God and War: The
Church of England and armed conflict in the twentieth
Stephen G. Parker and Tom Lawson, editors
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
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.