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One Nation, Three Faiths: World War I and the Shaping of “Protestant-Catholic-Jewish” America

  • David Mislin

Abstract

During World War I, American political, military, and religious leaders sought to foster the view that protestants, Catholics, and Jews were equal stakeholders in society. Crucial in shaping the embrace of this “tri-faith” ideal were leading members of all three traditions, who used their connections to the federal government to ensure that many facets of national life reflected this new conception of the nation's religious character. The military chaplaincy put these ideals into practice, and interfaith activity became commonplace in the army. Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish chaplains worked closely together, and provided pastoral care or offered religious rites to wounded and dying soldiers from different faith traditions. This article examines how the wartime break from political and social normality, the desire to project a particular image of the nation abroad, and Americans' firsthand encounter with religion in Europe all contributed to idealizations of the inclusive nature of American civil religion during World War I. Yet, as this essay demonstrates, the transitional nature of wartime culture and the strong role of the federal government in fostering these values prevented this outlook from firmly taking root. The experience did, however, provide a critical precedent for subsequent idealizations of a protestant-Catholic-Jewish nation.

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References

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1 Lee J. Levinger, A Jewish Chaplain in France (New York: Macmillan, 1921), 79.

2 Ibid., 137; Charles H. Brent, “Unity,” 1919 Sermon Notebook, box 27, Charles Henry Brent Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.; “Press Release of the National Catholic War Council,” enclosed with John J. Burke to Robert E. Speer, December 17, 1918, folder 14, box 5, National Catholic War Council Records, Catholic University of America Archives, Washington, D.C..

3 Levinger, A Jewish Chaplain in France, 51, 133.

4 Roy B. Guild, “The Church, the Community, and the Present Crisis” (1918), folder 10, box 75, Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America Records, Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, Pa.

5 On the broader trajectory toward the acceptance of religious diversity in the decades before World War I, see William R. Hutchison, Religious Pluralism in America: The Contentious History of a Founding Ideal (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University, 2003), 111–128; on Catholic chaplains during the Revolutionary war, and the broader tendency toward ecumenism in the early republic, see Metzger, Charles H., “Chaplains in the American Revolution,Catholic Historical Review 31, no. 1 (April 1945): 279; Chris Beneke, “The ‘Catholic Spirit Prevailing in Our Country’: America's Moderate Religious Revolution,” in The First Prejudice: Religious Tolerance and Intolerance in Early America, ed. Chris Beneke and Christopher S. Grenda (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2011), 279–280; Chris Beneke, Beyond Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism (New York: Oxford University, 2006); on the inclusion of Catholics and Jews during the Civil War, see Randall M. Miller, “Catholic Religion, Irish Ethnicity, and the Civil War,” in Religion and the American Civil War, ed. Randall M. Miller, Harry S. Stout, and Charles Reagan Wilson (New York: Oxford University, 1998), 263–268; on the campaign to allow Jewish chaplains, see Albert Isaac Slomovitz, The Fighting Rabbis: Jewish Military Chaplains and American History (New York: New York University, 1999), 10–20. On the widespread emergence of the “tri-faith” ideal during and after World War II, see Kevin M. Schultz, Tri-Faith America: How Catholics and Jews Held America to its Postwar Protestant Promise (New York: Oxford University, 2011); Mark Silk, Spiritual Politics: Religion and America Since World War II (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), 40–53; Wendy L. Wall, Inventing the “American Way”: The Politics of Consensus from the New Deal to the Civil Rights Movement (New York: Oxford University, 2008), 143–148; Deborah Dash Moore, G.I. Jews: How World War II Changed a Generation (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap University, 2004), 10–11. For an exploration of how the experience of World War I contributed to subsequent idealizations, see Thomas A. Bruscino, A Nation Forged in War: How World War II Taught Americans To Get Along (Knoxville: University of Tennessee, 2010), ch. 1.

6 For representative instances of anti-Semitism during World War I, see Leonard Dinnerstein, Antisemitism in America (New York: Oxford University, 1994), 75–77.

7 For a useful history of the independent activities of American religious institutions during the war, see John F. Piper, Jr., The American Churches in World War I (Athens: Ohio University, 1985); for perspective on religion in wartime from the perspective of soldiers, see Jonathan H. Ebel, Faith in the Fight: Religion and the American Soldier in the Great War (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 2010).

8 For other scholarship that identifies World War I as a transformative moment in American culture, see Christopher Capozzola, Uncle Sam Want You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen (New York: Oxford University, 2008); Nancy Gentile Ford, Americans All!: Foreign-Born Soldiers in World War I (College Station: Texas A&M University, 2001); Jennifer D. Keene, Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University, 2001); David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society, 25th Anniversary Edition (New York: Oxford University, 2004).

9 Bellah, Robert N., “Civil Religion in America,Daedalus 96, no. 1 (Winter 1967): 121; Ebel, Jonathan H., “Of the Lost and the Fallen: Ritual and the Religious Power of the American Soldier,The Journal of Religion 92, no. 2 (April 2012): 227229. On civil religion in the Civil War, see George C. Rable, God's Almost Chosen People: A Religious History of the American Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2010), 3–5.

10 “Extracts from the Minutes of the Administrative Committee of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America,” April 12, 1917, folder 8, box 70, Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America Records; for a useful history of the founding of the Federal Council, see Samuel M. Cavert, The American Churches in the Ecumenical Movement, 1900–1968 (New York: Association Press, 1968); on broader anxieties about morality in World War I, see Capozzola, Uncle Sam Wants You, 117–143.

11 William Kerby to J.T. O'Connell, August 17, 1917, folder 1, box 1, National Catholic War Council Records; M.J. Lavelle to the Bishops of the United States, October 9, 1917, ibid.; Piper, The American Churches in World War I, 23–24.

12 Robert E. Speer, “Opening Address of the General War-Time Commission of the Churches,” February 22, 1918, folder 10, box 70, Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America Records.

13 Piper, American Churches in World War I, 69–85.

14 On the formation of the Jewish Welfare Board and Jewish reaction to entry to the war, see Christopher M. Sterba, Good Americans: Italian and Jewish Immigrants During the First World War (New York: Oxford University, 2003), 77–78, 153–155.

15 “Minutes of the Meeting of the General War Commission of the Churches,” September 20, 1917, folder 9, box 70, Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America Records; “Minutes of the Meeting of the Executive Committee of the General War-Time Commission of the Churches,” September 20, 1917, ibid.; “Petition from the Federal Council of Churches to the President, Secretary of War, Congress,” September 27, 1917, ibid.; Members of the General War-Time Commission of the Churches to Woodrow Wilson, October 20, 1917, ibid.

16 John J. Burke to Raymond B. Fosdick, October 11, 1917, folder 9, box 70, Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America Records; John J. Burke to Edmond F. Prendergast, November 10, 1917, folder 5, box 5, National Catholic War Council Records.

17 Raymond B. Fosdick to John J. Burke, November 3, 1917, folder 5, box 5, National Catholic War Council Records; Burke to Prendergast, November 10, 1917, ibid.; on the protestant-led relief agencies in the Civil War, see Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (New York: Knopf, 2008), 107–117; Anne C. Rose, Victorian America and the Civil War (New York: Cambridge University, 1992), 57–63.

18 John J. Burke to Newton D. Baker, August 13, 1918, folder 3, box 5, National Catholic War Council Records.

19 John J. Burke to Newton D. Baker, July 17, 1918, appended to “Minutes of a Meeting of the Executive Committee of the General War-Time Commission of the Churches,” September 4, 1918, folder 11, box 70, Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America Records; “The Adjutant General's Report to the Third Assistant Secretary of War,” July 25, 1918, appended to “Minutes of a Meeting of the Executive Committee of the General War-Time Commission of the Churches,” September 4, 1918, ibid.

20 Burke to Prendergast, November 10, 1917, folder 5, box 5, National Catholic War Council Records.

21 John J. Burke to Harry Cutler, November 10, 1917, January 2 1918, folder 9, box 5, National Catholic War Council Records.

22 William Adams Brown to Frederick P. Keppel, September 5, 1918, folder 6, box 5, National Catholic War Council Records; Frederick P. Keppel to John J. Burke, September 10, 1918, ibid.; William Adams Brown to John J. Burke, Sept. 6, 1918, folder 8, box 5, ibid.

23 “Must the Camp Pastors Go?,” The Watchman-Examiner (September 26, 1918), clipping in folder 6, box 5, National Catholic War Council Records; “Catholics, Jews, Camps, and War Chests,” The Watchman-Examiner (Oct. 13, 1918), clipping in ibid.

24 “Catholics, Jews, Caps, and War Chests”; on the centrality of ecumenism in early-twentieth-century mainline protestantism, see David A. Hollinger, After Cloven Tongues of Fire: Protestant Liberalism in Modern American History (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 2013), xiii–xiv; Matthew S. Hedstrom, The Rise of Liberal Religion: Book Culture and American Spirituality in the Twentieth Century (New York: Oxford University, 2013), 35–39.

25 Robert E. Speer to John J. Burke, September 26, 1918, folder 14, box 5, National Catholic War Council Records; John J. Burke to Robert E. Speer, September 29, 1919, ibid.

26 Harry Cutler to John J. Burke, September 6, 1918, folder 11, box 5, National Catholic War Council Records; John J. Burke to Newton D. Baker, June 28, 1918, folder 3, box 5, ibid.; Simon Jacobsen to Harry Cutler, April 27, 1918, folder 9, box 5, ibid.; K.P. Keppel to Harry Cutler, July 19, 1918, folder 10, box 5, ibid.

27 Burke to Baker, June 28, 1918, folder 5, box 3, National Catholic War Council Records; John J. Burke to Richard H. Tierney, August 24, 1918, folder 5, box 5, ibid.

28 Keppel to Cutler, July 29, 1918, folder 10, box 5, National Catholic War Council Records.

29 “Minutes of the Meeting of the Committee on Inter-Church Buildings,” February 6, 1918, folder 13, box 70, Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America Records; “Minutes of the Meeting of the Committee on Camp Neighborhoods,” November 28, 1917, folder 8, box 70, ibid.

30 “Minutes of the Meeting of the Committee on Inter-Church Buildings,” February 6, 1918, folder 13, box 70, Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America Records.

31 “The Church and the War,” Outlook 118, no. 17 (April 24, 1918): 664; “Minutes of the Meeting of the Executive Committee of the General War-Time Commission of the Churches,” March 6, 1918, folder 10, box 70, Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America Records.

32 Charles H. Brent to Herbert Hoover, June 13, 1917, folder, box 14, Brent Papers; William Adams Brown, “General War-Time Commission of the Churches: Its Organization and Its Purpose” (New York: The General War-Time Commission, 1917), 7.

33 Worth Marion Tippy, The Church and the Great War (New York, 1918), 20–21; “Minutes of a Meeting of the Executive Committee of the General War-Time Commission of the Churches,” November 21, 1917, folder 9, box 70, Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America Records; “Minutes of the Annual Meeting of the General War-Time Commission of the Churches,” September 24, 1918, pp. 121–122, folder 11, box 70, ibid.

34 Samuel Bushnell to Newman Smyth, Dec. 20, 1917, folder 1, box 1, Newman Smyth Papers, Yale University Library Manuscripts and Archives, New Haven, Conn.

35 Charles Dinsmore to Newman Smyth, December 10, 1917, folder 15, box 1, Smyth Papers.

36 David Philipson, “America's Entrance into the War” (1917), reprinted in Centenary Papers and Others (Cincinnati, Ohio: Ark Publishing Company, 1919), 301; William A.R. Goodwin to Charles H. Brent, December 1, 1917, December 1917 folder, box 14, Brent Papers.

37 “Minutes of the Joint Committee on Chaplains,” January 28, 1918, folder 9, box 70, Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America Records; on Brent's career and involvement with government officials, see Ian Tyrrell, Reforming the World: The Creation of America's Moral Empire (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 2010), 191–202.

38 Charles H. Brent to Cameron J. Davis, August 10, 1918, August 1918 folder, box 15, Brent Papers; “Minutes of the Informal Conference with Chaplain Brent at the Office of the Federal Council,” February 14, 1919, folder 12, box 70, Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America Records.

39 Brent to Davis, August 10, 1918, August 1918 folder, box 15, Brent Papers; Charles H. Brent, “Final Report to the Adjutant General,” April 26, 1919, 1920 Folder, box 16, ibid.; Charles H. Brent to Newman Smyth, April 14, 1919, folder 10, box 1, Smyth Papers; Levinger, A Jewish Chaplain in France, 141; “Copy of the Memorandum from the Commandant Army Chaplains School to Senior Chaplain, G.H.Q.,” November 30, 1918, folder 6, box 5, National Catholic War Council Records.

40 “Report of an Informal Gathering of the Committee [of Six],” May 29, 1918, folder 16, box 5, National Catholic War Council Records; “Press Release of the National Catholic War Council,” enclosed with Burke to Speer, December 17, 1918, folder 14, box 5, ibid.; Chellis V. Smith, Americans All: Nine Heroes Who in the World War Showed That Americanism is above Race, Creed, or Condition (Boston: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1925), 26–27.

41 “Minutes of the Informal Conference with Chaplain Brent.”

42 Levinger, A Jewish Chaplain in France, 23, 155.

43 Ibid., 138; Charles H. Brent Diary, September 6, 1918, Brent Diary May 20, 1918 to August 24, 1919, box 3, Brent Papers; “Remarks by Charles S. Macfarland at the Second Annual Meeting of the General War-Time Commission of the Churches,” September 24, 1918, folder 11, box 70, Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America Records.

44 For a useful analysis of how protestants in particular cast the war against Germany in the framework of good vs. evil, see Andrew Preston, Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy (New York: Knopf, 2012), 253–263.

45 Speer, “Opening Address of the General War-Time Commission of the Churches”; John R. Mott, “World Interest in the Evangelization of France” (1914), published in Addresses and Papers, Volume VI (New York: Association Press, 1947), 280.

46 Levinger, A Jewish Chaplain in France, 67, 143.

47 Maurice Barrès, Faith of France: Studies in Spiritual Differences and Unity, trans. Elisabeth Marbury (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1918), 61, 88–89; Henry Van Dyke, “Relief of Protestant Churches in France and Belgium,” June 1, 1919, folder 14, box 3, Henry Van Dyke Papers, Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, Pa.

48 On the emergence of liberal theology as the dominant force in protestantism during the decades before World War I, see Gary Dorrien, The Making of American Liberal Theology: Idealism, Realism, and Modernity, 1900–1950 (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2003), 21–43; on Reform Judaism's accommodationist tendencies, see Jonathan D. Sarna, American Judaism: A History (New Haven, Ct.: Yale University, 2004), 124–132; on liberal Catholicism see Jay P. Dolan, In Search of an American Catholicism: A History of Religion and Culture in Tension (New York: Oxford University, 2002), 99–117.

49 “The Unity of the Faith,” Outlook 95, no. 7 (June 18, 1910): 336–337; David Philipson to Charles H. Brown, June 22, 1916, folder 1, box 1, David Philipson Papers, Jacob Marcus Rader Center of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio; “Talk About New Books,” Catholic World 57 (August 1893): 722; on the reworking of liberal protestant theology, see Dorrien, The Making of American Liberal Theology, 57–62.

50 Charles H. Brent to George W. Perkins, April 30, 1918, April 1918 folder, box 15, Brent Papers; Robert A. Ashworth, “Christian Union After the War,” The Biblical World 52, no. 3 (November 1918): 292; Francis P. Duffy, Father Duffy's Story: A Tale of Humor and Heroism, of Life and Death with the Fighting Sixty-Ninth (New York: George H. Doran, 1919), 233; Levinger, A Jewish Chaplain in France, 206–207; David Philipson, “Man Made Differences and God Made Resemblances,” Hebrew Standard 73 (June 16, 1919): 3.

51 “As We Know Them: The Chaplain,” The Stars and Stripes (March 8, 1918), 3; for a useful study of this phenomenon, see Clifford Putney, Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880–1920 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2001), 42–43.

52 John McCormick to Charles H. Brent, undated, 1919 folder, box 16, Brent Papers.

53 “Catholics, Jews, Camps, and War Chests.”

54 Harry Cutler to William Sloane, October 3, 1918, folder 11, box 5, National Catholic War Council Records; Maurice H. Gelfand to the Jewish Welfare Board, September 27, 1918, ibid.; John J. Burke to Harry Cutler, June 25, 1918, folder 9, box 5, ibid.; William Sloane to Harry Cutler, October 4, 1918, folder 11, box 5, ibid.

55 William Adams Brown to Harry Cutler, May 30, 1918, folder 9, box 5, National Catholic War Council Records; John J. Burke to Harry Cutler, June 25, 1918, ibid.; “Minutes of the Meeting of the Executive Committee of the General War Commission of the Churches,” November 20, 1918, folder 11, box 70, Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America Records.

56 Virginia May Mollenhauer to Peter J. Muldoon, September 11, 1919, folder 1, box 5, National Catholic War Council Records; John M. Cooper to John J. Burke, September 30, 1919, ibid.; John J. Burke to Virginia May Mollenhauer, Sept. 27, 1919, ibid.

57 Kerby to O'Connell, August 17, 1917.

58 On this group of Orthodox Jews, see Sterba, Good Americans, 24–30.

59 Letter from Leo Simons, “War and the Faith,” The Stars and Stripes (May 31, 1918), 4.

60 “As We Know Them: The Chaplain.”

61 “Americanizing America,” North American Review 206 (October 1917): 519; Theodore Roosevelt, Fear God and Take Your Own Part (New York: Doran, 1916), 19; on Americanization campaigns, see Thomas J. Fleming, Illusion of Victory: America in World War I (New York: Basic Books, 2003), 65, 249–252.

62 “Leadership of the Church: In the Americanization of Foreign Speaking Peoples,” (undated), folder 15, box 3, Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America Records; “Social and Religious Conditions in Centers of Wartime Industries, Suggested Outline for Study and Organization,” addendum to “Minutes of the Meeting of the Special Workers for Centers of War-Time Industries,” April 24, 1918, folder 14, box 22, ibid.; Roosevelt, Fear God and Take Your Own Part, 358.

63 “Advance Copy: ‘War-Time Americanization,’” undated, folder 15, box 3, Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America Records.

64 On the specific language of “brotherhood,” see Schultz, Tri-Faith America, 32–3, 35–41; Hedstrom, The Rise of Liberal Religion, 143–168; Benny Kraut, “A Wary Collaboration: Jews, Catholics, and the Protestant Goodwill Movement,” in Between the Times: The Travail of the Protestant Establishment in America, ed. William R. Hutchison (New York: Cambridge University, 1989), 193–230; Kraut, Benny, “Towards the Establishment of the National Conference of Christians and Jews: The Tenuous Road to Religious Goodwill in the 1920s,American Jewish History 77 (1988): 388412.

65 Henry Van Dyke, “Religion of Protestant Churches in France and Belgium,” June 1, 1919, folder 14, box 3, Van Dyke Papers; Henry Van Dyke, “The World Needs Christmas,” December 24, 1922, folder 15, box 3, ibid.; on post-WWI anti-Catholicism, see Dolan, In Search of an American Catholicism, 132–136; John T. McGreevy, Catholicism and American Freedom: A History (New York: Norton, 2003), 168–175.

66 Harry Cutler to Raymond Fosdick, August 15, 1918, folder 10, box 5, National Catholic War Council Records; William Adams Brown to John J. Burke, March 9, 1920, folder 8, box 5, ibid.; John J. Burke to William Adams Brown, March 12, 1920, ibid.; Harry Cutler to John J. Burke, June 29, 1920, folder 12, box 5, ibid.

67 Robert E. Speer, The Gospel and the New World (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1919), 29.

68 Gaylord S. White to Harry Cutler, December 5, 1919, folder 12, box 5, National Catholic War Council Records; “Addendum to the Minutes of the Meeting of the General Committee on Army and Navy Chaplains,” September 20, 1934, folder 1, box 75, Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America Records; “The Next Man's God,” The American Legion Weekly 4 (March 31, 1922): 10; on Levinger and the American Legion, and the organization more broadly, see Ebel, Faith in the Fight, 172–190.

69 William Adams Brown, Finding God in a New World: Sermons Preached at Home and Abroad (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1929), 40.

70 Dorrien, The Making of American Liberal Theology, 61–62; David Mislin, Saving Faith: Making Religious Pluralism an American Value at the Dawn of the Secular Age (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University, 2015), ch. 6.

71 Wall, Inventing the “American Way,” 155–168.

72 Brown, Finding God in a New World, 35.

The author is grateful to Jon Roberts, Brooke Blower, Matthew Hedstrom, Gene Zubovich, Andrew Ballou, Sara Georgini, Kevin Schultz, Healan Gaston, Mark Silk, and Chris Beneke for their comments on this essay at various stages of its development.

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