Recently one of the great networks proposed a television play about an adulterous Protestant minister. Prompt protest from Dr. George A. Heimrich of NCC’s Broadcasting and Film Commission upset the plans, but no one doubts that the hydra-head will soon reappear. Since the call for a sex drama involving a Roman Catholic priest or a Jewish rabbi never seems to come, the question forces itself: what has happened to the image of the minister in the twentieth century?

Recent revivals of Maugham’s Rain and Lewis’ Elmer Gantry are only one phase of the issue. Gabriel Marcel, the French Roman Catholic existentialist, wrote a play not long ago about a (Protestant) minister who lost all personal faith in God, but kept up a pretense for the sake of his parishioners. Peter de Vries, an alumnus of Calvin College, hit the best-seller lists with a devastating caricature of a liberal minister, The Mackeral Plaza. In the current New York play, J.B., which poet Archibald MacLeish built on the book of Job, the most fatuous of the three modern “comforters” is a (Protestant) clergyman, the other two being a psychologist and a Marxist.

On and on run the examples. The minister is presented to the American people as a hypocrite, as a cad, as a heel, as a deadbeat, as a charlatan, as an extortioner, as an incompetent. Or if by some mixup he turns out to be a “David Crane” hero, then he is impaled on the altar of truth and integrity by his sniveling “flock”, and the onus passes from pastor to congregation. Drug addicts, homosexuals, rapists, pimps, and vagabonds are on their way to being canonized by our society, while the pastor—thanks to the mass media—seems to be sinking to the class of those who are not so much tolerated as pitied: somewhere between ...

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