Bishop Paul Jones: The Cost of Questioning Church and Country
By Joseph Wakelee-Lynch
Originally published in The Witness magazine, March 2002
Friday, March 1, 2002
In April 1918, a month after the U.S. entered World War I
Religious support for the war was strong even before the U.S. entered the conflict. In 1916, the Episcopal House of Bishops lauded those who promoted peace, but the bishops made it clear that Christians should be ready to serve the state in time of crisis:
"[America] must expect of every one of her citizens some true form of national service, rendered according to the capacity of each. No one can commute or delegate it; no one can be absolved from it. National preparedness is a clear duty."
In 1914, when Jones was selected by the House of Bishops to lead the Utah district, he was already a prominent advocate for peace. He believed war couldn't be reconciled with Jesus' teaching. He advocated an aggressive Christian response to conflict and acknowledged that Germany was in the wrong.
"I believe most sincerely that German brutality and aggression must be stopped," Jones said before the House of Bishops in 1917, "and I am willing, if need be, to give my life and what I possess, to bring that about. . .
"I have been led to feel that war is entirely incompatible with the Christian profession. . . Moreover, because Germany has ignored her solemn obligations, Christians are not justified in treating the sermon on the mount as a scrap of paper."
In 1917, vestry members at Utah's two largest and most prosperous parishes, joined by the District Council of Advice, organized a campaign against the bishop. They charged that Jones shouldn't speak as an Episcopal leader but as an individual, particularly because his flock disagreed with him, and that his views had harmed the church's work in Utah.
Jones refuted the charges and research by Douglas G. Warren shows that Jones enjoyed significant clergy and lay support in his district. Many Episcopalians supported the war, but they believed Jones had the right to speak as bishop and that he had not harmed the church's work. Yet, after a convoluted process of examination, the bishops finally asked for his resignation.
In April 1918, Jones complied. In his letter of resignation, Jones argued that the House of Bishops by its action was stating that war is not an unchristian thing and no bishop may preach against it if the government and the church have accepted it.
"These conclusions I cannot accept;" he wrote, "for I believe that the methods of modern international war are quite incompatible with the Christian principles of reconciliation and brotherhood, and that it is the duty of a Bishop of the Church, from his study of the word of God, to express himself on questions of righteousness, no matter what opinion may stand in the way."
Jones, who died in 1941, never again served as bishop. But his work for peace continued. He was a founder of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and its secretary for 10 years. He helped found the Episcopal Pacifist Fellowship, now the Episcopal Peace Fellowship. During World War II, he helped resettle Jews and others who fled Nazi Germany, and he argued for greater understanding in relations with Japan.
Jones' legacy today may be more important than before, says David Selzer, EPF chairperson.
"In a time of particularly high patriotism, Bishop Jones was loyal to the sense of seeing the Gospel as the Gospel of peace rather than the Gospel of vengeance."
Joseph Wakelee-Lynch is a contributing editor to The Witness, and his regular online column is "The View from Sardis." He lives in Long Beach, Calif. He may be reached through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.