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Living History: In Utah World War I debate, political right trumps the left

Published September 7, 2013 9:25 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Ten years ago, American foreign policy was driven by sentiments such as "If you are not with us, you're against us," and, "We fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here." To be against the Iraq War, in the eyes of some, abetted the nefarious world-dominating plans of cave-dwelling jihadis. Dissent was a whisper away from treason.

Someone once said (though probably not Mark Twain), that "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." In early 1917, the buildup to war in Europe had reached a fever pitch in America. German u-boats were sinking American ships supplying Great Britain, and back-channel attempts to entice Mexico into war on the side of the Axis powers had been discovered, with Germany promising restitution of Mexico's lost American territories.

Americans were not amused.

That March, 10,000 people gathered in the Tabernacle on Temple Square for a "patriotic demonstration." Civic, business, educational and religious leaders, including those from almost all the valley's faiths, rallied to support the prospect of American involvement in the European war. From all accounts, it was a stirring, uplifting event.

The next night, at a much smaller gathering of socialists, radicals and labor unionists, Bishop Paul Jones of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah made a much different appeal to his listeners. Jones said the speakers in the Tabernacle "put democracy, loyalty and truth in terms of guns, fighting and bloodshed," and reminded his listeners of Jesus' teachings and George Washington's warning about foreign entanglements.

Jones' own personal Gospel of Peace only had room for "active, aggressive, militant goodwill founded on the example and teachings of Christ." War and Christian faith could never be reconciled.

His comments stirred a minor kerfuffle among some Episcopalians who did not want their religion to be associated with a socialist ideologue. (Jones had earlier joined the Utah Socialist Party).

The humorist Garrison Keillor once deadpanned that among Episcopalians the sin against the Holy Ghost is "bad taste." Some Utah parishioners were embarrassed by Jones and wanted their young firebrand bishop gone. According to one observer, an influential member repeatedly stated that Jones was "a mere nobody" and felt the diocese could do with a "bishop from the East with a big reputation."

War was declared a week later. Jones' minor effort to forestall American involvement had failed. 

Things seemed to blow over until October, when Jones gave a prayer and made brief remarks to the Christian Pacifists in Los Angeles. The gathering was broken up by the L.A. Police Department, with The Salt Lake Tribune gleefully reporting in bold headlines "Swarms of Police Chase Bishop Jones."

It told its readers Jones had called for a "German Peace," and that he and his fellow travelers were at best dupes of German propaganda. (Jones disputed the Tribune's version of events.)

Called upon to resign, the combative pacifist preacher responded with a detailed questionnaire wanting to know what in a loving God's name he had done wrong. The local Episcopal governing council — which, curiously, had as a member one William F. Bulkley (also a Socialist) — kicked the matter upstairs.

The Episcopal poohbahs back East wrung their hands. Their deliberations were reflected in the church press, which appreciated Jones' moral stand against war but took him to task for pushing his First Amendment rights too far.

Left to itself, the Episcopal House of Bishops probably wouldn't have called for Jones' resignation, but pressure from well-heeled congregants in Salt Lake began to tell. It was suggested that Jones' activities threatened to harm the relationship with the Mormon church. However, The Deseret News, reflecting the opinion of church leaders, never criticized Jones and merely suggested this was an intramural matter for Utah Episcopalians.

In the end, Jones resigned to save his Utah congregations from dividing into warring camps, recognizing as well that there were good Christians of conscience on both sides of the question. He was posted back east in a minor position, where he continued his work for pacifist and socialist causes. 

Jones was vindicated in the late 1920s. The brutality of the First World War and its punitive aftermath left Americans sour on the whole venture. Given a position of responsibility in the church, he was held up as a hero of conscience. This past week Episcopalians celebrated a feast day dedicated to Utah's pacifist bishop. 

Pat Bagley is the editorial cartoonist for The Salt Lake Tribune. He can be reached at bagley@sltrib.com. More about Jones can be found in "A question of conscience: the resignation of Bishop Paul Jones" by John R. Sillito and Timothy S. Hearn. The article was published in the 1982 Volume 50, No.3 issue of the "Utah Historical Quarterly."