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The English Protestant Churches since 1770

Politics, Class and Society

Kenneth Hylson-Smith

This book aims to describe and analyse the political and social thinking, attitudes and actions of the English Protestant churches since the late eighteenth century. It focuses in particular on how they have responded to the plight of the least privileged members of society – individuals and groups marginalised or placed at a disadvantage as a consequence of their ethnicity or socioeconomic circumstances. These have been the nation’s underdogs, the most powerless of its inhabitants, and this book explores the involvement of the churches in attempting to create a fairer society, from the anti-slavery campaign to the present day.

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Chapter 5: Two World Wars and an unsettled interlude


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Two World Wars and an unsettled interlude

The churches and the First World War

The churches in England played a somewhat unfortunate part in the life of the nation during the years of the First World War.

For one thing, those church leaders who, in the pre-war years had most fully praised the German nation for the glories of its past and the common values it shared with the English in the present, with spectacular suddenness were foremost in vilifying it in the most ferocious manner after war had been declared. The rapid change in the content and tone of what was said was, of course, dictated largely by the fast-moving course of events just prior to August 1914, but it did not portray a consistency of attitude, especially when Germany, contrary to what had been declared in recent months and years, was depicted as thoroughly corrupted and decadent. It appeared to be an immoderate and extreme reappraisal and fundamental reassessment; a reversal dictated by a somewhat blinkered and highly emotional response to the rapid and dramatic change in circumstances, rather than a calm and measured Christian view and comment.

The new enemy was blatantly attacked as wicked and ungodly, with no mitigating qualifications, and in a spirit of almost unbridled passion and indignation. Every facet of German motivation and conduct was dismissed, the philosophy and behaviour of the nation was totally and without...

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