“War is not the will of God, this we know.”
– Folke Thorell, Evangelii Härold, 1967.
“God will let the satanic rearmament of nuclear weapons and biological warfare strike the godless themselves in forms of plagues that will exterminate large portions of humanity.”
– Folke Thorell, Evangelii Härold, 1968.
Pentecostals were the largest religious group among conscientious objectors in Sweden between 1967 and 1971, a time characterized by passionate debates on the ethics of war in the shadows of Vietnam and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In my master’s thesis on church history, I aimed to review and analyze how the Pentecostal periodicals Evangelii Härold and Dagen described and ethically motivated military violence and pacifism during this period.
The purpose was to identify potential motivations for pacifism and/or military support during a time when a large number of Pentecostals refused to bear arms, with a particular interest in how these motivations related to ethical evaluation on contemporary wars.
The findings were fascinating. Pacifism and conscientious objection were regularly promoted and seldom criticized, while most contemporary military violence was condemned with one glaring exception: Israeli warfare.
Folke Thorell, quoted above, thought that God principally is against war, but allows them to fulfill his eschatological plans and even engages himself in warfare. He envisioned two-thirds of all Jews to die in a future third world war involving nuclear bombs, a genocide so brutal it would make the Holocaust seem “minuscule” in comparison.
Unlike the American war effort in Vietnam, Israel’s wars were commonly viewed as eschatologically significant and biblically predicted holy wars, with several writers suggesting that God himself has waged and will wage war on Israel’s behalf. Pacifism was primarily motivated by obedience to the Bible rather than empathy, fitting with Lisa Cahill’s theory of obediential pacifism being distinct from empathic pacifism in the Christian tradition.
Support for Israeli warfare was also derived from biblical interpretation, primarily based on Old Testament texts. It was further motivated by ideas of Jewish suffering and death being part of God’s plan, with several Pentecostal writers speculating that an apocalyptic genocide would precede the second coming of Christ.
Many Pentecostals did not see this as standing in conflict with personal pacifism and conscientious objection, as both views were perceived as biblical.
Future research could further explore the relationship between Pentecostal eschatology and empathy, along with how mid-century Pentecostal Zionism might have been influenced by antisemitic ideas from the 1930’s.
Micael Grenholm is a Swedish pastor, author, and editor for PCPJ.
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