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‘A greater danger than a division of the German Army’: Bible Students and Opposition to War in World War I America

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journal contribution
posted on 2019-05-16, 11:38 authored by Zoe Knox
In June 1918, seven leaders of the International Bible Students Association (IBSA), a small but high profile Christian community, were convicted under the United States Espionage Act and sentenced to twenty years in prison. The conviction stemmed from the unique position on Christianity and war propagated by Charles Taze Russell, the Bible Students’ fountainhead. The refusal of the IBSA leaders to countenance the hypernationalism which accompanied America's entry into World War I in April 1917 but instead to circulate widely antiwar literature made them a target for governmental authorities intent on silencing those opposed to America's involvement, particularly communities invoking the Bible to condemn militarism and conflict. This article argues that the fundamental differences between the IBSA's antiwar position and those of the historic peace churches made them a particular challenge to the American political and religious establishment, which regarded Bible Student theology as explicitly political and cast their literature as a potent weapon against America's prosecution of the war. It ultimately aims to write the IBSA into the history of opposition to war not in spite of but because of their unusual position on Christianity and armed conflict. By doing so, the article also reveals the origins of conscientious objection for Jehovah's Witnesses, as the Bible Students are now called, known worldwide for their refusal to perform military service.



Peace and Change, 2019, 44(2), pp. 207-243

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/Organisation/COLLEGE OF SOCIAL SCIENCES, ARTS AND HUMANITIES/School of History, Politics and International Relations


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Peace and Change


Wiley for Peace and Justice Studies Association, Peace History Society



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