A rather impressive picture can be gleaned from between the lines of a brief and somewhat matter-of-fact report of the missionary reports and accomplishments of the women’s organizations of two major Protestant denominations in this country. Some half-million members of the National Council of Presbyterian Women have raised $11 million for missionary work in the four years since the last council meeting. The report goes on to reveal that 1.7 million members of the Methodist Women’s Society for Christian Service have pledged $7 million for the coming year alone.
In the report, these are simply cold and abstract statistics, but when the activities these sums support are translated into human terms, the results become warm, vibrant, and suffused with the highest ideals of Christian service. Quite naturally, the primary emphasis in expenditure of these funds is support of missionaries and evangelists who spread the gospel of Christianity to many peoples everywhere. But, in addition to this, these funds are used to support teachers who take literacy and better understanding to peoples less fortunate than we; to send or subsidize doctors who respond to physical and community needs for better health and sanitation practices; to pay carpenters and others who erect houses of worship; to build hospitals; to conduct Sunday schools, pay nurses, and other Christian workers who, each in his own way, contribute much to the improvement of levels of living, spiritual, mental and physical of peoples sadly in need of such aid.
All of this is in the finest traditions and teachings of Christianity in healing the sick, comforting the afflicted. And it is literal compliance with the injunction of Him, who said, “Go ye, therefore, into all the world ….” That is exactly what the persons supported by these women’s organizations are doing.
While we are thinking in world terms in connection with missions, it seems appropriate here to pause and consider the important role that the United States has played this summer as host to international meetings of many religious groups, groups that represent perhaps the widest cross-section of Christianity that ever visited any country in a like period of time. During the month of August alone, no fewer than four major Protestant groups held meetings of international importance within this country.
First, in order of time, was the Conference of World Presbyterian Alliance at Princeton, New Jersey, July 24 – August 5. Sixty-six member groups from 46 countries were represented. This conference took strong positions in favor of an “open door” membership policy regardless of race, nationality, class, or color, and it urged its member churches to intensify their efforts to effect a closer fellowship and unity among its various units.
The International Council of Christian Churches met near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from August 3 – August 12. This gathering comprised some 54 fundamentalist denominations in 30 nations. It took positions opposed to the apparent ecumenical trend in religious groups, and emphasized its belief in separate councils, especially in the matter of missions.
A third group, the Third Anglican Congress, met in Minneapolis, August 4 – 13. Fourteen national member churches were represented, the American member being the Protestant Episcopal Church. This congress adopted strong anti-communist resolutions, calling upon its member groups to oppose the challenge of Marxian theory. It urged them also to be fearless witnesses against economic, social, and political injustice wherever such may exist or be found. It expressed its willingness to accept people of any race at its services, but relaxed the effectiveness, perhaps, of this stand by emphasizing that this policy of pan-radical acceptance was not necessarily binding upon individual units of the organization.
The fourth of these meetings, and from the standpoint of peoples represented, the largest, was the Assembly of the World Council of Churches, which convened in Evanston, Illinois, August 15 – August 31. The tasks facing such an ambitious undertaking were vast, and in the light of these, its accomplishments certainly were not inconsiderable. Some have praised highly these accomplishments; others have been highly critical of them. Whatever one’s attitude toward the assembly itself, it is difficult to see how religious people of any Christian faith can take exception to at least one of its pronouncements, that which appeals “to all members of all churches to unite in a common reconciliation in proclaiming Christ as the hope of the world, in intercession for one another, and in mutual service.” The council went on to call upon “Christians everywhere to join in prayer…. That [God] will guide the governments and the peoples in the ways of Justice and Peace.” Another action of this assembly was to adopt a resolution that condemned the use of atomic and hydrogen bombs and opposed aggression by any nation at any time.
This is National Nurse Week, the first time in our history that this week has been observed throughout the nation by proclamation of the president and the Congress. It is an especially appropriate “first” for 1954, since this is the centenary of the work of Florence Nightingale in Crimea, regarded as the founder of modern methods of nursing, she embarked in a pioneer movement to bring high standards of nursing to the sick and wounded of the British army, the first time that women served in a military hospital. Due to her efforts, the death rate from wounded in that war was reduced from an alarming high to less than two percent. Her work thus set high standards for nursing, and the profession has honored her ever since. So it is particularly fitting that this week we celebrate a century of amazing progress in professional nursing.
No nurse enters her profession under the delusion that by so doing she assures herself of making a fortune. Relatively speaking, in this country, compensation for nursing service ranks relatively high, but over and beyond this financial consideration, in the career of any successful nurse is the ideal and desire to minister to the needs of people in distress, and there can be no higher aspiration than this.
All of these things regarding the nurse we take for granted in our country, but perhaps we do not often stop to think and to inform ourselves of the crying need throughout the world for these services which we regard as commonplace. Something of the disparity between our own high standards of medical care and nursing can be seen in the experience of one public health nurse who has just returned from the kingdom of Jordan, an area of the earth that has articular significance to the Christian religion. An Associated Press dispatch recounts that this nurse was sent to that country two years ago on a loan assignment by our own federal security agency. Ostensibly, her duties were to work with other public health nurses there in expending nursing services, especially in rural areas. But when she arrived, she found that there were practically no nurses at all in the American sense of the word. So, she proceeded to set up a school of nursing. Many of the better parents of Jordania refused to let their daughters attend this school, for nursing as an occupation is not held in very high esteem in that country. Moreover, hospitals were either inadequate or nonexistent, and if one wanted hot water, even in a hospital, the only way to get it was to boil it. Even such trained nurses as there were received a beginning salary of only about $15 a month, while the best an expert supervisor could top to reach was an income of $65. Infant mortality rates were and are appallingly high, and nobody seems alarmed about them. Female babies are considered of practically no value at all.
These are merely a few glimpses of the situation in only one country, and unfortunately there are many other areas of the world where just such conditions are the rule rather than the exception. It is easy to be pessimistic and difficult to be patient in considering problems such as this. We look at the millions of people throughout the world so badly in need of the most elementary knowledge and services to improve their conditions of existence, and then we look at the diplomats quibbling over such things as niceties of protocol, procedure, and legal technicalities that may have some importance, but in themselves do little to alleviate the condition of sick and hungry people. And sometimes this quibbling deteriorates into war and the lives of millions of people are lost, and all the time there are mirrored before us such pictures of stark human ignorance, suffering, and squalor as exist in Jordania.
This ignorance and poverty present a challenge to men of good will of all religions everywhere. It is a world problem and must be attacked by a worldwide program. It is a responsibility of nations, churches, and individuals. Perhaps it is the teachers, the doctors, the nurses, and other technicians who are doing more to solve the problem of human improvement than the diplomats. Nurses rarely make the headlines, but as individuals they go unobtrusively about their work attacking these evils that beset mankind. Hence, it is a pleasure for “Religion in the News” to salute these women of courage and devotion to the betterment of human living.
Out of the Middle East comes our next item, and it is a rather unusual story of a pilgrimage of one man, a pilgrimage both geographical and spiritual, an obviously earnest quest for a satisfactory answer to the eternal question of the spiritual meaning of life. It begins in Europe with one Leopold Weiss, a German Jew, son of a well-to-do family. He had studied art and philosophy. After World War I, he traveled throughout Europe, turning at various times to the writing of newspaper materials and movie scripts.
But throughout it all there was the search for inner, spiritual satisfaction which he had not found. He journeyed to Jerusalem, where he talked long and earnestly with the great Zionist pioneer, Chaim Weizmann. Not being satisfied with Judaism, he next considered Christianity, which he believed was superior to his Jewish faith because it did not restrict God’s concern to any one group of people. But Christianity to him lacked one important essential: It’s program of action in practical affairs did not square with its professions in the world of faith. Nor could he subscribe to the idea of original sin, which is a tenet of some Christian faiths. He believed, instead, that man was created pure in the image of the deity, and that sin is a lapse from this perfect, innate, positive quality.
He next studied the Moslem faith, and finally embraced it, seeing in it, in his own words, that “the absence of all priesthood, clergy, and even of an organized church makes every Moslem feel that he is truly sharing in, and not merely attending, a common act of worship.” So today, Leopold Weiss has become Muhammad Asad, a Pakistani Moslem among the 315 million Mohammedans that make up the membership of that faith.
Now perhaps we of the Western and Christian world may think this item of little importance, and within itself, it admittedly is. Perhaps also we 787 million of the Christian world rarely think of the Moslems who follow Muhammad and at the same time revere Jesus as a great spiritual leader. But we need to know about them, for what they think and do in the years ahead will doubtless make a lot of difference to us here in the West. Rarely does a day pass that the newspapers do not carry some news of trouble in the East, that portion of the world where the center of the Moslem faith is located, and not infrequently, this trouble is in fused with religious differences that must be reconciled if peace is to prevail. Asad interprets much of this Islamic religion in his autobiography entitled The Road to Mecca, which doubtless is or can be made available through your own bookstore or at your library.
The Ninth General Assembly of the United Nations is now in session in New York. Regardless of individual or organizational point-of-view toward the United Nations, this assembly is considering and possibly may take actions on matters of human import that are significant to peoples of all the world, and regardless of religious or non-religious affiliation. Among the many topics that will be considered is the fact that during this era of political tensions, the ranks of the homeless and dispossessed are continuously swelled by a never-ending stream of victims. A report from the High Commissioner for Refugees will be presented, with special reference to the Palestine refugee program and the problem of rehabilitation of devastated Korea.
In two areas alone, Europe and the Middle East, there is an estimated number of 800,000 persons who are literally without a country. What to do with them is a question involving human values of the highest order.
Again, coming before the Assembly this year is the report of the Commission on Human Rights, dealing with such problems as freedom of information, forced labor, and racial policies of the Union of South Africa.
There is time for merest mention of only one other major topic of consideration this morning, namely the problem of dependent peoples, those areas all over the world where peoples are living under governments not of their own free choice. We know how restive were the Jews under the Romans at the time of Christ, and how persecutions were the order of the day. In many cases, especially behind the Iron Curtain, they are still the order of the day, and it is a problem about which religious people of all faiths should be informed and concerned.
A final item this morning is one whose importance cannot be over stressed at this time. On November 2, citizens of this country will have an opportunity to go out and cast ballots for candidates of their choice. This is not only an opportunity; it is also an obligation. Religious people more than any other have an especial obligation in this respect, for they have more to gain by maintaining their freedom through good government, and our government will remain good and free only so long as those who want it exercise their privilege of the ballot wisely and seriously.
Last week thousands of the members of the Church of Latter Day Saints met at Salt Lake City for the 125th Semi-Annual Conference of the Mormon Church. Our Secretary of Agriculture, Ezra Taft Benson, himself a member of that church’s governing body, enjoined his hearers with words that cannot be improved upon on this subject when he said: “Regardless of the party you are affiliated with, you remember the standard the God of Heaven has given and use your influence to help safeguard the country and see that honest, good and wise men are elected to public office.”