The 15th Annual Methodist Convention was held this week in Cincinnati. Twenty-five administrative agencies of the church held sessions during the convention. The delegates represented some 9 million Methodists in the United States. A highlight of the meeting was a plan outlined by Bishop Ivan Lee Holt for a merger of the three great Protestant communions into a United Church of Christ. This would include the Congregational, Episcopal, and Presbyterian. Under the proposed plan, each local church would determine its own mode of worship and administration of the sacraments of Holy Communion and baptism. Bishop Holt said the plan would be submitted for study to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Colored Methodist Episcopal, Congregational Christian, Disciples of Christ (Evangelical and Reformed), Presbyterian U.S., and Presbyterian U.S.A.
Most ministers who commented on the sweeping plan agreed with it in principle but were doubtful over its practicality. Dr. Roy Mueller, executive secretary of the Indiana Synod of the Presbyterian Church said, “I don’t see how it possibly can be effected,” while the Rev. Roy Utterback, a Congregational minister, said his church would not consider a merger which “would imperil our deeply-valued autonomy of the local church.”
An AP dispatch reveals that another question has been raised at the conference that would not be understandable were it not for the hysteria of the times. As it is, it is disturbing that representatives of such a large number of Americans, generally considered stable and conservative, should take the approach they have on the matter. The dispatch is as follows:
“A Methodist Church group has asked – but not answered – if civil liberties should be granted U.S. communists. The Board of Social and Economic Relations adds it knows that if the communists came into power they would eliminate those privileges. The group, meeting in Cincinnati, notes that Christians are, of course, unalterably opposed to communism. Yet, it cautions that if civil liberties are expended too long they may be finally lost.”
Civil liberties are simply constitutional rights guaranteed people in this country under the Constitution. To deny constitutional rights to anyone, communist or otherwise, is to violate the Constitution, upon which our whole system of government rests. And that Constitution applies to everyone, whether he be communist, fascist, Republican or Democrat. When we begin denying such rights just a little bit to even a few people, we are opening the hole in the dike that can well loosen the whole structure. There are those in this country who would like to deprive unpopular groups and individuals of those rights. One person has gained a lot of notoriety (one could hardly call it fame) by branding people who choose to invoke their rights under the Fifth Amendment as, to use his choice phrase, “Fifth Amendment Communists.” Of such beginnings is the road to the very kind of dictatorship which we as a nation and a people oppose. Let us get it clear: We cannot save democracy from dictatorship by becoming dictatorial ourselves. And to say that we might, for even a little while, deny communists civil rights because they, if they were in power, would deny them to us, is to make ourselves no better than the very communists we oppose. Today it may be the communists to whom we deny such rights; tomorrow it is Jehovah’s Witnesses; the next day it may well be Baptists or Democrats. It is hoped that the Methodists will see this and answer before they adjourn the question they have asked but thus far have left up in the air.
John D. Rockefeller, Jr. has spared words but not money in a gift to United States Protestantism this week. He used just two sentences to donate $20 million worth of securities to strengthen and develop Protestant theological education in the United States. The money will be handled by the Sealantic Fund, a Rockefeller philanthropic fund set up 15 years ago.
The Cleveland chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews has voted to withdraw from the parent organization. The Cleveland group has long been feuding with the national organization because the parent society wanted to transfer the Cleveland area director, James Nobel. He is expected to be hired as director of the New Brotherhood group when it organizes as an independent unit on January 27. Nobel says that the new interfaith organization will be concerned with educating members individually in better human relations and then applying human relations principles in community projects.
Two famous Americans withdrew from religious activity this week; one by death, the other by retirement. Nearly 75 years ago, while a girl of 17, Miss Mary Virginia Merrick injured her back, and for the remainder of her life was an invalid. But this did not end her usefulness. She founded the Christ Child Society, which has sent thousands of crippled children from city slums to summer camps. Her own convalescent farm near Washington D.C. helped scores of young boys and girls to forget about polio and other crippling diseases and to leave their wheel chairs and to play as other children. Branches of this society she founded have been set up in 38 U.S. cities and one in The Hague, in Holland. Her work brought her many honors of the Catholic Church, of which she was a member. She died this week at the age of 88.
The other famous person who withdrew from active service by retirement was Bernard Bell, Canon of the Episcopal Church. For many years Dr. Bell has served on the campus of the University of Chicago as “Episcopal Representative,” an assignment that was part of his church’s policy of freeing one of its most distinguished writer-preachers from specific duties. At the university, his job was something of an unofficial chaplaincy to the university’s brightest brains, answering questions, enlivening bull sessions, and putting the things of the spirit in terms intellectuals were willing to listen to. His cant-hating, spade-calling honesty brought thousands of clergymen to his lectures, often to hear themselves taken apart. He went blind a year ago, and since then has written little, but one thing even a muffled bell could be counted on was to keep up his sharp talk. This week, when a visitor mentioned the so-called “current religious revival,” he snorted, “Religion has become a fad. There’s an awful lot of people joining the church, but what it means I don’t know. I’m not sure it means anything … it’s too easy to be in the church.”
In his retirement, Dr. Bell will still stay on at Chicago as consultant on Christian education, but it is largely an honorary title, given him, he says, “as a status in the church with no functions at all.”
The top inter-Protestant churchman in the U.S. hopes for a religious revival in this country as one result of military service in the post-Korean War period. The expressed wish comes from the Rev. Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, President of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. He has just returned from a 20,000-mile tour of U.S. military posts in Korea and elsewhere. Dr. Blake says the First World War gave churches a major setback. But he says that after World War II, seminary enrollments doubled, and many other trends became apparent that he describes as reflecting a new note of spiritual and moral interest. He emphasizes that in view of this resurgence of religious interest, churches must develop long-range religious programs that recognize most Americans today will see military service.
This reporter has no desire to add sour note at this point, and certainly under the present circumstances it would appear that such prolonged and indefinite military service is a probability. One cannot help but wonder though how long it will be until, if ever, organized religious forces in this country and others, take a definite, active, and positive stand in a drive for achieving a world order in which the probability of war will be much more remote than it is. The discouraging thing in the present instance is that most spokesmen for the churches, as does Dr. Blake, take it for granted that there is nothing we can do but accept the status quo projected into an indefinite future. There are many of us who do not share that viewpoint. People of religious beliefs, of whatever kind, have a responsibility to assert themselves in helping bring about the establishment and enforcement of law at the world level to replace the present anarchy among nations. When that is done, probabilities of military service on the part of uncounted generations of young men will be far more remote than it is today.
Another noted churchman returning from the Far East has a less hopeful appraisal of what he found there. Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York says he finds a smaller area of the Free World left each time he visits the Far East. He believes, too, the Asian mainland is a volcano that may erupt at any time. Cardinal Spellman terms the Philippines a bright spot in the Asiatic picture. He says the Filipinos are a people very grateful for the independence the U.S. helped them gain.
A unique experiment to determine the role of religion in coping with the problem of juvenile delinquency is underway at the Harvard Divinity School. For the first time a seminar in juvenile delinquency is being offered graduate students, directed by Dr. Richard V. McCann and an assistant. “In the course,” says Dr. McCann, “we talk about communication of religious values in the family, in the community, and in the individual. Juvenile delinquency is a symptom of the breakdown of this communication of religious values in the family.
“In studying the problem,” he added, “delinquency is looked upon as a symptom of an illness. We are trying to decide, among other things, just exactly who the patient is. Is it the individual delinquent, his family, or society? And where can the church help most effectively in preventing the illness?”
As a beginning point, the students are surveying the field to see what has been accomplished. As individuals later going into active ministerial work, they are gaining, it is hoped, an insight into and an understanding of the problem that will be valuable.
Already, Dr. McCann said, the students have found lack of love basic to the problem of juvenile delinquency. “Without intelligent, constructive love received from his parents,” the director said, “the child will grow up deprived of the thing he needs most.” This is something of a sad commentary upon his parents, for love is something that any parent can give his child, regardless of the socioeconomic status of the family.
On the local scene, East Tennessee State College has secured the cooperation of the University Christian Mission for its Religious Emphasis Week, which will begin January 30 and continue through February 4. This is a non-denominational program which will include classroom discussions as they relate to religion. There will be seminars and evening worship services. The roster of participating speakers include Dr. Gresham, president of Bethany College; Dr. Hunter Blakely, secretary of the Division of Higher Education of the Board of Christian Education of the Presbyterian Church; the Rev. Leon Sanbourne, pastor of the Union Church, Berea, Kentucky; and Dr. Travis White, president of Atlantic Christian College, Wilson, North Carolina. The college invites and welcomes the participation of the community in this week of religious activity. The dates, again, are January 30 through February 4.
In New York the highest court of the state has ruled 3-2 that a 12-year-old child is capable and has the right of selecting the religion of his choice. The suit grew out of the desire of a son of a Catholic father to attend a Christian Science Sunday school. Despite a premarital agreement that children would be reared in the Catholic faith, the court ruled that there was “ample evidence to support both the findings that the youngster was old enough to testify intelligently” and that “a child of 12 is competent to make a choice” of selecting his own religion. It is not sure yet whether there are any grounds upon which an appeal can or will be made to the United States Supreme Court in this matter.