Northern Illinois University Press

Embattled Ecumenism

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

Jill K. Gill

Fascinating history of America’s Protestant Left

“This book makes a significant contribution to the history of American religion. I am not aware of any work quite like it, and it stands as a unique approach to issues of ecumenism and the Vietnam War.” —Mitchell K. Hall, Professor of History at Central Michigan University and author of The Vietnam War

Like much of the American public, the mainline churches had largely ignored the Vietnam conflict until 1965. The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (NCC) and its denominational members supported America’s resistance to communism, yet factions within the ecumenical community’s leadership had begun to question the government’s cold war foreign policy. When the Vietnam conflict became America’s latest military bulwark against communism, these factions pushed the NCC to take the prophetic lead by organizing church responses to the war. The Vietnam War and its polarizing era challenged, splintered, and changed the NCC, which was motivated by its ecumenical Christian vision to oppose that war and unify people. The Council’s efforts on the war exposed its strengths and imploded its weaknesses in ways instructive for religious institutions that bring their faith into politics.

Embattled Ecumenism explores the ecumenical vision, anti-Vietnam War efforts, and consequent legacy of the NCC. Gill’s monumental study serves as a window into the mainline Protestant manner of engaging political issues at a unique time of national crisis and religious transformation. In vibrant prose, Gill illuminates an ecumenical institution, vision, and movement that has been largely misrepresented by the religious right, dismissed by the secular left, misunderstood by laity, and ignored by scholars outside of ecumenical circles. The NCC’s rich story unfolds chronologically to capture the chaotic cause-and-effect escalation of events as its staff experienced them.

At a time when the majority of scholarly work is still committed to looking at the religious right, Gill’s groundbreaking study of the liberal Protestant left is a welcome addition. Embattled Ecumenism will appeal to scholars of twentieth-century U.S. religion, history, and politics and church leaders and general readers interested in U.S. history, social justice movements, and religion.

2011, 534 pp., 26 illus.
cloth $40.00

Jill K. Gill is Associate Professor and Graduate Coordinator in the Department of History at Boise State University.

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ISBN: 9780875804439