Some weeks ago I reported on the situation in Louisiana, where the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese ordered an end to segregation in parochial schools. And where prominent Catholics in the legislature who disagreed with this order announced their intention of going ahead with legislation that would have as its objective prohibition of mixing races in such schools. This past week, in New Orleans, Emile F. Wagner, Jr., president of the Association of Catholic Laymen, organized to fight desegregation, announced that under the pressure of the threat of excommunication, his organization was, temporarily at least, ceasing its activities. However, the organization plans to send an appeal to the pope to step in and straighten matters out, for, as Wagner sees it, Catholics are “greatly alarmed at the casual way the matter of excommunication and mortal sin has been bandied about,” and, he goes on, “We greatly fear this has caused great confusion among Catholics.”
And while on the subject of integration, it is reported that the Alabama Congress of Parents and Teachers adopted recently a resolution declaring, in part, “We will not concur in or be bound by any policies or statements of the national PTA favoring anything other than separate schools.” This resolution followed speculation that the state group might secede from the national congress. Some local PTA groups in the state had been reported considering such action in protest against of the national organization’s 1954 policy statement. Well, it would appear as if the school administrators, political demagogues, and racial bigots have pretty well under control the voting strength of local PTA groups. Of course these local groups have every right to secede from the national organization if they wish, but it would appear about as sensible as cutting off one’s head to cure a toothache. On the other hand comes the heartening news that another Southern, or border state, Oklahoma, has closed 23 more all-Negro schools and is stepping up the integration process.
In the thinking of many people today, the frontier of religion is not so much in the field of theology as it is in ethics. Not so much an abstract rationalization of what seems to be right, but a matter of practice of what, in the light of human experience, has proved to be best. To many people, also, psychology, sociology, and the other social sciences are a threat to ethical standards and practices. To others, these fields are a challenge to men to establish a higher order of ethics than any than have heretofore existed. Are these two points of view poles apart? Not necessarily. Both protagonists desire improvement, but one would proceed on a pragmatic basis, while it seems not unfair to say that the other insists that its basis be dogmatic. I certainly have no crystal ball, but I may hazard a guess that in the long run it is the former that will win out.
The cartoonist Herblock, of the Washington Post, and syndicated in numerous other newspapers, says of McCarthyism that “The sickness is still with us, and even if his song of hate is ended, the malady lingers on.” And, I might add, a la [Senator] Eastland, for example.
One item from a church paper came across my desk this week that seems worth passing on. It says that some parents insist on biblical instruction for their children but are themselves too unfamiliar with the contents of the Bible to know the values it contains for education purposes, or the appropriate ages for the appropriation of these values. We have not, it goes on, yet fully appreciated the necessity (if we are to make a liberal view of religion available to our children) that leaders in the education program themselves must be persons with liberal attitudes. The teacher is still the most important equipment in the education of the child. Children do not gather grapes from thistles. The minister spends more time and patience than he can well afford in order to correct among his adult members the mistaken notions they were formerly taught in church school. Is this true? Of your minister and your church school?
In its quadrennial conference that ended in Minneapolis this week, the Methodist Church adopted some far-reaching policies that surprised some of its own members, including this reporter. In its 13 days of sessions, among the major actions it took were:
1. Adopted procedures permitting integration of the Church’s racially segregated administrative structure. (And this was long overdue);
2. Extended full clergy rights to women, who had had only limited rights previously;
3. Allotted $1 million to establish a school for the training of diplomats and other Foreign Service personnel. As far as I know this is the first undertaking of its kind by a religious denomination. The school will be set up in Washington;
4. Decided to establish two new theological seminaries and to expand the facilities of 10 others in order to meet the problem of an under-supply of ministers;
5. Set up machinery to raise an additional $48 million to strengthen the church-related colleges during the next four years;
6. Decided to broaden its program of stimulating work of local churches in their social and religious influences in their home communities;
7. Condemned legalized liquor as a spreading menace to the welfare of Americans;
8. Gave official sanction to birth control;
9. Increased its missionary budget by some $19 million;
10. Adopted a strong resolution opposing any government laws requiring loyalty oaths from churches.
A moment ago I referred to the matter of dogmatism. A certain denominational laymen’s group has put out a folder saying that you are not a Christian unless you believe that:
1. God made the world and man;
2. Man turned away from God and this is the original sin;
3. Jesus was not a philosopher or healer but the Son of God;
4. The Holy Ghost is not a phantom but a real source of strength and power.
Well, it is not for this reporter to say which of these is true or not, or whether all of them are. It seems pertinent however, to point out the peculiar technique employed here. It is to decide what you want to believe, say this is Christianity, and then go on to say that those who do not believe these things are not Christian. This is bigotry.
Now the truth is that Christianity did not come into an empty world. At the time of Jesus and Paul there were as many religions in the Mediterranean basin as there are today in Los Angeles, or perhaps in Johnson City. Christianity was born in controversy and has been in controversy ever since. There never has been a revelation delivered once and for all to the believers. Each of many denominations claims its religion is revelation. Christianity is a culture that includes a collection of related religions. We here in the Western world cannot escape history. In a broad cultural sense we are Christians, not Buddhists or Moslems. But if by “Christian” one means acceptance of one of the orthodoxies of the past to exclusion of consideration of all others, we are ignoring stubborn historical facts. When someone bobs up and says you are not a Christian because you do not believe exactly as he does, it might be well to pin him down to a definition.
The call to the ministry should get an impetus form three recent graduates of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. All were varsity baseball players. One is the Rev. Thomas Foster, vicar of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Atonement in Fairlawn, New Jersey. Another is James Waring, in his second year at the Episcopal Church’s General Theological Seminary in New York City. The third is William Eastman, who is in his first year of study for the Congregational ministry at the Yale Divinity School, New Haven, Connecticut. Along with these three, the Rutgers coach has also helped promote the idea that athletes can be churchgoers and more. The coach stated that some kids are actually ashamed to attend church because they are afraid someone will accuse them of being soft. The coach goes on to describe Foster, Waring, and Eastman as perfect examples of great athletic competitors who were deeply religious.
Kentucky’s Governor Chandler thinks his state administration has been pretty successful in reestablishing what he terms “a religious atmosphere” in Frankfort, the state capital. Those words were part of Chandler’s welcoming remarks to the 3,000 delegates to the 1956 North American Christian Convention in Louisville this past midweek. The convention is an inspirational meeting of church members from 26 states – an assembly that transacts no business. Individually, of course, they are voters. This reporter cannot help but be somewhat skeptical, perhaps even cynical, about political leaders of any party in this country who parade the idea that their administration has created a religious atmosphere in government. Government workers’ main responsibility is to do a good job in their positions, and if they pursue it with religious conviction, so much the better, but let us keep church and state separate. Many of us are getting pretty tired of public officials using religious atmosphere to give flavor to administrative policies that may or may not be wise from the standpoint of public welfare.
The Jewish Service Organization, B’nai B’rith, has called for creation of what it terms an “experimental international group” that would act consultatively on world Jewish problems. The organization reelected President Philip Klutznick of Chicago. Three objectives were outlined for the proposed international group:
1. To act on world Jewish problems when advisable;
2. To coordinate action taken by affiliated groups;
3. To make clear its stand on what it termed “sectarian religious indoctrination in public schools.” (To which, it is somewhat superfluous to say, it is opposed, and understandably so.)
Washington: Experts on Soviet policy say Russia’s new leaders are doing everything possible to give foreigners the idea that religious freedom exists in Russia. The experts say the Kremlin’s attitude toward religion has not actually changed – that it still follows the thinking of Lenin, who called religion “the opiate of the people.” Since the death of Stalin, they say, a small number of new Bibles have been authorized for distribution, and a few famous churches have been repaired and redecorated. But, they say, religious instruction of children and youth within the church is still banned.
Elgin, Illinois: The Illinois Conference of Congregational Christian Churches has called on its 90,000 church members to try by prayer and deed to keep the intercontinental ballistic missile from every being used. The council adopted unanimously a resolution calling this missile the most urgent threat to the peace of the world. Well, there is nothing wrong with such resolutions, but it is difficult to see what influence this may have on nations who choose to use it. Perhaps this action falls into the “useless motions” category. There is a way to stop use of such missiles, but not by passing resolutions saying these missiles are dangerous. That we already know.