Embattled Ecumenism: The National Council of Churches, the Vietnam War, and the Trials of the Protestant Left

By Settje, David E. | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2013 | Go to article overview

Embattled Ecumenism: The National Council of Churches, the Vietnam War, and the Trials of the Protestant Left


Settje, David E., The Catholic Historical Review


Embattled Ecumenism: The National Council of Churches, the Vietnam War, and the Trials of the Protestant Left. By Jill K. Gill. (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press. 2011. Pp. xii, 551. $40.00. ISBN 978-087580-443-9-)

Jill K. Gill offers an exhaustively researched, well written, and important study about the National Council of Churches (NCC) and the fate of the ecuas menical movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Focusing on its reaction to the war in Vietnam, Gill provides sharp analysis into the NCC's antiwar platform and how this and other theological stances led to a divide between the laity and leadership, as well as a diminishing of Protestant hegemony in America. Gill uses vivid and detailed language to illuminate this history. Much as a novelist brings characters to life in the reader's mind, Gill allows one to see the history through her careful telling of the story. Long and dense with examples, Gill's study rightfully places the NCC and ecumenism at the heart of post-1945 U.S. religious history.

Gill begins with a broad survey of ecumenism from 1908 to 1963, including the 1950 creation of the National Council of Churches.This background roots her study in the theological framework of ecumenical outreach and activism that defined the NCC throughout its first three decades. Gill's solid grasp of the theology behind the organization and its leaders reveals the fact that their faith drove their actions. She especially highlights their struggle against the erroneous assumption that ecumenism meant a gathering of two or more people from different denominations. As Gill describes:

[ecumenism] emphasizes community over self-interest, peaceful discussion over violence, collaboration over competition, universalism over exclusivity, the prophetic role of the church to "speak truth to power" over affirming an oppressive status quo, benevolence over individual acquisition, preaching social justice over mere personal piety, and the separation of church and state, (p. 5)

This complex theology laid the groundwork for the NCC's antiwar initiatives during the American phase of the Vietnam War. …

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