The distressing decline in the moral behavior of youth has constrained legislative bodies, law enforcement agencies, educational organizations, sociologists and social workers to study intensively an appalling social problem. Parallel impassioned study has not been provoked on the part of the Christian Church. There have been voices, here and there, sounding an alarm for action, but because of ecclesiastical indifference few people have responded. Race discrimination, disarmament, the United Nations, recognition of Red China, labor relationships, economics, and ecumenicity have absorbed the interest of churchmen. Almost no attention has been given to a problem that may destroy the moral life of our nation. This shocking negligence, unless it is immediately corrected, will earn for the Church the name of delinquent.
Not only is a transgressor of the law delinquent, but also one who fails in the performance of duty. The Church has been woefully delinquent in grappling with this social blight. Yet Christ placed the responsibility for societal deterioration upon the Church. He said, “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?” (Matt. 5:13). The figure our Lord used indicates the power that the Church has in counteracting corruption and preserving the health of society. The message, the life, and the prayers of the Church constitute the salt of the earth. Where the message has been rendered impure by the addition of human traditions and wisdom, the Church has lost her savour; where life has deviated from the standards of Christ, or prayer has been neglected, the Church again has lost her savour. A decadent society bears strong witness that the Church has lost her saltiness.
Several articles in this issue call attention to the fact that the nation’s entire cultural and social life has become corrupt, and that this is having a disastrous effect on the life of juveniles. Wherein has the Church failed? Precisely in her message, life, and prayer. To overcome prevalent immorality the Church has acknowledged the need of a program of evangelization, but terrible confusion exists as to the content of the evangel. A genuine return to biblical theology will certainly provide the kerygma that produces repentance, faith, and reformation. The Church is just beginning to realize that biblical doctrine forms the basis for spiritual and moral life, although that dawning realization has not yet activated the Church to indoctrinate young people with biblical truth. If future generations are to be saved from the blight of delinquency, the Church must redeem the time, for the careful nurture and diligent instruction of youth are her responsibilities.
The evangelical branch of the Christian Church ought to feel heavily responsible for today’s dark picture of juvenile immorality. Evangelicals have given priority to the preaching of Christ and him crucified as well as the necessity of faith in him for salvation. This has been entirely proper, but they have been guilty at times of not applying Christian revelation to culture and social life. Christ’s admonition that the Church is to function as salt upon community life has not been fully comprehended nor taken to heart by evangelicals. Furthermore, the antinomianism manifested by some groups has deprived the Church of the effective witness of holy living. The antinomian believes that Christ has fulfilled all the claims of the moral law in behalf of the true believer, and that the latter is therefore released from all obligation in living out its precepts. Our conformity to Kingdom laws of the Sermon on the Mount has usually come far short of the mark. Evangelicals have hardly matched the zeal of the apostles in applying doctrine to all of life as evidenced in the Epistles. Society would be cleansed and culture uplifted were there a greater demonstration of Christian personal and social ethics. A manifestation of strong obedience to moral law is bound to have a purifying effect on the socio-cultural atmosphere; and its absence will only accelerate society’s decadence. The prevalence and rapid increase of teenage immorality are vivid indications that Christian influence is on the wane. Evangelicals must take a measure of the responsibility.
Not only has the church been delinquent in providing a healthy moral climate for youth, but it has been appallingly negligent in reclaiming and rehabilitating erring juveniles. One branch of the church has spent its time recommending slum clearance, better recreational facilities, and social activities, while another has confined its efforts to youth rallies, singspirations, and religious entertainment. These activities may possess some merit; however, they come far from solving the problem or actually reaching delinquent youth. The church does not seem to understand how desperate a situation this is, nor how tremendous is the labor involved in the work of reclamation. Both in research and establishment of helpful projects, the church has lagged far behind secular institutions. And yet this is an area, of all areas, where the Church ought to be providing leadership and demonstrating her divine mission of saving the lost.
The main problem in handling juvenile anti-social behavior is a lack of skilled workers in the field of delinquency. The recruiting and retaining of competent, professionally-trained people constitute a continuous problem to social agencies. It is an alarming fact that all the trained social workers in the United States could be used in New York City alone. People who are concerned about the problem express a longing for the dedicated worker who will be willing to labor around the clock to salvage the life of one wayward child. The highest qualification for such work is not technical training, valuable as that is, but a genuine love for children and a passion for their redemption. What better source is there for dedicated personnel than the institution whose Head commands the love of neighbor and urges the nurture of children? Indeed the love of Christ should constrain the Church in inspiring her membership to enter this needy field of service. Since the blight of delinquency has touched every community, rural and urban, each congregation ought to make it an objective to recruit workers for youth who need help.
A Christian personnel would possess peculiar qualifications needed in the area of delinquency. Vocational education, recreational programs, and slum clearance have not accomplished maximum results because the ultimate therapeutic need of the delinquent is a sense of moral responsibility for his own actions. The public, in its concern over solving this social problem, has wasted millions of dollars and the lives of many children because this moral element has been neglected. A Christian social worker, however, with a solid moral understanding, can both instill in a child his responsibility towards God and, more than that, bring to him a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ whose love and power can save him. The success of Alcoholics Anonymous has been largely due to its convincing the alcoholic that he must obtain his strength from God. No work of redemption and reformation can be truly successful if the sinner is not pointed to Christ. In spite of optimistic statistics as to the good that has been done on the part of public and private agencies, it is rather well known that these glowing reports are not backed by actual results. Perhaps the fruitlessness and frustration has been due to a lack of definite therapeutic treatment that only vital Christianity can provide.
Christian colleges and Bible schools should provide technical and professional training for those who desire to enter into child welfare work. Many young people enter these schools with a vision for a Christian service, but have neither the qualifications nor a definite call from God for a ministry of preaching or teaching. Yet their talents may lie in the service of reclaiming and rehabilitating erring youth. Were they to be trained by competent faculties, inspired by love for children, and armed with a knowledge of the Gospel, social agencies throughout the country would more than welcome them. Workers are few enough, and the need is desperate. Courses in the social sciences that will equip students for the professional fields of juvenile delinquency or family relations ought to be encouraged in every college where the name of Christ is revered.
In addition to social workers, the Church should concern herself with detention and shelter care of children who have come in conflict with the law. One hundred thousand children from ages 7 to 17 are held in county lockups, most of which are substandard for adults. It is in these places that so many hardened youth physically and sexually abuse younger children who have been picked up for relatively minor offenses. Detention is a crucial period for a child. His hostility toward society is either deepened during this time, or he learns that crime works against his best interests. Actually the detention experience should begin the process of rehabilitation and change in behavior. It is commonly agreed by all professional people in the field of child welfare that individualized treatment and homelike surroundings is the most effective setting in which to help juvenile delinquents. How eminently effective would be a Christian surrounding. Here Christian love could be demonstrated, Christian discipline applied, and Christian precepts taught. Certainly there is a need also of residential centers for boys and girls that have been released from state reform institutions. Because these are not available, many children are forced to return to evil homes and community environments.
The adoption of a program of detention homes and shelters would be costly to the Church. Many congregations, unwilling to sacrifice either money or effort, would undoubtedly pass the responsibility, as they have before to county, state, and federal supervision. But how long is the Church going to shrug off the judgment of her Lord? “For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.” A Church that cannot afford to establish places of refuge for the wayward and the needy, and yet can rear million dollar edifices “to the glory of God” and for the sole satisfaction of comfortable worshipers, is unable to come clear of the Lord’s judgment on delinquency: “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.”
Delinquent children, irresponsible parents, and a decadent society point ultimately to a delinquent Church. Wherewith shall society be preserved from corruption if the Church has lost the savour of her revealed Gospel, moral example, and divine zeal? If the dark and dread reality of one million juvenile delinquents cannot rouse the Church from her apathy, lethargy, and indifference, then the Church has become a part of the callousness and decadence of her own generation. If she does not change, future generations will judge her delinquent. If she awakens and comes alive under the power of God with a strong proclamation of the Gospel, she can cleanse society and save the young people of our nation. Then will future generations call her blessed.
Red China Remains A Missionary Objective
Headlines in the daily press are still recording critical reactions of churches and churchmen to the Red China pronouncement of last November’s Cleveland World Order Study Conference. One of the most recent registered the vote of the American Baptist Convention supporting U. S. policy which denies diplomatic recognition and opposes admission to the United Nations.
The basic fault with the Cleveland thrust was its commitment of corporate Protestantism to a specific course of political action. The New Testament Church has no divine mandate for official political programs—whether leftist or rightist. Political action is not the divine mission of the Church.
We are as deeply interested as the Cleveland conferees that Christian principles of justice be honored in the case of China and that she soon recover the mutual respect and recognition of the world family of nations. We have an abiding affection for the Chinese people. The Christian people of America displayed a desire for their salvation through missionary endeavors long before the Communists came as their “liberators.” Possibly when Red promises run out we can again minister both to the spiritual and material needs of this great Oriental people. We cannot believe that political recognition of a godless regime that is the avowed enemy of true Christianity and the suppressor of individual freedoms is the best means of showing Christian affection and goodwill.
We believe that a valid concept of the mission of the Church and a true Christian concern underlay the recent critical actions of the American Baptist Convention, the Presbyterian Church in the U. S., the Baltimore Conference of the Methodist Church, and many other church bodies in and out of the orbit of the National Council.
It is unfortunate that the Cleveland pronouncements, so widely disseminated by the press and other media, left an impression that Protestants favor the recognition of Red China. Smeared with this implication, churchmen and churches had no other recourse than to publicly air their views. This might have been avoided had the NCC sought a more representative constituency for the Cleveland meeting, set that conference in the perspective of the Church’s true mission, and given the press a clear understanding of its nature and aims. Furthermore, there is no necessity for following Cleveland with propaganda for acceptance of its findings in the churches. When any Protestant group irresponsibly assumes quasi-official status as the spokesmen of American Protestantism and seeks to propagandize its views in the churches for political ends, it is altogether proper and right that protests be made. Indeed, if there were no reaction we would despair for the free spirit of Protestantism.
Sooner or later in a free America and a free Protestantism the will of God’s people must find expression. For a time it may be ignored or suppressed but, as with truth, “the eternal years of God” are ours.
The Moral Irresponsibility Of Snubbing A Speedometer
The most common evil peculiar to automobile travel is also the most condoned.
Were a preventable holocaust suddenly to wipe out an entire congregation, the Christian community would rise up in unanimous indignation. Yet we continually disregard 300 traffic deaths in holiday-weekend slaughter—the equivalent of a fair-sized church audience.
The sin that invariably figures in this toll is speeding.
Particularly disturbing in the speed craze is the fact that “professional” drivers seem to be among the worst offenders. Not uncommonly tractor-trailers roar down hills at obviously unlawful speeds presumably to make up time lost on the upgrades. Speeding buses are familiar sights as well. (Fatality rates in commercial U.S. transit rose sharply last year, says the National Safety Council.) When the Sunday School teacher hurtles by traffic on the hilltop, or the parson rushes the pedestrian lane, indignity is added to impropriety.
Speeding is one of the most shameful wrongs of our time. Christians ought to realize its moral evil—be it in violation of posted limits or in disregard of adverse road conditions. Little can be said in defense of irresponsibility with an accelerator. It is selfish and contradicts the Bible’s “Love thy neighbor” commandment.
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