Last week I reported briefly on criticism emanating from the Associated Church Press meeting in Chicago to the effect that religious papers are not aggressive enough in espousing great social issues. There is more news of the same vein in this week’s news. Fear was expressed at the meeting that the church press may be relinquishing moral leadership to the secular press because of its reluctance to discuss realistically the big issues. And Dr. Harold E. Frey, editor of The Christian Century, said religious publications ought to stick their necks out more on vital public questions.
In New York, meanwhile, two secular dailies and the United Press Association received awards of merit for distinguished coverage of local, national, and international religious activities. The papers are the Detroit Free Press and the Medford, Oregon, Mail Tribune. They were honored by the National Religious Publicity Council at its annual meeting. And in Washington, Louis W. Cassels, religion editor of the United Press, was named to receive the 1958 Faith and Freedom Award in American Journalism, which will be presented May 3 at a banquet highlighting the ninth annual pilgrimage of American churchmen.
Dr. Douglas Horton, dean of Harvard Divinity School has announced the first professor in Catholic studies ever established at the school. Harvard’s Protestant Divinity School is 139 years old. Dr. Horton said Christopher Dawson, distinguished British Catholic historian and author, will become the first Chauncey Stillman Guest Professor of Roman Catholic Theological Studies. The new professorship is designed to attract to the Divinity School distinguished educators who can contribute to a wider understanding of the Catholic Church. Dr. Horton also announced appointment of another Englishman, Robert Henry Slater, to the newly-created professorship of world religions. Slater is theology professor at McGill University’s Montreal Diocesan Theological College.
The Methodist Council of Bishops has called for a revised U.S. foreign policy in which the idealism of the American people is dominant. The appeal was issued in a message to the church from the meeting of the bishops of Miami Beach, Florida. The Methodist prelates urged a foreign policy that would not be based primarily on security and defense. They warned that the war for the minds of men will not be won so long as blind politicians demand tariff walls, envision fortress America, and call for more devastating weapons. It is no wonder, the bishops say, that the communist wins the exploited people. He tells them that he is out to abolish the exploitation of man by man. But, instead of telling the world that we give economic aid because we want a peaceful world, we advise them that such aid is in our national interest and to maintain our own security. The bishops went on to propose that the government seek advice from teachers, philosophers, preachers, missionaries, labor leaders, musicians, and artists, as well as business men and military leaders, when world-wide policies are being drafted.
Two Catholic organizations warned during the week against over-emphasis on science and technology as a result of the age of satellites. Meeting at Detroit, the American Catholic Philosophical Association said much emphasis would constitute a danger to our way of life. At Buffalo, the Catholic Library Association urged educators to keep a proper balance between physical science and the humanities despite current pressures for more scientists.
Bells made from the cones of Nike rocket boosters rang out at the opening ceremonies of a unique chapel near Carrizozo, New Mexico. The chapel was built entirely from scrap materials available at the isolated Red Canyon Rocket Range, plus stone cut from the walls of Red Canyon. Army rocket men began work on the chapel last December. Among their materials were old telephone poles and rails salvaged from the Southern Pacific Railroad. Col. John. J. McCarthy, head of the camp, said the chapel bells really have an excellent tone. The metal cones have been tempered by the extreme heat of exploding gases driving the Nike rockets skyward.
In Washington, Monsignor Wm. J. McDonald was installed as rector of the Catholic University of America. Edward Cardinal Mooney, archbishop of Detroit, presided over the colorful ceremony. James Francis Cardinal McIntyre of Los Angeles and nearly 40 archbishops and bishops of the Catholic Church attended. In his inaugural address, the new rector expressed hope that the questioning now going on in American education will goad us into improvement.
The oldest Baptist church in this country was rededicated at Providence, Rhode Island, after completion of restoration work. The church is First Baptist of Providence, built in 1775. Its restoration was made possible by a $0.5 million gift from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. This church, often called the Meetinghouse, has long been the scene of baccalaureate and commencement services for Brown University students. Baptist leaders from throughout the country took part in the dedicatory ceremonies.
The American Jewish Yearbook, just published in New York, reports that enrollment of pupils in Jewish day and Sunday schools has doubled in the last 10 years. In 1947, there were 231,000 students in Jewish schools; by last year, the book says, the figure has grown to 490,000. The growth occurred during a period when the Jewish population increased by only 15-20 percent. Of the 5.25 million Jews in this country now, some 3 million are formally affiliated with an Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform congregation. An estimated 4 million, the yearbook says, are regarded as basically within the synagogue. The book estimated world Jewish population at 12,350,000.
Two major U.S. Baptist leaders arrived in Moscow to worship with and confer with Russian Baptists. They were representative Brooks Hays of Arkansas, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Dr. Clarence W. Cranford, president of the American Baptist Convention. They were met at Moscow Airport by Dr. Jakov Zhidkov, president of the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians, the Baptist group in the Soviet Union. Dr. Zhidkov was in the U.S. in 1956 as the guest of major American Baptist bodies.
In Karachi, Pakistan’s President Iskander Mirza said several hundred thousand Christian farmers will get land from the government. President Mirza gave the assurance to Dr. R. Norris Wilson, executive director of Church World Service, relief agency of the National Council of Churches. Many Christian farmers in Pakistan were dispossessed 10 years ago when some 8 million Moslems left India and poured into newly created Pakistan. President Mirza said his government is aware of the injustice of the dispossession and is determined to right the wrong. He said Christian farmers will be eligible for land now available for resettlement. The Pakistani leader expressed thanks to Dr. Wilson for relief and rehabilitation work sponsored by American church agencies in his country.
Some of you will be surprised at this next item; at least at its source, if not its subject. It is an article entitled “Segregation in the Churches,” by Dr. Wesley Shrader, associate professor of pastoral theology at Yale Divinity School. The article appears in the current, May, issue of Esquire magazine.
“… Here is the most striking irony of the twentieth century: that the church of Jesus Christ has become the primary instrument for the perpetuation of segregated life. This is more dramatically (though not exclusively) seen in the South where the Christian church openly represents the greatest bulwark of segregated power. The church will undoubtedly be the last bastion to fall – if, indeed, it will ever fall.”
Going on to report upon his interviews with representative spokesmen of various so-called Christian groups – Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and others – together with citing articles and other published statements on the subject, Dr. Shrader concludes his article with this paragraph:
“What is the future of the Christian church in the South? Are these tiny gains destined to set the pattern for better things to come? Or will the church in truth continue to boast about their large congregations, their extravagant church buildings and their overstuffed treasuries while denying a place of service and worship to a brother in Christ because of the color of his skin? Will segregation’s divisive wedge mar the life and honor of the church throughout the length and span of this generation? Time will tell.”
Here is a profound indictment of the very institution that should exhibit the least traces of distinction between because of the accident of race. “Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of these, ye have done it unto me.” Do segregationists really believe that? Or is merely words that they parrot? Apparently the latter. Anyway, don’t miss the article in the May issue of Esquire magazine.
A correspondent sends me this incident: He says he met two men and “I thought they were a couple of Methodist bishops. They were talking about conversion and redemption. I moved in and found that they were bankers talking about bonds.”
This week your reporter read carefully a radio broadcast address by Dr. Harold Scott, pastor of the First Unitarian Society of Salt Lake City, Utah. The script made sense. After pointing out that prayer in some form has been a characteristic of most peoples of all time, primitive and modern, he goes on to observe that Hebrews composed prayers that in their day were of much literary merit, but which reflect a conception of deity that today the science of religion must regard as superstition. The main theme is that Jehovah is taking care of the Jews and cares little about anyone else.
The Roman Missal and the Episcopal Prayer Book, he goes on, both have prayers for many occasions; some of which are of high literary merit, but embody so much of superstition that they are not usable by moderns in religion.
In most Protestant churches, the prayer is by the minister, is impromptu, and is likely to consist of fervid outpouring of pious phases which if written down would have no literary merit and would make little sense – just a loose series of religious sounding words.
Orthodox Jews funeral prayers make a direct appeal to God on behalf of the dead, presumably on the theory that God can be induced to changed his mind as to the treatment of the dead.
It is typical of Americans, he says, with more than a modicum of truth, that when they pray they ask for materials benefits. They will take a chance on anything to get hold of property. But of course this is nonsense, for goods are produced only by the application of labor to land. God does not run a department store. If you want more wages, praying won’t give them to you. Better join a labor union.
Prayer he emphasizes, to the rational person, whether Christian, Jew, or what have you, embodies:
- An outpouring of thanksgiving for the good, the true, and the beautiful. This serves to sharpen our search for value, meaning, and appreciation.
- It addresses itself to the pitiable state of mankind and voices aspirations that man can climb up out of hate, suspicion, fear, superstition, want, and misery.
- The expression of a deep longing for more than life has thus far yielded. It should voice the aching sense of unfulfillment as we observe the great gulf between what we are and what we want to be.
Well, as Dr. Scott, observes, prayer may be many other things, but it is certainly these.