This is “Religion in the News,” a program of non-sectarian comment on current items of religious significance.
Clergymen, like any occupational group, are expected to impress the people they meet by displaying certain characteristics associated with their calling. Doubtless many of us wonder what a clergyman is like – that is, the person himself, not the professional worker he is recognized to be when he meets us. A glimpse into the clergyman as a man is revealed in a brief item with a New York dateline. In that city, the reputed favorite rendezvous of clergymen is the clerical department of Rogers Peet Company, a clothing firm known as “Duffy’s Tavern,” because it has been run for some 30 years by Frank Duffy, who probably knows more clergymen than any other man in the country. He travels 40,000 miles a year and outfits some 10,000 priests, ministers, and rabbis. Duffy says clergymen are relatively easy to please because they know what they want. (In parenthesis he comments that they usually don’t bring their wives along to help them shop.) Another factor contributing to this easy-to-please characteristic is that styles for clergymen change slowly. Duffy goes on to emphasize that clergymen “have a wonderful sense of humor.” “They enjoy a good joke,” he says, “and when they meet here they rarely talk about ecclesiastical or political matters.” That might be a tip for all of us who feel impelled to talk shop when the minister comes to call.
A short time ago considerable time was devoted on this program to a consideration of the importance of separation of church and state. It is more than gratifying to note that the North Carolina Baptist State Convention, just ended, has adopted a report of its Religious Liberty Committee urging United States Baptists to oppose the teaching of religious subjects in public schools as being contrary to the principle of religious freedom from political involvement. One of the spokesman at the convention pointed out that giving public funds to support church schools is giving away part of our freedom. He says, “to remove, destroy, weaken or change our conception of church and state will prove our undoing.”
We Protestants, and I suspect also many Catholics, probably have only the haziest of ideas as to what life is like in a monastery, or a convent, where, secluded from the secular world, men and women devote their lives primarily to things of the spirit. A glimpse into a hitherto unsuspected feature of monastic life is provided in a book just off the press entitled Cracks in the Cloister. It all started when the monks of a certain Benedictine abbey in England decided sometime ago that at each Christmastime they would feature certain aspects of their lives by satirizing in caricature form their cloistered existence. The showing of these cartoons proved so entertainingly funny to the monks that a Catholic publisher requested and received permission to publish them in book form. The above-named title is the result. The anonymous author signs himself “Brother Choleric.” He has never taken any lessons in art and he carries on regular duties of preaching and teaching. His characters are crotchety, appealing, pompous, and crabby. E.G., a monk is shown prostrating himself before his bishop, and one colleague remarks to another, “Rather ham, don’t you think?” Another shows a fierce little monk clutching a horsewhip and snarling, “Who pinched my relic of the little flower?” Most of the caricatures are taken from real life. The author remarks that one doesn’t have to think up jokes in a monastery. Life there is full of them.
Perhaps too many of us take ourselves too seriously in the sense that we have never learned, nor learned to enjoy, the relaxation that humor brings. It is especially refreshing to be able to laugh at ourselves. I even find some of my own colleagues occasionally taking offense at cartoons or jokes carrying not altogether complimentary connotations about teachers. To me, such things are wholesomely funny, for they take something of both the ego and the seriousness out of me and my regard for my own work. Perhaps these Benedictine monks have found one of the profound secrets of a balanced perspective – the ability to see themselves as human beings with very human foibles.
And, just as we Protestants have the vaguest of conceptions of Catholic precepts and practices, we probably have even more vague ones about the Jewish faith. Yet, about 5.5 million Americans are Jews, and their religion is much older than that of either the Catholics or the Protestants. The smallest segments of Jewry are known as Orthodox Jews. These are the ones who adhere as closely as possible literally to the letter as well as to the spirit of the Old Testament. The largest group, the Conservative Jew, is something of a middle-of-the-roader. He conforms to as much of the old law as is possible under modern conditions, but he is inclined to regard more of the law as symbolic rather than to be taken literally. The third branch is the Reform Jewish faith, constituting some 20 percent of American Jews. This last is by far the most liberal of the three.
A subject of importance in today’s world, especially the Western and Protestant world, has caused considerable controversy among the branches of the Jewish faith – namely, divorce. According to the older Jewish belief, a man could divorce his wife virtually at will, taking as authority for this Deuteronomy 24:1. However, last week conservative Jewish leaders meeting in Atlantic City, New Jersey, decided to make divorce more difficult to get by setting up something of a marriage court into which their members having domestic troubles likely to end in divorce must take their difficulties for adjudication and possible settlement before entering legal divorce proceedings. Couples who ignore this new body or fail to follow its recommendations may find themselves penalized by the church.
As might be expected, and because of their differing views, the three groups regarded the innovation differently. The Conservatives approved it as a constructive change; the Orthodox saw it as an unwanted and unnecessary growth on the smooth perfection of the law; while the Reform segment, which relies on “moral suasion,” said the change was merely an academic one.
Adequate housing has come to be recognized as a fundamental necessity for wholesome family living and personality development, but we as a nation have lagged – and are lagging – far behind our needs in this matter. It is bad enough for the middle and upper income white groups, but it is in a dreadful state for lower income and non-white groups. All too little attention is paid to this crucial matter, but a group of Quakers in a steel-boom area in Bucks Country, Pennsylvania, has done something about it. A development of 140 ranch houses at Concord Park is under construction, and not less than 50 percent of these houses are reserved for Negroes. Two nearby suburban developments, one with 10,000 homes, do not permit Negroes to live there. It is expecting the impossible of any people to condemn them to substandard housing because of race or other unimportant difference, and expect them to be in all respects like people who have their choice of the best of houses in which to live and rear their families. First-class citizenship is not only a matter of responsibility; it is also a matter of rights. Reserving a certain proportion of anything for a particular group smacks of favoritism, which is a restriction upon choice. But perhaps under present conditions, which many of us hope are temporary only, such reservations are the only effective way to insure fair play. Anyway, the example of this Quaker group is one that well could be imitated on individual merit regardless or race, creed, or other distinction. It is an example that doubtless would have warmed the heart of William Penn, who set a historic example of religious and racial toleration in conducting the affairs of his colony, Pennsylvania.
This coming week in Boston, some 2,500 leaders of 30 Protestant and Orthodox churches will meet in the Biennial Assembly of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. This assembly represents 30 Protestant and Orthodox churches in this country and at least 35.5 million members, and will deal with problems ranging from establishment and maintenance of Christian broadcasting stations in Asia to religious education for American children. This, the largest of U.S. religious organizations, will survey its church cooperative activity in 75 different fields, such as evangelism, missions, and research.
The council president, Bishop William C. Martin, of Dallas, says the U.S. has only recently emerged as the most powerful nation in history. But, he adds, if the nation is not brought more fully under God, its own future will be in peril and the peace of the world will be jeopardized.
The Associated Press Religious News Correspondent, George Cornell, says this big experiment among U.S. churches is a giant, thriving, concern after only four years of life. The aim at the start was to see if the various churches could get along working together, but by now it has become one of the dominant features of present day activity in this country.
The national council will hear prominent religious, government and civic persons at its sessions, which will be held at various places in Boston. Among the speakers will be President Eisenhower and Canadian External Affairs Secretary Lester B. Pearson.
For several weeks now a situation of importance to religious people everywhere has been building up in Argentina. Exactly what the details are have not been revealed. From the meager information available, it appears to be basically a difference of opinion between the Catholic Church and the government of President Juan Peron.
The Argentina Constitution declares that church and state are inseparable. Hence whatever the church does is of distinct interest to the government, and may well be the object of governmental regulation. Apparently some priests have interested themselves in the lot – perhaps plight would be the better word – of the working people in their localities, participating in the efforts of the working class to take collective action through labor unions to improve their lot. Last week came news that two priests had been sentenced on charges of disturbing the peace – of course, the peace that dictator Peron wants to prevail. This week a news item informs us that Argentina’s Catholic leaders have promised to keep out of politics, that is, from engaging actively in secular affairs. Along with this promise, however, is a declaration that they will never cease to fight for the basic principles of the church.
A pastoral letter is being read today from pulpits throughout the country pledging the church’s principal prelates to try to find ways to clear up misunderstandings created by the president’s conflict with the clergy. But they make it clear they will not compromise with principles. The letter says, “No priest can engage in the struggle of political parties without compromising his office and the church itself.”
Just what this means when translated into plain English it is hazardous to conjecture. But it can easily be construed to prohibit church leaders from taking an active part, whether as churchmen or merely as citizens, to promote through public organizations, i.e., political parties, the social and economic welfare of their parishioners. A comparable situation would exist if President Eisenhower forbade the National Council of the Churches of Christ to petition Congress to enact legislation providing for low-cost public housing for low-income groups.
While this interpretation may not be correct, it would seem to be logical from the information we get. At any rate, it is a classical illustration of the importance of our maintaining in this country as complete separation of church and state as is humanly possible.