The Witness of Bishop Paul Jones
Merciful God, you sent your beloved Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Raise up in this and every land witnesses who, after the example of your servant Paul Jones, will stand firm in proclaiming the Gospel of the Prince of Peace, our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Today we commemorate Paul Jones, who was not a martyr, but who was asked in 1918 by the Episcopal House of Bishops to resign his position as the Bishop of the Missionary District Utah.
We remember Bishop Jones every year on September 4, but I find it especially appropriate to talk about him today as our news sources are filled with stories about conflict, bloodshed, and war in the Middle East, and particularly as our nation considers a military campaign in Syria.
Paul Jones was a pacifist, and he spoke out against war in general and then specifically in 1917 as the United States entered World War I. At that time, many in the church leadership took the position that many Americans took - that entering the war was a moral duty and thus it was immoral to oppose it. This was to be the war to end all wars.
A couple of large parishes in Utah began to work to have Jones removed from his post, and the House of Bishops convened in the spring of 1918 to consider the accusations against him. Although he had many defenders, for as American citizens we all have the right to speak out against the government’s actions, in the end the Bishop was pressured by his peers to resign.
This is part of what Paul Jones said to the House of Bishops at that time:
I agree with the words of Bishop Jones. You may not. We pride ourselves in our right to freedom of speech in our country and in our church. It is no longer 1917; the war to end all wars turned out not to be the war that ended all wars. Not at all. And the church regularly declares itself to not be of one mind on many issues.
But, to quote The Rev. James Richardson of St. Paul’s Charlottesville VA, on his blog “Fiat Lux,” we need voices of peace, especially in those times when it is not popular to be one of those voices. We need them to prick our consciences, to remind us that warfare and violence are the not the way of Jesus. At best, warfare may be the lesser of evils, yet it is still evil.
Violence is still evil, and we would do well to remember that. And to remember by Paul Jones' example that there are ways to actively work for reconciliation, there are ways to actively work for peace. Bishop Jones shows us that being a pacifist does not mean simply sitting around saying no to war.
Bishop Paul Jones fervently believed in the power of prayer for the transformation of the world. And so let us pray daily for peace. Let us pray daily for mercy. Let us pray daily for healing. Let us pray daily for reconciliation, for reconciliation is the way of Jesus.