American Protestants and the Debate over the Vietnam War

American Protestants and the Debate over the Vietnam War : Evil was Loose in the World

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As American soldiers fought overseas in Vietnam, American churchmen debated the legitimacy and impact of the war at home. While the justness of the war was the primary issue, they also argued over conscientious objection, the legitimacy of protests, the weapons of war, and other related topics. Divided into three primary groups-mainline, conservative evangelical, and African American-and including fourteen denominations, this book uses the churchmen's publications and proceedings to better understand how American religion responded to and was impacted by the Vietnam War. In the various debates, churchmen brought their theological convictions and reading of the Bible to bear on their political perspectives. Convictions about sin, the nature of man, the fate of the world, violence and benevolence had direct impact upon the foreign policy perspectives of these churches. Rather than result in static political positions, these convictions adapted as the nature of the war and the likelihood of American success changed over time. The positions taken by American denominations brought about attitudes of support, opposition, and ambivalence toward the war, but also impacted the vibrancy of many churches. Some groups were rent asunder by the fractious, debilitating debate. Other churches, due to their greater ideological clarity and unanimity, saw the war provide an impetus for growth. Regardless of the individual consequences, the debate over the Vietnam War provides a concrete study of the intersection of religion and politics.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 228 pages
  • 154.94 x 231.14 x 10.16mm | 385.55g
  • Lexington Books
  • Lanham, MD, United States
  • English
  • 26 black & white illustrations
  • 0739179969
  • 9780739179963

Review quote

Bogaski argues that American Protestant Christianity played two roles in the Vietnam War. On the one hand, it was 'the priest anointing the army for battle." On the other hand, it was "the prophet castigating the nation for immoral behavior.' Preexisting theological beliefs and current political realities shaped both responses to the war. The response of the mainline church, the author argues, was shaped by its previous experience with the civil rights movement and the social gospel. The conservative evangelical position was a reaction to the same two influences, as well as to the counterculture movement of the 1960s, but in a reactive, negative manner. African Americans were largely silent about the war at the start because of their greater concern with their own civil rights and economic advancement under Lyndon Johnson, but they turned against the war when Richard Nixon took office and those social programs were imperiled. Bogaski's work both builds on and has a narrower focus than David Settje's Faith and War: How Christians Debated the Cold and Vietnam Wars. Summing Up: Recommended. General and undergraduate collections. CHOICE Bogaski's extensive reading and analysis of denominational sources is a welcome addition to the growing literature on the role of religion in times of war. The Journal Of Military History George Bogaski's study of Protestant denominations' responses to the Vietnam War is the latest in the recent flurry of books analyzing U.S. religious attitudes to the conflict...The book builds on a solid foundation of primary-source research...His work makes positive contributions to our understanding of the stances of specific denominations regarding the war. Journal of American History This much-needed exploration of theological responses to the Vietnam War goes beyond the simplistic binary of mainline doves and evangelical hawks. George Bogaski ably charts gaps between leadership and laity, revolts of mainline conservatives, debates over methods of dissent, evangelical opposition to the conflict, and the fascinating non-response of African-American evangelicals. -- David Swartz, Asbury University In this deftly researched book, George Bogaski demonstrates how the debate over the Vietnam War formed a unique lens into the dynamics and tensions of American Protestantism. Drawing upon a rich background in diverse Protestant settings, Bogaski crafts a theologically-informed and sociologically astute narrative. He shows how contrasting theological views shaped Protestant responses to the conflict and, in turn, how the crucible of the war affected the fortunes of different denominations. We learn how mainline leaders seeded irrevocable division in their prophetic stance against the War; how evangelical denominations picked up the pieces of that division by spiritualizing the conflict; and how loyalty to President Johnson led black church leaders to shun Martin Luther King's anti-war campaign. This is an account full of surprises, trenchant insights, and profound lessons. -- Allen D. Hertzke, University of Oklahoma On the basis of prodigious scholarship in primary sources, George Bogaski explores the agonizing and divisive discussion of the Vietnam War among American Protestants. He considers not only the debate about the necessity and morality of the war, but the related struggles over a host of associated issues-the morality of war in general, the nature of Christian patriotism, the propriety and limits of political protest, and the ethics of pacifism. This is an enlightening and ambitious book, and it deserves to be widely read. -- David W. Levy, University of Oklahoma George Bogaski wisely adopts a com parative approach in his three-part analysis of denominational statements about what is arguably the most debated military conflict in recent American history. Focusing on both polity and theology, Bogaski produces an illuminating, if also unvarnished, story of prophets, priests, and by standers...[He] offers an intriguing survey of conservative mainliners who chafed at liberal activism but were not prepared to depart for evangelical pastures...Bogaski goes to great lengths to be fair to conservative supporters of the Vietnam War. The Christian Centuryshow more

About George Bogaski

George Bogaski serves in higher education at the University of Oklahoma and teaches classes in history and religion.show more

Table of contents

Chapter 1: Just War: Mainline churches and the justness of the Vietnam War from 1964-1968 Chapter 2: Prophets or Patriots? Mainline churches and the attendant issues of the Vietnam War Chapter 3: Souls Not Society: The revolt of mainline conservatives Chapter 4: The Problem with the World: Conservative evangelicals' concepts of war and peace Chapter 5: "Evil was Loose in the World": Conservative evangelicals' response from 1964 to 1968 Chapter 6: Recasting the Vision: Conservative evangelicals' response from 1969 to 1973 Chapter 7: Alabama not Vietnam: The unique response of African-American Protestantsshow more