In a recently published report entitled America’s Needs and Resources: A New Survey, the Twentieth Century Fund points out that although the people of this country are probably offered a wider choice of religious worship in both form and substance than in any other country in the world, nearly three-fourths of the churches and almost 90 percent of church members are attached to the 19 largest denominations. On the other hand, about 200 denominations have only about 2 percent of the church members. Official statisticians of the various religious bodies reported nearly 286,000 local churches or congregations in 1950, compared with 244,000 in 1940. Total membership of the more than 250 religious bodies of the United States amounted to 86.8 million in 1950 and 64.5 million in 1940, a gain of over 22 million during the war decade. The previous decade added only about 5 million to church rolls. In 1952 over 92 million persons were reported to be church members. About 49 percent of the total population were church members in 1949, and about 59 percent in 1952. This latest gain was unusually large, although the long-term membership trend has been upward.
One curious note in the news states, “Pacifists are eager to pacify the world because of their own inner conflicts.” This is a startling statement, for when analyzed, it would indicate the so-called psychologist who is talking, implies that persons with no inner conflicts want people to kill and be killed. I wonder how silly some people can get.
An item on an old subject, but a very important one, came to my attention this week in an exchange dispatch quoting the late President Albert Palmer of the Chicago Theological School on the matter of importance of church attendance. It goes like this:
“Going to church, like going to meals, is a good habit. Spiritual nourishment is as necessary as physical. And there are various ways to get spiritual nourishment. One can wait until tragedy overwhelms him and then reach out blindly for help and comfort. One can browse around, taking in all the religions, sampling all the cults, accepting no responsibility anywhere. But the best way is to go regularly to church, enter heartily into the service, join up, make a subscription, pay attention to the sermon, shake hands with many before you leave, talk it over around the dinner table, and think about it before you go to sleep. Do that regularly, week after week, and you will not suffer from spiritual anemia.”
A sage observation from a correspondent says that “The older I become the more it is pressed on me that the greatest of the personality graces is simple kindness. It is really the summit of personality growth.” No thinking person could, apparently, argue with this.
At their meeting in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, this week, the United Lutheran Church condemned enforced racial segregation, but rejected outright endorsement of the Supreme Court decision outlawing it in the public school. In a somewhat hectic session, the church’s biennial convention voted down a proposed declaration that the court ruling is in harmony with Christian convictions. That portion was stricken from a statement urging church congregations to take the lead in demonstrating the possibility of integration. But this watering down of the church’s stand was by no means unanimous. The Rev. Paul L. Roth, of Kenosha, Wisconsin, declared it “a weak and ineffective statement.” Southern members understandably took a more comforting view. For example, the Rev. Frank Efird of Salisbury, North Carolina, called it “courageous, Christian, and consistent, and one that won’t divide our people.”
There are many kinds of courage. Perhaps many of us associate courage with war and bloodshed. But another of these many kinds of courage is not physical at all, but moral: the kind of courage that some men in high political office exhibit, when, for the sake of their convictions, they hazard their whole future. In his exhilarating book, a best seller, entitled Profiles in Courage, Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts tells the story of eight U.S. senators who were men of this kind. The national interest, he states, rather than private political gain, furnished the basic motivation of their careers. John Quincy Adams’ Puritan conscience would not permit him to take a purely partisan stand on any public question. His resultant unfortunately caused him to develop a morbid feeling that his whole life had been a failure. Daniel Webster tossed aside his chance to become president in order to stand unswervingly for the preservation of national unity. Thomas Hart Benton’s opposition to slavery brought down upon his head and avalanche of censure from Missouri. Sam Houston suffered a like fate and for the same reason at the hands of his fellow Texans. Their story was different from those of Kansas’ Edmund G. Ross and Mississippi’s L. Q. C. Lamar. Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio paid a heavy penalty of abuse for working to get a stay of execution for the 11 war criminals condemned to death in the Nuremberg Trials. The stories of these, and others are the heroes with whom Kennedy deals. It is unfortunate that the very closeness of the men and the events concerning them are so close to us that we fail to see clearly the elements of their moral courage until long after; instead we become emotional at the time and it is only until time and the dissipation of emotional coloring are gone that we can give our men of moral courage the admiration their actions merit.
All, or virtually all, of us, whether of religious bent or not, are interested in the achievement of peace, peace of the real kind. This interest and concern cut across and transcend the fortunes of any political party or political figure. Furthermore, it is recognized that the ideal world would be one in which peace were achieved because all men were of good will. But humanity is far from ideal, and in such a world, peace can be achieved only through the development of channels by and through which those who would promote war, consciously or unconsciously, will be repressed by the overwhelming desire of the many.
Within the past week we have seen something of a curious and somewhat confused exchange of ideas on the steps we should take toward achieving peace. One presidential candidate has proposed a step-by-step suggestion that we seek at any level necessary to bring about a halt to further experiment with H-bomb testing. His argument is that we already have such bombs so strong and destructive that our present state of transport will not permit us to deliver them anywhere we might choose. He further contends that means of detection of nuclear explosions have become so sensitive that it would be impossible for a violator of any no-experiment agreement to violate that agreement secretly. So, in the interest of humanity and its protection from H-bomb fallout, in the interest of indicating our willingness to display leadership in a movement toward peace, he believes that such a course would have a profound effect upon the race toward destruction, without at the same time doing any violence to our security.
Opponents of this, without thus far analyzing the merits of his proposal as carefully as he set them forth, attack his suggestions as “political folly,” as a wild and irresponsible proposal of a politician overcome with ambition. Consequently their reply is to try to submerge the whole discussion by wrapping their opposition in the cloak of that magic word “security.”
Now, nobody knows whether Stevenson’s proposed moratorium on H-bomb testing would bring about the desired results or not. From what we the public know, our Iron Curtain censorship on such things being what it is, we cannot determine whether such a move would endanger our national security or not. But since when has it become undesirable that such a topic be excluded from discussion by public figures in a campaign where the stake of all of us is greater than the failure or fortune of a political candidate or party? What we do know is that a stalemate has existed for some time now on any suggestions or progress toward halting this mad race toward destruction. Only the United States is in a position to offer real initiative, and from a position of strength, toward leadership of the free world in its desire to find peace. So, it would seem that public discussion of such a vital issue, far from being discouraged, should be explored in its entirety, for where there is no vision, the people perish.