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MichaelBully

Religious Groups opposed to war

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I am trying to think of religious groups that were opposed to their members taking part in the War : I know that whilst a number of Conscientious Objectors were Quakers (members of the Society of Friends), I thought that their official stance was that it was up to the individual member to make the decision whether or not to fight, or perhaps go for non combat role.

I can only think of the Christadelphians, Plymouth Brothers, and Muggletonians. Regards, Michael Bully

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What about the Salvationists, Seventh Day Adventists and Christian Scientists.

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Salvationists could certainly fight. I believe that at least three of them won the VC. This info comes from a talk entitled "Under Two Flags" given by a Salvationist from (IIRC) Northants, given on the WFA branch circuit.

I believe that many Quakers served in medical units.

Ron

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The point about salvationists is a good one and is related to a discussion I had a while back about Quakers, if you are were/are part of a religious group who do not believe in war would you still be part of that religion if you decided to fight?

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Jehovah's Witnesses should be added to the list.

I will be interested to find out which of those on your list were strictly forbidden to fight.

Jehovah's Witnesses - because of their strict interpretation of spilled blood?

My Grandfather was a member of the (Plymouth) Brethren, and was a Non-combatant. Brethren were able to make their own decision, although I think the attitude to whether they should enlist varied from area to area.

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Also The Peculiar People.

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The point about salvationists is a good one and is related to a discussion I had a while back about Quakers, if you are were/are part of a religious group who do not believe in war would you still be part of that religion if you decided to fight?

The warden of my hall at university had been a major in the Guards Armoured Division in WW2. He was a Quaker before the war and was still one when I knew him.

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The point about salvationists is a good one and is related to a discussion I had a while back about Quakers, if you are were/are part of a religious group who do not believe in war would you still be part of that religion if you decided to fight?

Interesting observation,

In a letter to the NY Times on the 18 April 1918 Albert Gilmore wrote, '…Moreover, Christian Scientists, while fully realising that war with its horrors is a most unfortunate situation, nevertheless regard it as vastly better than the loss of that degree of human freedom gained at great sacrifice throughout the centuries which has come to this generation as it's most precious heritage. While looking prayerfully for that day foreseen by Isaiah when "nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore." Christian Scientists do their full duty as defenders of freedom and democracy."

He then goes on to recount a prayer written by it's founder for victory (in Cuba).

I suggest that this argument reflects the view taken by the establishment of most religions, although accepting it may have caused problems for individuals and their conscience. I can't think of any monotheistic religion (in 1914) that promoted war for it's own sake but to right a greater wrong - e.g. 'the rape of Belgium' etc

This online book details the work of Christian Science in the war

http://www.archive.o...anscience00firs

(and of interest to Michael one American soldier praising the Reading Room notes it was a refuge from "the many temptations of Brighton"blush.gif

Ken

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Thanks for the replies guys. Really added to my list. I have wondered in respect of The Quakers, what would happen if someone from their background decided to follow their conscience and thought that they should fight? Would their religious community accept them ?

Certainly found when reading accounts of Miltiary Service Tribunal hearings in local papers, if an applicant came from a religious background which forbade taking part in armed combat, they were treated more favourably than someone who had a conscientious objection to the Great War but did not come from such a religious background. 'How long have you held these views ?' was a question that was raised. The implication being that if the applicant had discovered a concientious objection to war once the Great War was underway, the sincerity of their objection was somehow suspect compared with someone whose family had a background of being pacifists.

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Thanks Ken, Christian Scientists are a group that I had totally overlooked. Need to add to my list of religious groups that need to research in relation to how they viewed the Great War . As for the temptations of Brighton , I work in Brighton, tend to socialise in Brighton , and my partner lives in Brighton, but I live in Hove actually !

(and of interest to Michael one American soldier praising the Reading Room notes it was a refuge from "the many temptations of Brighton"blush.gif

Ken

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Thanks for the replies guys. Really added to my list. I have wondered in respect of The Quakers, what would happen if someone from their background decided to follow their conscience and thought that they should fight? Would their religious community accept them ?

See my post 7

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One of the reasons that this topic is so interesting is that my own preconceptions get challenged, the more I read about the subject. For example, the Unitarians I have met tend to be very opposed to war but this was not necessarily the case in the Great War. I have not discovered any Unitarian Conscientious Objectors (COs) in my research , either locally , or further afield. Obviously it doesn't mean that there weren't any Unitarian CO's just because I have not identified them, so would welcome any cases of Unitarian CO's if anyone else has found them.

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As for the temptations of Brighton , I work in Brighton, tend to socialise in Brighton , and my partner lives in Brighton, but I live in Hove actually !

One of my first assignments as a management consultant was with Brighton Health Authority. I made many visits but noticed that many of the habitues of the bar in some of the hotels I used (out of season) tended to be on the elderly side (at least to my eyes then). One evening a couple arrived and were greeted by the barman. "We've been to Hove" Minnie and Hector Crunn said in reply "and doesn't make you feel young!" My next assignment was with the Inland Revenue in Hove and I saw what they meant - not just "crinklies" but "crumblies". Actually I've a soft spot for Brighton - we had our honeymoon there but I've never thought of it as whirlpool of hedonism.

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You could add

  • Church of the Brethren (not to be confused with Plymouth Brethren)
  • Mennonites
  • Amish (not confined to the USA at this period)

Today all largely USA based but all with European origins and some were still in Europe in this period.

It seem that some Jehovah's Witnesses at the time would not volunteer but would serve if conscripted and this caused a significant schism in Europe by 1919. In a similar vein some branches of the Unitarian movement were opposed whilst others left it to the individual's conscience.

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Salvationists could certainly fight. I believe that at least three of them won the VC. This info comes from a talk entitled "Under Two Flags" given by a Salvationist from (IIRC) Northants, given on the WFA branch circuit.

John Stanyard is the chap in question. It is an excellent talk, and he also wrote an article for Stand To! on the subject. He occassionally posts on the Forum.

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Thanks again for all the information, have to admit that there are some religious groups that I had not even heard of. WIth regard to some of the complexities involved, I remember reading the service records of a Quaker CO from York, whose CO status was recognised by a tribunal as long as he remained working in York Hospital, who later became an army chaplain. Will try and find the reference and edit this post in case anyone is interested in conculting the file at the NA.

Edit : Above CO was Harry Bunce : WO339/132850 if anyone wants to check his records at National Archive

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Michael

Get hold of a copy of Conscience and Politics by John Rae, easily found second hand on the internet at a modest price. This will answer most of your questions and the complexity of it shows the difficulties the Military Tribunals had.

TR

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Thanks Terry, have consulted this book at the British Library. Yes, it's time that I treated myself to my own copy.

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I can recommend this work, which, I'm pleased to say, uses Rae as a reference.

It discusses Australia and N.Z. as well as the UK.

Brethren and Attitudes....

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Germany had a simple system - didn't recognise conscientious objection on religious or indeed any other grounds so no need for tribunals.

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Some more for the list

Molokans - Mainly in the USA but some in Canada and Australia

Doukhobors - Mainly in Canada but some in the USA and Cyprus

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Get hold of a copy of Conscience and Politics by John Rae, easily found second hand on the internet at a modest price. This will answer most of your questions and the complexity of it shows the difficulties the Military Tribunals had.

Rae correctly refers to the tribunals as Military Service Tribunals, not Military Tribunals. They were run by civilians, not by the military.

On the wider issue of religious groups opposed to the war, most of the groups mentioned had members who refused military service as conscientious objectors, but the collective stands varied:

The Quakers as a body were ambivalent, and a significant number served in the military. Those who refused, however, were very well supported by the Quakers as a body, with alll kinds of effort made on behalf of not only their own brethren, but on behalf of COs generally.

The Christadelphians made special arrangements with the authorities regarding their own COs.

The International Bible Students Association, as the Jehovah's Witnesses were then known, supported their brethren, the overwhelming majority of whom refused - a few accepted non-combatant service.

The Churches of Christ members largely refused, and records of them were published.

The Peace Pledge Union CO database includes no known Muggletonian or Christian Science members, but certainly some Salvationists refused.

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The International Bible Students Association, as the Jehovah's Witnesses were then known, supported their brethren, the overwhelming majority of whom refused - a few accepted non-combatant service.

I understood that by WW1 they were called Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society. - shortened to The Watch Tower Society certainly that was the name used when some of the directors were prosecuted in the USA under the Espionage Act in 1917 for issuing publications criticising the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches for supporting the war.

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Many thanks for all the information Centurion and MB: With reference to The Quakers, my understanding is that their emphasis would be on the conscience of the individual, so though broadly speaking the Society of Friends would support CO's more than many other religious groups, there could be conceivably be Quakers who felt that their conscience decreed them to take up non-combat duties or even combat duties, as individuals.

I am trying to make a list as it were of religious groups who had a collective stance of refusing to either take up active combat service, or objected to any form of military service.

Another line up enquiry I am considering was if there were regional differences between how Military Service Tribunals viewed CO's citing religious objections.

Also whether CO's whose objections were on a religious basis, were more likely to be from the non-conformist Protestant religious groups.

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For example, the Unitarians I have met tend to be very opposed to war but this was not necessarily the case in the Great War.

My impression is that Unitarians were generally not objectors. L.P. Jacks, for example, then principal of Manchester College, Oxford, was notable for his very vocal support of war effort.

My area is one where Unitarianism is traditionally strong, and the prominent local Unitarian families seem to have been in khaki as much as those of other denominations, with many losing sons.

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