Saturday, December 13, 2008

Eugene England's Theology of Peace

This is my paper on Eugene England that I wrote for my class with Richard Bushman - The Mormon Theological Tradition. Enjoy

Eugene England's Theology of Peace

In the first week of August 1964, two U.S. Submarines off the North coast of Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin falsely reported receiving unprovoked gun and torpedo fire from nearby Communist ships. Within hours of the second attack, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered retaliation air strikes on Vietnam and three days later used this and other falsified information to ensure the passage of a resolution authorizing military action in Southeast Asia. Over 50,000 American and millions of Vietnamese lives were lost in what became one of the most controversial wars in US history.

Looking back on this event and its surroundings thirty years later, Eugene England pointed to this as being a foundational and life-changing moment in his life, a paradigmatic moment which changed his thinking and religious understanding. He says,
In 1964 quite suddenly I experienced a dramatic paradigm shift, a kind of sea change in my soul. . . . I had grown up believing, connected to my belief that the Constitution was divinely inspired, that U.S. Presidents did not lie. When I became convinced that President Johnson had lied, with complicity from his advisors and without significant opposition from Congress, but with such dire results for our country, I crossed some line in my soul. As I thought about it . . . I became convinced that I had crossed to a proper place, to a conviction that the Prince of Peace had to do with peace between nations more than with loyalty to one nation.1
He was heartbroken and angry. While just a few years earlier he considered himself “a patriotic American” who had been a volunteer weather officer for an Air Force bomber squadron, he soon found himself joining up with anti-war movements and other social causes, where he remained a vocal critic of war and an advocate for peace up until his death in 2001.

Raised within a Mormon farming family in southern Idaho during the 1930's and 40's, George Eugene England Jr. recounts his upbringing as having come from a conservative and “rather cold, emotionally reserved, largely Anglo-Saxon famil[y] and Church culture.”2 Shortly after serving an LDS mission to Samoa with his wife Charlotte Ann Hawkins, England went to Stanford University to do graduate studies in English which eventually led to a professorship in English at the LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University in 1974. He continued to teach there for nearly twenty-five years. In 1998, he took up a writer-in-residency position at Utah Valley State College3 where he helped establish a Mormon Studies program before passing away in the early fall of 2001 from complications resulting from a brain tumor. While having never served as a general leading authority for the LDS Church, England's prolific writings and intellectual pursuits (as well as the respect he earned from students) made him a prominent figure among LDS scholars, thinkers, and general membership. While at Stanford he helped establish Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought and later at BYU he began the Association for Mormon Letters, both of which have been and are key venues for Mormon thought, scholarship, and literature.



1Eugene England, “The Prince of Peace” in Making Peace: Personal Essays (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995), 226-7. England also recounts this “paradigm changing” account in Eugene England, “Jacaranda,” in Making Peace: Personal Essays (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995), 114; “What Covenant will God receive in the Desert?” Sunstone 96 (September 1994):27-8; and “'No Cause, No Cause': An Essay Toward Reconciliation,” Sunstone 121 (Janurary 2002): 32.
2England, “No Cause, No Cause,” 32.
3Now Utah Valley Univeristy.


  1. It was a very elevating paper; not as technical as your other academic papers but very refreshing. It reminds me of the Buddhist tradition of a Bodhisattva, one who forgoes his/her entrance into nirvana in order to help others become free and happy; enemy and friend alike. To have the same desire for the welfare and happiness for my family as for my enemy would be a difficult paradigm shift to make, but one that is necessary for supreme spirituality. Thanks for stiring the pot once again.
    p.s. you mentioned that most Mormon theologies tend to focus on how the world IS, would you be so kind and give a brief example or source that I can turn to? thanks

  2. Thanks. And who are you? And why do you not respect my commenting policy? ;)

    Pretty much everything from Parley Pratt to Talmage to J Fielding Smith to Skousen to Blake Ostler fit a theology that presents an ontology.

  3. Thank you for that thoughtful and well-researched remembrance of Gene England's life and thoughts on peace!

    He was one of my very favorite professors during my days as a student at the Y. He often toiled to be a bridge of understanding between different cultures and viewpoints -- not just in larger politics but closer to home in his own communities.


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