Today the Church remembers Paul Jones, Bishop of Utah from 1914-1918. While known locally for his missionary zeal, Jones is mostly remembered for his opposition to war. With the advent of America’s entry into World War One in 1917, Jones boldly proclaimed that “war is unchristian.” This belief stirred up a great deal of controversy in both the religious and secular news press of the day.
A commission from the House of Bishops was formed to investigate Jones, especially because of the negative reaction to his statements across Utah. In short, the commission disagreed with Jones and recommended that he ought to resign his office. In the spring of 1918, he did indeed resign as Bishop of Utah. Though he was without an official post (except for a brief tenure as temporary bishop of Southern Ohio in 1929), Jones remained committed to the cause of his peace.
One of his lasting legacies is the Episcopal Peace Fellowship (originally the Episcopal Pacifist Fellowship). That is where my own history begins with Paul Jones. My thesis in seminary was entitled, “A Loud and Ungrounded Noise: The Antiwar Movement in the Episcopal Church During the Vietnam War.” Much of my studies focused on the EPF and their ongoing ministry of reconciliation, along with their appreciation of Jones’ costly witness.
Jones’ summation, that war is unchristian, remains as controversial today as it was in 1917. In fact, I would argue that this has become even more controversial as the manner of war has changed so dramatically. In Jones’ time, war was violence between nation-states with soldiers, sailors, and airmen facing one another directly. Today, war is no longer between states but between ideas, rapidly changing entities, and through virtual interfaces.
Whether you agree with Jones and the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, we ought to honor them with their courageous commitment to unpopular ideas for Jesus’ sake.
The Rev. Jimmy Abbott