The picture above was taken from a book, “Without The Camp” written by a prominent Christadelphian, Frank G Janniway. He was instrumental in helping Christadelphians in World War 1 avoid military service in Britain as conscientious objectors. At the end of it he had a dispute with them over an issue of some members becoming police constables. He felt this was too close to military involvement and although the people in question did leave the Christadelphians he felt they were not sufficiently censored by the members of the congregation they were part of. He formed a largely diminished breakaway group called the Berean Christadelphians.
It is interesting to see a picture of a politician because Christadelphians teach that involvement with politics is wrong. So what has a picture of a politician got to do with Christadelphians and what does the reference to a petition mean?
Christadelphians have always taught it is wrong to engage in war at the present time. This is not because they believe wars to be wrong or that members should protest against wars. The founder, John Thomas, interrupted a peace protest to say that in the present time they are necessary and are the will of God for non believers. In “Without The Camp” Frank Janniway said it was the duty of members of the nation who weren’t believers to fight for their country. Their objection is that in a spiritual sense they are not part of the world and this is therefore not their fight. Their leader is Jesus and they fully intend to take part in the slaying of the wicked, resistant non believers in the world at the time of his return.
They believe they should not sit on juries or take part in politics for the same reason.
At the beginning of World War I the British Government made it clear they would make provision for conscientious objectors to avoid enlistment. However it was not a priority and details were left to the Military to put it into effect. The Miltary however were not fond of conscientious objectors any more than the general public were. People were not pleased that their children were called up and sent to fight and risk their lives and they associated not fighting (often unfairly) with cowardice rather than any sense of principle. Due to the lack of procedure on how to deal with conscientious objectors and a desire to make any way out of service hard many ended up in prison and some found themselves in France sent to front line prison camps. Some were told they were to be shot and some were stripped naked and left with military uniform to put on. Should they do so they would come under military law and could be shot if they would not then fight as deserters. That in fact happened to people who had fought, suffered shell shock and would not return again.
It was decided therefore by some of the leading Christadelphians to try and get the situation raised in Parliament and to do that they gained favour from a politician, W.E. Gladstone. They persuaded him to explain what was happening and present a petition to Parliament requesting they made true to their stated position to make provision for conscientious objectors. This did not win favour with all Christadelphians because it had always been taught all involvement with politics should be avoided. However the majority finally agreed due to the dire situation it was leading to for members. In other words they decided to compromise principles for self benefit. As a result of this the government set out procedures for Military Tribunals. If when a person recieved a letter calling them to present themselves for military service they sent in a stated objection they were asked to attend a tribunal. There they were questioned to see whether they were genuine in their beliefs with hard questions. Attendance at Christadelphian meetings also gave strength to this and is why meetings have subsequently maintained registers of attendance. This continued in World War 2 and in general Christadelphians were given an easy passage by the authroities after that point because their stance was recognised as genuine. It was far harder for members of Christian groups who did not have a general objection or for those who lacked formal affiliations to groups and for pacifists in general.
They were often asked to do work of National Interest, often manual work of an arduous nature in forestry and farming. Although most gained conscientous objection from the authorities without too much difficulty they were widely despised by the general population at the time as noted. This was often by women whose husbands and children were sent to fight. Many of those who returned however did not have the same sense of hostility because they had seen the horrors of war.
One of the strange anomalies of the Christadelphian movement was because they were not pacifists and had no objection to war from a sensitivity basis (and intend to fight for Christ in the future) huge numbers at the time of World War 1 worked in the munitions industry making weapons. This was because the movement became largely centred around Birmingham where the munition factories were heavily situated and they were large employers. This was largely abandoned and later Christadelphians were encouraged to avoid such employment because it felt the connection was hard for the general public to understand.
In fact I don’t think it is diffcult for the public to understand. What the public would find hard to understand was the sheer self serving nature of the Christadelphians involvement with the world. They would involve themselves in politics to get out of war but not serve on a jury to convict criminals or help social justice in any way. They would not fight because they were not part of the world, but it was not a compassionate stance and although of principle they could benefit monetarily and by avoidance from others who did have to fight. Most Christadelphians today are unaware huge numbers of early Christadelphians did work in munitions factories and many confuse their initial stance today with pacifism. Christadelphians did not believe the command “do not kill” for instance had anything to do with not fighting. That was to do with murder and the Old Testatament is full of accounts of the Jewish Nation fighting wars. These kinds of questions were frequently brought up by tribunals.