A Mighty Soul-Saving Army Against Communism. William Fetler (1883-1957) and Twentieth Century Culture Wars

J.J. de Jager

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In this article, I want to take a fresh look at the life and work of Fetler and his anti-communist campaigns. First, I will give a short overview of his life, focusing on his position towards the Russian Bolsheviks. Second, I will explore the anti-communist ideas of William Fetler from the conceptual framework of culture wars. The concept culture wars has become an expression for secular-Catholic conflicts across nineteenth-century Europe. In these conflicts, sparked by the emergence of constitutional and democratic nation states, Catholics and anticlerical forces struggled over the place of religion in a modern polity.7 In current historical research, in which the scope of this concept is extended to the twentieth century, Christian anti-Communism and communist anticlericalism in the interwar period is studied, arguing for the need for further investigation of the struggle between Christianity and atheism.8 One of the components of culture wars is emotional discourses, as studied by Manuel Borutta for the German Kulturkampf in the 1870s.9 However, in historical studies, language and discourses of culture wars are not studied in depth. In this article, therefore, I want to focus on the anti-communist discourse of William Fetler. Central is the question of how William Fetler interpreted his mission in the context of the struggle with Communism. In his publications and speeches, Fetler used military metaphors, like ‘war’, ‘victory’, ‘army’ or ‘weapons’ frequently to accuse the atheism of the Bolsheviks. I will point out three components of Fetler’s war idiom here. In the first place, Fetler argues for the existence of a worldwide war between Communism and Christianity. Second, the only outcome of this war will be a victory for Christianity, because of the power of the Bible and the Holy Spirit. In the third place, revived Christians should fight as warriors of Christ in the ‘mighty soul-saving army’.10 Fetler’s use of war discourse introduces a new perspective to the study of transnational anti-Communism in the twentieth century. By way of conclusion I will consider possible reinterpretations of the concept of culture wars for future historical research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-19
JournalJournal of European Baptist Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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