Last week the National Council of the Churches of Christ completed the work of its Third Assembly in Boston. The major achievements of this meeting may be summed up under three headings:
- It urged its member churches to make use of the council’s facilities to aid laymen with their ethical problems;
- It encouraged churches to “adventure more courageously into racial and cultural inclusion;”
- It repudiated all forms of racial discrimination.
Most of us would agree that these matters deserve the serious consideration of all individuals and groups interested in religion. The problem of ethics is a worldwide one, ranging from personal behavior to what, as a society, to do with the awful power we hold in the potentialities of nuclear fission. As for racial and cultural inclusion, we must accept the fact, whether we like it or not, that peoples of different races and cultures are thrown more often and more closely in contact with each other today than were neighbors of adjoining states a century ago. And with their emphasis upon the divinity of God and the brotherhood of man, it would be ironical, even hypocritical, if the churches were not to take the lead in the fight against discrimination. Hence the council is to be commended for its forthright and unequivocal declarations of position with respect to these pressing issues confronting us all in today’s world.
To all Catholics, and to many, many Protestants, this week has been one of happily decreasing concern over the physical condition of Pope Pius XII, and of increasing pleasure over the amazing progress he has made toward recovery. The 78-year-old pontiff has not only surprised his followers, he has amazed his doctors who, from the implications of their dispatches were reconciled to expecting the worst.
Mention was made a moment ago of repudiation by the National Council of Churches of all forms of racial discrimination. An AP dispatch with a Shellman, Georgia, dateline brings information that a young minister in that community has just been ousted from his pastorate because of a sermon he preached last June in which he praised as just the decision of the Supreme Court against racial segregation in the public schools. This minister and his wife have just moved out of the pastorium into an apartment. In his final sermon to the congregation he disagreed with the prejudices of the members of his church for the stand they had taken. He advised them to call themselves a community instead of a church, and to elect a president instead of a pastor. Indicative of their intolerance in this matter is the fact that most of his congregation left the church while the young man was speaking.
This reporter is deeply conscious of the long established customs and attitudes of Southern people with respect to racial problems. He is himself a Southerner who grew up with, and to some degree, shares these customs and attitudes. He also recognizes that these things cannot be changed overnight by an edict of a body of nine men, whatever their official position. But he also sees inconsistency between the spiritual concept of Christian brotherhood and discrimination between fellow Christians because of the accident of race. The problems involved in working out a policy of integration in the school, in the church, and in the community are difficult, and it appears that the churches can rightly be expected to take the lead in this matter, for to them, it is, or should be, not only a matter of law but a concept of the relation of individuals to each other and to the Creator of us all.
An interesting and significant statement was made by a great American layman this week, to the Chicago Sunday Evening Club. David E. Lilienthal was originally a Chicago lawyer. From 1941-1946, he was chairman of the TVA, and from 1946-1950, he was a chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. He has recently been in the news because of his work, given free-of-charge, in helping the Republic of Columbia develop plans for a program similar to TVA – hence, having a knowledge of law, of at least the administrative aspects of scientific management, and of working with people. Coming from a man with this background, his views on moral and ethical matters are all the more interesting, and worth quoting. “The building of individual character,” he says, “is a greater shield against national adversity than any armament, however mighty.”
“This is not to underestimate the place of military strength under such conditions as now exist in international affairs,” he continues, but “the foundation of America’s greatness lies in the achievement of moral quality, of firm ethical and spiritual convictions, on the part of individual citizens.” This, he says, “is far more important than TVA or atomic energy, economics or government, because the way these matters will be put to work will be determined by ethical convictions and spiritual aspirations of individuals and not by impersonal calculations of science and engineering.”
Here, clearly and simply put, is a statement of a major dilemma of our generation. We have, through science and administrative management, of which Mr. Lilienthal is thoroughly familiar, developed the power to blow ourselves and our world to bits. But this, says the man who had a great deal to do with this development, is not the most important thing. The most important thing is the moral and spiritual values that people hold, for it is these that will determine whether we use this tremendous power to destroy mankind or to lift it onto a level of existence far higher than it has ever before known in this world. Power is important, but how we use it is more so, and how we use it will be decided by those values we consider important. This is not only a challenge to the intelligence and moral fiber of humanity; it is an ultimatum, for if we do not use it wisely we shall destroy ourselves through our failure to do so. This is an inevitable and uncomfortable choice that men of our generation must make, and are making daily, whether we realize it or not.
And these moral and spiritual values must be made to function not only in science, but also in economics and in government, through the choices we make in the type of men we choose and the type of service we demand of them as public servants. “The bullying type of public figure, by violent talk, may appear to succeed for a time, but sooner or later the responsible people show they have had enough. In the perspective of time the standards of character of the American people seem to have been moving steadily toward improving the lot of Man, and it must continue to be so, mainly through the efforts of people who believe in and practice high spiritual, and moral, religious values.
It is easy to get so wrapped up with our own problems at home that we sometimes forget that human problems around the world are often pretty much the same. At times in our history we have allowed ourselves the expensive luxury of bickering and quarreling among Catholics, Protestants, and Jews. Fortunately we have not permitted it to continue for any extended length of time or degree of severity. Something of the same struggle comes to us from Johannesburg, South Africa, where the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, speaking at an interracial conference of Protestant church leaders, warns his hearers that, in his words, “The church is confronted not so much by heathenism, as by a large growing and aggressive Moslem community.” He went on to express concern that the churches in the Commonwealth are mostly concerned about providing pastoral care for those already members of some Christian faith, and that they are little concerned in trying to spread belief in that faith among those who are at present non-Christians. One hopeful note was sounded in the plea made at the conference for all Christian faiths to explore the possibility of cooperation in spreading the Gospel as a means of both converting the heathen and of lessening denominational rivalry among the churches themselves.
A human problem of another kind, and one that is of concern both to individuals and the community is underscored by an article appearing this week in The Christian Science Monitor having to do with the barriers an ex-prisoner faces when he has paid his debt to society and is released from prison. A tape-recorded voice of an anonymous parolee in Boston described these barriers to the Massachusetts Conference of Social Work meeting in that city. From his own experience, this voice describes what happened. First, there is the legal bar, prohibiting him from employment in a variety of fields. Many employers will not hire him also because of their uneasiness about a man with a record. Then there is the bar of ignorance, the fact that the parolee simply lacks education or training for a trade. But, significantly enough, this ex-prisoner emphasizes that the most difficult bar of all is the one that persistently labels him with the stigma of being an ex-convict.
This voice made no plea for the former prisoner who is insincere about reformation. “It is,” he says, “up to the prisoner to prove his case.” But in a Christian community, he added, “forgiveness is our mode of life … to forgive is the challenge the community faces.” All of us can understand the attitude of the community on the one hand, and the need, often the desperate need, of the released prisoner on the other. To continue to discriminate against those who have committed crimes long after they have paid their penalty to society is going beyond both the letter and the spirit of the laws enacted by that society as punishment. This reporter has no answer to the problem, but he has a question: “What is your (own) answer to it?”
A spokesman for the YWCA has made an interesting report to that organization upon the increasingly important role that women the world over are playing in everyday affairs. Mrs. Elizabeth Luce Moore, chairman of the organization’s foreign division has just returned form a visit to such far-flung places as Japan, Philippines, Egypt, Italy, Thailand, Burma, Hong Kong, and others. On this trip, she consulted war widows, factory workers, and women leaders.
She calls it an exciting story, what these women are doing for themselves and for their community, as they emerge from colonialism, social as well as political. But, in these countries, she warns, communist propaganda is on every newsstand, and in it America is depicted as a nation of military aggressors. She calls what the communists are doing a program that “is insidiously and devilishly conceived, and we’ve got to find a program to counteract it.” She urged wider use of such films as “Atoms for Peace,” which she said had proved so informative to audiences, both male and female, in Italy. Japanese women, she says, are disturbed about the threat of the H-bomb, and need education as to what Americans can do and are trying to do to bring about a peaceful world. People in arid lands are eager to know how atomic power can get them water they need or get salt out of the water they have.
She emphasizes the important work colleges and universities are doing in these lands toward developing community leaders from among their own number, and she stresses the important role the United States can play in helping them provide the training they need for bringing improved methods of community living to backward places. Women in these countries, she is convinced, are eager to learn ways and means of making their newly found freedoms count most toward improving their levels of living. Some of their greatest needs are simple to us, but to them they mean the difference between well-being and want. Such things as getting a well dug, keeping children clean, persuading the elders of the village to cooperate in using the best of the new ways while retaining the valuable ones of the old. These, she concludes, “are worthwhile incentives the women are discovering.”
Several years ago, the U.S embarked on the so-called Point Four program of bringing our own technical knowledge to the aid of backward countries. This program, unfortunately, became embroiled in political partisanship, but there is considerable evidence to indicate that an American health expert, working in an advisory capacity, to help the people of an Indonesian community improve its water supply can bring us more good will than a million dollars of aid doled out for military preparations. This is a point we well might keep in mind as we are called upon as citizens to express our opinion, and vote, with reference to foreign aid.