Some rather curious pronouncements have emanated from a Southern Presbyterian conclave meeting this week at Weaverville, North Carolina. Specifically a former mayor of Atlanta and a prominent layman said in addressing the meeting, that “When churches set up human relations or religious relations departments, they are intervening in fields that are very controversial.” And the speaker went on to decry what he called a trend toward the social gospel, asserting that it is a mistake for the church to get into in this field, for, in his words, “The devil must laugh with glee when he sees this present trend.” Further on the speaker opposes the idea that the church should make public pronouncements about segregation and civil rights, for they, according to him, “stir up strife and disunity.” The church then proceeded, through its organ, The Southern Presbyterian Journal that “Much today which purports to be ‘Christian race relations’ has nothing to do with biblical Christianity, but works towards destroying racial integrity as it has developed in the province of God.” “We deplore,” the writer goes on, “the fostering of social contact in the name of Christianity where such contacts are unnatural and forced. Therefore, we affirm that voluntary segregation in the churches, schools, and other social relationships is for the highest interest of the races, and is not un-Christian.” There is more, but this is enough to state not unfairly the basic viewpoint.
Well, at the outset, this reporter emphasizes that in our scheme of things the Southern Presbyterians or any other group has a perfect right to state freely what it believes on things – and to do so without fear of unwarranted penalty for doing so. However, a consideration of history and of current facts makes such pronouncements rather anomalous. If by biblical Christianity they mean restricting Christian religious scope to the confines of the lids of the Bible, they are talking about something that never was and most of us think never should be. Christ himself was the most controversial figure of his time. He sat, talked, ate, and otherwise associated with Samaritans, publicans, sinners, and all kinds. There is nothing in what he said or did to indicate that he cared for race, color, or nationality. His injunction to his disciples to “go ye therefore into all the world and preach my gospel to every creature” contains nothing about setting this or that race or other group apart and preaching it a little different to them than you do to others. The Master attacked smugness, egotism, wherever he found them. The Pharisee who thanked God that he was not like other men received little commendation from Christ, while the poor publican who admitted his sinfulness went down to his house justified more than the former. Paul emphasized that faith without works is dead, and it is not possible to see how Christianity, by its very nature, can be confined to the lids of the Bible. It has flourished across the centuries only as it has been a live, growing, even controversial doctrine that preached and practiced the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of men. When it ceases to be this, it will become an embalmed figure in the mausoleum of history, to be looked upon by future generations as a quaint, academic, inert philosophy of the past that died from pernicious anemia because it had little real meaning in the lives of people. There is no such thing as racial integrity in today’s world, and the good mayor is talking about something that never was, is not, and never will be, for no friendly, Christian contact and relationships between the races are, as the Weaverville spokesman put it, “unnatural in the province of God.”
It became apparent that some 40 Americans this week planned to visit Red China after attending the Moscow so-called Youth Festival, and to do this in the face of the stern warning from our State Department that to do so would be to violate U.S. foreign policy. Perhaps too much has already been said here about this policy that holds, by implication at least, that Americans generally do not have sense enough to go to Red China, see and talk with the people, and come back home without becoming sold on the idea of Chinese communism. And that only the super-beings that head the State Department know what is best for other Americans too dumb to agree with those same department heads. All this is a bit of egotism, arrogance, and paternalism that is anathema to American tradition, spirit, and good common sense. It assumes that I cannot see a murder committed without avidly desiring to commit a murder myself; that is not possible for me to read a book without agreeing with everything the author says; that I cannot talk with a person who disagrees with me without becoming converted to his way of thinking; that America is a ghetto from which nobody will be permitted to leave for travel or other purposes without having some bureaucrat tell him where he can go, with whom he can talk. It is difficult to imagine greater nonsense.
Of what is the State Department afraid? Americans generally have a mind of their own. In a democracy, it is a responsibility of every citizen to do his own thinking. Nobody but the communists and other anti-democratic elements would deliberately do anything that would undermine the security of this country. However, it is difficult to imagine anything more likely to make Americans appreciate our own freedom of religion, speech, association, etc., than to travel among and see firsthand what is being wrought under the ruthless hand of communism, in China or elsewhere. And those of us who believe in real democracy can imagine nothing calculated more to reveal to those behind the Iron Curtain the fruits of democratic freedom than to open our doors to young people from China, Russia, or elsewhere to let them come among us and see what life is like here. It is hardly likely that they would go home so willing to believe that America is a land where the toiling masses are ground down by the evil heel of Wall Street capitalists. But perhaps it is too late to hope that those in charge of making our foreign policy are ever going to see such simple facts. As the senior senator from Tennessee put it this week on a national radio broadcast, “The more our young people see what’s going on in other nations, the more they will appreciate the United States.”
Nobody appreciates the United States Senate more than does this reporter. However, few could dislike hypocrisy more than he does. He cannot help but wonder how much hypocrisy there was in the proceedings this week in that august body that eulogized the late Sen. McCarthy, the same body that so roundly condemned him a scant three years ago. The Associated Press dispatch this week recounts that “Men with whom McCarthy fought, as well as those who worked shoulder-to-shoulder with him during his stormy career … joined in a session of tribute to their former colleague.” Led by Democratic Majority Leader Johnson, all the good little boys in the Senate got up and said how much and for what reasons they liked their former colleague. Such adjectives as courageous, effective, and such nouns as adulation, rare quality, respect, liking, etc., poured forth ad infinitum into many of us ad nauseam.
Most of us remember all too vividly that McCarthy cared nothing about whose reputation he wrecked by reckless smear charges which he never offered an iota of proof to substantiate. Many of us who wish to be honest with ourselves deplore the suspicion and hysteria, aroused and kept agitated by the same Joe McCarthy. Many of us cannot help but recall the dangerous wave of emotionalism, unreasoning suspicion, that was generated among the lunatic fringe that so easily could have been fanned into a totalitarian movement that would have brooked no opposition and would have given nobody a place to speak, think, or act except within the context of an un-democratic, fascist-like framework constructed by the master performer himself. It may be the polite thing to do to leave such things unsaid. The Romans had a saying that went like this: “Speak only good of the dead.” But Shakespeare put it more realistically if less delicately when he has Mark Anthony say at the bier of Caesar, “The bad that men do lives after them; the good is often interred with their bones. So let it be with Caesar.” Elsewhere Shakespeare said that “He who steals my purse steals trash, but he who filches from me my good name takes that which enriches him and leaves me poor indeed.” And all the pretty speeches of the Senators cannot change the history of the McCarthy period, and much of that period is not very pretty because of the things he did and said.