No blackout of love

Who do you think wrote this? It wasn’t the Quakers.

Because war is contrary to the mind and spirit of Christ, we believe that no war should be identified with the will of Christ. Our churches should not be made agents of war propaganda or recruiting stations. War thrives on and is perpetuated by hysteria, falsehood, and hate [—] and the church has a solemn responsibility to make sure there is no blackout of love in time of war. When men and nations are going mad with hate it is the duty of Christ’s ministers and His churches to declare by spirit, word, and conduct the love of God in all men. In time of war it is our Christian responsibility to prepare for peace. We would, therefore, urge our churches to think and work toward a Christian social order in which a just and lasting peace can be realized.

That statement, according to conservative Christian dissident Laurence Vance, came from the Southern Baptist Convention. The year was 1940 — early days in the “good war” that many of us regard today with something like religious veneration. It would be easy to cynically dismiss this, to associate the Baptists of that time with the opportunistic pacifism of American fascists (such as the Lindberghs) who agreed in essence with Hitler’s ideas. Except that the language of this appeal seems to draw on the Baptists’ dissenter origins, when they and their Quaker brethren, with other religious misfits, condemned all moves by the state to associate piety with obedience to power.

What I find most striking in the statement is the warning against a “blackout of love.” This was at a time when Americans were earnestly putting out lights and covering windows in case of a pre-emptive raid from the Luftwaffe — a fear that seems quaint in hindsight, but was taken as seriously at the time as any of our current geopolitical fears. Very well, this Baptist author writes, cover your windows, but don’t put out the light in your hearts.

Laurence Vance is a near neighbor of us Alabamians, based in Pensacola (also the home of right-wing third-partier Chuck Baldwin). Vance’s combination of conservatism and pacifism (as in his book Christianity and War) is highly combustible and makes him persona non grata to almost everyone. That’s probably why he publishes his own books. To date, his biggest audience seems to be among anti-war libertarians.

I’m grateful to Vance for making me think a little more about the richness of the Baptist tradition in the South. Just when you think you always know what they’re going to do, they preach pacifism to you. Or they take a break from knee-jerk anti-tax politics to demand that the government stop taxing the poor, even if that means taxing the rich instead.

No blackout of love in time of war. Flannery O’Connor once described southerners as “Jesus-haunted.” She was on to something, because often our relationship to the divine is full of fear and panic, and pleading for mercy, and a good deal of suspicion.

But every now and again we get a clear, calm look at truth, and we take courage from it. Then there’s no telling what can happen.

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