In 1941, there was a hassle over WBS Sr’s leadership of the CLID and, to some extent, his editing of THE WITNESS. Part of it was due to the efforts to make the Malvern Conference report a meaningful program and witness in the Episcopal Church. Part of it was a growing split between ‘liberals’ and ‘progressives’ or ‘pacifists’ in the CLID membership. For the most part, the old-line founders of the organization, such as Bishop Parsons, Dr. Mary van Kleeck and Dr. Vida D. Scudder were considered in the latter group. The ‘liberals’, in general, tended to be neo-orthodox theologians and, in a sense, Reinhold Niebuhr was their guiding light. These persons, by and large, were seeing aid to Great Britain as a fundamental focus and believed that the executive secretary and his supporters were mis-reading the nature of the times and, indeed, were giving ‘aid and comfort’ to fascist powers. Old friends, Wm. Cochrane of Baltimore, Alfred Baker Lewis of Boston, A.T. Mollegen of Virginia Theological Seminary, and Prof. Norman Nash were in this group.
Perhaps it was all kicked off by a letter from Alfred Baker Lewis to William F. Cochran who, for many church action groups, was an “angel” through the Christian Social Justice Fund. Said Mr. Lewis on Jan. 16, 1941:
“I am writing you as a member of the C.L.I.D. to ask if there is anything that can be done regarding the Executive Secretaryship.
“Mr. Spofford appears to be a very faithful follower of the Communist line, so much so, that he was enthusiastic for a united front of the political democracies in a collective security stand against Hitler’s aggression, until September 1939 when Hitler and Stalin signed, first, a non-aggression pact, and then, an economic alliance.
“Since then, he has been decidedly more critical, it would seem, of British imperialism and strongly eager to prevent any steps to aid Britain on the ground that it would tend to involve us in war
“The result is that the C.L.I.D. to some extent, is cut off form the labor movement except for the Communist influenced wing of the C.I.O., and is likewise cut off from the labor movement and I suppose the church element in Great Britain. Besides he seems to get as speakers representatives of the various Communist transition belts.
I don’t know what can be done about it but I think you ought to consider the problem in the light of the facts that I have mentioned.”
There is a series of letters between ‘Billy’ Cochrane, “Molle” and Mr. Lewis indicating that a CLID National Committee meeting in New Haven on Feb. 23rd – 24th would be conflictual. There was a proposal that “Molle” would write a statement indicating the dissatisfaction with Dad’s leadership and that a large number of board members who were interventionists would sign it. (Note: There is no such written proposal in the papers that WBS Sr. saved.)
Dad, knowing of this, collected some letters affirming his leadership — getting them from major rectors, both black and white, and prominent lay persons, and some bishops. Some indicated that, as usual, while they didn’t always agree with him, they recognized that he worked intensely for the causes of peace, justice and equity and, said one, ‘you are doing in the U.S. what the Archbishop of York (Wm. Temple) is attempting to do in England.”
Before the meeting, Dad sent all of the National Committee members the following un-dated [but sent on Feb. 14, 1941] answer to his critics:
“At the annual meeting to be held in New Haven, Feb. 23-24, there will be but a limited time for a committee meeting. Also from present indications only about one-half of the committee members will be present.
“Therefore I present this statement to all members in advance, and request a vote in order that I may be guided by the will of the majority when we meet in New Haven.
“The question has been raised as to what can be done regarding the executive secretarayship. Those asking the question charge that I am a faithful follower of the communist line; that I have cut myself off from the labor movement; that I have cut myself off from the Church element in Great Britain; that speakers at CLID meetings have been representative of communist dominated organizations. It is further charged that the columns of THE WITNESS, of which I am managing editor, do not represent the point of view of the CLID.
“I can be fairly brief with my answer.
“I am not now, nor have I been for ten years, a member of any political party. The only party I ever belonged to was the Socialist party and I dropped out of it ten years ago since it seemed to me to be, in effect, non-existent.
“I do not, consciously, follow any party line. I make my own decisions in the light of what I understand to be the Christian religion. If the Communist party, or any other party or group, reach the same decisions it is swell with me. I have not been in the past, nor am I now, afraid to cooperate with any group going my way.
“I am a member of the executive committee of the National Federation of Constitutional Liberties, serving not as secretary of the CLID but as an individual. I believe it to be an effective organization for the fight to maintain civil liberties. I have never inquired into the political affiliations of other members of the committee, since I do not consider it any of my business. I have no doubt that some are members of the Communist party, but as long as they function honestly and sincerely in the which is the concern of the committee it is not my business to inquire into their political affiliations.
“There have been objections because I preached at an interfaith service on February 9th, held in connection with the conference of the American Youth Congress. I did this also as an individual, although I would have been proud to have accepted the invitation as the secretary of the CLID. I would preach to Stalin if I had the chance. I am aware that the AYC is charged by people in high places with being communist dominated. They deny the charge and I prefer to believe the young people rather than the American newspapers. I can testify that I have never attended a more democratically run conference than the one I just attended, and I am proud that these young people had enough confidence in me as a representative of organized religion to invite me to preach to them.
“It is charged that I am anti-war. I am. I am aware of athe difficulties in the present international situation, but I nevertheless take my stand with the House of Bishops who recently declared in a Pastoral [Letter] that ‘war, as a methop of settling international disputes, is incompatable with the teaching and example of Jesus Christ.’
“I am against war; I am against measures which I believe lead to war, such as the loan-lease bill. However I hold these positions as an individual , since I believe I have faithly abided by the resolution that was passed at the June 6, 1940 meeting of our committee:
‘THE TASK OF THE CLID, AND WE BELIEVE ALL CHURCH PEOPLE, IS TO PROMOTE DEMOCRACY AND ECONOMIC JUSTICE. WE ARE CALLED UPON TO GIVE A DEMONSTRATION OF GENUINE ECONOMIC DEMOCRACY IN WHICH THE SACREDNESS OF PERSONALITY IS RESPECTED AND IN WHICH OUR INTELLIGENCE, OUR LABOR, OUR INDUSTRIAL EQUIPMENT AND OUR NATIONAL RESOURCES ARE USED TO BUILD THE ABUNDANT LIFE. WE THEREFORE CALL FOR THE FULL PRODUCTION OF OUR INDUSTRIAL EQUIPMENT TO SATISFY THE LEGITIMATE ECONOMIC NEEDS OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. WE OPPOSE THE LENGTHENING OF THE WORK WEEK ON THE GROUNDS OF A WAR EMERGENCY WHEN MILLIONS ARE UNEMPLOYED. INSTEAD WE FAVOR THE STRENGTHENING OF THE WAGE-HOUR STRUCTURE SO AS TO INCLUDE LARGE GROUPS OF WORKERS NOT NOW COVERED BY ITS BENEFITS. WE OPPOSE THE ANNULMENT OF ANY SOCIAL OR LABOR STANDARDS IN THE NAME OF PATRIOTISM OR AS A RESULT OF A RISING DEFENSE HYSTERIA. WHATEVER POSITIONS OUR MEMBERS MAY TAKE IN THE INTERNATIONAL SITUATION, WE STRONGLY URGE THEM, AND ALL CHURCH PEOPLE, TO REMAIN STEADFAST IN THEIR DEVOTION TO DEMOCRACY, WITH ALL ITS IMPLICATIONS.”
“I have done my best faithfully to carry out that resolution which was passed unanimously by our National Committee.
“As to the other charges; I affirm that the CLID is closer to the labor movement today than ever in our history. Rather than having cut ourselves off from Church elements in England, we are as close to them as we can be under war conditions, with our New Haven conference planned in order that we may bring to the American Church the message of the Malvern Conference which was sponsored and promoted by the Industrial Christian Fellowship of the English Church with which the CLID is now, as in the past, closely identified. As for the speakers at CLID meetings, the only outside speakers wee have had recently were those who addressed our forums at General Convention, and every one of those speakers were approved unanimously at the June 6, 1940 meeting of the committee, with practically all of them proposed not by the executive secretary but by members of the national committee present at the meetings.
“As for THE WITNESS, it has to be understood that it is an independent church journal with a policy since its founding of allowing editors complete freedom to express themselves in signed articles. Its editors frequently disagree, but there has never been an effort on the part of any editor to deprive another editor of freedom of expression. The only connection the CLID has with the paper is through the Bulletin which appears in the paper once a month. What appears in this Bulletin represents the CLID. What appears in the other pages of the paper the CLID is in no way responsible for. This policy has been stated frequently in the pages of THE WITNESS, and was stated this past summer in our Bulletin in a signed editorial by myself.
“I might add that I have had difficulty over this problem, in reverse. Most of our WITNESS editors are socially conservative, as are a large percentage of our readers since they are normal Episcopalians. My fellow editors therefore have wanted it to be clear that they are in no way responsible for what appears in the CLID Bulletin. None of them however have suggested that the Bulletin in the paper be discontinued. I have always assumed that our CLID members, and particularly our committee members, were as liberal as my conservative fellow editors.
“I have stated frequently to our officers and national committee that my resignation is always in their hands. I repeated that statement as recently as December 5, 1940 at the meeting of our committee. I again repeat it. My only desire is to serve the CLID and its purposes effectively.
“It is for you, as officers and committee members to determine whether or not I am thus serving.
“Since a considerable number of officers and members of the committee are unable to attend the New Haven meeting, I am now following what I thiknk is good parliamentary procedure by calling for a vote of ‘confidence’ or ‘no-conficence’ in order that I may act accordingly when we meet in New Haven, Feb. 23-24.”
Bill Jr., cont’d:
This letter was sent out Feb. 14, 1941 and, since Dad continued to be executive secretary of the CLID until 1946 (when I took over that post for two years), it is obvious that he got an affirming vote. The issue did not, of course, disappear. And, undoubtedly, this internal conflict, as in many other organizations, ultimately helped to lead to the fading away of the CLID in the mid-1950’s.
It has been difficult to find a complete set of minutes of National Committee meetings of the CLID or its successor, ELSA, although somewhere around various archives or in musty files they may exist. We discover, thus, how history always remains incomplete and ever distorted.