Anti-War, Anti-State Christian Leaders

Laurence Vance wrote an excellent article detailing the radically anti-war and anti-state sentiment and arguments of the 19th century writers Alexander Campbell, Tolbert Fanning, and David Lipscomb. Readers interested in that article might wonder what happened. Where, who, when, and what removed their influence? This is an attempt to answer these questions with additional insight from living within this religious movement that these three championed. Here I will explain what happened to this movement, what else went right, and what went wrong.

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Vance writes from outside the Stone-Campbell movement, but was nevertheless accurate and objective. Although he says that Lipscomb was Campbell’s “most noted disciple”, this would only be true from the “Church of Christ” branch of the Stone-Campbell movement. As the movement was originally radically decentralist, there was no centralized body to say officially that there was a split. In 1906 the US Census asked David Lipscomb to say whether the Church of Christ segment had in fact split from the Disciples of Christ, and he stated his opinion that such division had taken place, and so this date is taken as the de facto date of division. Those of the Disciples group, who in 1906 probably accounted for 75% of the Stone-Campbell movement hardly acknowledged Lipscomb as influential or important among them.

This movement is named the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement equally for Barton Stone as for Alexander Campbell. As when the two parties first met and merged, Stone’s influence was probably greater. Like the others, Stone argued as early as 1827 that “war and slavery” were the “greatest evils in the world”. Stone’s proportional influence lessened over time as Campbell was considered a better writer and more persuasive debater and speaker. However, their differences are not significant in the scope of the current subject.

Campbell’s philosophical strengths and weaknesses (upon which religious and political beliefs are based) can be summed up by stating he was thoroughly a classical liberal influenced by the Scottish Enlightenment. Many readers of may know that classical liberalism’s flaw was that it did not apply the principal of reducing the nation-state to the consistent logical and ethical necessity of anarchism. Therefore, when classical liberals obtained power, they suffered a quite predictable crisis of faith. Campbell’s ideological shift (or rather, glaring silence) during the Civil War is elsewhere ascribed to his declining faculties in old age, or to the company around him, and while those may have contributed in part, certainly the nature of his classical liberalism should be recognized equally at fault.

In politics, classical liberalism’s crisis of faith happened around 1890-1900. Upon that crisis, it split into two parts. One part, modern liberalism, reversed course completely, making peace with the state as head of society. Second was conservatism, which was without a head and was mostly swept into alliance with aristocratic militarism.

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