It is the 25th of January 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1863.
We are staying in America today, and of course, 1863 is kind of a momentous year. The year began with some slaves falling asleep on New Year's Eve and waking up free people.
1863 was when the draft started, and restrictions against Jews from serving in the military were dropped. The mounting death tolls required it. By the end of the year, Lincoln would give his Gettysburg Address. This was given at the dedication of a national cemetery that was necessitated by the bloodiest battle in American history and the bloodiest year of the American Civil War. The battle of Gettysburg would see over 50,000 casualties.
We can look back on the battle as a turning point, but the anxiety at the time was real. We see this in the development of new religious movements, and doomsday prophesies. We've seen this in the Millerites, and it was in this year that an offshoot of that group officially incorporated as the Seventh Day Adventists.
In 1863, the Copperheads were active in American politics. These anti-war northern Democrats sought a settlement with the South instead of continuing the war. In this year, George McClellan ran for President against Lincoln, McClellan as a modified Copperhead. But with his defeat and the war in its third year, the peace movement and the pacifists were pushed out of polite American society.
But some took a position of pacifism not based on politics but religious grounds. Already marginalized, pacifists would have to make clear that they were patriotic Americans while remaining true to their principles of non-violence. As you can imagine, the issue would not die down after the Civil War as there were many wars on the horizon.
And it was the issues of pacifism, ecumenicism, and patriotism which would need to be addressed by these churches. There are perhaps no more famous pacifists than the Quakers. And it was a Quaker who would creatively serve his church and state during the mid twentieth century. This Quaker was Rufus Matthew Jones, born on the 25th of January in 1863.
Jones was born in Maine and would spend his life on the East Coast though he traveled extensively. Born to a strict Quaker family, he had to convince his family that education past the 8th grade was useful. He would take an M.A. at Harvard and spend much of his life teaching philosophy at Haverford College, a Quaker college just outside Philadelphia.
By the time he died in 1948, Rufus Jones would become the most influential Quaker of the 20th century. And, broadly, he did this in three different areas. The first was in scholarship. Jones's work at Harvard and his subsequent writings reveals a rich history of Quaker thought. Jones asserted that Quakers were essentially mystics, and while this upset some, Quakers today might look a little more like Rufus and a little less like George Fox.
Jones was central in the Quaker ecumenical movement. By the end of the 19th century, the Quakers would develop into liberal congregations, very conservative congregations, and congregations that began to mimic American Evangelicalism. Jones found common ground, united congregations in essentials, and drew a wide enough circle that most Quakers could fit.
And it was perhaps his work during WWI, the Great Depression, and World War II for which he is best known. Jones founded the American Friends Service Committee, which would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a year before he died. The group sought to give conscientious objectors peaceful humanitarian options during wartime. It turned out so successful that America sent the group to Germany in the post-war years to help their devastated economy. When the Great Depression hit, Herbert Hoover enlisted the committee to help with widespread relief at home. During World War 2, Rufus and the committee flew to meet with the Gestapo to ensure that the committee could arrange for Jewish people's mass release from the German ghettoes and camps.
The most famous 20th-century American Quaker might be Richard Nixon, but the most important, Rufus Jones, was born amidst the tumult of the Civil War on the 25th of January in 1863.
The last word for today, a word about peace, comes straight from the mouth of the Prince of Peace. This is from the Gospel of John
Jesus says to us: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 25th of January 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man whose favorite Rufus' include Jones, Wainright, and George Carlin's character in the original Bill and Ted, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.