All of us have watched with mounting concern – interspersed occasionally with brief moments of optimism – the increasingly tense Suez Canal matter. Very obviously, it has been and is, a good example of how unrealistic our approach to effectively handle matters involving the interests of two or more nations in today’s shrunken world. Not all the facts have been given to the people of the U.S., or to the world, for that matter. For example, our own “Secretary of Statements” [John Foster Dulles] has not made clear why in the first place we promised funds to help build the Aswan Dam, then later reneged on that promise. We have glibly been led to assume – partly by actual name-calling, that Nasser is another Hitler, which he may well be, but calling him such does not help solve the problem; it well may intensify it. Nasser may be just a political opportunist responding to the well-known rising Egyptian nationalism so characteristic of countries which have recently won their independence.
But, we approach the matter with bluster and threat of military force. When that fails to scare the other side, we resort to the time-worn, and worn-out method of getting a conference of interested powers, hoping by a show of over-balance of power to cow the other side into agreement. Then when that fails to work, we try a so-called “Canal-Users’ Association.” Now that does not seem any more palatable to the Egyptians. In the process, we hire expert canal pilots to walk off the job, hoping to control the situation indirectly by breaking down effective operation of the canal; this, apparently, giving Russian and other communist countries opportunity to step in and fill the vacuum caused by our own ineptness and questionable tactics.
At long last, the protagonists and antagonists have been forced to seek – regrettably as a last resort – turning the matter over to the United Nations, where it should have gone in the first place. What will happen there is anybody’s guess. Our own government has been reluctant to have it taken there, though it does not tell us for what reason. The nearest hint we’ve been given is that Russia may block any positive action toward a solution by the exercise of the veto in the Security Council. And this may well be true. On the other hand, the U.N. was set up to handle just such matters as this. It was set up because we recognized, but did not meet, the need for establishing an international organization to deal with matters that could not safely be left in the hands of individual nations. And, if that organization is inadequate, the solution is not to by-pass it every time we think we may not get exactly our own way, but to profit by revealed inadequacies in the organization, and proceed to remedy them by amendments to the U.N. charter. What we, along with other nations, apparently want is to eat our cake and have it too, i.e., to have an international body to settle international disputes, but at the same time retain the right of national sovereignty, or the right to have our own way every time. All history should prove that this simply cannot be done.
Moreover, if the Security Council reaches a stalemate, there is always the possibility of calling the General Assembly into action. This was done once before in a critical international situation, and it worked. What are we afraid of? Why not try this again if necessary? All Americans are interested in the maintenance of peace. We are simply not going to get it by following the same paths of diplomatic double talk and finagling that have brought us to nothing but recurrent wars in the past. Christ came to bring to earth peace to men of good will. But good will is something that must be demonstrated by all concerned, and so far there has been a lamentable lack of it on both sides. This is a situation that calls for statesmanship with international convictions and viewpoints, and there are no statements of any kind on the present horizon. And yet, those in positions of power are wielding that power in such a way that well could bring, not a little war, for there is no such in today’s world, but a war that could explode throughout not only the Middle East but throughout the world. It is very urgent that men of good will in private life let those in public office know that there can be peace without appeasement, but that it is hardly likely to come about until and unless we approach this 20th century problem in a 20th century manner.
It is somewhat refreshing to turn from a moment of reflection on a world problem that is so pregnant with possibilities of strife to come of the results of another world group, this time of churchmen from some 44 nations who have been meeting in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, for the past 10 days and now have themselves been taking an inventory of world problems and their concern as church men about them. This past week the representatives of 18 million Methodists pledged themselves to work toward a human society in which discrimination based on race or color no longer exists. A message adopted at the end of the World Methodist Conference called for an end to race discrimination and production of nuclear weapons. The 2,000 delegates heard a summary of the conference findings presented by Bishop Corson of Philadelphia who emphasized the following points:
- The Bible is the main guide for the conduct of individuals and institutions.
- Man’s first responsibility for obedience is to God; his second, to the state. They, i.e., the delegates, affirmed that the state serves man best as his tool, not his master. And this is interesting, considering the widely different kinds of governments prevailing in the countries from which the delegates come;
- Our practice in race relations falls far short of our precepts and principles;
- There is no real conflict between science and religion. Science is to be embraced as a means of enabling man to live a more understanding and appreciative existence.*
- Religious illiteracy is one of the most serious handicaps of Protestants.
*Delegates said the truths of science have often been spurned by the churches as a tool of the devil, when in actuality they are the key to a fuller understanding of God’s handiwork, and the building of his kingdom.
In a sort of man-bites-dog movement, the delegates came out and complained that too much speech making characterized this, as well as other church conferences. That by the time the speeches were over the delegates were too tired to have much energy and enthusiasm for attacking the real work of the conference. They urged that in the future, instead of being worn out by long-winded speeches, more time be given to practical group discussions. This is a sentiment that could well be applied, not only to meetings of church groups but also to teachers meetings, clubs, and other organizational get-togethers.
On the theme of the political duty of the Christian, Dr. Charles Allen of Atlanta, this week observed that while the Christian layman should in no sense avoid political thought and activity, at the same time he refuses to let his church pulpit become the sounding board for partisan politics. Parts of his comments seem worth repeating here. He says:
“I think thoughtful persons sincerely resent (the) narrow partisans who somehow think that God fights on their side or who feel that their party has a priority on godliness. No blustering political argument, however heated, will ever make God into a hard wheeler of one party or another.”
But, he goes on,
“A study indicates that Christian laymen have often avoided active political responsibility… The preachers themselves apparently avoid the ballot box as they would a plague, for the percentage of ministers who actually vote is not impressive. There may be various explanations for this. Perhaps ministers wish to remain neutral … so as not to offend a parishioner. But his ballot is secret … whatever his reasons, the minister who doesn’t vote is a poor citizen, however noble his spiritual life may be. What I say about the preacher is equally true of the Christian layman.”
At this point, Dr. Allen summarizes by himself quoting from a book entitled Politics for Christians, where he says:
“The best Christian thought has never been willing to exclude any care of life from the formulations of theology. Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Calvin all related the demands of the Christian faith to both the theory and practice of politics. If what they have to say on the subject seems remote from what we know as politics today, this reflects the changes in the political process even more than any change in the relevance of theology.”
It is the thesis of this reporter that while one might conceivably be a Christian without voting, he can be a better one by doing so in a manner that reflects his dedication to the cause of human betterment.
Washington: Some 3 million public school children have been enrolled this fall for weekday religious courses. Church officials say the courses are being offered in 3,000 communities in 45 states on a so-called “released time” basis. Children are given time away from public school during school hours to attend religious classes. The enrollment is the largest in the history of the released time program.
Now, it is easy to be misunderstood in the matter of opposition to released time. However, the courts have made it very clear that ours is a system of separation of church and state. It is difficult to see how legally the school authorities can square such released time with the clear intent and spirit of court decisions from the highest court in the land. Some years ago I chided a priest friend of mine with the comment that he couldn’t attract and hold children because of the impelling nature of his message, so he reverted to reliance on the state with its compulsory attendance laws to provide him with guinea pigs on which to operate during the school year. He, good-naturedly, agreed that there was considerable truth in this. The more religion, any religion, relies upon the state to bolster its cause, to that extent it admits the weakness of its appeal and the futility of its mission.
Castel Gandolfo, Italy: Pope Pius has told doctors they are under a double veto, moral and legal, in the matters of euthanasia, abortion, and contraceptional practices. The pope’s views were submitted in a 5,000-word message to the International Congress of Catholic Doctors meeting at the Hague, Holland. He said medical law could never sanction such practices as euthanasia, abortion, or contraceptives because medical law is subordinated to medical morality, which expresses the moral order. The moral order, he says, is clear on this point. The speech is considered the most important the pope has made on medical topics in many years.
Millions of Jews the world over observed Yom Kippur during the last week, i.e., the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish religious calendar. Yom Kippur began at sundown Friday and ended at sundown Saturday. It is a day of fasting, abstention and prayer, and finds Jews examining their deeds of the past year and seeking forgiveness for their sins.
For the first time in history church membership in the U.S. has exceeded the 100 million mark. That is nearly two out of every three persons in the country. The National Council of Churches says the total membership includes nearly 58.5 million Protestants, more than 33 million Catholics, and over 5 million persons of the Jewish faith. Eastern Orthodox churches have over 2 million members, while Buddhists and Moslems total nearly 100,000. Translating these figures into percentages, the report states that almost 61 percent of Americans belong to churches, the highest on record.
In the not-too-distant future, a delegation of U.S. Christian youth may visit Russia to exchange views with church young people in the Soviet Union. The proposal for such an exchange of visits between youth of the two countries was made recently by the nation’s Protestant youth organizations at Williams Bay, Wisconsin. The representatives said one purpose of such a trip would be to learn what Christian youth and students in Russia are doing to manifest their beliefs in Christianity.