This past week saw the passing of one of America’s greatest church workers, 89-year old Protestant leader, Dr. John R. Mott, who died in Orlando, Florida. Dr. Mott was the only layman of the five honorary presidents of the World Council of Churches. For many years he was a general secretary of both the National Council and the International Committee of the YMCA. Until 1920 he was a secretary of the World’s Student Christian Federation, which he had helped found in 1895. In 1910 he took a leading part in establishing the International Missionary Council, comprising 300 missionary society groups, and he was its chairman until 1942. In 1946 Dr. Mott was awarded the Nobel Prize for his humanitarian work. Sixteen governments had, in recognition of his work, given him medals or decorations of some kind. In his 70 years of travel he had crossed the Atlantic more than 100 times. These facts, i.e., regarding his medals and travels, are not within themselves important, and he surely would not have regarded them to be so. However, they are important for what they signify in the way of his efforts toward Man’s betterment – a long life dedicated to his fellow man. And it is indeed fitting that he will be buried in the National Cathedral, a final recognition of a great American life of service.
In Atlantic City, New Jersey, representatives of some 4.5 million Lutherans met this week. The occasion was the 37th annual meeting of the Lutheran Council. Dr. Paul Empie, executive director of the council, expressed hope that no further dragging of feet, as he put it, will frustrate admission of refugees under the 1953 Refugee Relief Act. He said the act was designed to admit 209,000 refugees and non-quota immigrants during a three-year period, but fewer than 10,000 have been admitted so far.
This reporter checked further on the matter and found out that the law provides the possible admission of 214,000 such refugees by the end of December, 1956, but that only some 12,000 -13,000 have been admitted so far. Part of this is doubtless due to unnecessary red tape and slowness of government agencies; but part of it is due also to the prejudice of late Sen. McCarran of Nevada who wrote the act. McCarran was careful to phrase the act so that certain religious, political, and other groups he did not like would find it difficult to get into this country. Dr. Empie adds “one frequently has the feeling that the national atmosphere in which the McCarthy hearings were conducted may have led some government officials involved to choose to do nothing rather than to risk the granting of security clearances to refugees.” To which this reporter might add he thoroughly agrees, but he would like to add a further prayer that we are over the hysteria that permits such a one-man reign of terror, as was carried on by the now discredited Senator from Wisconsin. Now, none of us wants people coming here who would undermine our security and stability, but it is difficult to see where religion could play a part in this. America has been throughout her history a citadel of religious freedom, and this law that would erode the foundations of this structure should be amended to remove its religious, and perhaps other, prejudice. The Lutherans are to be commended for their action in this matter. We have a humanitarian as well as a religious responsibility as a nation to do our share in offering refuge to displaced and homeless persons of Western Europe, and religious conviction should not be a criterion for admission.
The Lutherans are to be commended also for their action at Atlantic City in making a dramatic break with their own past to open their doors to Negro members. Heretofore the church has maintained separate congregations for Negroes, but Dr. Conrad Heyer told the council that the very nature of the Gospel and the peculiar pressure of our time demand integration of the races within the church.
From New York comes a dispatch along the same line, taken in this case by the National Council of Churches. In a 500-word text and a 16-point anti-bias program sent to the 35 million members of the 30 Protestant and Orthodox sects it represents, the council requested that it be read on February 13, the 33rd Annual Race Relations Sunday. The point of view taken is this, “Racial prejudice in any and all forms is contrary to the will and design of God. It is a sin. Let this teaching be proclaimed. He who wrongs his brother sins against God.” It would be exceedingly difficult to find anything wrong with this sentiment, or successfully challenge it. After all, it is about time we quit talking about different races. There is only one race, the human race, and all human beings belong to it. There are various groupings within the race, groupings that show various different characteristics, only one of which is skin color. Can we square with our concept of the fatherhood of God the idea that this father would make some of his children superior to others and that this superiority is evidenced by such an unimportant trait as skin color alone? Objective students of race and devoted followers of Christ agree that there is no such thing as racial superiority, so it is about time we quit bolstering our ego by proclaiming a superiority that does not exist.
This week for the first time in history, a Turkish official has visited Pope Pius XII. The premier and foreign minister of Turkey called on the pope, leader of the world’s 425 million Catholics. Our news source does not disclose the nature of the visit, but the call in itself, whatever its motive, is a significant one because of this break with the past. After all, the millions of Catholics and more millions of Moslems cannot go on forever acting as if the other did not exist.
Southern Baptists made some significant gains last year. Their convention, meeting in Nashville during the past week, was told by its statistician, J.P. Edmunds, that the church has gained almost 300,000 church members, that its total is now more than eight million, and that 400 new denominational churches were added, bringing the total to almost 27,000. Church contributions rose almost 10 percent during the year, to some $305.5 million.
Unitarians and Universalists have taken another step toward eventual merger. They have just opened a joint public relations office in New York City. The move is part of a program to merge the education, publication, and public relations activities of the two church groups. Eventually they will join together completely as the Liberal Council of Churches.
The president has sent to Congress his recommendations for the nation’s medical services. These recommendations include increase and expansion of federal medical facilities, encouragement of greater state activity in that field, stimulation of private medical insurance plans, a federal health reinsurance service, federal aid to improve state medical facilities for treatment of mental illnesses, a grant to states to aid in programs of prevention and treatment of juvenile delinquency, and increased support to the World Health Organization, a U.N. agency, in order to help promote the health and welfare of regions less favored than our own.
These recommendations will probably arouse considerable controversy during the next few weeks. They are considerably broader than was his program of last year, and that program was denounced by the American Medical Association as “socialistic.” So, it is very likely that we shall see such terms as “socialized medicine,” “the welfare state,” etc., applied again. Such terms are slogans that mean everything or nothing, depending upon what the person using or hearing them has in mind. Actually they are devices to divert people from realistically examining a problem and a proposed remedy to that problem. Amid and above all the name-calling and slogans, several things are clear to most of us:
1. Adequate medical services are beyond the financial reach of the average person;
2. Because of this many of us defer seeking medical aid until we have to do so, and in many cases such aid is too late;
3. There is no alarming scarcity of medical personnel in this country.;
4. Nobody wishes to embark on any program that would lower the quality of professional standards of the medical profession.
On the other hand, we Americans are inclined to look upon any institution as a means of contributing to the well-being of people – the church, schools, government, economic system can thrive and maintain the confidence of the public only so long as the public is convinced that they hold human welfare to be above property rights or vested interests. Religious people particularly are sensitive to human suffering and needs, and they are not likely to put above those needs the special prerogatives of any particular profession or occupation whether it be the medical or any other. Hence, they are not likely to permit slogans and propaganda to divert their attention from the real problem, which is to improve the health and welfare of our people through broader medical coverage at terms that the average person can meet. People of sincere religious convictions believe this and will act accordingly.
The importance of national as well as individual morality has been a matter of comment on this program several times. Certainly there have been ample evidences of both lack of morality and outright immorality in policies, procedures, and personalities on the national scene in recent years. There seem to be at last some signs that we are starting on the road back to sanity and decency, but there are a good many hangover problems. Something of the suspicion and acrimony that have pervaded Washington thinking in many quarters seem to be subsiding. But there are still many victims of character assassination; morale in the foreign service is only beginning to rise; and there seems to be still within the national consciousness a timidity and over conformity – a fact which, incidentally was emphasized by Dr. Robert M. Hutchins in a typically pungent speech delivered before the National Press Club recently. Hutchins points out that there is danger today that the battle cry of the Republic is not freedom but is sometimes what will people say? He points out that while President Eisenhower and many citizens criticized the decision not to permit West Point and Annapolis cadets to debate entry of Communist China into the United Nations, neither the president nor anybody else with authority intervened and that decision still stands. Bishop Oxnam was cleared by the House Un-American Activities Committee, but he was not permitted to speak in a Los Angeles auditorium.
The recent House committee investigations into the activities of foundations was an example of hearing only one side, refusing to permit the other side to be heard, and then issuing a report condemning those same foundations on the basis of only the evidence of the one side.
Despite that, it would appear that these foundations are taking the lead in exploring the way back to national sanity. For example, in reply to the many repeated, and in many cases outrageous attacks upon and undermining the academic or intellectual freedom, a Columbia professor, subsidized by the Ford Foundation, is studying the problems and effects of teachers oaths and other methods to nail down the patriotism of teachers and to frighten teachers away from considering controversial subjects.
Another instance is that of blacklisting in the entertainment industry. Individuals have had radio, television, and movie contracts cancelled, and their livelihood abilities removed, upon no other evidence than that somebody or something had doubts, with no proof offered or permitted, that these individuals were disloyal, subversive, or immoral. John Cogley, former editor of Commonweal, is investigating this for the Ford fund.
The American Friends Service Committee, the Roman Catholic Interracial Council of Chicago, and the National Council of the Churches of Christ, are cooperating in studying rights of minorities, wherein they have been violated, what their status is at the present time, and what can be done to promote greater justice and equality.
Several university professors are conducting factual fund-financed investigations of the record of communism in the United States, its impact on civil liberties, and what the Communist Party now amounts to.
Perhaps out of these studies and inquiries, conducted under the auspices and subsidy of the Foundation, which itself has no axe to grind, we shall eventually find our way back to calm, serious, and sensible consideration of all these problems, uninfluenced by political demagogues, unswayed by self-seeking politicians, and uncoerced by those who define any point of view but their own as subversion, disloyalty, or treason.
Even the former so-called McCarthy Committee has revised its rules to eliminate one-man reigns of terror, to assure that accused shall be informed of charges, have a right to reply, be represented by counsel, and be protected from distorted versions of what happened at meetings being released to the press. Even the condemned Senator from Wisconsin voted for the rule change. It’s about time.
No nation can lay claim to being moral so long as it knowingly violates the basic rights of its citizens, and these rights apply to all without regard to race, color, or religious creed. We seem to be getting back to willingness again to respect those rights, and insofar as we do, we shall have achieved increased moral greatness as a nation.