Christianity and Violence in 20th-Century France

Saturday, January 9, 2016: 3:30 PM
Grand Hall D (Hyatt Regency Atlanta)
Rachel Johnston-White, Yale University
Over the course of the 20th Century, the Catholic and Protestant Churches in France dramatically altered their outlook on war and violence. The issue of conscientious objection in France, and the gradual erosion of the Churches' firm stance against it, illustrates the changing theological discourse on violence and the individual right to refuse to participate in violent acts. The crucial turning point was the Algerian War. Beginning in 1955, the testimonies of French Christian soldiers who had witnessed torture and other atrocities in Algeria reached both Church leaders and the wider public. The perceived damage to the faith of French Christian youth when confronted with torture, and the wider implications for France and Christianity in the world, led to substantial revision of existing theological justifications for war among both Catholics and Protestants and subsequent reflection on a Christian citizen's duty to obey the state's call to arms. The Algerian War thus provoked a flattening of certain theological differences between Protestant and Catholic churches, with the "Protestantization" of Catholic thinking on conscientious objection, as the Catholic leadership began to accept the idea that an individual Christian could decide on matters of conscience independently of Church directives. This new approach received endorsement in the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1963, while helping to hasten the enactment in France of a statute for conscientious objectors in 1963.
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