MALCOLM NYGRENMalcolm Nygren is pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Champaign, Illinois. He holds the A.B. from Hanover College and the B.D. from McCormick Seminary.

One Thursday at 8 P.M. ministers and laymen from two churches of the same denomination were meeting in separate places. They were moved by the same concern: racism and its results. But their purposes were quite different.

Leaders from Grace Church met with their counterparts from a black congregation to plan a tutoring program. Volunteers from the two churches would work together to help children who were being hurt by racial divisions. They know that the help they can give is small compared with the magnitude of the problem, but they do not let this discourage them. They are motivated more by compassion than by crusading zeal. Their model is the Good Samaritan, who helped the wounded man simply because his help was needed.

Memorial Church people have more ambitious goals. Their intent is not just to help a few people but to change the whole structure of the community. As one step they are meeting with black leaders to plan a demonstration at a city council meeting. They are convinced that political action is the only way the Church can count for anything in today’s society. They take their pattern from the fiery prophets of the Old Testament, not the compassionate Samaritan.

Two very different kinds of activism are open to today’s Church. Discussion does not end with the assertion that the Church must be in the world ministering to people. That only opens a new set of questions. What should the Church do in the world? The Church has historically made education, medical help, other ministries of compassion an integral part of its mission. Is political action ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.