This being an election year, it seems not inappropriate, even on Easter Sunday, to call attention to the responsibility of the individual in participating in the selection of public officials.
On a Sunday afternoon shortly after Hitler carried out his blood purge in the 1930s, a group of some 20 ministers and educators met at the home of a Bible scholar in the heart of Berlin. This scholar talked about the prospects of religion and the church under Hitler’s rule. Suddenly he stopped and turned to one of the ministers and asked, “What are you doing with that notebook?” The minister responded that he had merely written down the last comment of the speaker. The speaker paled and said, “You must not do that. You endanger not only my freedom but also my life.” “I will scratch it out,” said the writer. “That is not enough,” said the German, “Tear out the page and destroy it right here.”
One minister afterward remarked, “As I watched these men tearing up their notes and throwing them into the fire, in one moment I saw what democracy should mean to us in America.”
Obviously, when the state becomes the people’s master rather than their servant, evil awaits the nation. The history of nations that have succumbed to tyranny shows in almost all instances a constantly increasing indifference on the part of the citizens toward their civic responsibilities. In his parable, the Master emphasized that faculties not employed will ultimately be lost. “Take the talent from him” is something of a solemn decree of divine justice.
When we apply all this to the voting habits of the American people, the prospect is not so encouraging. In 1880, 78 percent of the eligible citizens of this country voted. In 1940, the percentage had fallen to 53 percent. It is not merely a political duty that devolves upon us, but a religious responsibility of men and women to exercise their franchise, since democracy, as we know it, springs from the religious teaching of the infinite worth of every human being.
And yet we hear frequently timid and, perhaps unthinking, people say, “Should religion and politics be mixed?” If we mean by that that a church should become identified with a specific political party and the minister turn into a lobbyist, using his pulpit for a political rostrum the answer certainly must be an emphatic “No.” But if it is meant by the question that the ennobling spirit of religion, injected through the informed and earnest activities of religious men and women at the ballot box, should be infused into the political life of the nation, the answer is an equally emphatic “Yes.”
It is not enough merely to proclaim the need for high moral standards; that will not, alone, suffice to make mean men generous, cruel men kind, greedy men unselfish, or vile men clean. Morality must be undergirded by affirmative action on the part of all to the end that ideals and principles involved in morality are translated into our national life through the wise use of the ballot by men of good will throughout the nation. This is not only an opportunity for the religious person to use his vote and make his influence felt: it is an obligation that he cannot evade if he really wishes to perpetuate our order of things where men are free to speak their minds on religion or any other subject.
One of the saddening, tragic commentaries on the inability or unwillingness of man to profit by the lessons of history is the fact that the city streets through which Christ walked to his death and triumph years ago are as tense and murderous today as they were then. As there were riots and bloodletting then, so are there now, or threats of them. In the Middle East today, the attempt to build a northern tier alliance – an idea for which our State Department takes credit or blame, whichever you consider it – has brought the Arab states and Israel on the brink of war and has given Russia an opportunity to vault over the half-built wall of the Baghdad Pact into the long-coveted area of the Near East. In the Holy Land there were riots in January, and the hostility between Jerusalem’s Moslems and Jews never fades.
Here at home it would seem that there is something of a bi-partisan conspiracy of silence regarding the much-needed debate on foreign policy. Apparently the Congress, the people, and the press are paying far too much attention to what politicians are saying and too little on what they are doing or failing to do. Verbal battles race over methods and means, and while these are important, they fail to produce constructive results. Men of religious views, as well as, perhaps all others, are concerned with the matters of peace and war. A recently published study made for the Japanese Economic Planning Board bluntly concluded that the U.S. is losing the Cold War in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. With all our emphasis on maintaining a preponderance of military power, it begins to look as if we are being overtaken by the Soviet Union in the one field where we have until now been preeminent. All this does not mean that we face the likelihood of immediate war; the sad part of it is that we may be facing something very like defeat without war. Another sad feature is that any such outcome could be prevented if influential men on both sides were willing to look realistically on what is happening and do something constructive about it.
Christians the world over prepared for today the climax of their most important religious week: Easter Sunday. Sunrise services were held in the Roman Catholic and almost all the Protestant denominations, commemorating the resurrection.
In many parts of the U.S., special once-a-year sunrise services were conducted. At the Garden of the Gods in the mountains of Colorado, the sunrise service there celebrated its 36th anniversary. Thousands of persons – last year there were 20,000 – attended the colorful ceremony in the rust-hued canyon on the outskirts of Colorado Springs and in the shadow of Pike’s Peak.
Another sunrise service was also held atop Copper Hill, near Leadville, Colorado, some 12,000 feet high…. In New Hampshire, Easter sunrise services were held at Halo Hill, where rainbows often surround the summit from early morning sunlight, reflecting off the fog arising from nearby lakes. Also, a colorful Moravian Easter service is held annually at Winston-Salem, North Carolina. And there is an impressive Easter pageant held annually at Wichita Mountain, near Lawton, Oklahoma.
The first climax of the Easter week took place in the birthplace of Christianity on Good Friday. A procession of worshipers, including almost the entire Catholic clergy of Jerusalem, walked Via Dolorosa, the traditional route along which Christ carried the cross to Golgotha. Many in the procession themselves carried heavy wooden crosses. Protestant churches in Jerusalem do not possess any of the holy places in the city and their services were on a more modest scale.
Paris: Germans, Britons, and South Americans are among some 100,000 tourists visiting Paris for Easter. Bookings by tourist agencies showed that Germans topped the list of foreigners. But hundreds of sightseers form Spain, South America, the Low Countries, and the United States and Britain also attended. Many Austrians who flooded in for last Sunday’s soccer match between a French and Austrian team, stayed on for the Easter holiday.
Jews throughout the world are winding up their most important holy week – the Passover. The week commemorates the escape of the Jews from Egyptian slavery over 30 centuries ago. The Passover, which began last Monday, lasts for eight days for Orthodox Jews and seven days for Reform Jews. Traditional services include the eating of symbolic foods. In a Passover message to Jews of the world, broadcast by the Voice of America, Irving M. Engel, president of the American Jewish Committee said, “It is our earnest hope that the festival will serve as a mobilizing call to liberty-loving people everywhere to work for the strengthening of human rights.”
And from New York comes word that the church building boom in the United States shows no signs of leveling off. American Iron and Steel Institute says that within the next 10 years an estimated 70,000 new churches will be built at a cost of $7 billion. Expenditures for religious construction during 1955 were $760 million, 25 percent more than for the previous year. And in 1956 expenditures are expected to reach the $900 million mark.
Catholic services for Easter were held this year for the first time since the Middle Ages in the evening. They began in a darkened church with the celebrant lighting the new fire and blessing the huge Easter candle, which was lit from the fire. This switch form morning to evening services was by order of the Vatican for convenience of the worshipers. It is, in effect, a return to the ancient ritual. The fire lighting ceremony was held in the ancient churches of the Holy Land, in the basilicas of Rome, and in thousands of other churches throughout the world.
Pilgrims traveled by plane, train, car, on foot, and even by ski lift, to mountaintops for Easter sunrise services.
Easter services of various denominations were – and will be – carried by many radio and television stations in the U.S. and beamed behind the Iron Curtain by Radio Free Europe. The Radio Free Europe broadcasts will include Easter messages from Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York, Samuel Cardinal Stritch of Chicago, and Dr. Ralph Sockman, president of the Methodist Board of World Peace.
A reminder that clothes make neither the man nor the woman on Easter or any other day came from a Methodist pastor in Paterson, New Jersey. The Rev. Mitchell Modisett, pastor of the Epworth Methodist Church said that people were welcome at his services whether in new clothes or old. “People,” he said, “ought to wear their best clothes to church, but they surely ought not to stay home because they have no Easter finery.”
Did you know that 36 million American children attend Sunday classes in nearly 300,000 churches and synagogues every week? And it is estimated that by 1975 there will be three children in these Sunday schools for every two attending now? To keep pace with this phenomenal growth, churches are expanding their facilities and adding thousands of new teachers and starting new classes every month. One who has not visited a Sunday school recently will find the classrooms and procedures startlingly different from those of yesteryear. Aware of the influence of environment, emotions, and natural growth on children’s development, more and more Sunday schools are being planned as bright, airy, cheerful places where children can feel comfortable and happy. While the emphasis is still on religious concepts and teaching, the approach, especially with younger groups, is through joy, affection, and friendliness. Children are encouraged to make religion an active part of their lives through participation. Rarely are they longer taught abstract religious and ethical concepts suitable only for adults.
Realizing that a child’s feelings about his Sunday school teacher have much to do with his later attitudes toward religion, most faiths are placing leading educators and psychologists on their advisory boards – to train teachers. It is understood today that teachers need more than dedication and effort, important as these are. They need insight into how children grow and learn, how character and personality develop … how to make the best use of good teaching aids. Many faiths now require their teachers to complete a rigid training course before they consider them prepared to deal with the emotional and spiritual problems of modern youth.
One can be glad, whatever his own view may be, that so much thought and effort are being devoted to giving children strong spiritual foundations – their guide to a better world. That is as it should be, for the children of today are the ones who will fashion the world of tomorrow, and all of us hope that they will do a better job of it than we ourselves have done.