From Dr. Harold Scott, pastor of the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City, comes a comment on preaching that makes sense. Dr. Scott says, “Once in a while I have to go to court to identify someone, testify that someone sustains a good or bad reputation, or was sane when he signed his will, or something else. I hear lawyers interrupt with ‘irrelevant, incompetent, and immaterial.’ Ain’t them gorgeous words? So often when I hear preaching, those words come to me. Sometimes when I preach and get off the subject running some minor thought down an alley, those words flash in my mind and get me back to my thesis in a hurry. Perhaps all preaching would be better if there were a competent person in the congregation who, when it was needed, would rise and thunder, ‘irrelevant, incompetent, and immaterial.”
One cannot help but wonder what would happen if some penetrating soul should attempt to give voice to just such comment outwardly for I am sure that many of us have done so inwardly. Ministers, perhaps even more than teachers, are unaccustomed to having what they say challenged, hence they go along uttering much that really is incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial, knowing that nobody is going to have the temerity to brand it as such, and those who need it most would be the first to attack such an affront not only as a personal attack but as sacrilege against something holy. And yet they, as well as we, should recognize that any preaching, indeed, any religion, that will not bear the most merciless scrutiny of one doing an honest analysis of its meaning is not worth much as a sermon nor as a religion. Religion and preaching have no place for that which is irrelevant, immaterial, and incompetent. And Dr. Scott has tossed us a thought well worth considering.
In another area there comes to our attention an indication of how sick our society is today. Chief Justice Warren made the comment that a group of state employees charged with responsibility for determining what announcements could be posted on the employee bulletin board refused to permit the Bill of Rights to be posted on the ground that it was a controversial document. Only after the governor in writing vouched for its non-controversial nature was the Bill of Rights permitted to occupy a place along with routine items of interest. And this happened in the U.S. on the 15th of December 1954, the 163rd anniversary of our Bill of Rights. It is straws in the wind like this which cause some thoughtful people to ask the question whether ratification of the Bill of Rights could be obtained today if we were faced squarely with the issue.
Some of you have doubtless wondered why some reference is made to that document on this program almost every week. The answer is simple: Every religion worthy of the name places emphasis upon the divine source of man’s creation; it stresses the innate worth of the individual as a creature of the deity; it contends that every man should have the right to worship as he pleases, to be free, to be permitted to speak his own thoughts without fear of penalty. All of these freedoms rest upon how seriously we take our basic guarantee of these freedoms, and that guarantee is the Bill of Rights. Have you read it lately? And of equal importance, do you follow the news to see wherein it is being observed and by whom it is being trampled upon? Every time we permit erosion of these basic freedoms, we narrow the base of our own enjoyment of those freedoms. Get it down, read it, then follow through with the news from day to day to see what is happening. It might possibly jar us out of our lethargy if we did.
It is a bit shocking in talking with people who are supposed to be well-educated to discover they are unaware of the stresses and strains of our national life. I have a notion it is because they do not read periodicals that deal with contemporary struggles. If anyone is to be alert to the onslaughts on our rights and liberties, and the plots for economic exploitation, he must make an effort. He cannot get much of it from his daily newspaper, or from many high-priced slick magazines. He can get some vital warnings, however, from some labor papers. He can get it also from reading magazines and newspapers that are committed to the American way of circumspect regard for our traditions and freedoms. People of religion need to be informed about such things more than any other.
Doubtless many of us take our ministers for granted. We assume that he has time, or should take time, to respond to our calls, our desires to seek his assistance, whether it be a sacred or secular matter. Probably the average minister, who is alive and to whom his parishioners looks for assistance, can appreciate the somewhat whimsical notice that one pastor tacked on his bulletin board. It went like this:
“Unless it is an emergency I wish you wouldn’t phone me until 10 a.m. I would like to shave without having to phone while the lather dries on one side of my face. Also cold coffee isn’t so hot if you know what I mean. I sort the mail at home and read what looks intriguing, that is, that looks as though it had money or a kick in it. I get over to the study at 10 a.m. I am available until 11 p.m., when I amble over to the manse, read the newspaper, and go to bed.
“Another thing, why when you have a message to me do you give it to my wife and tell her to tell me? I’m not hard to talk to or with. I’m jealous.
“Still another thing, on Saturday I’m sweating over my sermon. Please don’t call on me unless you have made an appointment.”
How many of you ministers listening in have a feeling of envy for the minister who dared do this? I dare say that most of you have felt the same way at times, and rightly so.
Poughkeepsie, New York: Twenty-two year old William Johnson is under court orders to attend church every Sunday for one year as a condition of his suspended sentence for 11 traffic violations. Johnson was also placed under probation for the year to a blind minister, the Rev. Delmar Cooper of the Dutch Reformed Church of New Hackensack, New York, Johnson’s hometown. Justice of the Peace George Dietz of the town of Poughkeepsie set the conditions in suspending a 30-day jail sentence for Johnson, who pleaded guilty to all charges.
It may be merely a schoolteacher’s slant to comment that while this may have some effect insofar as social conduct is concerned, it is highly doubtful as to whether it is of any religious virtue. Church affiliation and churchgoing should rest on some interest other than that of punishment for a civil offense. It smacks of our Puritan ancestors who placed people in the stocks for nonattendance at church as well as for other habits of conduct unapproved at the time. It would seem that we should have other and better scales and patterns of values than to look upon churchgoing as a form of punishment.
The task of preparing the nation’s Protestant Sunday school population of more than 30 million for responsible living as adult Christians will be the theme of a gathering in Cleveland this summer. The 23rd International Sunday School Convention, designed to provide information and inspiration to volunteer church workers, will be held July 27 – 31. Preparations for the meeting are well under way. Sponsoring groups are the National Council of Churches of Christ U.S.A. and the Canadian Council of Churches. Some 10,000 persons are expected to attend.
From a high Roman Catholic churchman comes a statement that is not new. In fact it is trite, but that does not detract from its validity. Archbishop Karl J. Alter of Cincinnati says a closer-knit family life, with more accent on religion is needed to meet the problem of the broken home and its consequent effect upon juvenile delinquency. The archbishop’s comments were made at a sermon at the High Mass opening the 23rd Annual Welfare Conference in St. Paul. He goes on to observe that millions of dollars have been and are being spent on child guidance clinics and other social centers. Yet the ratio of juvenile delinquency has risen 45 percent in the last five years.
The archbishop is exactly right, and this reporter cannot help but wonder when we as a people are going to awaken to this fact. Proposed remedies consist merely of more and more appropriations of money, more social workers, more diagnostic clinics, and more probation services.
Obviously such things are necessary in our present state, but they are palliatives, rather than real cures, somewhat like taking an aspirin for a headache, they do not remove the cause. Little is being done to remove the cause. It is in the homes of the nation that loyalty and integrity and devotion to the truth can first and best be taught to the young. Such ethical and spiritual qualities in individual Americans are fundamental to our continued progress as a nation.
Here in our own area, newspapers have recently carried considerable news about meetings of people conferring on juvenile delinquency. Emphasis has been laid on needs for more money for more facilities. I do not recall seeing anything about a program to arouse families to action, to stimulate better home conditions that will strike at the root of a social and personal problem of vital importance to all of us as individuals and as a nation.
A Seventh Day Adventist church leader says permission has been obtained to publish Bibles in Russia for the first time in 28 years. Vice President H.L. Rudy of the Adventists General Conference says the Russians agreed recently to ease Bible printing restrictions. He adds that 100,000 Adventists in Russia have also been granted permission to print religious literature.
The oldest retired Methodist Church missionary died this week. She was Mrs. Elizabeth Brewster, 93 years old, of Cincinnati. For 66 years she was a missionary in China and was known to thousands of Chinese. She went to China as a missionary at the age of 22, married another missionary there, and took over his duties as district superintendent when he died in 1916. She wrote many religious and school texts in Chinese. Three of her four sons and her two daughters are missionaries.