This is “Religion in the News,” a program of non-sectarian comment on current items of religious significance.
It is the viewpoint of this program that the man of religion is rightly concerned about doctrines and creed. It is also recognized that these doctrines and creeds must be practiced in a secular world, a world in which many events and circumstances that are not within themselves primarily religious in nature, do have implications for the spiritual welfare of human beings, both as individuals and as groups practicing their religious beliefs. Hence, an effort is made to stress what appears to this reporter to be the meaning of the news in terms of its religious significance, and without regard to denomination or creed.
In line with this viewpoint, there is significance in an article appearing this week entitled “Christian Japan, Hope of Asia,” by Francis R. Sayre, American diplomat and former chairman of the U.N. Trusteeship Council, who has recently returned from Japan, and who knows the country well. He points out that while the totalitarian forces that drove Japan into becoming a military camp are beaten today, they could rise again. He is acutely conscious of the fact that Japan could succumb to communist propaganda daily poured into the islands from Russian broadcasting stations not far away.
Due to its strategic location and to its potential strength as an ally or as an enemy, Mr. Sayre stresses that Japan is one of the most critical spots in the world. Concepts of democracy and human freedom are knocking at Japan’s gates and demanding revolutionary changes in her thinking and ways of life as well as her international objectives, but he also reminds us that Christianity in Japan has had an unhappy past. For over 200 years the practice of Christianity there was a capital offense. Today only a small fringe of the Japanese are Christian, less than 400,000 out of some 87 million. He asks the provocative question, “Can the Japanese be brought before it is too late to understand and believe in the great teachings of Christ?” This, in his opinion, is the supreme question in the Asia of our generation.
One of the most effective ways to bring this about, he goes on, is to impart Christian concepts into the growing students. To aid in this task some years ago men of high visions founded in Japan the International Christian University, which now has some 350 students from Japan, China, India, Korea, Siam, and the United States. Unlike most other Japanese universities, it is building a dormitory system for both students and faculty, where the two can live and study and work together. Denominationalism and sectarianism have no place there on the campus. The curriculum is built on the humanities, and the objective is a search for truth, based upon the reality of human brotherhood. The particular aim is to prepare men and women for teaching, for government service, and for social work programs. All faculty members and students try to be faithful followers of Christ as each understands the meaning of Christianity.
On Thanksgiving Day, in Lakeville, Connecticut, American Protestantism lost one of its greatest leaders, with the death of Henry Sloane Coffin. Throughout his life of 77 years, Dr. Coffin sought the truth with all the fervor of his Presbyterian conviction. A graduate of Yale and Union Theological Seminary, he became president of the latter in 1926. From the pulpit, platform, or college presidency he preached his convictions with a brilliance and wit seldom matched by anyone.
He was a liberal in the broadest sense of the term, and to him, being a liberal meant championing the right of very man to think what he would, a right that unfortunately finds all too few champions in America today. Some of the causes he championed were looked upon in his day as revolutionary; some of them are so considered by men of small minds today. In his Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, he abolished the practice of rented pews and merged into one this church and a chapel nearby that was maintained for poor people who could not afford to pay rent for pews. He was instrumental in seeing that a Negro was elected to the Seminary’s governing board in 1942, the first major institution of its kind to do so; he tried to heal the breach between the northern and southern wings of his church; he advocated labor legislation to protect the worker; opposed prohibition, though personally he was a teetotaler; urged women entry into the ministry; advocated euthanasia; and was a pillar of support of the ecumenical movement toward world church cooperation; and he blasted the political tactics of Sen. McCarthy with characteristic vigor.
Perhaps the best summary of his philosophy and life work is summed up in his inaugural address at Union Theological Seminary in 1926 when he said “The minister who would make worship appealing and enlarging to others must be himself a man of prayer.… He must acquire the art … of expressing the longings and gratitudes and pertinences of a group of folk feeling after a wiser and a better than themselves, and the art of affirming and making real the self-sufficiency of God.” Those who knew him attest that he mastered that art in an amazing and brilliant degree.
This week, messages of sympathy and prayer poured into Vatican City from all over the world concerning the serious illness of Pope Pius XII. President Eisenhower and the National Council of Churches were among those sending messages. Prayers were offered in the Vatican and by Catholics around the world for the 78-year-old pontiff. The Council of Churches stood for a minute of silent prayer and unanimously approved a message that the organization “prays almighty God that his healing grace may sustain Pope Pius in his hour of suffering.”
[The prayers of millions of Roman Catholics around the world appear to have been answered tonight.… The Vatican reports that Pope Pius, their spiritual leader, apparently is out of the crisis of his illness. The Vatican’s latest bulletin says the 78-year-old pontiff no longer is in immediate danger and is beginning to regain his strength through intravenous feeding of proteins. The announcement says it is hoped that the pope’s rally from his near-fatal collapse will permit him to say a few words over the Vatican Radio Sunday with the St. Peter’s ceremony of the beatification of Italian Benedictine Father, Placido Riccardi.]
The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. held its meeting this past week in Boston, representing some 30 Protestant and Orthodox denominations. Dr. Eugene Carson Blake of Philadelphia has been named the third president of this organization, succeeding Methodist Bishop William Martin of Dallas. Dr. Blake is a Presbyterian.
The council ended its meeting with two spokesman emphasizing that Protestant churches are being challenged by dangerous moral conditions in society. This statement, issued jointly by the Reverends Roy Ross, general secretary, and Roswell Barnes, associate general secretary, both of New York, said, “Juvenile delinquency, racketeering and violence, alcoholism, narcotic addiction, and corruption in public affairs are all increasing and are widespread.”
A key report made to the assembly earlier in its conference meeting directed the assembly’s attention to ways and means of making its potentially huge power felt. This report pointed to the fact that while the institutional strength of the church has grown rapidly in recent years, it is doubtful if this growth in numbers has been accompanied by a comparable growth in spiritual influence. It went on to explore new means of reinforcing the fraternity of faith.
“When we consider how little it costs to be counted among the church members in our country, we are troubled,” the report said. “The average church member is not conspicuously different from the average nonmember. The average church is so much conformed to the world that people are surprised if it sharply challenges the prevailing behavior of the community,” the 6,500 word document on the state of the church continued.
Last week I reported on the growing friction between the Catholic Church and the government of Argentina. From Buenos Aires some news that another development has taken place this week in the conflict between the church and state there. The government has abolished the National Department of Religious Education, the Inspectorate General of Religious Education, and the National Committee of Culture. Their duties henceforth will be taken by the Ministry of Education.
Leaders of many denominations hailed this week the appearance of the fourth and final volume of a series, The Prophetic Faith of our Fathers, a monumental work of research involving twenty years of time and the history of divine prophecy. The originator and director of the work, Dr. Leroy Edwin from Washington, said its purpose is to discover the progressive development of prophetic exposition that constitutes the historic precedents for the Adventist belief in prophecy. This task began in 1933 and has cost more than $100,000 to complete. The first three volumes of this work have already become reference works in more than 1,000 libraries, including that of the Vatican in Rome.
In New York, a group of social scientists has been told that interest in the Jewish religion grows with the degree of Americanization. In addition, the Jewish religious ceremonies most strongly preserved are the joyous ones, which do not require a high degree of isolation from non-Jews. This statement was made at the Tercentenary Conference of American Jewish Sociology. At the same time the conference was meeting, the 300th anniversary of Jewish settlement in America was continuing in Philadelphia.
At a meeting with a group of publicity men in New York this week, a minister emphasized that religious faith is necessary to good public relations, but that it should not be confused with clever salesmanship. Dr. Ralph W. Sockman, of Christ Church Methodist on Park Avenue, told the Public Relations Society of America’s annual conference that people should stop talking about selling religion. “Religion,” he says, “is not a commodity to be sold but a faith to be shared.”
And to that, I am sure, most of us would add a fervent “Amen.” One of the apparent trends in some quarters in recent years (at least, it appears so often that it seems to be a trend with some people) is to assume that a religious cloak is indisputable proof of good standing as a citizen. Certainly it is not the wish nor the role of this reporter to doubt the sincerity of the faith of anyone. But to have men high in public life make statements that imply if they do not say that one can be a good citizen only if he is a good Christian is to confuse the things that belong to Caesar with those that belong to God. As observed in this program before, there are thousands of patriotic but unbelieving citizens, while it is not unheard of that many who do profess belief are found by the processes of the law not to be good citizens.
Religion as a philosophy and a way of life needs no clever salesmanship, nor should it be used as a cloak behind which to sell other goods having no relationship to religion.