The Church Does Care!: Religious Propaganda
The collection of images seen here evoke a variety of religious tropes from the history of Western art, ranging from the upturned face of the Christ figure to the Madonna-and-child pose of the Salvation Army nurse and her patient. Such images conveyed a wealth of unspoken context to the viewer about the purpose behind the suffering brought about by the war.
In this poster promoting the Knights of Columbus, we see a priest looking heavenward and raising a crucifix, blessing kneeling soldiers and sailors in the field. In addition to providing spiritual support, the Knights of Columbus (a volunteer organization associated with the Catholic Church) offered soldiers meals, snacks, and entertainment.
More information on the group’s activity during the war is available at the Knights of Columbus Museum.
Knights of Columbus. Lithograph by William Balfour Ker, 1917. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZC4-10131.
Poster showing Christ, a Red Cross, and a cathedral looming over a scene of ruins and casualties where a Red Cross nurse is helping. Note Christ’s pose (with arms outstretched), traditionally used to symbolize both his embrace of the world and his offer of compassion and mercy; Christian aid organizations during the war encouraged believers to support their efforts with both time and tithe in the name of those same virtues.
Help your Red Cross “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these” / / Hubert Chapin ; Latham Litho & Printing Co. Brooklyn, N.Y. 1917. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZC4-9727.
Poster showing a monumental Red cross nurse cradling a wounded soldier on a stretcher. What is most striking about the image is its emulation of traditional Madonna-and-child poses found in Christian art from the medieval period onward. By associating the act of nursing with the symbolic feminine perfection of Mary, the mother of Jesus, the artist clearly hoped to inspire women to serve as a way to express their femininity.
The greatest mother in the world – Red Cross Christmas roll call Dec. 16-23rd / A. E. Foringer. C. 1918. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZC4-10241.
Poster showing a cross surrounded by extensive text requesting contributions to the Presbyterian Church’s war efforts. Also four small scenes of a soldier saying goodbye, a church, a military camp, and a Navy ship offshore. This is, in many ways, the most realistic of the posters, addressing as it does the vital material needs facing American soldiers away from home.
The Church does care! Lithograph by The National Service Commission of The Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. 1918. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZC4-10332.
Poster showing a Christ-like figure in a battlefield, gazing up at the sky. The stark nature of the artwork renders the symbolism inescapable; although obviously coming from a different religious tradition, it is very similar to the claim made by Rabbi Stephen Wise in his defense of the war as a defense of civilization.
Shall chaos triumph? Victory Fund Campaign–The new era movement of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. / / M. Leone Bracker 1919 ; American Lithographic Co., N.Y. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZC4-9656.
The American Bible Society has been providing the nation’s soldiers and sailors with pocket Bibles since 1817. In this poster, they made an appeal for funds to supply “a khaki testament for every soldier’s kit” based on the perceived moral boost it would afford the troops.
Put the church behind Pershing. New York : American Bible Society, . Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZC4-9563.