Committee that Nolde was selected as assistant consultant to the UN Conference on International Order in San Francisco in 1945. And there he was instrumental in securing a commitment to a human rights commission from the US delegation.

Although the preferred narrative of the founding of the modern human rights regime is, at least in some quarters, a story about the final realization of a secular Enlightenment process that is brought to maturity through the sobering reality of the Jewish Holocaust, Nurser argues persuasively that attention to the UN Conference on International Order (UNCIO) shows otherwise. Drawing on news stories, diary entries, and other documentary sources, Nurser demonstrates that the religiously-affiliated consultants had scrupulously prepared for...


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pp. 517-519
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