To interpret for its readers the scope and seriousness of obscenity in the mails, and to determine what the government is doing about this current menace, CHRISTIANITY TODAYwent to Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield for an exclusive interview.
Summerfield has been head of the Post Office Department since 1953. He holds honorary degrees from the University of Michigan, Miami (Ohio) University, Cleary College, and Defiance College.
Summerfield is a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Flint, Michigan, and an affiliate member of National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D. C., where he currently worships.
Q: What kinds of obscene materials are sent through the mails?
A: Obscene and lewd pictures, slides, films, and sex literature, as well as material dealing with the vilest perversions. Much of it is so filthy and revolting in nature that it defies description.
Q: Is mail order obscenity increasing?
A: The mail order obscenity racket has tripled in the past five years and can double again in the next few years unless it is stopped.
Q: How large a business is it?
A: Our Inspection Service estimates that sales from mail order obscenity are now running at the rate of a half-billion dollars a year. They further estimate it will become a billion-dollar racket within the next several years if it progresses at its present rate of speed.
Filth peddlers will invade American homes by soliciting at least a million teen-age youngsters in the next 12 months. That’s one child out of every thirty-five of school age in America!
Q: How does it operate?
A: Most dealers in mail order obscenity are relatively small-time operators with very little capital invested in their business. Profits are so large that many of them have fantastic returns on their investments. Increasingly they are directing their sales efforts toward the youth of America, both boys and girls.
Q: How do dealers in obscenity get names of children for their mailing lists?
A: The names of youngsters are secured in a variety of ways. In some instances the dealers in obscenity buy mailing lists from legitimate list brokers who are not aware of the use to which the lists are to be put. In other instances they build their own lists by assembling the names and addresses of graduates of high school classes, Boy Scout or Girl Scout groups, church clubs or other organizations of youngsters. In other instances, they advertise model airplanes or stamps or doll dress kits to youngsters at attractive prices and actually send them these articles for the moneys received. However, their primary purpose is to get names and addresses by this procedure.
Q: What can parents do to stop this racket?
A: If parents find any obscene sales solicitations in the letters sent to their youngsters they can help us stop this racket by doing these two simple things:
1. Collect all the material received, including the envelope.
2. Deliver this material, along with the envelope, to their local postmaster in person or by mail.
The Post Office Department will handle the matter from there on. It is not necessary for the parents or their children to sign a formal complaint or to appear in court.
Q: Can’t the Post Office Department stop obscene mail before it is delivered?
A: Most obscene material is sent through the mails by first class mail. The Post Office Department has no legal right to open any first class mail and it has no intention of doing so. The Post Office Department can only proceed against these dealers in filth if people receiving these mailings report them to the Post Office Department.
We know from experience that the courts and the judges are influenced by the number and quality of the complaints received in any community.
Q: What is the Post Office Department doing to drive obscenity from the mails?
A: For the past six months the Post Office Department has intensified its efforts to drive obscenity from the mails. We have testified before the Congress as to the seriousness of this problem. We have exposed this racket in considerable detail to the press, the radio and TV. We have made numerous speeches about this menace before many religious, parents’ and women’s groups around the country. Right now the Postal Inspection Service is spending a major portion of its time on pornography cases. In the past year it obtained 45 per cent more convictions than in the previous year.
Q: Has the Department been able to tighten the laws dealing with obscenity?
A: Yes. With the aid of a cooperative Congress, legislation was enacted about a year ago which now makes it possible to prosecute dealers in obscenity in the areas where their materials are received and do the most harm. Formerly, these prosecutions were held only at the source of distribution of the material, usually in the Los Angeles and New York City areas. Unfortunately, the liberal views of the courts in these two areas did not produce sentences and fines commensurate with the seriousness of the crimes. Under the new law, far better results are being achieved and many of these offenders are now going to jail for considerable periods of time.
Q: How do you meet the criticism that the power granted the Postmaster General to keep obscene materials from the mails is a threat to freedom of the press and free enterprise?
A: I think the best answer I can give to that question is to repeat what I said on September 18, 1959, in a talk here in
Washington before the Public Relations Society of America, which I quote: “The entrenched racketeers themselves, of course, will fight legislation fully capable of dealing with this vicious racket with everything at their command. This includes the use of pawns who, knowingly or unknowingly, sometimes serve their cause by raising pious cries of ‘censorship,’ ‘freedom of the press,’ ‘civil liberties,’ and so forth.
“Some of these pawns will say, of course, that they are not defending merchants of filth—they are in sympathy with the effort to stop pornographic mailings—but then, they will add, we dare not trample on the ‘civil liberties’ of these poor merchants of filth, even though they are mailing to children, and so we must leave things as they are.
“All this, may I say, is utter and deadly nonsense. Our society has many major provisions that protect minor children from corrupting or dangerous influences.
“Preventing the peddling of pornographic materials to children is no more a violation of civil liberties than is preventing the sale of liquor or dope to these children, or withholding automobile drivers licenses from them until they are capable of driving.
“The nation or community which does not fully punish persons guilty of any of these crimes is tragically failing its duty.”
Q: Is your crusade against obscenity meeting with success?
A: We have been very much encouraged by the splendid help we have received from the press, radio and TV in publicizing the seriousness of this situation. We have also been encouraged by the many resolutions received from religious, civic, parents’ and women’s groups endorsing the department’s efforts. Many members of the Congress have helped mightily by endorsing our efforts and by speaking out against obscenity.
I do not mean to imply in any sense of the word that our efforts have met with final success. It will take a lot of hard, aggressive work on a continuing basis to effectively dry up this social blight.
Q: Are you optimistic over the final outcome?
A: I am optimistic. I feel that if our decent-minded citizens work together in the ways I am listing below that the final outcome will be a successful one. We must all unite: 1. to help close loopholes and strengthen the legislation in this field; 2. to work closely with all civic-minded organizations that join you in this effort; 3. to communicate to parents, and the public, the steps that the Post Office Department is undertaking and to secure their assistance and cooperation; 4. to help mobilize community support behind adequate law enforcement of local ordinances or state laws; 5. to contact municipal, state and federal legislators and urge their support of legislative efforts to keep obscenity out of the mails; 6. to urge maximum enforcement everywhere of federal legislation covering the mailing of obscene materials to children.
Following this program will assure a complete victory for decency and dignity in our nation—a victory for our children and their future in a better America; and in this victory over obscenity American ministers will play a vital role in which the readers of Christianity Today will have a powerful voice. Thank you again for your invaluable help and your continued enthusiastic interest in the crusade against mail order obscenity.
A new Pennsylvania law prescribes a $2,000 fine and two years in jail for persons convicted of trafficking in obscene literature.
A 38-year-old Baptist pastor in Madrid, convicted of opening his church for worship, was picking up support for an appeal last month. Pastor José Nuñez had been sentenced to a month’s imprisonment and fined, but was said to be eligible for an amnesty granted by Generalissimo Franco in honor of the election of Pope John XXIII.
In Washington, Protestants and Other Americans United called on U. S. Secretary of State Christian Herter to protest the Nuñez conviction. It was pointed out that the Baptist pastor receives partial support from America and that “he is a very important symbol of the free world in its struggle against dictatorship.”
The influential Washington Post and Times-Herald called for the pressure of world opinion to lift the heavy hand of persecution of Protestants in Spain.
“This is typical,” a Post editorial said, “of the kind of harassment which various Protestant sects have undergone.”
Nuñez was found guilty of defying authorities in breaking seals which had been placed on the doors of his chapel in suburban Madrid back in 1954. He told the court that the seals had disappeared when he entered the chapel in June, 1957, and he thought the holding of services was therefore permitted.
Two American Moslems recently returned from Cairo say they have the support of President Gamel Abdel Nasser of the United Arab Republic for Islamic missions work in the United States.
Nasser donated $50,000 for a new Islamic center in Detroit and promised early dispatch of four or more Moslem priests to the United States, according to Casim Olwan, owner of a Toledo, Ohio, restaurant, and James Kalil, sheriff of Wayne County, Michigan.
While in Cairo, Olwan and Kalil reported they had a two-hour conference with the U. A. R. leader.
Kalil is president of the Federation of American Moslems, having succeeded Olwan in the post.
There are said to be 80,000 Moslems in the United States and Canada—not all faithful—spread through 39 states and five provinces.
Germany the Base?
Islam is concentrating its missionary resources in Germany, according to German missions expert Georg Vicedom.
Vicedom told a missionary study conference this fall that 800 persons had recently joined the Moslem Ahmadiya sect, which has issued a lively Koran translation to compete with the Bible.
“The Moslem communities in Germany are still small,” he added, “but they are tremendously active in trying to win converts. Germany is to be the base for the whole Moslem missionary campaign in Europe.”
Vicedom said Moslem states are financing the building of mission centers in key German cities.
Do It Yourself
The International Cooperation Administration is offering information on how to build and use a cheap, sun-powered projector for slides and film strips.
The simple device could prove a boon to missionaries working in localities without electricity.
It was developed by two ICA employees in Afghanistan, James Cudney and Roxor Short, using an old gallon-size oil can, a bathroom mirror, two eyeglass lenses, some wooden spools, and nails.
Gerald Winfield, ICA’s chief of communications staff, says blueprints and an instruction manual on how to build and use the projector are available from the agency’s office at 815 Connecticut Ave., Washington, D. C.
Back in the States
Mrs. Elisabeth Elliot, missionary to the Aucas of Ecuador, and her four-year-old daughter, Valerie, are back in the United States for a rest. Both are reported well. Mrs. Elliot spent last year making friendly contacts with the savages who killed her husband.
The Sermon Khrushchev Missed
On Sunday morning, September 27 President Eisenhower invited Khrushchev to accompany him to a worship service at Gettysburg Presbyterian Church. The Red leader declined and Eisenhower went without him.
To mark Christian Education Sunday, the Rev. Robert A. MacAskill, minister, used as his text Matthew 28:19. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
“We think primarily of our Lord as a teacher, a rabbi,” said MacAskill. “It very naturally follows that if we are his disciples we too must be teachers.”
The minister stressed that teaching is a form of witness, that we teach by what we say, what we do and by what we are. “The church through the ages has had eloquent preachers,” he said. “But the fact remains that the most effective way of winning others is through personal testimony—yes, talking, if you please, to others about Christ. Could it be that we are ashamed of the Gospel, that we are afraid of being offensive to others if we speak of Christ?”
MacAskill declared that it was “reassuring” to hear Khrushchev “speak of peace and offer a concrete proposal” in his address before the United Nations.
“Total disarmament to be accomplished in a period of four years is a grand offer, something we all covet and desire. Now the real test comes when the premier will begin to do as he says.”
In concluding the sermon, titled “The Divine Imperative,” the minister said:
“The task of Christian Education is to become more and more like Christ. The divine imperative is just as real and demanding today as when Christ first gave the commission.”
Expecting Too Much?
Plans for discussions between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theologians preliminary to the forthcoming Ecumenical Council have been shelved indefinitely, according to an announcement made by the “Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Church” in Vatican City last month. The announcement did not spell out the reason for cancellation, but unofficial sources said two factors were involved: publicity already given the proposed discussions, and demands that Protestants also take part in “truly ecumenical” discussions.
Some Roman Catholic observers are said to have developed fear that advance publicity had given rise to “false and unrealizable hopes” of an early reconciliation between Rome and the Orthodox bodies.
The Roman Catholic-Eastern Orthodox talks were to have taken place in Venice next summer or fall with 10 representatives from each church participating.
A contemporary-design library was dedicated last month on the grounds of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D. C. The new edifice, built at a cost of $465,000, is the fourth on the year-old campus. Some 31,125 volumes are stacked on its shelves and there is room for about 60,000 more. One of them is a Bible once owned by John Wesley. Methodist Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam presented it to the library from his personal collection.
Wesley’s sister school in Northwest Washington, American University, is cosponsoring another Bible television course this fall in cooperation with the National Capital Area Council of Churches. More than 1,000 persons have signed up for the course, 125 of them for college credit. Hour-long lectures are given each Saturday morning over television Station WMAL-TV. Teachers are Dr. Edward W. Bauman, professor of religion, and Reformed Rabbi Balfour Brickner.
Other campus religious developments:
—Phillips University, a school of the Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) in Enid, Oklahoma, plans to launch a $3,000,000 building and remodeling program early in 1960.
—Judson Baptist College began its fourth academic year on a new, 30-acre campus in Portland, Oregon.
Dr. W. A. Visser ’t Hooft, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, said last month that the ecumenical movement has moved into a new stage of development characterized by “extension, complication and development.”
Visser ’t Hooft addressed students and guests at the opening session of the eighth term of the Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies at the Ecumenical Institute of the WCC, located just outside Geneva, Switzerland.
“We see that unity cannot be a unity that is empty,” he declared, “it must at the same time be a unity that is renewal. The question arises—is it the task of the World Council to bring the churches together and then they draw their own conclusions, or should the World Council at certain points give certain direction to the churches?”
The WCC leader described the ecumenical movement as “far more complicated” since the emergence of Roman Catholicism and Russian Orthodoxy as “potentially active” centers of ecumenism.
‘Life’ in Graveyard
Indianapolis, sometimes referred to as “the graveyard of evangelism,” saw spiritual stirrings last month which had no precedent in the Hoosier capital. Evangelist Billy Graham and his team were drawing capacity crowds to the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum during a month-long crusade. Attendance averaged approximately 13,000 nightly.
CHURCH AND STATE
A government bill amending the constitution of the Orthodox Church in Greece and providing drastic changes in its internal administration was in effect rejected by the church’s Assembly of Bishops last month in favor of a counter-measure sponsored by the hierarchy. The government legislation, passed by the Chamber of Deputies last April, was scheduled for discussion and approval by the bishops prior to its submission to the Greek Parliament for final passage. Instead, they ignored the bill and adopted counter-proposals.
Among provisions of the state bill not accepted by the hierarchy were settlement of major church matters by government decrees; permanent assignment of bishops to their dioceses without subsequent transfer; and state-determination of diocesan boundary revisions.
Adopted as resolutions by the bishops’ assembly were proposals for continuation of the traditional Orthodox policy of “transferability” of bishops and setting of boundaries by a committee of three bishops and three civil officials. Added financial support was also sought.
Dr. L Nelson Bell, Executive Editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, will be keynote speaker at a banquet to be held in Chicago’s Palmer House on Friday evening, November 20. His topic will be “The High Cost of Low Ideals.”
News commentator Paul Harvey will serve as master of ceremonies and George Beverly Shea will sing.
Host for the banquet is William C. Jones, Los Angeles typographer. Sponsors include J. Howard Pew, Billy Graham, Herbert J. Taylor, Faris D. Whitesell, and General Robert E. Wood.
More Questions On Salacious Mailings
Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield’s adjoining comment on the moral peril of smut in the mails leaves some unanswered questions. Among these queries, posed by CHRISTIANITY TODAY’S editorial staff, were the following:
• By what standards is material to be judged obscene?
• Has the Post Office lost face in some efforts to combat pornographic literature by being forced to wage the wrong battles in the wrong places at the wrong times?
• Is there danger that, by resorting to censorship to cope with the perils inherent in freedom, good men making desirable restrictions for good reasons may unwittingly provide a precedent enabling bad men to make undesirable restrictions for bad reasons?
• Does reliance on censorship expect too much from law and imply cynicism about other dynamisms for social reform?
• Can the rising tide of pornographic mailings and allied problems perhaps be met in part by a more effective Christian witness shaping higher ideals and morally constructive literature?
• The Protestant Episcopal Church plans to erect a new headquarters building in New York City.
• A move for erection of a “Christ on the Mountain” monument in the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota has been given impetus by a Department of the Interior decision to reserve 224 acres for the site. Republican Senator Francis Case of South Dakota, who is spearheading the venture, said no federal funds will be involved.
• Sunday School promotion stunt: Dress a teacher’s 15-year-old son in a devil’s costume and have him picket the church. Does it work? Police in Elgin, Illinois, investigating a complaint last month, found just such a “devil” in front of Foursquare Gospel Church. His placard read, “Foursquare Church Is Unfair to Sin—Be My Friend and Don’t Attend.”
• Christian Evangelist—Front Rank, a representative journal of the Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ), is changing its name to The Christian.
• U. S. Unitarians plan to erect a memorial church in Springfield, Illinois, in honor of Abraham Lincoln.
• Dr. Robert Curl, head of the field education department of the Perkins Theological School at Southern Methodist University, has an expense-paid overseas trip coming to him courtesy of the Ministers Life and Casualty Union. The company has invited Curl to visit the mission field of his choice as an award for his having received its twenty-five millionth benefit dollar.
• The British Broadcasting System, which has stipulated that every program be addressed to all who are listening, says it will make an exception in the case of a new series of clergy lectures. The speakers—Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Free-will be invited to address themselves specifically to their own people.
• The Lutheran Service Commission will establish a service center for military personnel in Seoul, Korea. The commission, supported by the National Lutheran Council and the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, operates 26 services centers throughout the world and gives financial aid to 16 U. S. Lutheran congregations which serve armed forces personnel.
• The Southern Presbyterian Board of Christian Education is considering an offer aimed at having the board move its headquarters from Richmond, Virginia, to Charlotte, North Carolina. Three Charlotte men promise $250,000 plus sufficient land for a new building if the shift is made.
• Dr. Justin Vander Kolk was installed as president of New Brunswick Theological Seminary last month at ceremonies marking the 175th anniversary of the oldest divinity school in America. Established in 1784 in New York by Dutch Reformed churches, the school was moved to New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1810. Its campus adjoins Rutgers University.
‘The Big Fisherman’
Simon Peter galloped furiously across the desert, a young Arab beauty at his side, both determined to rescue her lover from an evil king. And they said it couldn’t be done.… Any pastor who is unpersuaded it ever happened may find the burden of proof on him as he undertakes his cathartic ministry. For there it is in Technicolor and Panavision, “The Big Fisherman” on celluloid, something author Lloyd C. Douglas hoped never would happen. And box-office prospects are very good.
While galloping Peter, played unconvincingly by musical star Howard Keel, mercifully refrains from bursting into “Boots and Saddle,” the over-all impression is that of an Arabian horse opera rather than a biblical epic. Hollywood has again invoked the golden combine of sex and religion. Diverse manifestations of the former are entrusted to the Arab lovers (the moviemakers give assurance that Arab passions are very warm) and to the adulterous Herod Antipas and Herodias, who provide a historic excuse for the usual fleshly, bacchanalian excesses. Most of the responsibility for the religious element rides on the broad shoulders of Simon Peter, who often seems strangely peripheral to the story. “Arabian Nights” would seem a more apt title for the film—the big fisherman is never seen until the three-hour production is about a third over. A weak John the Baptist is the first biblical character to appear, preceding Peter by about seven minutes.
Fiction and Facts
But if Peter seems apocryphal compared to the canonicity of the Arab lovers, it must be remembered that there is here no pretense of a biblical story; rather, there is fiction woven around some biblical events. The only part of Peter’s life treated is his conversion and the purported events surrounding it. The fault lies in the fanciful and contrived character of the fiction as it appears on film. One senses uneasily that a twentieth-century love story has gotten mixed up with biblical history, and that the young heroine, who probably played her part as well as she was asked, should be taken from the Eastern intrigue and placed safely back on the U.C.L.A. campus. During one extended portion of the picture, she is disguised as a boy, a situation with possibilities which never fail to amuse Hollywood.
History plus live imagination produced the following challenges to credibility: Peter is a widower whose deceased wife’s clothes are used to good advantage for the wandering heroine; he fires James and John from his fishing operation for subversive religious ideas; during his conversion struggle, he displays all the petulance of a cowpoke whose saloon mates have caught him coming out of a meetinghouse; the account of his coming to Christ is most unlike the limited biblical data on the subject—Andrew is heard to say “Peter, I think you’ve got that look!”; the last chase not only finds Peter enervating a horse but using his fishing boat and the Sea of Galilee for a short cut (Arabia seems to crowd hard against Galilee’s eastern shore); Josephus’ claim for Machaerus (east of the Dead Sea) as the site of John the Baptist’s execution is passed over in favor of Tiberias, in Galilee, the story demanding the latter; Herod’s palace there is demolished by an extra-biblical storm which seems to be required as a consequence of John’s beheading.
Thought Processes Numbed
Perhaps the film-makers were counting on the impact of the lavish sets (too clean to be true) upon the senses to numb the viewer’s thought processes. Southern California’s brown hills provided an admirable setting for a rebuilt Tiberias, the lake in the background beautifully simulating Galilee.
And credit is due the tasteful portrayal of Christ, seen only at a distance—apart from the appearance of an outstretched hand or part of a white robe. His voice is pre-eminent as the camera picks out the effect of his message as registered on the faces of listeners.
But the contrast between the words of Scripture and those of the rather tasteless movie script was pathetically sharp. The religious message of the film proclaimed peace among men and brotherhood between such as Jew and Arab. Hollywood does seem to have less trouble accepting Christ’s miracles than do liberal theologians, though it is to be feared their dramatic value may have more than a little to do with this.
As the film draws to an end, the young Arab shouts to his true love, “Someday I’ll come to you.” Fortunately, there is room for yet a couple of lines: Christ’s enunciation of the two great commandments. Probably the best thing about this production is that millions of viewers will hear the ageless words of the Sermon on the Mount. One may perhaps hope that many will be encouraged to turn to the Scriptures in a necessary attempt to sift truth from fiction.
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