To what extent did the European Churches promote the fighting of the Great War?
This article begins by considering the pre-1914 position of European Churches before examining their criticism of German Christian values and their influence on society and the state. Finally, it looks to the imagery of The Just War and the patriotic sermons from the pulpit with their use of mythology to recreate the image of the Tommy hero as the chivalrous knight.
Prior to 1914, churches, of all denominations, from all countries, had been actively meeting, to promote international peace. They advocated using arbitration as the key method to peacefully resolve disputes between nations. On 3 August, they met to establish the ‘World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches’, a week later the Roman Catholics had planned another conference, ironically, in Belgium. The intention was for the German Catholic clergy to “meet in the spirit of the Gospel with their French and Belgian brothers.”[footnoteRef:1] They found that peace was not supported by the German churches. “[T]here was never a remote chance that the British and German churches could have combined forces to advance the cause of peace before their respective governments “[footnoteRef:2] When the war came it was, like a bolt from the blue, during one of the most significant peace initiatives. [1: John A. Moses, "The British and German Churches and the Perception of War, 1908–1914," War & Society 5, no. 1 (1987): , doi:10.1179/106980487790305157, 37] [2: John A. Moses, "State, War, Revolution and the German Evangelical Church, 1914–18," Journal of Religious History 17, no. 1 (1992): , doi:10.1111/j.1467-9809.1992.tb00702.x., 47-59]
Even though the European churches initially called for peace and neutrality, their stance and rhetoric changed relatively quickly as they called their congregations to fight the atheistic devil. They criticised Germany’s Christian values as the “perverted antithesis of ennobled English Christianity.”[footnoteRef:3] Bishop Percival, had signed the neutrality manifesto of 3 August. 9 days later, he wrote a letter to the Times stating, “Such a war is a heavy price to pay for our progress towards the realisation of the Christianity of Christ, but duty calls, and the price must be paid for the good of those who are to follow us.” Key church publications also recorded their war support. “The August and September 1914 issues of . . . The Catholic Herald, The Tablet . . . the Baptist Times… Freeman, and the Methodist Times – contain[ed] leading articles and editorials supporting British actions” Even the Quaker journal, The Friend, proclaimed that “the nation has entered this struggle in a just cause and has a right to claim the co-operation of her citizens”[footnoteRef:4] The Churches had moved from promoting peace to endorsing the Just and Holy War, in a matter of weeks. [3: Shannon Ty Bontrager, "The Imagined Crusade: The Church of England and the Mythology...