The renewal of the crisis over school integration in the South raises issues which go to the heart of the relations between the Gospel, the Church and the world. The Christian commitment to brotherhood and love is as much at stake as the central idea of democracy—the dignity of the individual.
The crisis makes us ask again some ancient questions. What is the role of the Church of Christ in a democratic society? If it be granted that the Gospel requires us to seek to have its truth applied to the social situation, are we to declare principles only, or programs for action? In any case, is it the organized church or individual Christians acting in their capacity as citizens who must bear this witness?
Such questions as these lie subordinate to another one whose significance the worldling often fails to see. It is this: can Christians speak or act unlovingly to gain the ends of brotherhood and love? Dare we compromise the means to reach the goals? Surely, our answer here is no.
The Slavery Crisis
All these issues resemble closely those which the slavery crisis raised among evangelical Christians a hundred years ago. Then, as now, an institution of long social and legal standing came to seem contrary to both God’s law and democratic principle. Then, as now, churchmen debated whether the Christian witness against social evil was the task of the regenerate citizen or the believing community. The unity of both church and nation seem to be at stake. And the same law of love which condemned the Negro’s bondage held Christian men back from direct action to strike away his chains.
The tensions of that crisis of long ago found resolution at last in the outbreak of a tragic civil war. In time, antislavery churchmen who had not wanted nor expected ...1
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