Thursday, December 07, 2006

D. R. Davies IX: Wartime

The coming of war in 1914 was a greater crisis for British nonconformity than she had faced for a long time. Having achieved political ascendancy through the Liberal Party (in government since 1905), nonconformity had thought it had only green pastures before it. But the outbreak of war caused a disastrous split in political nonconformity.

The Liberal Party was formally committed to peace, yet was forced to war. Many Nonconformist Ministers swung behind the war, but others opposed it,as they had opposed the Boer War at the turn of the century. Dr. Griffith-Jones, the principal of United College, Bradford, was among those who threw themselves into supporting the war effort, as did Dr. Duff, whose lectures became anti-German rants. Davies himself reacted the other way, becoming a fanatical pacifist to the extent of offending many in his congregation at Horton Bank Top church.

Later, Davies was to describe the effect the war had on the comfortable, humanistic, politicised nonconformity of the pre-war years:

"The First World War caught Liberal Christianity unawares. It was an even for which it was totally unprepared. It administered a nasty jar to its whole scheme and outlook. It broke in on it like a gangster in a drawing-room full of old maids sipping their afternoon tea. It took the lid off that human nature of supposed fundamental goodness, and there emerged something which couldn't be squared with the roseate dream of an inevitable progress into perfection. Something had gone wrong somewhere!"

But it was only later, looking back, that Davies realised this had begun to undermine his liberalism. At the time, Davies threw himself enthusiastically into anti-war campaigning, supporting Woodrow Wilson's campaign for a 'just peace,' only to be disillusioned by the popular response to the Peace treaties.

By this time, Davies was pastor at Ravensthorpe, where he was to stay until October 1922, a liberal minister concerned to bring in the kingdom of God by political means. Next time, God willing, I intend to describe those early days in the minstry.



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