October 31, 1954

All the way from South Africa comes the report that at least two church groups have taken stands on one of the most persistent and difficult problems that nation of the British Commonwealth faces, namely, racial discrimination. There, a white population of some 2.5 million owns much of the country and controls all of it, including about 10 million colored people that make up the rest of the population. About a million whites are members of various Dutch churches, about a third as many are members of the Church of England, some one hundred thousand are Jews and a slightly smaller number are Roman Catholics. Strangely enough, it is these church members who have been the strongest advocates of white supremacy an of racial discrimination, quoting selected portions of the Bible to bolster their position.

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At its meeting this fall in Evanston, Illinois, mention of which was made on this program a short time ago, the World Council of Churches took a strong stand on this question of discrimination, and enjoined Christians in all lands to protest such discrimination as, in its words, “an unutterable offense against God.”

During the past week, two Christian groups began obeying the council’s injunction. At the Annual Conference of South Africa’s Methodist Church, Bishop Webb attacked those who try to bolster discriminatory laws through the use of government.

The Anglican Church joined in with an even stronger attack on two racialist bills then under consideration, one of which would prevent Christian missions from teaching colored children; the other would cancel leases on churches where pastors do not adhere to the government’s discrimination line. Anglican Bishop Reeves said that “We have no alternative but to declare the truth as God has given us to see the truth, even though our churches may be closed by the state.” One may well wonder how it is possible to recognize that all men are the children of the same divine power, but that some of them, solely because of the accident of race, are more entitled to Christian privileges than are others.

While on the subject of racial discrimination, it may be well to observe that the facts are pretty well in as to just what happened in certain trouble spots in our own efforts to bring about integration of our school systems in line with the recent Supreme Court decision. As you are well aware, Washington, D.C., Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia have not had smooth sailing in their efforts to end segregation in the schools. Now that the schools are under way again and the trouble has lessened, three major facts stand out as to the crux of the trouble, and they are facts that have direct significance for those who believe in putting their religion into practical action:

  1. Disturbances were generated by adults, not the students themselves, which raises the question of whether we adults wish to see our own prejudices perpetuated in our children.
  2. Non-local elements were the chief instigators of the trouble; in some cases, professional agitators.
  3. Where local authorities stepped in promptly and firmly, trouble stopped.

Integration of the two races into a single school system is admittedly a difficult problem, but it is one that can be solved only by tolerance, understanding, and perseverance on the part of both races. Also it is a problem that, in most cases, the American people will solve and will take in their stride; not only does our constitutional system require that it be solved gradually and peacefully, but our religious principles place upon us an ethical and moral obligation to do so, that is, if we regard our religion as a principle practice and not merely a precept to preach.

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A U.P. Dispatch with a Union City, New Jersey, dateline informs us that Protestantism has received some Roman Catholic compliments, and it has also been told that it should do some looking toward Judaism.

A national Roman Catholic magazine, The Sign, has praised actions by Protestant church bodies to find Christian solutions to social problems. The publication has specifically applauded statements by the recent Protestant World Council of Churches meeting at Evanston, Illinois. It has also praised a declaration by the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., which lists 13 norms to guide Christians in social and economic life. The Catholic magazine describes the national council statement as an admirable summary of the factors involved in Christian social policy, and it terms the council’s leaders in the social field “earnest, dedicated men, gifted with a high sense of responsibility.”

Dr. George MacLeod, a Glasgow, Scotland, theologian, now at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, has urged Christians to put more of the Hebrew strain into their faith. He has urged Christianity to recover some of its earlier emphasis to make the ideals of the faith effective in all phases of life and society. For the Hebrew, he says, “Now is the day of salvation.”

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And in connection with Judaism, we might observe that the mother church of Reform Judaism is celebrating an anniversary this year. The temple in Cincinnati is marking the 100th anniversary of the arrival of Rabbi Isaac Wise in the southwestern Ohio city from Albany, New York. The temple, itself 100 years old, now bears Wise’s name. Wise was one of the Jews who wanted to cast off the shackles of the past and build an American Judaism. He wanted it wedded to the tradition of prophets, but integrated with the culture of America. Reform Judaism was the result. This is the liberal branch of the Hebrew faith, the other two being referred to as Conservative and Orthodox.

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Speaking at the 152nd Annual Massachusetts Baptist Convention in Framingham, Massachusetts, the Rev. V. Carney Hargroves, of Germantown, Pennsylvania, and president of the convention, says that there are more than two million Baptists behind the Iron Curtain.

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In another connection, the Most Rev. Fulton J. Sheen has urged American Catholics to pray for Russia’s “conversion to Christianity.” Speaking at a “Marian Year Rally” at the Washington Monument grounds this week he said, “As Christians, we do not wish the extermination of the Soviet people; we want their conversion to Christianity.”

This “Marian Year Rally” is part of the National Eucharistic Marian Congress of Oriental Rites of the Catholic Church, and has ended its observance with an apostolic benediction from Pope Pius XII. Three days of solemn devotion to prayers were participated in by some 20,000 members, during which time they prayed for conversion of Russia to Christianity and for world peace.

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Our next item is new only in the sense that each week brings new evidence indicating the continued existence of an old problem, and it continues to be a problem mainly because we do less than we talk about it. This problem is that of the condition of the public school system of our country. The present struggle between democracy and totalitarianism has been properly characterized as a “battle for the minds of men,” and in this battle, people who value religion have greater stake than anyone else. Neither religious nor any other freedom as we know it exists behind the Iron Curtain. Our young people can win this battle for the mind only if their minds are fully developed in preparation for the struggle, which means education of all the children in the broadest meaning of the term.

But how well are we accomplishing this task? Statistics can easily become boresome, but a few of them are necessary in order to get even an elementary understanding of the problem. Right now new classrooms are needed for eleven million students. At present costs, these would amount to about $12 billion, less than we spend for tobacco, chewing gum, and sweets.

Some 10 million students are now housed in obsolete or overcrowded buildings; 20 percent of all school buildings are firetraps; 10 percent of elementary school buildings are more than 50 years old.

Our elementary and high schools needed 215,000 new teachers this year; only 85,000 were available, and probably 30,000 trained were not teaching or interested in teaching because of low pay, overloads, community pressures that operate to regiment the teacher as is done those in no other occupation, unless it be the ministry.

And in the years ahead, more buildings will be needed to house still more students, and more money will be needed to support the system, including teacher salary increases. The National Issues Committee estimates that at least as much is needed during the next ten years as President Eisenhower recently recommended be spent during the same period on highway building – $50 billion.

Granting the need for improved highways, we still legitimately raise the question: Have we reached the point where highways take precedence over our children? The president recommended $1.25 million to finance a series of state conferences on education during the next year, the stated purpose being to learn facts on educational needs. Congress responded with a grant of nearly $1 million. The fact is that these needs are known and while we go on gathering additional information, our children continue to go to school in overcrowded buildings staffed by inadequately prepared and underpaid teachers. The U.S. Office of Education has gathered these facts at a cost of some $3 million and has recently published them in a series of studies.

On the basis of these studies, Sen. Cooper of Kentucky introduced a bill in the Congress that would help states meet construction costs by providing $500 million over a two-year period. Secretary Hobby of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare opposed the bill. Despite that, it reached the Senate floor, only to be killed by the Senate minority leader, Mr. Johnson of Texas. The bill lost out in the House Committee, and never reached the floor of that body.

Most states are making a sincere effort, as they see it, to provide a constantly improving school system, but the abilities of the states vary greatly. Proponents of federal aid argue that education is a national problem, and that educational opportunities should be equalized through provisions granting funds to assure all states a minimum school program. And while the argument goes on, the children are forced to accept whatever is offered them in the way of school opportunities.

We Americans have been fond of repeating the phrase that our children are our most precious possession. It is heard from every political platform, pulpit, and commencement stage. We cannot help but wonder, as we listen to the words and look at conditions. It would seem to be about time that we either buckled down to the job of providing the children of this country with the kind of educational opportunity they have a right to expect from the richest nation in the world, or to revise our phrases so that they square with our performance. In a democracy, loyalty comes from understanding, and understanding rests upon our education. It is imperative that this generation understands fully, perhaps as no other generation has done, the basic elements that under-gird our democratic system. If they do not, it is hardly to be hoped that political freedom can survive, and if that freedom does not survive, religious freedom will perish also.

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