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Through battle flame

by
19 April 2013

Alan Wilkinson looks at the part played by the C of E in 20th-century warfare

Visiting the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow: Arch­bishop William Temple, at the rear of the procession, in September 1942, is led in to a service on HMSKing George Vby the Chap­lain of the Fleet, the Ven. Thomas Crick (later Dean of Rochester). From the book cover

Visiting the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow: Arch­bishop William Temple, at the rear of the procession, in September 1942, is led in to a service on HMSKi...

God and War: The Church of England and armed conflict in the twentieth century
Stephen G. Parker and Tom Lawson, editors
Ashgate £55
(978-0-7546-6692-9)
Church Times Bookshop £49.50 (Use code CT307 )

THE creation of the modern shrine of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral symbolises the development of a critical ministry to the state by the 20th-century Church of England. George Bell, the Archbishop's new chaplain, stayed in Canterbury for Christmas 1914. On 29 December, the anniversary of Becket's martyrdom, he made his first visit to the site. It was Bell who, as Bishop of Chichester, commissioned T. S. Eliot to write what became Murder in the Cathedral.

God and War is an important and pioneering study of Anglican reactions to conflicts from the Boer War to those of the 1990s. The editorial introduction, one of the most illuminating sections of the book, pays brief attention to important topics sadly omitted from the main chapters.

In his chapter on the Boer War, Mark Allen challenges the image of the Church as giving unequivocal support. In fact, it was divided. Although the Bishop of Winchester (Davidson) was officially supportive, privately he indicated his disquiet. The Dean joined the anti-war coalition. The clergy were generally less bellicose than other groups.

Stuart Bell skilfully summarises notable characteristics of Anglican leadership during the First World War: the moderate tone of the war prayers; the cautious treatment of atrocity stories; the ministry of chaplains; the limitations of the National Mission; the capacity for theological innovation. Surprisingly he concludes that the war "had relatively little impact on the faith of the Church". But, in fact, post-war developments were clear: the pressure for liturgical change and self-government; the creation of paths towards ordination for those from limited backgrounds; the sensitive provision for Armistice-tide; new possibilities for women's ministry and ecumenism; the growth of liberal questioning and Catholic traditionalism; the hope invested in the League of Nations; a new sympathy for the Labour Party.

The chapters about the Second World War by Stephen Parker, Andrea Harris, and Philip Coupland cover marginal subjects - spiritual renewal, religious education, sexual morality, and the Christendom Group. They would be valuable articles in an academic journal, but fail to deal with the broad issues of the Second World War, such as oblitera-tion and atomic bombing, the Holocaust, passionate hopes for a renewed post-war Church and society, conscientious objection, and Bell's work for Anglo-German relation- ships.

In contrast, Dianne Kirby writes directly about "The Church of England and the Cold War". She believes that the spiritual and moral contribution of the Church of England to the war effort was significant. Its Council on Foreign Relations was considered important enough to have among its members a representative of the Foreign Office.

Archbishops Fisher and Garbett were strongly anti-communist. In 1949, the Vatican began excommunicating communists. It had never excluded Nazis and fascists. Kirby believes that the Church of England marginalised "turbulent priests", such as the Dean of Canterbury, Hewlett Johnson. A "blacklist" was drawn up by Lambeth in 1950. Stanley Evans, after time in the wilderness, became Vicar of Dalston - "left to rot" was John Collins's verdict. But Kirby does not tell us that in 1960 Evans became the first Principal of the adventurous Southwark Ordination Course and a Canon of Southwark. Nor does she mention Alan Ecclestone, another communist vicar, widely admired for his spiritual wisdom.

Kirby illustrates the complexity of church-state relationships by relating how even Bell distributed a document to the World Council of Churches Executive without revealing that it came from the Foreign Office.

Matthew Grimley clarifies the debates about nuclear weapons. Canon Collins of St Paul's became chairman of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The Aldermaston march began on Good Friday and covered Easter. Most Anglicans were unconvinced. Did peace, maintained by a deterrent, create space for multilateral disarmament? A working party recommended a phased reduction of the independent deterrent, and regarded the use of nuclear weapons as ruled out by just-war theory. The General Synod debate was televised.

In the chapter on the Falklands War, Cliff Williamson (who turns Collins into a long-time Dean of St Paul's, and Donald Soper into a "Wesleyan bishop") shows how the Church of England exercised both a pastoral ministry in war and, at its end, a more radical ministry through Archbishop Runcie's sermon at the Thanksgiving Service in St Pauls.

The war came in the midst of a continuing critique by the Church of Thatcherite social policies. Although the majority of Anglicans continued to vote Conservative, relations between party and Church became fractious. Service and sermon were admired by the Left and denounced by the Right.

It would have been congruent to conclude with Iraq and an Archbishop (Williams) who had been arrested at a CND demonstration. Instead, Peter Lee collates and evaluates reactions to the Gulf and Kosovo wars. Runcie was guided in his comments by just-war theory, respect for international institutions, and dangers posed to Christian-Muslim relations. Anglican efforts to provide care for Kosovar refugees provided a source of unity between people who differed about the war, more eloquent than sermons.

Canon Alan Wilkinson is the author of  Dissent or Conform? War, peace and the English Churches 1900-1945, due to be republished by Lutterworth Press later this year.

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