AT EASE IN ZION
No small stir developed in Pilgrim Church when a recent news magazine article appeared on the bulletin board of the Martyr Memorial lounge. It included an attack on recent church architecture, and seemed to describe the new Pilgrim sanctuary, even to the blonde cross motif and the woodsy patio decor of the chancel. Feeling ran high when the clipping was traced to Effie Winters, the dissident minority of the building committee.
Several members of the committee attempted a showdown interview with Miss Winters, but they only provided a target for her barbed tongue. She suggested that never in history had there been so luxurious a rest stop for this earthly pilgrimage. The golden streets, she feared, might prove hard underfoot after the carpeting of this earthly Zion. Pilgrim Church people might come to prefer the celestial city in eternity, but they could hardly be expected to long for the change!
She pounced on another report in her clipping. Here was news of an architect after her heart. Imagine, he had told a congregation that they needed to be prodded and disturbed. That would be an innovation for the Pilgrim congregation, relaxing in the built-in complacency of their cushioned pews!
At this point, the committee chainnan unwisely retaliated by inviting Miss Winters to pilgrimage to India, where she might secure a bed of nails abandoned by a converted fakir, and be prodded to her heart’s content.
Personal relations had deteriorated abysmally, and the discussion ended with an embarrassing rejoinder in which Miss Winters proposed carrying one of the many crosses in the sanctuary instead of importing a bed of nails. She later apologized for this remark, and the minister has mended the rent in the fabric of fellowship. However, his conciliatory sermons on “The Beauty of Holiness” and “Contemporary Cross-Bearing” seemed a little vague after the sharpness of Miss Winters’ irony. His message on “Comfort Ye My People” was in another context, although there were a few puzzling allusions to architecture.
Miss Winters has her followers, but we do not anticipate a movement toward more disturbing church buildings in Deepwell Heights. Unless, of course, you are disturbed by blond crosses and patio chancels.
In … your editorial, “Race Tensions and Social Change” (Jan. 19 issue), you have handled a difficult subject with masterful clarity. Such thinking is essential to a solution which will command and deserve the respect of all men of good will.…
My admiration was also stirred by the excellent book review by E. Earle Ellis. He evaluates the service Dr. King has done without closing his eyes to the pitfalls that appear here and there in his reasoning.
The Franklin Lakes Gospel Church
Franklin Lakes, N. J.
Your editorial … is a very polite and perfectly harmless treatise saying next to nothing at all.
What is “love?” A pantheistic sentiment that submerges individual differences in the social nirvana of a mulatto nation?
The Church of the Good Shepherd
I guess I will have to class myself with those radicals of my own denomination who “have even supported the use of tanks and guns, if necessary,” that our Negro citizens’ civil rights may be protected against Southern governors and legislators. After all, these people have had 100 years since the Civil War to treat their former slaves as American citizens.
Mt. Sterling Presbyterian Church
Mt. Sterling, Ill.
After an adequate presentation of Stride Toward Freedom’s contents, Dr. Ellis suggests that the philosophy underlying racial integration is racial socialism. He believes that Dr. King is attempting to form a raceless and classless society through legal action in which the state is the “major instrument”.… Dr. King specifically rejects the Communist emphasis on a classless society and takes his stand on the words of Christ: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor …” (pp. 93–4).…
The basic motivation of the Montgomery movement was Christian love. The method was nonviolence. To Dr. Ellis, nonviolence is an “irritant.” To Dr. King, it is a way of life based on agape love (pp. 90–107). A Reformed theologian may be as skeptical of love in action as the newspaper reporter who thought it peculiar for a Negro congregation in Montgomery to applaud a reading of 1 Corinthians 13.… Dr. Ellis criticizes the use of agape love by Negroes who seek to enter white schools.… [Separate but] “equal” opportunity is an illusion. Not only does it deny real “equality;” it is built upon spiritual pride.…
The Court has not forced integration, as Dr. Ellis indirectly alleges. It has outlawed compulsory segregation in certain public facilities, such as schools. The reviewer and others can be as socially segregated as their consciences will allow them, but they can no longer use the law to force compulsory segregation.…
Although the Negro is supposed to be “inferior,” the Montgomery story demonstrates his … scrupulous adherence to the law. In glaring contrast, the “superior” whites stooped to threatening phone calls, malicious character assassination and bombing of homes and churches.…
Why are segregationists so concerned about intermarriage? Do they fear that equal status would give a Negro woman legal redress against the sexual attentions of a white man? If white men are as superior to Negro men as some assume, why this sudden panic about Negro men marrying white women? Why does Dr. Ellis ignore the concrete application of New Testament ethics in public schools, courts, transportant and personal relations? What is his “moral right of each race to separate social institutions”? From what portion of the Gospel does it come?
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Dr. Ellis believes that in race relations when there is opposition and resistance on the part of the whites to a demand of the Negro for what he considers justice—that in the spirit of love he would not use any force at all to bring about this justice, whether it be through the courts or passive resistance.… Parents don’t understand love if they interpret it to mean that firm and loving discipline with their children involving coercion is a violation of the spirit of love.
Hope Presbyterian Church
The book review … is one of the most trenchant and illuminating analyses of the subject of segregation that has appeared lately. That … plus your … “Race Tensions and Social Change” make that … issue a monumental one.
The attempt to support segregation from Scripture (by reader Carey Daniel, Mar. 2 issue) is always a hazardous one, and Daniel cites some wholly indefensible texts for his case. Old Testament proof texts in support of segregation rest upon several assumptions which just cannot be maintained. For example, to assume that the groups mentioned in Genesis 9 are progenitors of distinct racial groups involves biological, linguistic, historical, and literary considerations of an extremely dubious nature. Everett Tilson’s fine book, Segregation and the Bible (esp. pp. 20–26), utterly destroys any Biblical case for segregation. More relevant passages on race relations would be Matt. 5:44 f.; Luke 10:27–37; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:11–16, and Acts 10.
Daniel also follows most segregationists in stressing personal matters like intermarriage and evading the real issues of rights in the economy, education, housing, hospital care, recreational facilities, civil liberties, etc.
I felt your article “Race Tensions and Social Change” was helpful. Incidentally, I am a native of Birmingham, Ala.
FOR THANKLESS DISCHARGE
There was no need for you to retract anything you said about the Report of the Joint Commission of the Protestant Episcopal Church on alcoholism and social drinking (Feb. 2 issue). I am a priest of the Protestant Episcopal Church, Diocese of Pennsylvania. Like every clergyman of that Church I received a copy of the report before the Convention, as also did every Bishop and lay deputy. This was an official commission and this was its official report. I confine myself to the one question, namely, did the Convention approve the report, though in the light of modern ethics and St. Paul’s position on eating meat offered to idols, the Commission’s claim that social drinking has God’s approval is shocking. Did the Convention approve the report? No, but it [accepted] the report and if there is any difference between approving and accepting that difference can be discerned only by a hairsplitting lawyer.
Mr. Mainwaring said in his letter that the report was only the first step in a series promised by the Joint Commission. I suggest the Convention should have discharged the Commission without thanks before they further affronted the consciences of Christians.
A CASE OF IDENTITY
Mr. Merrill C. Tenney … has listed The New Testament: Its Making and Meaning (Abingdon Press) as written by C. K. Barrett (Feb. 16 issue). Actually this volume is written by Albert Edward Barnett.
First Presbyterian Church
Lloyd Dean (Jan. 19 issue) has put his finger on what are unquestionably Unitarianism’s most disconcerting anomalies in an otherwise consistant philosophical relativism: (1) the continuation of the “church” and (2) the endorsement of a rather absolute ethical code. It is difficult to understand not only the metaphysical basis but also the emotional incentive behind the perpetuation of these logically obsolete phenomena. If religious values and philosophical realities are only illusory or relative, toward what end does the “church” function and from what source does the ethic derive?
I would, on the other hand, strongly question Professor Dean’s somewhat oversimplified solution to the threat of Unitarian ideology among Protestants today. Can Protestantism solve this problem “only” and simply “by establishing itself on God’s infallibly revealed Word” (ibid., p. 8)? Dr. Dean himself has pointed out that the earliest Unitarians in this country did not consider their views contrary to the teaching of Scripture (ibid., p. 7). And Congregationalism, out of which Unitarianism sprang, did not to any great degree surrender the doctrine of the absolute authority of Scripture until fully 50 years following the emergence of Channing. Can we today trust the same kind of orthodox view of the Bible itself to do for us what it failed to do in the last century?
• Regardless of the view of Scripture, there have always been heresies. But when the authority of Scripture is forfeited, the problem is compounded. When one departs from the Bible’s view of itself, and loses this authoritative criterion, it is easy to depart from the Bible’s view of other things. Sometimes this order is reversed and often the transition steps are delayed. But the logic of the matter ultimately prevails.—ED.
The Unitarian takes it as elementary that he may be wrong and probably is in some aspects of his thinking. That is why he is not compelled to convert all others to his way of thought as are fundamentalists and Roman Catholics.
Unitarians are the happiest church people I have ever met. And if all this is inconceivable to you who labor under the curse upon Adam, … my only wish for you is that you may gain some happiness from your prison.…
The Unitarian Church of All Souls
New York, N. Y.
Many of us put the accent of our religion on humanism, but go along with Jesus’ teachings of God as a universal father—and feel that that fits in with humanism-naturalism much better than an orthodox interpretation relying on such a flimsy thing as supernatural revelation.
North St. Paul, Minn.
The author failed to explain why this church, more than any other, has been filtrated by actual and near communists. The Stockholm Peace Petition which was notoriously exposed as propaganda by local newspapers was actively circulated by two different Unitarian Youth clubs and in no other church.
Los Angeles, Calif.
Unitarianism and Universalism have never been large in membership, because both denominations stress the importance of thinking for oneself.… In our culture there are not many … who think for themselves.…
Dr. Gerstner takes liberals apart, or attempts to, on the basis that they dare to declare some statements of the Bible to be myths (Dec. 22 issue).… To a Unitarian-Universalist it is no more humane for God to demand the smell and sight of Jesus’ blood in order that he might be appeased than it is for God to use some bears to devour pesky children. In fact it would seem that the two go hand in hand as making up the character of any monster.
New York State Convention of Dir.
Universalists Auburn, N. Y.
I read with mounting ire Mr. Dean’s article “Withering Unitarianism”.… In 1935 the legal membership of the Unitarian Church was 66,431. Today our legal membership stands at 106,751.… We are not withering.… Mr. Dean accepts … the view that the Unitarian Church came into being because of a controversy over the trinitarian nature of God. My own opinion is that the essential nature of the controversy was about the nature of man.… Most of us are convinced that man is not depraved, fallen, or sinful.… Unitarianism is perhaps the last stronghold of natural religion. We do tend to equate the concept of God with the process that is Nature. We worship Life and Nature but most many of us consider Life and Nature to be the breath and substance of God. Most of us consider the Christ to be absurd. For us Jesus was a man no more, no less.…
Faith for me began with an experience. Looking back on the experience it is possible to talk about it in terms such as rebirth, transformation and so on. From this experience came the trust that the Universe is not hostile to man. From this experience came the conviction that man’s potential far outstrips his performance to date. From this experience came the resolve to become a minister.… Our churches are communities of truth seekers and truth sharers. We have not found The Truth nor do we expect to.…
As to … errors of fact, there are three specific ones over and above the falsity of the implication in the title. The article states that the movement centers in New England. While this was once true, the fact is the center of the Unitarian movement shifted out of New England nearly a generation ago.
The author further states that the movement has made no significant gains except those that can be accounted for by the population growth. The fact of the matter is that the number of Unitarians has all but doubled in the last twenty years. Here in the Washington area, it has doubled and redoubled in the last fifteen years, and in the same time the number of children in our church schools has doubled, redoubled, and doubled yet again.
In the third place the author says that the Unitarians and Universalists are now considering merger for the purpose of self-preservation. The fact of the matter is that as far as the Unitarians are concerned merger would have been effected long ago, but for the widespread belief that tampering with denominational machinery might slow down the accelerating rate of progress we now enjoy.
All Souls Church Unitarian
Washington, D. C.
I used the term ‘withering’ for the reason stated at the outset: “It cannot be denied that Unitarianism has failed to reproduce itself; and, except for participation in the general growth in the population of the country, it has been able to count no significant increase in its constituency.” I believe that this is a fair statement in the light of the facts, even though I was careful to admit that “since the Second World War, there has been somewhat of a ‘revival’ in Unitarian circles.” The statistics are as follows (my original research was done in the Unitarian Library of the American Unitarian Association in Boston):
In 1895 there were in the United States and Canada 455 Unitarian societies with 519 ministers and an approximate membership of 68,500 (Ency. Brit., XXIX, p. 356, ed. of 1901). By 1957 there were in the United States 373 societies, 333 ordained clergy with charges, and a total membership of 101,549. This is to be compared with the growth in church membership of all religious bodies in the United States in relation to total population as follows: 16 per cent of the total population were church members in 1850, 36 per cent in 1900, and 62 per cent of the population were church members by 1956. These percentages are to be correlated with the following population figures for the United States: 23,200,000 in 1850; 75,995,000 in 1900; and 170,000,000 in 1956. This means that in order simply to maintain its relation to the population on the level of growth maintained by all religious bodies together, Unitarianism would now have to have at least 269,500 members. It has been said that from 1945 to 1958 the Unitarian membership has jumped from 67,000 to 100,000. As can be seen, this short-term minor increase (especially in view of the U. S. population upsurge in the same period) does not demonstrate that this is other than “a temporary ebb in the relentless flow of the logic of Unitarianism to a thoroughgoing humanism” and the reduction of adherents attendant thereupon. Note that the percentage rise is somewhat impressive because of the smaller total numbers involved.
Congregationalists, who were early threatened with inundation and dispossession by the Unitarians and who were much blighted with liberalism themselves—in the earlier as well as the later years—counted a membership of 534,159 in 1890. This had grown to a total of 1,379,394 by 1957 (See Ency. Brit., op. cit.; Yearbook of American Churches, Ed. Benson Y. Landis [National Council of Churches] 41, 110, 286).
I stated that the movement centered in New England on the basis of my own impressions from observation and reading of Unitarian literature. If this is no longer strictly true, one must note that as recently as about 15 years ago it could he said that the denomination was “concentrated rather heavily in New England” (The Mind and Faith of A. Powell Davies, p. 19). This is from Justice William O. Douglas’ foreword to the book by the distinguished predecessor to Mr. Howlett.
When I said that the Unitarians and Universalists were considering merger for the purpose of self-preservation, I was of course offering an opinion. But I think there is ground for believing this is at least one reason for their interest in this direction. Flourishing denominations do not usually seek the union that has been sought here for some time. I don’t believe that this is a fruit of the present ecumenical thrust. Not only are the statistics on Unitarianism suggestive of this, but the data on the Universalists also support the conclusion. In 1895, Universalists numbered 47,986 members. By 1933, they had grown only to 55,000. I would not consider their present 70,519 a significant attainment in the light of population growth.
It is suggested that recent Unitarian growth is because of their theology. I conceded this: “A belief in God is returning to certain Unitarian pulpits.… Since the Second World War, there has been somewhat of a ‘revival’ in Unitarian circles.” I think the conclusion is clear: the farther they depart from humanism and the closer they get to orthodoxy the more they will grow.
Beverly Farms, Mass.
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