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For God and GlobeChristian Internationalism in the United States between the Great War and the Cold War$

Michael G. Thompson

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780801452727

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801452727.001.0001

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Neglected Genealogies

(p.190) Conclusion
For God and Globe

Michael G. Thompson

Cornell University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This concluding chapter discusses the interrelationship of Christian internationalism and four critical aspects of national and international life: race, empire, nation, and realism. Both the ecumenical and radical strands of interwar Christian internationalism fostered and promoted an anti-imperialist program; and both had direct links to the missionary enterprise. Interwar Christian internationalism should also be seen as an important factor in activism concerning racial politics. Indeed, The World Tomorrow had several strong connections with liberal, intellectual-led civil rights groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP) and the National Urban League throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Moreover, inquiry into the nature and status of the nation—and correspondingly, the critique of and protest against nationalism—lay at the conceptual center of interwar Christian internationalists' collective project. Finally, realism's rise in postwar America should be seen as shaped in significant part by the Christian internationalism of the prior two decades.

Keywords:   Christian internationalism, racial politics, NAACP, National Urban League, nationalism, realism, anti-imperialism

Much has changed since historian Jon Butler complained, rightly, in 2004 that scholars had given too little attention to religion’s place in American life after 1870. As if to answer Butler’s lament, a torrent of scholarship on religion has since left its mark, not just on fields such as U.S. foreign relations but on the entire disciplinary trajectories of history and international relations. And yet, there is a way in which Butler’s memorable image of twentieth-century religion as a “jack-in-the-box” phenomenon still warrants attention. Because of a lack of consistent analysis of deeper continuities and coherences—of the way the sacred constantly interacts with the secular—religion can still tend to appear episodically, in parcels of surprise.1 Despite welcome exceptions, in the works of Andrew Preston, David Hollinger, and Mark Edwards, for example, historians give most attention to jack-in-the-box moments: to missionary reformers and imperialists in the early twentieth century, to Wilsonian apologists in 1919, or Cold War Christian nationalists.2

The way to redress the jack-in-the-box tendency, as Butler suggests, is to better attend to the deeper fabric of religious continuity in twentieth-century America. Excavating sites of collective deliberation such as The World Tomorrow and Oxford 1937—which both fall temporally and logically between jack-in-the-box moments—offers a way of doing just that. Taking a thematic look at the period between the Great War and the Cold War, I conclude here by asking where Christian internationalists fit. Theirs was not merely a “religion” story; they interacted over the long term with several critical aspects of national and international life. Here I focus on four: race, empire, nation, and realism.

(p.191) Empire

It has become a stale historiographical commonplace to locate Christian missionaries within the history of imperialism and to simply stop there, as if the imperatives of historical periodization licensed the termination of the narrative. As Andrew Preston demonstrated in his Diplomatic History survey, “If any topic in the history of American foreign relations has had its religious aspects thoroughly examined it is the role played by Christian missionaries in the turn to formal imperialism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.”3 The association goes back at least as far as Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s classic essay on “The Missionary Enterprise and Theories of Imperialism” in the 1970s.4 One problem with this simple relationship—aside from the unilateral modeling it implies—is that it artificially disjoins missionary imperialists in the 1900s from missionary anti-imperialists in the 1920s, even when they are the same people, happening to appear in two apparently distinct historical periods. Frank Ninkovich’s lucid and other wise very helpful textbook exemplifies such a division. Missionaries appear in the book’s narrative of U.S. imperialism in China in the early twentieth century, yet they disappear when the subject of interwar “Progressive Anti-Imperialism” is taken up in a later chapter. In fact, missionaries such as Mott and Eddy, at work in China only ten years earlier, should be seen as figuring among the key constituencies of Progressive anti-imperialism.5 The pattern, of course, extended beyond China: Sidney Gulick’s opposition to the “white peril” of imperialism in the Pacific from the vantage point of missionary work in Japan and Samuel Guy Inman’s critique of “imperialistic America” in the Atlantic following his work in Mexico are examples of a wider pattern.

Both the ecumenical and radical strands of interwar Christian internationalism fostered and promoted an anti-imperialist program; and both had direct links to the missionary enterprise. The World Tomorrow, with its didactic muck-raking and its persistent attention to the use and abuse of the Monroe Doctrine, clearly formed a major component in the crystallization of anti-imperialist sentiment among sections of the American foreign policy public in the 1920s. As a home to Kirby Page, Sherwood Eddy, and Samuel Guy Inman, it functioned as a hub for the articulation of missionary anti-imperialism. The importance of The World Tomorrow—and the need for it to be recognized more widely in mainstream historical writing—can be seen obliquely, for example, in the near collision Robert David Johnson has with the periodical in his work on the interwar “Peace Progressives.” When surveying what he identifies as an anti-imperialist intellectual alliance around Senator Borah and colleagues, (p.192) Johnson does not account in any coherent way for missionary or Christian internationalist elements. This is so despite the fact that Kirby Page worked as one of Borah’s de facto publicists, and even though Johnson explores the work of the Committee on Militarism in Education and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, two of the principle organizations, filled with radical Protestant clergy and YMCA preachers, housed at The World Tomorrow.6 The same is true for Mary Renda’s and Virginia Williams’s accounts of anti-imperialist thought in the 1920s. Both touch on missionary anti-imperialist Samuel Guy Inman, for example, yet both fail to place him in the wider missionary anti-imperialist milieu to be found in radical Christian internationalist networks such as that of The World Tomorrow. By atomizing the individual, the movement is rendered invisible.7 Nor do any of the above accounts come near to identifying ecumenical world conferences such as Jerusalem 1928 as sites for the promulgation of an anti-imperialist critique. Yet the latter afforded a historically significant voice not only to white missionaries but also to Filipino, African American, and Asian Christians as well.

Not only would accounting for interwar Christian internationalism complicate simplistic renderings of missionaries as imperialists, it would also help explain, in part, the nature of anti-imperialist campaigning itself in the 1920s. Several of the major differences between the anti-imperialism of the 1890s and that of the 1920s reflected the character of Christian internationalism. Opposition to the colonization of the Philippines and Puerto Rico had largely revolved around arguments concerned with either preserving the racial purity of the United States or the exceptional nature of the American experiment.8 Neither concern drove the arguments of Kirby Page or The World Tomorrow. Indeed, for them, the nature of anti-imperialist critique was inextricably tied to the question of racial justice. Nor can their anti-imperialism be seen as a simple extension of the anticolonialism of Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, although the latter no doubt added to the ambient climate in which Christian internationalists made their arguments. There is no evidence either of direct citation or indirect influence of Wilson upon these radical Christian internationalists’ 1920s anti-imperialism. Indeed, their view that race relations constituted international relations fundamentally distinguished them from Wilson. It also should be remembered that many of the instances of U.S. military intervention that Christian internationalists opposed, such as those in Haiti and Mexico, had commenced at the instigation of President Wilson. Rather, the anti-imperialism evident among World Tomorrow writers and among ecumenists at Jerusalem 1928 should be seen primarily as an intensification and radicalization of what had already begun to emerge in missionary analysis of world (p.193) politics in the 1910s. All this is not to say that Christian internationalists were the only figures involved in making anti-imperialist arguments linked to racial justice in the 1920s. Exposés run by the Nation magazine of the U.S. occupation in Haiti in the early 1920s provide examples of a wider pattern.9 And the tide of anti-imperialist opinion clearly rose high enough for U.S. imperialism to become a factor in both the 1928 and 1932 presidential elections. But historical scholarship has not done a thorough job of taking stock of the substance of interwar anti-imperialism in general, and still less of missionary anti-imperialism. The currents evident in The World Tomorrow and the early ecumenical conferences point to a movement that should be recognized as part of the history of anti-imperialism in both U.S. and international history.


Interwar Christian internationalism should also be seen as an important factor in activism concerning racial politics. A raft of historians have recently called upon scholars to recognize the longer history of the civil rights movement, to get beyond a narrow focus on the “classical” period of 1950s nonviolent direct action. Glenda Gilmore’s work locates the roots of the civil rights movement in Communist and popular front radicalism in the interwar period.10 Jacquelyn Dowd Hall suggests that the social politics of the New Deal era need to be taken into account as a backdrop to the 1950s.11 Alongside Communism and the New Deal, however, scholars also need to look to interwar Christian internationalism—both the radical and ecumenical strands.

The World Tomorrow had several strong connections with liberal, intellectualled civil rights groups such as the NAACP and the National Urban League throughout the 1920s and 1930s. The World Tomorrow followed and published NAACP research reports, including the latest statistics on lynching and other releases on black poverty.12 It profiled W. E. B. Du Bois and praised the success of Crisis magazine in its series of biographies of “Adventurous Americans,” and NAACP secretary William Pickens served as contributing editor.13 The World Tomorrow also enjoyed links and mutual endorsements from the National Urban League’s Opportunity magazine. Charles S. Johnson, the editor of Opportunity, served on the Editorial Council of The World Tomorrow. Advertisements for Opportunity regularly appeared in World Tomorrow pages, and Johnson contributed a hopeful article on “Recent Gains in Race Relations” in the series “Recent Gains in American Civilization”—a series to which historian Charles Beard and philosopher John Dewey also contributed.14 Johnson and (p.194) Opportunity wrote in to commend the journal: “We welcome The World Tomorrow under the editorship of Kirby Page and Devere Allen. We can think of no magazine of its kind that is doing work with quite the same magnetism for results.”15

The World Tomorrow’s position on race was relatively simple: It castigated the Jim Crow South and applauded the rise of the “New Negro.” In a June 1927 editorial, for example, Page railed against America’s “complacency” in race relations. One well-meaning liberal minister from a southern state had informed him that he thought the South was “doing all it can for Negroes.” “Doing all it can!” Page retorted: “With lynching still a frequent practice! With millions of colored people in economic peonage! With racial segregation and discrimination prevalent!”16 The World Tomorrow supported the cultural and political mobilization of blacks in efforts such as unionist A. Philip Randolph’s organization of the Pullman Porters’ Brotherhood in 1925.17 It published fiction from Zora Neale Hurston and opinion from Alain Locke.18 But it was Wallace Thurman, a colleague of Langston Hughes in the literary scene of the Harlem Renaissance, who had the strongest connection to the journal. Not only did Thurman work in the offices of The World Tomorrow for several years, he published an evocative assessment of Harlem life in its pages and took out advertising space for his short-lived journal, Fire: A Quarterly Devoted to Younger Negro Artists.19

Connections between the community of The World Tomorrow and civil rights activists continued well after that journal’s demise. The Fellowship of Reconciliation, which was the original founder of The World Tomorrow and the organization closest to the periodical throughout its life, provided much of the basis for the founding of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and its Freedom Rides. Moreover, when The World Tomorrow ceased to publish, several of those formerly involved with it, such as John Nevin Sayre, A. J. Muste, and Harold Fey, launched Fellowship as a replacement. When, in the 1950s, Fellowship functioned as a site for the articulation of a nonviolent Christian approach to civil rights advocacy—featuring Martin Luther King Jr.—it was extending what had been a concern and practice of The World Tomorrow more than two decades earlier.

Not only the radical Christian internationalism of The World Tomorrow but also ecumenical internationalism should be seen as antecedents to the later civil rights movement. Successive ecumenical conferences operated as sites for a collective articulation of belief in racial equality precisely at a time when politically and culturally the opposite belief had acceptance in the highest places. In their cowritten book, Drawing the Global Colour Line (2008), Australian historians (p.195) Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds identify a sense of “imminent loss” of white power and prestige pervading politics in “white men’s countries” in the early twentieth century. Rightly, they demonstrate that white politicians and their supporters in Australia, America, and Africa predominantly responded by insisting that the “global color line” be drawn more distinctly—in stronger tones—by means of immigration and various other population laws. But alongside—and in counterpoint to—the probing narrative offered by Lake and Reynolds, we can see elements of ecumenical Protestantism working against the global color line.

A comparison of two trans-Pacific journeys illustrates this point. Lake and Reynolds give great prominence to narrating former Australian prime minister Billy Hughes’s 1924 tour of the United States in which he sought to foment solidarity over the virtues of maintaining white racial purity. Only five years earlier, Hughes had colluded with Woodrow Wilson to block the Japanese proposal for a racial equality clause in the Treaty of Versailles.20 Now, according to Hughes, both Australians and Americans, perched as they each were on the Pacific Rim, still faced the peril of “watering down the bloodstream of race.”21 As Lake and Reynolds show, the example of the White Australia policy was lauded by American academics calling for restrictions on Japanese land-holding and immigration to the United States.22

Just two years after Hughes’s jaunt, another journey based upon promoting entirely different ideas of race occurred. John R. Mott sailed south to speak to Australians about “The Race Problem.” According to his biographer, Mott’s address to the Australian Missionary Conference in Melbourne in 1926 represented his “definitive address” on race.23 The national gathering of missionaries had only just resolved that “the only effective way of saving and developing the aboriginal natives of Australia is by a policy of strict segregation under religious influence.”24 Yet, Mott opposed segregation and race-based immigration restriction directly, arguing, “the Christian spirit is necessarily missionary and inclusive, and cannot be content to let any barriers permanently remain between man and man.”25 He ranged across many pragmatic reasons to promote racial inclusiveness, but, true to his evangelical heritage, he weighted his arguments most heavily on the Bible. In a conclusion rife with New Testament allusions, Mott insisted that the very person and work of Christ pointed toward racial unity: “By His Incarnation, by the all-inclusiveness, or comprehension of His gospel and Kingdom, by His breaking down the middle wall of partition on the Cross, opening the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers, by the world-wide sweep of His Pentecostal program, and by the witness and sacrificial working of His living body, the Church, He reveals Himself as the (p.196) One through whom the unity of the human race is discovered and realized.”26 Mott left his audience in Melbourne with a call to a crusade, an “uncompromising warfare against everything which experience shows tends to produce racial misunderstanding and strife … against all unjust or unequal racial arrangements, laws and practices.”27

Mott constituted only one part of a greater collective argument for racial equality being promulgated internationally. Mott’s colleague J. H. Oldham, the architect of the Oxford 1937 conference, insisted on the idea of racial equality in his Christianity and the Race Problem (1924).28 He had earlier attacked the links between race and national mythology in his World and the Gospel, published in 1916.29 His 1924 work, however, went further. Oldham reminded readers, quoting German historian-theologian Ernst Troeltsch, that Christianity, “in virtue of its belief in a personal God, possesses an idea of personality and individuality which has a metaphysical basis and is proof against every attack of naturalism or pessimism.” Christians needed to insist on the “the truth of equality”; racial and national barriers had to be broken down, for “God has no favourites.”30

A close look at the ecumenical world conferences makes clear that Oldham and Mott did not just make these arguments as individuals. In opposition to the official position of Billy Hughes and Woodrow Wilson, the Japanese-led group of student ecumenists at the World Student Christian Federation conference in Peking in 1922 resolved: “We, representing Christian students from all parts of the world, believe in the fundamental equality of all the races and nations of mankind and consider it part of our Christian vocation to express this reality in all our relationships.”31 Six years later, at the Jerusalem 1928 conference, the study group devoted to The Christian Mission in the Light of Race Conflict, led by Max Yergan and other black ecumenists, insisted that “any discrimination against human beings on the ground of race or color, any selfish exploitation and any oppression of man by man is … a denial of the teaching of Jesus.”32 All “Christian forces,” they argued, were bound to work to “preserve the rights of peoples,” and to foster “equality of social, political, and economic opportunity.”33 Again, at Oxford 1937—with the question seen in a new light against the Nazi ideologies of race and nation—delegates concurred in declaring that “against racial pride or race antagonism the Church must set its face as implacably as rebellion against God. … The deification of nation, race or class, or of political or cultural ideals is idolatry.”34

Following the thread of ecumenical world conferences through to the post-1945 period further highlights the continuities between interwar Christian internationalism and 1950s civil rights agitation. Having been impressed by his experience of racial equality at Oxford 1937, African American intellectual (p.197) Benjamin Mays remained in the World Council of Churches network, becoming elected to its Central Committee at Amsterdam 1948 for a five-year term. At the next ecumenical world conference, held at Evanston, Illinois, in 1954, only months after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, Mays was assigned the task of responding to the South African defense of segregation with a speech of his own at the conference. Echoing earlier arguments from W. E. B. Du Bois, Mays attributed the modern idea of race to the long history of imperialism: The practice of exploitation had produced the illusion of superiority.35 No biblical or theological basis existed for white supremacy or segregation, Mays argued, “for it was Paul who declared … nineteen centuries ago that God made of one blood all nations of men.”36


Inquiry into the nature and status of the nation—and correspondingly, the critique of and protest against nationalism—lay at the conceptual center of interwar Christian internationalists’ collective project. Engaging with this question enmeshed Christian internationalists in a wider global intellectual phenomenon. They asked their questions within a dynamic process whereby crises in global politics correlated with crises in international thought, provoking new and competing visions of world order. Wilsonian, Socialist, feminist, Pan-Islamist, and Pan-Asian internationalisms each emerged, proffering their visions of international or regional order. Of course, no necessary contradiction existed between the rise of nationalisms and internationalisms; often they developed in symbiotic partnership, especially in the case of the Wilsonian variety in the United States.

Both nationalism and internationalism responded to what we might consider (using terms adapted from Cemil Aydin) the “long crisis of normative legitimacy” in world order.37 The delegitimizing of Western imperialism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century grew into a crisis in the very fabric of international life in the early to mid century. Such an atmosphere of crisis and flux provided the conditions in which Christian internationalists attended to the deeper questions of nationhood and nationalism. For some, such as Kirby Page and others in the World Tomorrow community, the crisis shocked them into adopting an oppositional relationship to the dominant national myth of Christian America as a benevolent presence in world affairs. Combining revisionist history, anti-imperialism, and fresh attention to Jesus’s response to first-century global politics, they saw the nationalism of large (p.198) imperial powers such as the United States as a dangerous and alternative religion to Christianity. For others in the emerging ecumenical movement, the crisis caused them to freshly historicize nationalism. “It is only because we had grown up in a world where the doctrine of unfettered national sovereignty was accepted as an axiom,” wrote the authors of the International Relations report at the ecumenical “COPEC” meeting in Britain in 1924—an intellectual precursor to Stockholm 1925—“that we failed to realize its moral perverseness and intellectual absurdity till it brought Europe clattering down about our ears.”38 For the study section on Church and Community at Oxford 1937, modernity had aggravated the problem even further. Disintegration of traditional modes of loyalty and community in modern life led, they argued, to false attempts at reintegration, such as modern nationalism. When, as a result, people elevated the nation to a position of “supreme good,” they dangerously created “a false sacred, a false God,” which only served to add “demonic power to the unredeemed passions of men.”39

Clearly then, with the exception of John Foster Dulles, the subjects examined in this book are not to be seen primarily as purveyors of American nationalism and exceptionalism. Historians’ long-standing focus on religion’s role in structuring and nurturing American nationalist ideology—a project that has spanned generations of scholars from Sacvan Bercovitch and E. L. Tuveson to the present—has resulted in a tendency to merely amass further examples of the trend. Under the composite weight of such examples, the relationship between Protestantism and nationalism consequently takes on the appearance of being linear, permanent, and irrevocable. By contrast, the antinationalism of the Christian internationalists discussed in this book reveals an alternative structure of thinking not accounted for in that master narrative. In their critique of all nationalisms, including the American variety, interwar Christian internationalists illustrate what Daniel Rodgers argues was an “intellectual shift, a sense of complicity within the historical forces larger than the United States: a suspension of confidence in the particular dispensation of the United States from the fate of other nations.”40 Alongside their engagement with the politics of anti-imperialism and racial equality seen above, their critique of nationalism and exceptionalism created a third link connecting Christian inter-nationalists to a wider intellectual and political landscape.


Recovering interwar Christian internationalism also undoes the jack-in-the box aura surrounding two of the most prominent individuals to emerge from (p.199) the movement midcentury, John Foster Dulles and Reinhold Niebuhr. In the very moment that international historian Glenda Sluga rightly identifies as the “apogee of internationalism,” World War II and its aftermath, both Dulles and Niebuhr brought Christian internationalism to its greatest influence.41 Dulles crystallized and marshalled ecumenical Protestant opinion into a vital electoral force in American public debate over international organization and, in doing so, helped forge the new centrist, internationalist political consensus that framed American foreign relations for decades. American public response to Dumbarton Oaks and San Francisco would likely have taken on a very different complexion had not the Dulles Commission managed to cobble together the strands of anti-imperialism, legalism, and realism circulating in the powerful mainline Protestant establishment in 1944–1945. Indeed, Dulles’s essential success in doing so further cemented mainline Protestantism’s social power and establishment status—as their mutual admiration with Truman shows.

Meanwhile, Reinhold Niebuhr emerged as the country’s preeminent public theologian, a Cold War intellectual whose realism was so pervasive that it “provided a historical basis and rationale for the tone, the outlook, the unsaid, and often unconscious assumptions of this period.”42 Still employed at Union Theological Seminary, and having once written for The World Tomorrow and the Fellowship of Socialist Christians, Niebuhr found himself at different times appointed to George Kennan’s long-range strategic research center, the Council on Foreign Relations, as well as U.S. delegations to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization.43 Hans Morgenthau, perhaps the country’s most significant theorist of realism in international relations, labeled Niebuhr the “greatest living political philosopher of America.”44

Reframing these individuals within the context of interwar Christian internationalism allows us better to see the origins and character of their seemingly prodigious contributions. In particular, Niebuhr’s prescient critique of American exceptionalism and national self-idolatry during the early Cold War should be seen as having its roots in the discursive arenas and networks of interwar Christian internationalism—not least in the radicalism of The World Tomorrow and the dialectical political theology of the ecumenical movement of Oxford 1937. In both enterprises, Niebuhr played a major and influential role. But, importantly, as has been demonstrated, the influence was mutual; his was not the only voice and it cannot be properly heard in isolation. In the extraordinary revival of contemporary interest in Niebuhr in the 2000s, many have rightly pointed to Niebuhr as a figurehead in an emerging call for a humble, or “ethical” realism.45 But on this very point, Niebuhr needs to be seen not as a lone individual calling for national humility but as one exponent (p.200) of a wider movement that, for decades, made it a central task to critique and puncture the pretensions of all nationalisms, including America’s.

Similarly, Niebuhr’s realism—not merely his tolerance for war, but his theoretical prioritizing of political over legal factors in international life—is rightly acknowledged as seminal in mid-twentieth-century international thought in the United States. As Mark Mazower notes in his landmark Governing the World, Niebuhr’s realism “spilled over” from theology into academia and the world of policy as part of a wider pattern in which “the 1940s saw theologians exert unparalleled authority in public debate about the direction of American foreign policy.”46 Tellingly, in this same passage, Mazower goes on to identify the currents of German realism crossing the Atlantic in the 1930s as a separate source of realism’s rise—one, in fact, which beat Niebuhr and the 1940s American theologians to it. Leaving aside the fact that Morgenthau expressed great indebtedness to Niebuhr for the character of his realism (which is in itself significant) the Oxford 1937 conference shows that 1940s theologians like Niebuhr were not separate but were actually conduits for the transfer of the very kind of Continental realism Mazower identifies. At Oxford 1937 they encountered and engaged with German and Swiss critiques of Anglophone rationalism and legalism, and in the work of Huber and others they saw the necessity of prioritizing the political and social over the legal. Realism’s rise in postwar America should be seen as shaped in significant part by the Christian internationalism of the prior two decades.

And yet, the story is not simply linear or teleological. While Dulles’s and Niebuhr’s output represented the high-water mark of Christian internationalism’s public prominence, their contributions ultimately aided the containment of the movement’s critical power. Precisely by absorbing and claiming the rhetorical and intellectual contours of interwar Christian internationalism in service of their advocacy for 1940s American internationalism, they subverted the former’s basal commitments. Both, ultimately, in different ways, made imperialism safer for American Protestants. Dulles, as Richard Immerman has shown, never named the emergent Cold War American empire as an empire, but nonetheless positioned the United States as “the ‘group authority’ for the symbolically named ‘Free World,’ making the rules, insisting that they be followed, and guarding against all trespassers by exercising its power, its spiritual, ideological, economic, and most important, military power.”47 Such a role for America—as guardian of international order—sprang, for Dulles, “from an almost parental desire to protect his offspring.”48 On the other hand, Niebuhr—as his writings make plain—acknowledged the rhetorical significance of anti-imperialism. He retained the term well into the Cold War, aptly naming that (p.201) conflict as a battle between rival anti-imperialist imperialisms.49 But his use of the category, even as early as the 1930s, tended toward abstraction and toward a consideration of conceptual moral and cultural dilemmas rather than toward protest over concrete spatial and political formations.50 When in World War II and afterward he identified U.S. imperialism as merely the most preferable imperialism on offer, he effectively made imperialism something that was everywhere and nowhere at all, containing the critical power of the term by its very adoption.51

Finally, in connecting the state to Christian internationalist values, both Niebuhr and Dulles—particularly the latter—helped foster the very deification of the nation they had once formally opposed. In their respective ways, both anointed the state as a divine servant, and made, not merely empire, but civil religion too, safer for Protestants. Each figure’s ecumenical internationalism was, as has been shown, distinctly churchless. With ecumenism shorn of ecclesiology, the nation took the place of the church and became guardian of the ecumene. Precisely when the American state sought legitimising narratives with which to frame its new projection of power in the world, Dulles and Niebuhr, wittingly or not, supplied the goods. Their disengagement of Protestant internationalist ideas from the narratives, practices, and enterprises in which they were originally embedded enabled the state to appropriate them, claiming the mantle of bearer of Christian values “in the service of a set of relations acclimatized to aggression.”52

A Lost Civilization?

Having begun with the jack-in-the-box metaphor, I close this discussion with another image. It comes from a reviewer of Graeme Smith’s work on Oxford 1937, who used the phrase “lost civilization” to describe the world of the Oxford conference. Oxford 1937 held intrinsic fascination, the reviewer suggested, because it was foreign and forgotten to the religious landscape of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.53 His image poses the question of whether the significance of interwar Christian internationalism lay in its alien character relative to the present day or in its contributions to the wider world. The answer, of course, is a combination of both. The World Tomorrow and Oxford 1937 did not merely flourish and die within their own self-enclosed, isolated realities. Interwar Christian internationalists engaged with and left their mark on four vital aspects of twentieth-century international life—on the politics of race, empire, nation, and realism, as this book has attempted to show. (p.202) Yet, in another way, their legacies do come to us as fragments of a lost civilization. The sense of lostness is more than nostalgia for a buzzing New York-based Christian Left periodical making headlines for its anti-imperialist surveys, or for the communitas experienced by steamship-traveling delegates sharing sacraments in other tongues at world conferences. The gulf that separates us from their civilization is intellectual and theological, as well as cultural. From this side of the 1950s, when God and Nation were forcefully rejoined in American political culture, the relative distance forged and maintained between the two in the interwar moment makes it an alien place indeed.54


(1.) Jon Butler, “Jack-in-the-Box Faith: The Religion Problem in Modern American History,” Journal of American History 90 (2004): 1357–78.

(2.) See Andrew Preston, Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012); Mark Thomas Edwards, Right of the Protestant Left: God’s Totalitarianism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012); David A. Hollinger, After Cloven Tongues of Fire: Protestant Liberalism in Modern American History (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 2013).

(3.) Andrew Preston, “Bridging the Gap between the Sacred and the Secular in the History of American Foreign Relations,” Diplomatic History 30 (2006): 803, note on 804.

(4.) Arthur Schlesinger Jr., “The Missionary Enterprise and Theories of Imperialism,” in The Missionary Enterprise in China and America, ed. John K. Fairbank (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974), 336–73.

(p.239) (5.) Frank A. Ninkovich, The United States and Imperialism (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 2001), 160–63, 222–27.

(6.) Robert David Johnson, The Peace Progressives and American Foreign Relations (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995), esp. chap. 6: “Anti-Imperialism and the Peace Movement.” See, for example, Page’s “authorized and approved” interview with Senator Borah, published as “Borah Tells Views on Anti-War Treaty,” New York Times, March 25, 1928, 1, 8.

(7.) See, for example, Mary A. Renda, Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 1915–1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 270–73; Virginia S. Williams, Radical Journalists, Generalist Intellectuals, and U.S.–Latin American Relations (Lewiston, N.Y.: E. Mellen Press, 2001), chap. 3, “Samuel Guy Inman: Unorthodox Missionary-Scholar.”

(8.) See, for example, Andrew Carnegie’s “Distant Possessions: The Parting of the Ways,” originally published in the North American Review (August 1898), accessed August 28, 2011, http://web.viu.ca/davies/h324war/carnegie.distant.1898.htm. On anti-imperialist arguments following the Spanish-American War generally, see Robert L. Beisner, Twelve against Empire: The Anti-Imperialists, 1898–1900 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968) and Michael P. Cullinane, Liberty and American Anti-Imperialism, 1898–1909 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

(9.) See, for example, Ernest H. Gruening, “The Senators Visit Haiti and Santo Domingo,” Nation 294, no. 2948 (January 4, 1922): 7–10.

(10.) Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919–1950 (New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 2008).

(11.) Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, “The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past,” Journal of American History 91 (2005): 1233–63.

(12.) For example, see Agnes A. Sharp, “The Shame of America,” The World Tomorrow (part of “Not in the Headlines” column), December 1926, 262.

(13.) Anonymous, “Wings for God’s Chillun: The Story of Burghardt Du Bois,” The World Tomorrow, August 1929, 333–36.

(14.) Published later as Kirby Page, Recent Gains in American Civilization, by a Group of Distinguished Critics of Contemporary Life (New York: Harcourt, 1928).

(15.) Published in “Correspondence,” The World Tomorrow, February 1927, 368.

(16.) Kirby Page, “Building Tomorrow’s World,” The World Tomorrow, June 1927, 253–55.

(17.) Roland A. Gibson, “The ‘New Negro’ Takes Another Step,” The World Tomorrow, February 1927, 81–82.

(18.) Alain Locke, “Negro Contributions to America,” The World Tomorrow, June 1929, 255–57.

(19.) Wallace Thurman, “Harlem Facets,” The World Tomorrow, November 1927, 465–67.

(20.) N. K. A. Meaney, Australia and World Crisis, 1914–1923, vol. 2 of History of Australian Defence and Foreign Policy 1901–23 (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 2009), 376–78.

(21.) Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds, Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the Question of Racial Equality (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2008), 311.

(22.) Ibid., 312.

(23.) Charles H. Hopkins, John R. Mott, 1865–1955: A Biography (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1979), 627.

(24.) Cited in The International Missionary Council, vol. 5 of Addresses and Papers of John R. Mott (New York: Association Press, 1946), 407–8.

(25.) Mott, “The Race Problem,” in The International Missionary Council, 610.

(26.) Ibid., 620.

(27.) Ibid., 619.

(28.) Joseph H. Oldham, Christianity and the Race Problem (London: SCM Press, 1924).

(p.240) (29.) J. H. Oldham, The World and the Gospel (London: United Council for Missionary Education, 1916), 190–91.

(31.) Cited in Philip Potter and Thomas Wieser, Seeking and Serving the Truth: The First Hundred Years of the World Student Christian Federation (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1997), 70.

(32.) “Statement Adopted by the Council: Racial Relationships,” in International Missionary Council, The Christian Mission in the Light of Race Conflict, vol. 4 of Report of the Jerusalem Meeting of the International Missionary Council, March 24th–April 8th, 1928 (London: Oxford University Press, 1928), 238.

(34.) “Message from the Oxford Conference to the Christian Churches,” in Henry Smith Leiper, Highlights of Oxford (New York: Universal Christian Council for Life and Work, 1937), 13–14, in Box 14, Life and Work Collection, Ecumenical Library, Interchurch Center, New York City.

(35.) Cf. W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Souls of White Folk,” in Darkwater (New York: Schocken Books, 1920), 29–55.

(36.) Benjamin Mays, “The Church amidst Ethnic and Racial Tensions,” Speech to the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, August 21, 1954, cited in Barbara Dianne Savage, “Benjamin Mays, Global Ecumenism, and Local Religious Segregation,” in Religion and Politics in the Contemporary United States, ed. R. Marie Griffith and Melani McAlister (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 266.

(37.) Cemil Aydin, The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia: Visions of World Order in Pan-Islamic and Pan-Asian Thought (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 6.

(38.) International Relations: Being the Report Presented to the Conference on Christian Politics, Economics and Citizenship at Birmingham, April 5–12, 1924, vol. 7 (London: Longmans Green & Co., 1924), 6.

(39.) “Church and Community,” Official Reports of the Oxford Conference, [Federal Council of Churches], 55–60, in Box 14, Life and Work Collection, Ecumenical Library, Interchurch Center, New York City.

(40.) Daniel T. Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998), 4.

(41.) For more on the “apogee of internationalism,” see Glenda Sluga, Internationalism in the Age of Nationalism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 79.

(42.) Walter LaFeber, America, Russia, and the Cold War, 1945–66 (John Wiley & Sons, 1967), 40–41.

(43.) Richard Wightman Fox, Reinhold Niebuhr: A Biography, with a New Introduction and Afterword (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996), 238–39.

(44.) Morgenthau, cited in Ronald H. Stone, Prophetic Realism: Beyond Militarism and Pacifism in an Age of Terror (New York: T & T Clark International, 2005), 60. See also Andrew Bacevich, “Introduction,” in Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), ix.

(45.) See Andrew J. Bacevich, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008); Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman, Ethical Realism: A Vision for America’s Role in the World (New York: Pantheon Books, 2006).

(46.) Mark Mazower, Governing the World: The History of an Idea, 1815 to the Present (New York: Penguin Books, 2012), 237–38.

(47.) Richard H. Immerman, Empire for Liberty: A History of American Imperialism from Benjamin Franklin to Paul Wolfowitz (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 2010), 178ff.

(49.) Reinhold Niebuhr, The Structure of Nations and Empires: A Study of the Recurring Patterns and Problems of the Political Order in Relation to the Unique Problems of the Nuclear Age (New York: Scribner, 1959).

(p.241) (50.) For his most abstract, psychological, rendering of imperialism, with shades of Carl Jung and Friedrich Nietzche, see Reinhold Niebuhr, Reflections on the End of an Era (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1936), 6–7. Niebuhr’s earlier, landmark “Awkward Imperialists” essay simply ignored American imperialism before the Great War and left out contemporary U.S. relations with Western hemispheric countries entirely, focusing instead on the apparent uniqueness and awkward unknowingness of America’s economic and cultural—as opposed to military or territorial—forms of domination in Europe. Reinhold Niebuhr, “Awkward Imperialists,” Atlantic Monthly, May 1930, 670–75.

(51.) For example, Reinhold Niebuhr, “Leaves from the Notebook of a War-Bound American,” Christian Century, September 3, 1939, cited in Charles C. Brown, Niebuhr and His Age: Reinhold Niebuhr’s Prophetic Role and Legacy (Harrisburg, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 2002), 97; Reinhold Niebuhr, “Imperialism and Responsibility,” Christianity and Crisis, February 24, 1941, 6.

(52.) Matthew John Paul Tan, “Eucharistic Worship and Peacemaking,” Case 22 (2010): 25–28, 27.

(53.) Andrew Chandler, review of Oxford 1937: The Universal Christian Council for Life and Work Conference, by Graeme Smith, Journal of Ecclesiastic History 57 (2006): 413.

(54.) Raymond J. Haberski, God and War: American Civil Religion Since 1945 (New Brunswick, N. J.: Rutgers University Press, 2012).