Helsinki And Humpty Dumpty

Four summers ago, the Helsinki agreement was signed at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. A recently concluded meeting in the Finnish capital acknowledged the fact. “Helsinki,” said the sponsors of that meeting, “has become a symbol of the beginning of a new historical epoch and of a real hope for a new just order of international relations among all the nations of the world. We recognize that this international process of détente will be opposed by its enemies who attempt even now to retard and delay it.”

Ah, but who are the enemies? Read on. The same sponsors will tell you without specifically identifying them by name: “There is a real danger that forces are again at work making use of slogans of freedom and security in order to pursue their own political and economic interests. They seek to manipulate the international order to preserve their privileges and to continue the business of armaments. Imperialism is always and everywhere an enemy of peace.”

No reference is intended, of course, to the military might of the Soviet Union that paraded itself shortly afterwards in Moscow’s Red Square. And no sympathy is directed toward those imprisoned in the USSR and its satellite countries because of their monitoring activities aimed at insuring that the 1975 CSCE agreement is being honored.

The latest Helsinki meeting comprised the working committee of the Prague-based Christian Peace Conference, an organization that regards Communist criticism of democracy as a wholly laudable pursuit, but Western criticism of Communism as totally unfounded.

Here is the committee again taking up lofty ground: “Every member of the UN has special responsibility to abide by the UN Charter and to seek the settlement of all disputes through peaceful negotiations. The use of military force contravenes the UN Charter and is a threat to the spirit of détente and peaceful coexistence of nations.” This time the culprit was spelled out: the Chinese aggression against Vietnam. “It is our view,” the committee declared, “that China or any other country has absolutely no justification for launching a ‘punitive’ war against any country.” Here a side-glance is directed at past U. S. involvement in Vietnam.

All this when we are coming up to the eleventh anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Who then were the imperialists and aggressors? We have a feeling that Lewis Carroll long ago provided that committee’s answer: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

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Prayers And Prohibitions

On the initiative of Senator Jesse Helms, the U.S. Senate recently voted to revoke the authority of the Supreme Court with respect to legislation permitting prayer in public schools. Subsequently, the action was attached to a judicial bill that is back in committee with no hope of passage. (See news story, May 4 issue, p. 48.) However, this vote was in accordance with Article III of the Constitution, which permits Congress to make exceptions to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. The Senate action, like that of several state legislatures in calling for a convention to amend the Constitution, reflects the growing conviction that the government has needlessly expanded and abused its powers and needs to be restrained.

Some who oppose Senator Helms’s view on public prayer, or who endorse the status quo with respect to abortion on demand, are doing so by appealing to the sanctity of the Constitution and of the Supreme Court. Quite apart from the merits of Senator Helms’s prayer recommendation, the proposed balanced budget amendment, or the proposed human life amendment, it seems evident that no Christian should appear to endorse the position that the Constitution should not be tampered with or that the Supreme Court, through legal procedures, may not have its decisions reversed. Human beings wrote the Constitution, and human beings sit on the Supreme Court. While great respect is due to those who have written and interpreted the Constitution, we must avoid paying those human institutions a reverence that only God himself deserves. If the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance means anything, it means that the Constitution is not the ultimate authority—God is.

In 1962 and 1963 the Supreme Court virtually banned both government-sponsored prayers and the devotional reading of the Bible from public schools. If interpreted narrowly, these decisions would not necessarily have proved harmful, but in practice the lower courts and levels of bureaucrats high and low have frequently interpreted or applied them too broadly. In some jurisdictions, distribution of the Bible on school grounds has been prohibited; recently in a Michigan school system a voluntary lunch-hour Bible discussion was banned from a school cafeteria. When one reflects for an instant on what other items are distributed on school grounds and what other subjects are discussed in school cafeterias, such decisions seem not merely unnecessary but totally lacking in common sense. Surely one of Senator Helms’s purposes, far from “imposing” any form of prayer or religious observance in the schools, is simply to restore to Christians and to other religiously committed people the same liberty that others already possess.

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A number of Christians have expressed their opposition to the Helms initiative, primarily on the grounds of concern for the separation of church and state. This concern is understandable, but at this point it may well be misapplied. No reflective Christian contends that permitting voluntary prayer in public schools is likely to have a great spiritual or moral impact on the lives of teachers and students. From a Christian perspective, not a great deal is gained by permitting prayer in public schools. But from both a Christian and a secular perspective a great deal may be lost by prohibiting it.

All those who take the Bible and its message seriously should consider Senator Helms’s proposal in the light of Romans 1:18–32. Paul, writing about paganism, indicates that God expects some things even from pagans, namely that they honor him and give him thanks (v. 21). Because the pagans, who knew better, no longer saw fit even to acknowledge him (v. 28), God blighted their intellectual endeavors with foolishness and with all kinds of moral disorder, including sexual confusion. Against this background, it is difficult to see how a believing Christian can object to giving God honor and thanksgiving under any circumstances. We understand that such formal, frequently perfunctory reverence as that represented in school prayers is not meritorious in the sight of God and does not necessarily do anything for the spiritual improvement of teachers and pupils. On the other hand, refusal to render it is an affront to God and does tremendous harm, particularly where the moral level of society is concerned (vv. 22, 28).

The separation of church and state has served America well. But that doctrine must not be taken to what the Founding Fathers would have called absurd extremes, namely to the point of utterly prohibiting the public acknowledgment of God and of giving God thanks, or prohibiting the public acknowledgment of God and of giving God thanks, or prohibiting the public support of general moral standards.

God cursed the intellectual pursuits of pagan Rome for the very simple reason that they no longer acknowledged him, and he appears to be doing the same thing in partly Christian, partly pagan America. Whenever Christians, pagans, or any other persons express a wish to show reverence and respect for God and his moral law, no one is wise to stand in their way.

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Even though the specific initiative of Senator Helms may not be the best way to address the question, the underlying issues do demand the continued concern not only of Christians, but of all who are concerned for the just functioning of society.

Multiplying Money

Poor Father Edmund J. Nadolny. The priest heads up radio-TV and evangelization projects for Roman Catholics in and around Hartford, Connecticut. The archdiocese budgeted only $15,000 for his work in 1979 when, he says, $400,000 would have been more in order. To raise additional funds, he took out a personal loan of $20,000 and lent the money to fifty applicants (out of more than 750,000 requesting a total in excess of $1 million) who responded to his widely publicized appeals for ideas to “multiply” the money for Christ. Wanting to exemplify Christian faith and trust, the priest asked few questions.

The day of reckoning arrived recently. In short, the project turned out to be a “phenomenal flop,” according to the understandably disillusioned Nadolny. Only five people returned any money, leaving him with $18,000 to repay out of his own pocket. Nearly half the recipients gave phony names and addresses and can’t be located. Most of the others “never used the money for the creative ideas they described; they used it for themselves,” he said. When the priest tried to collect from these people, including several business heads who took $1,000 loans, he got such comments as, “Get off my back,” “Get lost,” “Maybe I’ll pay you back someday.”

There are, however, bright aspects to the story. Five honest people received a total of $1,200 and returned $2,200—including a man who borrowed $1 to organize a dance and returned $300. And even though the deadbeats and scoundrels lied, says the priest, they were “creative liars,” for their ideas “were good.”

If nothing else, the incident confirms the biblical doctrine of man’s basic depravity and need of God’s moral enablement in Christ, hence the need for better budgeting for evangelization. It may also suggest that Christian charity apart from sanctified common sense is more an exercise in foolishness than faith. It also underscores the wisdom of relying on the voluntary giving of committed Christians to finance the church’s work. Meanwhile, Father Nadolny has organized a car raffle to help offset his loss.

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