Unpopular Views of Peace: The Great War and the Transformation of Southern Religion
Type of DegreeDissertation
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The Great War erupted in Europe in 1914. Initially, most Americans viewed the war with horror, and many actively advocated the United States stay out of the conflict. Southern churches were part of this wave of opposition to the European war, speaking out against the savagery of war and the unnecessary nature of the present conflict. However, three years later, the United States declared war on Germany and entered the Great War. Americans generally viewed this decision positively and supported the war effort. Southern denominations were again consistent with the general population, largely abandoning their earlier rhetoric of opposition to the war overseas. Nevertheless, there were elements within many churches in the South that were reluctant to support the war or vigorously opposed the decision to declare war. The general abandonment of earlier views about the war was part of southern churches’ larger transition away from pacifism and antiwar sentiments, which originated for many in the nineteenth century. The Religious Society of Friends (North Carolina Yearly Meeting); the Churches of Christ; the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee); the Methodist Episcopal Church, South; and the National Baptist Convention were representative southern churches that, to varying degrees, experienced this transformation in their religious views. Since these denominations had already begun the shift away from antiwar sentiments in the nineteenth century, the Great War was more of an accelerant than a catalyst. As a result of the wartime pressures from the government and civilians, these southern churches attempted to complete the process of leaving behind their traditional antiwar views and embracing mainstream society.