History will evaluate 1964 with its decision on the civil rights bill as one of the critical years in our national annals. The issue now before the country is more than one of integration versus segregation; it has to do with the integrity of our democracy.
As the Senate debate moves toward the day of decision, one senses a feeling of inevitability. This is a time of hard choices, not just for the senators who must cast their votes but also for the rank and file of their fellow Americans. We are all involved. The hour is long past—if it ever was at hand—when a man or woman might stand and watch the civil rights struggle as from a window overlooking the busy street.
What is happening this spring in the Senate is not an academic debate in which one listens to affirmative, negative, and rebuttal, and then awaits the judges’ decision. No American, and least of all no Christian American, has the right to follow the civil rights debate unconcerned and unmoved. The vote on H.R. 7152 will indelibly affect the nation’s future.
Patriotism demands individual concern in a matter so close to the public welfare. And patriotism is neither sub-Christian nor outmoded, even in this sophisticated age. For Christians it is plainly enjoined in Scripture. Moreover, ethics are united with patriotism; no Christian can stand passively by when the good of others is jeopardized. Obedience to the law of love for one’s neighbor requires concern for the welfare of one’s neighbor.
The kind of civil rights bill the nation will have depends in the first instance upon how the Senate votes. But it is equally true that how the Senate votes will reflect public opinion. In fact, the extra weight that will tip the balance one way or the other will come from the people. As James Reston, the well-known Washington correspondent, has said, “In the end, the temper of the country is likely to decide the issue.”
What, then, are some guidelines for Christian concern regarding this great question? Four in particular may be listed: (1) The necessity for informed opinion. (2) The right of all Americans to equal rights of citizenship. (3) The obligation to respect those whose conscience leads them to convictions different from one’s own. (4) The recognition that, essential as legislation is, moral problems are ultimately solved not by passing laws but by changing hearts.
First, informed opinion is demanded of every Christian who is in earnest about fulfilling his civic responsibilities. Valid opinion cannot be derived from ignorance nor developed out of a fog of second-hand ideas. With an issue so important as civil rights, it is not enough to let others do one’s thinking or to reach conclusions based largely upon emotion.
If, as has already been stated, the climate of opinion will tip the balance in civil rights legislation, Christians to whom the moral aspects of the question must be paramount will have to take time and trouble to inform themselves about the issues at stake. This not only means reading what Senator X or Senator Y declares, what commentator A or pundit B writes, or what this newspaper or that news magazine says; it also means being familiar with the bill itself so as to know what its provisions are. Then, knowing what is involved, a Christian is obligated to come to his own conclusions thoughtfully and prayerfully. Only so does he earn, as it were, the right to add his weight to the growing amount of influence that is bound to affect the voting in the Senate.
Second, there is a major premise on which concerned opinion must rest. That premise is the constitutional right of all Americans to full citizenship. In particular, this means that no American should, because of his color, be deprived of his rights to vote, rest, eat, sleep, be educated, live, and work on the same basis as other citizens. Anything short of this is an intolerable deprivation of rights for one segment of the population, a deprivation that, by reason of its inherent injustice, violates basic morality.
Third, there is the obligation to respect the conscience of those who differ with their fellow Americans and fellow Christians regarding constitutional aspects of the legislation under consideration. The civil rights question is more than a controversy; it is a great conflict. In a conflict of such dimensions there are divergent convictions. Surely it is no compromise to recognize that however wrong one’s neighbor may appear to be, he may be sincerely and honestly wrong.
Therefore, to dechristianize those who disagree with certain aspects of the civil rights bill is incompatible with Christian love and tolerance. Moreover, to equate any particular position regarding the bill with the Gospel of Jesus Christ may come perilously close to the Galatian heresy of proclaiming “another gospel.” While justice for all, regardless of race, is an inescapable outcome of the Gospel, it is not itself the Gospel any more than any other fulfillment of the law of love is the Gospel. Let race prejudice and hatred be unmasked as the sin they surely are (and in the North as well as the South who is wholly free from them?); but let not a stand for civil justice or participation in demonstrations be confused with the Gospel through which alone men are redeemed by faith.
Fourth, there is the principle that law of itself, essential though it is, can be only a proximate, not the ultimate, solution of the deep problems of society. For the maintenance of the structure of society and the control of evil, laws are essential. Yet it may be that one of our national failings is the misconception that once a law is passed, a problem is forever settled. But laws must be obeyed, and ultimate obedience is a matter of the heart, not of compulsion, necessary though enforcement is. Sin is common to all, regardless of color. Therefore, Christian concern demands the ceaseless proclamation of the Gospel as the ground of ultimate reconciliation of the racial revolution.
There are also other matters of concern. While the Church should not engage in politics, as many evangelicals hold, it is nevertheless an inescapable obligation for Christians to take part in public affairs (see the lead editorial, CHRISTIANITY TODAY, January 17, 1964). Historically, amelioration of social problems has come through men and women whose hearts and consciences God has touched. The classic evangelical position is that the Gospel must be preached and that those whom Christ has redeemed will go out and serve as he leads them. If some Christians feel it their duty as individuals to stand side by side with their Negro brethren in the struggle, who is to say them nay? Are they not free to exercise their right of protest just as their more socially conservative brethren are free to respond in their way to the racial question? Yet granting this, it must also be said that restraint in demonstrations and respect for law are urgently needed; extremism and threats of violence will only impede the processes of legislation.
But what of the civil rights bill? Constitutional aspects of the methods of enforcement specified in it require safeguards against possible misuse of the great powers conferred. Thus the position of some that the bill must be passed without the alteration of a word is unwise. At certain points it should and probably will be amended. But the need for legislation exists.
Christians may differ about the civil rights bill. Yet the path of Christian responsibility is plain. It leads inevitably to a position worked out before God. And that position ought to be made known. If individuals ask, “What can I do?” let them voice their convictions to their senators now and in these troubled days pray for the Senate and all in places of leadership.
Evangelicals, and indeed the Church as a whole, have lagged in racial relations. Especially has segregation within the churches been a stumbling block. Had the Church really practiced the love and brotherhood it preaches, the present crisis might have been averted.
These failures have indeed been lamentable. But once they are confessed, they must be put aside and attention centered upon the needs and obligations of the present. In this time of decision, evangelical spectatorism must give way to evangelical action that supports, as conscience leads, such legislation as assures all citizens the freedoms guaranteed them in the Constitution.
The Secular Meaning Of The Gospel
This is written for those who are puzzled when they read about the “secular” meaning of the Gospel. In its original sense “secular” means “this world” and “this age,” in distinction from another, transcendent world and age. Many contemporary theologians explain the secular meaning of the Gospel, however, by defining the Gospel only in terms of this world and this age, because they recognize no other.
A reinterpretation of the Gospel to show its secular meaning is said to be demanded because twentieth-century man is a secular man. He has “come of age,” it is said, and no longer believes in the traditional Christian doctrines of the Incarnation, Virgin Birth, and Resurrection of Christ; of a divine Jesus, a Bible that is God’s Word, and a Church that is God’s new creation. All these, it is asserted, can no longer be accepted by the secular, twentieth-century man because each of these doctrines means that God himself has entered history. Since, according to the secular mind, God has not entered our world and our time, we must give up the religious and discover the secular meaning of the Gospel. To state the matter in more philosophical terms, we must eliminate the religious-metaphysical dimension in interpreting the Gospel and interpret it in the only dimensions left us, the historical and ethical. Such men as Rudolph Bultmann and Fritz Buri in Europe and Schubert M. Ogden in the United States are interpreting the Gospel in this secular way for secular men.
One of the most recent efforts at secular interpretation in the United States is that of Paul M. Van Buren. The heading over this editorial is the title of his new book, which carries a subtitle, “An Original Enquiry.” The book bears the marks of originality—Van Buren agrees wholly with none of the names mentioned—of competency, and of an enviable clarity of expression. The author, who is associate professor of theology at Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, Austin, Texas, is very explicit about what his secular interpretation of the Gospel allows us twentieth-century men to believe, and what we must, if we are intelligent and really belong to our age, reject in the traditional interpretation.
Van Buren informs us that the secular man—that for him includes the Christian no less than the non-Christian—cannot believe that the doctrine of the Virgin Birth means someone was born of a virgin; that miracles actually occurred; that prayer is speaking to God; that the meaning of “the Word became flesh” is that Jesus was “very God of very God”; that a genuinely historical Jesus could be anything more than a man. All this the Christian of today must reject, unless he is willing to estrange himself from his world and time and sacrifice his intellect. But the truly intelligent secular Christian who is “come of age” belongs to his age; he is therefore as much concerned about such concrete matters as a change in the weather as is the next man, and as much as the next man will consult the weather bureau, not “take it to the Lord in prayer.”
To the reader of the foregoing, this may not sound like anything resembling an interpretation of the Gospel. In the judgment of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, this is not the Gospel.
Van Buren rejects Barth’s theological method because it does not, in his judgment, relate God’s Word to the secular world and its actualities in which men think, and move, and have their being. Van Buren also rejects Bultmann’s theological method, because he believes with Schubert M. Ogden that if it is consistently applied, it loses the necessity of a historical Jesus. We must, insists Van Buren, retain a historical Jesus, because a faith that has no object is pure subjectivity.
His chosen theological method is “linguistic analysis.” By this method he means to find out what the gospel writers and the early Church Fathers said or were trying to say about Jesus, in the thought modes of their day, in order to say it again in the thought patterns of the secular twentieth-century man, who no longer believes in a world other than the empirical one in which he lives. And by this method Van Buren discovers and announces the meaning of the Gospel for modern men: Jesus is a man, no more, but unique in that he possessed the freedom to live wholly for others with a freedom that is contagious.
Van Buren’s search for the meaning of the Gospel by linguistic analysis is permitted to discover no more than his secular world-view allows. The assumption that “this world” and “this age” cannot contain Deity dictates that his historical Jesus is a man and no more; and by the use of linguistic analysis he discovers that the biblical writers and the Church Fathers of Chalcedon were really trying to say just this—and no more!
World’S Fair: Religious Perspective
A World’s Fair is something of a monument to materialism. Man seems to be pounding his chest in pride and saying, “Look what I have achieved!” There may indeed be a kind of arrogance about such exhibitionism that is hardly compatible with a Christian spirit. Those who view this world exhibit as a vaunting symbol of human technological achievement without a joyous recognition of Him who created the wondrous potential on which it is grounded would do well to remember how easily history can undo our grand accomplishments.
Many religious leaders, however, have seen within the framework of sophisticated secularism a great opportunity for witness to the multitudes of viewers. They have seized this opportunity with the result that the New York World’s Fair, which opened April 22, has more extensive religious presentations than any previous global exhibition. Indeed, the grounds at Flushing Meadows are the setting for some very definite evangelistic action, and Christians will do well to place fair-goers on their prayer lists (for an enumeration of opportunities, see “Witness to the World” in the April 24 issue).
Among the various criticisms of the Protestant and Orthodox Center at the fair is a denunciation of its “disunity and non-involvement” by the United Church Herald, official publication of the United Church of Christ. It is true enough that the center embraces a conglomeration of religious displays. Yet how could it do otherwise in view of present realities? Spiritually, the body of Christ has union now in that the company of the regenerate is one in Jesus Christ. But the Church visible can be represented only as it is—fragmented and diverse.
‘Not Of An Age But For All Time’
The greatest gifts of man to the human race are the few books that stand, generation after generation, as ever-fixed marks above the tempest and are never shaken. When people talk of “the new morality,” when loyalties to government, to parents, to stern duty, to law, to principle are being questioned or denied, these books reaffirm the meanness of selfishness and evil, and the admirableness of decency and right.
The truly great novels or plays are like a little Judgment Day in whose pitiless light we see our motives and actions as they are. We are anatomized to see what breeds about our hearts. “This,” they say, “is your disease, and this is how it ends.”
As the holder of the mirror up to our nature, Shakespeare, after the Bible, stands first.
The age that produced the 1611 translation of the Bible also produced the supremely great writer, the quadricentennial of whose birth in the spring of 1564 is being celebrated this year. For nearly four centuries the plays of Shakespeare have steadily affirmed that there are eternal standards, and that disregard of them means death. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”
Although Shakespeare can never bring us to a knowledge of God, he does show us our fallen natures. The first step toward redemption is to see ourselves and our standards as small and despicable. The second is to realize the soul-shriveling result.
Those who never attend a church and never confront themselves with the eternal Word, whose standards are those of the loose world, may suddenly see themselves in Shakespeare’s eyes and be as convicted as Iago under the scornful eyes of his wife. Here your sins are played out before you. Are you, like Macbeth, willing to rise by the fall of others? Or, like Lady Macbeth, do you urge a soul on to evil? Are you a Gloucester unrepentant of youthful lechery? Do you abdicate your appointed task, like Lear? Are you an undaughterly Goneril? Are you an Antony betraying all for your “right to happiness”? Or, like Hamlet, are you caught in the ambiguities of your doubt?
Only some half-dozen of Shakespeare’s mature tragedies may “cleanse our emotions through pity and terror.” But we would also be poorer without that lyric of teen-age love, Romeo and Juliet; without The Merchant of Venice, in which Shakespeare transcends the prejudice of his time to let Shylock speak for his race; without that towering realist Sir John Falstaff in Henry IV. And how much poorer not to know the delightful heroines of his comedies who saved the day.
And last, we should be poor indeed without the incomparable verbal music and pictured wonder of lines that sing themselves in our memory, such as;
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great earth itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.
What About Shared Time?
In the discussion about public support of parochial and private religious schools, shared time occupies a place of growing significance. The term was coined a few years ago by the superintendent of schools of Englewood, New Jersey, Dr. Harry L. Stearns, a United Presbyterian layman and a member of the Board of Christian Education of his denomination. As the words imply, the concept means that the school hours of the child are shared by the religious school and the public school. For the “value” subjects, such as religion and the humanities, the child may be taught in the parochial or private religious school; but in other areas, such as practical arts, physical education, science, and the like, he may go to the public school for his instruction. The idea, while revived under the label shared time, is not new; in certain localities, such sharing of school hours has been practiced for at least forty years. However, Dr. Stearns’s proposal led to private colloquia among churchmen and schoolmen that have done much to shape the development of the movement.
Today shared time shows evidence of considerable momentum. It has been discussed on Capitol Hill by Dr. Francis Keppel, United States Commissioner of Education. In a limited number of communities ranging from the Eastern seaboard to the West coast, it is in operation. Moreover, there is some ground for thinking that it may pass the test of constitutionality.
So far shared time has elicited most response from Roman Catholic educators. Where it is being practiced, Catholic parochial schools are generally involved. This probably reflects present Roman Catholic concern about the maintenance of its vast system of parochial education, a concern of which Mrs. Mary Perkins Ryan’s book, Are Parochial Schools the Answer?, with its bold proposal that the church give up its parochial system, is a leading symptom. What is doubtless a minority Catholic opinion is that of John G. Deedy, Jr., editor of the Pittsburgh Catholic, who expresses anxiety that shared time might, if very widely adopted, gravely jeopardize the public school.
What are some implications of shared time for evangelicals? It has both strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, it reinforces parental responsibility for the child’s education; its very raison d’être is to make possible the basic religious instruction of children according to their parents’ convictions. On the other hand, it involves compromise of the major premise upon which a comprehensive Christian philosophy of education rests—namely, that all truth is of God; for relegating some subjects to the secular school and retaining others as “value” subjects in the religious school violates the essential unity of Christian education. Aside from this philosophical objection, in the practice of shared time evangelicals may face problems resulting from Protestant diversity. Whereas the Roman Catholic school serves all its children, religious schools representing the consensus of Protestant views in particular communities might not be acceptable to evangelicals or other groups.
Yet the potentialities of shared time are not to be lightly dismissed. As it gains ground, evangelical Christian educators should study it with care.
A Hopeful Sign
“Our guard is up but our hand is out.” So spoke President Johnson as he announced, simultaneously with Premier Khrushchev, the American-Soviet-British decision to reduce production of fissionable materials. When added to previous reductions, the American move will mean an over-all decrease in production of enriched uranium by 40 per cent and of plutonium by 20 per cent. Premier Khrushchev announced a Soviet decision to discontinue construction of two atomic reactors, reduce substantially the production of uranium-235 for nuclear weapons, and allocate more fissionable materials for peaceful uses.
No treaty was involved, and the ease with which the agreement seemed to come speaks well for a mood of rising mutual confidence among the atomic powers. The reductions have no real military significance, for it is merely the growth of the “overkill” capacity of the nations involved that will be slowed. Almost a year ago, Pentagon officials said that nuclear production could be cut in half without affecting the status of American defense.
The latest move, then, is not in any way to be construed as disarmament. Its significance is rather to be seen in the hope that mutual confidence may grow to the point where one day the Soviet Union may agree to disarmament steps with the essential condition of inspection.
Christian compassion for all peoples and a dispassionate reading of twentieth-century diplomatic history compels us to insist upon safeguards in steps leading to nuclear disarmament. But compassion also thrusts aside any lack of interest in attaining such steps. President Johnson spoke of new pressures and realities that “make it permissible to hope that the pursuit of peace is in the interests of the Soviet Union as it is in ours.” During the last war, Winston Churchill pointed to Russian self-interest as a clue to the enigma that was Soviet foreign policy. The President warned that we must of course always guard against Communist subversion. “But anti-Communism alone will never suffice to ensure our liberty or never suffice to fulfill our dreams,” he added. To believe otherwise is to be radiantly optimistic about non-Communist evils, and it is to be darkly pessimistic about the vitality of American freedom before the rise of Communism.
“Quite amazing” aptly describes the emotional resilience of the common man that has enabled him to live on terms with the horrible specter of flaming nuclear annihilation. But this resilience should not render him insensitive to steps toward banishing the specter. The Christian’s ultimate hope for peace is God’s intervention. But in the meantime God is interested in man’s activity in this area, and Christians cannot but welcome even a small step toward mitigation of the nuclear threat.
The Time Of Solemn Assemblies
Spring is here and the grass is green, and if one wonders where the conventions are—they’re everywhere. Throughout the land synods, assemblies, and conferences are again convening to do the work of the Church. There will be endless reports on an endless number of churchly projects and labors. Delegates will rise to the lure of their own voices and make speeches on agenda matters they have not read. Some assemblies will move with the well-oiled efficiency of a large business; others will have three motions on the floor at one time.
There will be moments when the spirits of men of God ride high for what God has wrought, and hearts will bow in thanksgiving to the Lord of the Church. There will also be quiet times when prayers are offered for guidance in matters already decided in ecclesiastical cloakrooms by big-dealing churchmen, and knowing men will pray with uneasy hearts. Many decisions will be made, some wrong, some right. Many resolutions will be passed, some for action at the church back home, some for the sake of the press; and some, enacted for conscience’ sake, will be left to die in official archives.
There will also be moments of spiritual courage and clarity when men, both lay and clerical, speak up for a cause with the brave resolution of a Luther; and other moments of weakness, when men compromise both their own consciences and the Gospel. Every now and then, in this assembly and in that, a delegate will smile as he recalls the statement in the Book of Acts: “Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly was in confusion; for the greater part knew not wherefore they were come together.”
But in them all, the large and the small, the Spirit of God will move; for this is the Church of Christ, the Body over which Christ is the Presiding Officer and in which his Spirit dwells.
Pray for the peace of the Church, for they that prosper shall love her.
Liberia At The Crossroads
For many years after its founding in 1821 as a Christian homeland for slaves returned from the United States, Liberia was Africa’s only republic. Today it is working toward a more effective role on a continent that has witnessed the swift emergence of thirty-three independent states, most of them in the last decade. Yet in technological progress and social democracy, Liberia lags behind many of its ascendant neighbors which boast political freedom but remain primarily in spiritual bondage.
A national feeling for Christian principles dates back to Liberia’s birth, and some of its present leaders still emphasize that Liberia’s role among the African nations must be that of spiritual leadership rather than political leadership or aggrandizement. Recent legislation assures Bible teaching in the public schools and prohibits Sunday trading. Liberia is the base of the Sudan Interior Mission’s African radio voice ELWA, which has a wide hearing. National leaders actively identified with Christian churches include President Tubman and Vice-President Tolbert. Not a few churches are soundly evangelical in doctrine and actively evangelistic in practice. Because the Americo-Liberians did not originally evangelize the indigenous tribes, the religion of many of this country’s one million inhabitants remains a strange mixture of Christianity, Islam, and animism.
The erection of huge government buildings is shunting funds from internal development in a land where food and housing costs are exorbitant. The economy of Monrovia, the capital, has been distorted by the influx of foreigners, and its entire population of 60,000 is indirectly affected. As the new highways are built, remote mission outposts and tribal villages find themselves no longer remote, but alongside the main arteries of modern travel. The result is an awakening people. Their discontents are not pervasive; despite a growing interest in material improvement, education, and health conditions, they remain a basically contented society.
The conspicuous vices against which Christianity must contend are not difficult to identify: social alcoholism (palm wine) and adultery, thievery and drug addiction; in the interior, witchcraft as well; and in political circles, not simply dishonesty and graft but sexual promiscuity. The Christian religion is sometimes misunderstood in terms of political idealism whose spiritual principles are more implicit than overt, with a lip-service to biblical vocabulary that lacks operational significance in life.
The churches are not faced with easy alternatives. The necessities of political reform as the nation reaches for a larger role in the African dialogue may bring changes that will leave the heart and will of the people unaltered. Though in public life are found men highly dedicated to Christian life and behavior, it is widely felt that Christianity is simply a religious feeling that separates one from paganism; that perpetuates a noble tradition within which one is born, married, and buried; and that demands only an avoidance of the more sensational sins. Among tribal people, moreover, one often finds a superstitious fear of the clergy. “You are our god,” one group of tribes-people told a visiting missionary.
Nationalization of Liberian churches is inevitable, and it will be slowed only if their effectiveness is impeded. Some churches supported abroad are reluctant to cut their ties swiftly lest “self-support” also lead to solicitation from other foreign concessions or to political pressures. The Moslems dispute that Liberia is a Christian nation, but there is little doubt that the Christian community has both a heritage and a missionary force that could supply fresh momentum to a determined witness for the Gospel. The nation stands at a significant crossroads on a continent that needs a clear Christian witness as never before.
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