The General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America will hold its 175th annual meeting next month in Des Moines. Among the important items before this significant deliberative body, none will likely elicit as much interest as the renewed discussion of the report titled Relations between Church and State. Commonly called “The Smith Report”—for its committee chairman, Professor Elwyn A. Smith of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary—it provoked so much debate after its presentation at the last assembly that it was referred to the presbyteries of the denomination for consideration before its re-presentation this May.
There are some admirable features in this report. First, it is commendably ambitious. The committee has tackled a big subject in a big way. Even if finally deemed unsuccessful, the vigor of the effort will elicit respect. Second, the sweep of the report is inspiring. Reaching back to the Bible and history for guidance, the effort forges principles and applies them with considerable consistency, even to the nooks and crannies of this question. Third, a deep religious spirit informs the document. Its critics may seriously doubt whether the report rightly apprehends the will of Christ, but none will doubt that it seeks to do so. Fourth, a holy boldness meets us here. Who can fail to be fascinated by a group of men calmly advising their fellows to give up privileges enjoyed for centuries and to pay millions of dollars to a government which is not asking for it!
All these merits notwithstanding, we are constrained to consider this as an essentially unsound statement of the relationship of Church and State. We would not presume to advise the United Presbyterian Church on this momentous matter. ...1
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