First, a potpourri of religion in the week’s news as reported by United and Associated Press services.
A 12-day World Methodist Conference opened yesterday at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. Delegates and visitors from 70 nations are attending. The conference is sponsored by the World Methodist Council which represents about 18 million Methodists. Bishop Ivan Lee Holt, of St. Louis, the council president, calls this conference the biggest international gathering of Methodists ever held. The World Conference itself was organized in 1881 and last met in the United States in 1947. It is not expected to meet again in this country for some 15 or 20 years.
From Washington it is announced that Pope Pius has relocated ecclesiastical boundaries and established two new dioceses in Missouri. The dioceses of Kansas City and St. Joseph have been united under archbishop of Kansas City, Edwin V. O’Hara. Former bishop of St. Joseph, the Most Rev. Charles H. Blond has been transferred to a new titular see. A new Diocese of Jefferson City was established with the Most Rev. Joseph M. Marlin as first bishop.
At sundown this coming Wednesday start the 10 holiest days in the Jewish year. They are the High Holy Days, begun with Rosh Hashanah in the spiritual new year, not the festive one. The latter – Simhath Torah – comes 23 days later, and is known as the rejoicing of the law. Rosh Hashanah in reality marks the creation of the world for the Jews, and as such marks the year 5171 in Jewish history. Messages and statement issued by Jewish leaders and civic groups throughout the world, anticipating Rosh Hashanah, have stressed hope for peace and freedom. For example, the Rabbinical Council of America has pleaded for peace and international cooperation.
The National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. notes American churches will observe Labor Day in services for the 47th year. The council says in its annual Labor Sunday message that the U.S. seems to be enjoying widespread prosperity at the moment. It also states unemployment is still a threat in many communities. The Protestant church group further declares Christians cannot ignore the economic and moral issues involved in the effect on the U.S. economy of such proposals as those caring for workers during unemployment. The council sees it as the church’s task always to uphold the ethical principles and Christian values that are to be applied even to complicated economic and industrial situations.
Tomorrow the General Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church is to vote on authorization of a unifying general session with the Congregational Christian Church. Approval for the union is expected in Cleveland next year. Even so, the Evangelical and Reformed Church proposes to carry out a new three-year “program of advance,” as it puts it. After the uniting session, a new constitution would have to be written and then adopted by the newly merged groups, which would have the name “United Church of Christ.” The three-year advance program includes establishment of some 100 new churches in North America, recruiting 200,000 new members, and training some 200 new missionaries and overseas workers. The church now has about 2,800 congregations in 34 states, and about 750,000 members. The Tenth Triennial Session of the Synod is being held in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, one of the very early strongholds of the Reformed Church in America.
The Vatican says that more than 1 million Poles have given evidence of continued Roman Catholic strength in Communist Poland. It adds that many attended recent ceremonies honoring the Virgin Mary. The observers marked the 300th anniversary of the proclamation of the Virgin as “Queen of the Polish People.” Pope Pius has wired his blessing of the gathering.
Within the past week we have seen here in Tennessee, at Clinton, the origination and development of a situation that is depressing, disgusting, and disturbing. It all began when a dozen colored pupils were admitted to the local high school as a beginning of compliance with a court order for integration in education with all deliberate speed. As in almost every other situation where incidents have occurred over integration, the center of the disturbance is outsiders. One, a John Kasper from Washington, D.C., is apparently a professional agitator. His real motive is not entirely clear, but it is highly likely that he hopes to swim in the waters that he is doing his best to keep troubled. As his activities began to receive more and more publicity, members of the White Citizens Council of Alabama rushed into the already uncertain situation, and took up where Kasper was forced to leave off after a contempt of court citation. There is little if any evidence that a crisis of any kind would have occurred if outsiders, and this includes local residents who are not going to school, as well as those out of state, had not intruded themselves into the situation.
But, like the proverbial snowball, once the emotional jag started rolling, it became larger and more dangerous, until by the end of the week the situation was described by the Associated Press as “tense”, “a mob of feverish pitch,” and the like. Cars have been stopped, people molested, property has been destroyed, and houses have been broken into. It appears that school authorities are standing firm, but such statement can hardly be made regarding assistance requested from the state government in Nashville. [Governor] Clement called out National Guard.
Well, what’s it all about anyway? The whole thing rests on the mistaken assumption of this idea of racial superiority, for which Hitler and company were famous – or infamous. It assumes that a person, because of his race, and because of that one factor alone, is superior in all ways to an individual of another race. But what is this thing called “race” anyway? The truth is that nobody knows. Anthropologists would like to expunge the word from our vocabulary, for it has no precise scientific meaning. But since it is a word that is used popularly and widely, albeit loosely, they try to define it as simply saying it refers to a grouping of the human race who have certain physical, inheritable qualities that passed on to offspring through the process of conception.
But, they hasten to point out, quite rightly, that even taking the three great racial groups – Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid – there are more similarities among individuals of different groups than there are differences. All have the same bodily structure, there are no physiological differences among members of the various groups as to cultural potentialities, that is, an American of white, Anglo-Saxon parentage, reared from birth by a Chinese family, would be culturally just as much Chinese as would an individual of Mongoloid parents.
Moreover, and this is vitally important to keep in mind, there is simply no such thing as a “pure” race today. The ancestry of all peoples is mixed. To illustrate, let me recall for you that in the eighth century Charles Martel drove the Moors – Negroes – south of the Pyrenees, out of France and into Spain. In the process, several hundred Moors were taken captive back into France. There they were at first slaves, but the easy-going Gallic nature of the Frenchman soon permitted those captives their freedom, and finally full rights within the social order. During the course of history these Moorish people have disappeared through merging with their much more numerous white neighbors, and today, many of us who claim to be pure white, though of French descent, might well ask ourselves if it is not possible, even likely, that some of the blood coursing through our veins may have been contributed by our Moorish ancestors. To me that is not a matter for emotional disturbance, it is simply a fact of history. But perhaps the emotionally aroused mobs of Clinton do not know or want to know much history.
If they looked at our own history in this country, they would recognize that it is in the South, where laws and other artificial barriers of all kinds have been set up to keep the races apart, that the most racial mixing has occurred. And this mixing has gone on despite laws, or other factors.
But to what does all this add up as far as “Religion in the News” is concerned? Well, maybe it is easy for me to oversimplify an admittedly complicated phenomenon, but it is difficult for me to see how one can believe in a god who is the father of us all, and yet makes some of us better than others simply because of a minor difference in skin color, or other unimportant detail. Integration, not only in education, but in every aspect of our lives, has been a challenge to the churches long, long before there was any Supreme Court decision on the matter. One wonders, naturally enough, how comfortable the racial supremacists could or will be in the infinite beyond if they find around them members of another racial group. Not only is integration the law of the land, it is a challenging practical situation where men of good will of whatever faith have an opportunity to put the principles we preach so much about to work in our own community.
Christ’s concern began and ended with the individual. Race, color, national origin, made no difference to him. The woman of Samaria, outcast though she was in the eyes of “respectable” Jews, was as precious to him – perhaps more so – than the canting, hypocritical pharisee. The penitent thief on the cross received assurance that Pilate, with all his earthly pomp, could not get.
America has been built and made great and strong by many peoples of all lands and races. Even our language is a hybrid composed of borrowings from about all the languages of the world. The American Indian contributed immensely to our knowledge of the land, new foods which are with us today, staples that our pre-Columbian forbears never heard of; the Chinese blasting his way through the Sierra Nevada Mountains to help build the First Continental Railway; the Italian laborer in the mines and the mills; the German, Swedish, Russian pioneers who wrung a civilization from the wilderness; the Jew who peddled his wares from door to door, providing a service badly needed by the people of earlier America; and so on down – or up – it goes. A complete catalog of those who helped make America what it is today cannot be compiled.
Here, out of diversity, we have been continually working toward unity with diversity. Our declaration of principles in 1776 said “all men,” not just “some.” The Bill of Rights and the rest of our Constitution make no allusion to racial differences. But as a people we have been marching, though not always steadily, toward a realization of the principle that certain rights should be shared by all, and these include the traditional freedoms of speech, religion, etc., and the right to equality in education. Perhaps we shall never fully attain our goal of equal justice for all, but if we ever reach the place where we stop struggling toward it, we shall become another kind of social order.
This kind of equality does not force anyone to become personal associates with anyone who has undesirable characteristics. We whites make all sorts of distinctions among our acquaintances. Some whites we know we do not care to be around or associate with at all. Your and my children going to school have their own preferences among their class and school mates. There is no enforced equality in the classroom other than that minimum necessary for the common welfare of all in seeking better learning conditions. So there is no point in waxing emotional over the idea of more than one race occupying the same classroom.
Certain it is that the program of integration is one that calls for calm, rational thinking, not emotional outbursts of indignation. It is also a program that is going to demand in every community the support of straight-thinking citizens who believe in the essence of American democracy, i.e., the dignity and rights of the individual, regardless of his color or race. It is difficult to see how religion of the Christian variety can be squared with any other concept.