Bill Sr., THE WITNESS, 11-24-55:
There was always a lot of discussion — even argument — in the Church League about what its program should be. Some wanted to think and pray. Others did not object to either, but thought prayer and thinking should result in action to amount to much.
This matter was the subject of an exciting meeting held in 1934 at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Boston, over which that beloved New Yorker, Mary Simkhovitch, then head of Greenwich House, presided. One of the addresses was given by the Rev. Julian Hamlin, rector of the Advent, Boston, who was then the president of a vfery active chapter of the League in that city. He was billed as the champion of the pray-think group. He said that he believed in Christ as Lord, the Church, the Creed, in spirituality. But these convictions led him to conclusions not generally held by Church people.
‘One class in this world,’ he said, ‘is exploiting another class, and you and I, if we are friends of Jesus Christ, if we belong to him, if we are loyal to him and the gospel, must stand by the exploited peoples in this world; we must stand against interracial exploitation; we must stand against international exploitation, we must stand against inter class exploitation. That is our job and we must not dodge the facts nor the issues.”
As secretary I reminded the group that the purpose of the League was printed on the card people signed when they became members –’to bring together for prayer, study and action those who seek to apply the principles of Christianity in industrial society.’ My contention was that thinking was swell but that the best thinking was not the drawing-room variety but thinking that came out of action. ‘Get into the struggles that are all about us –get the feel of the soul of them–and some real hard thinking will result. Most people don’t know it and most people won’t believe it when I say it, but I have a theology. I believe in God, the Father Almighty, who is revealed in his Son Jesus Christ. That is my sermon, the only sermon I have. And because of it I am a revolutionary –I don’t see how you can be anything else.
What our religious convictions would lead to I illustrated with several experiences. One of them was an invitation that the League had just sent to a number of New York clergy asking them to march in a demonstration of the unemployed. We sent letters to Bishop Manning of New York; Bishop Perry, then Presiding Bishop; to all of the clergy holding jobs at the Church Mission House; to rectors of scores of parishes. Our invitation was brief and factual: ‘There is going to be a demonstration of the unemployed, and we want you to come and carry a banner and march up Broadway.’
There was laughter, which I said was itself significant: nobody, not even League members, expected parsons to do anything so undignified. But I told them that a couple of Episcopal parsons had shown up–one of them the Rev. Eliot White, a dapper man in clericals with his customary white carnation, who carried a sign: ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ There were thousands in that parade, witnessed by many thousands more. Nobody in the march was cheered like Eliot White. ‘That’s the boy, Reverend!’ There was a man who had been booted around in the Episcopal Church, parading with that mass of destitute humanity and they knew that he was one of them.
‘That is the sort of thing we want for the whole Church,’ I told that League meeting. ‘We have got to identify ourselves, as completely as we can, with suffering humanity. We are not compromising ourselves or giving up our Church position in doing it. We are instead finding our Church position by standing with the people in their struggle for a better life.’
My conclusion at that meeting was that we had to pray, to study, to act–’and I think the three hang together.’
The discussion that followed fills thirty typewritten pages so perhaps the best thing to do is to glean from them a few quotes. The threat of Fascism in the U.S. started the ball rolling, with everybody agreeing that it existed but the group had difficulty in defining what it is. This one was generally accepted:
Albert Baker Lewis, Boston layman: ‘Fascism is where the state undertakes to boss everything, including the state, the economic life, the industrial life, also the Church life; and if we have a real Fascism here, it is inevitable that an attempt will be made to dominate our Christian function and we will have to choose between God and the state. That is just what is happening in Germany and that is what is coming here.’
To the question of Mrs. Simkhovitch: What are we going to do about it?
Vida Scudder: ‘I think we should study all political movements that are looking toward any limitation of privilege and more equal distribution of wealth, and that we should select from the numerous movements that are working in that direction, the one that in the light of our Christian faith seems to us on the whole to be most promising. Most of us know little about these movements. However I read a Socialist paper and a Communist paper and from them I get an excellent bewilderment of mind. But, of course, finally we are all prone to say our prayers with a little more earnestness and intelligence.’
Julian Hamlin: ‘A year ago I started a row in the League by charging that a large group in it were secularists. If I was wrong, it was my own most grievous fault. Pretty soon, Bill laid me flat with some of my own philosophy when he told me there was nothing secular but sin. And I had to admit it, because that is the very essence of sacramental philosophy.–Just the same there are people in the League who have a sociology in one pocket and a theology in another. We have to think things through until we have a theology and sociology that are harmonious. If we can connect these things together we will be all right.”
John Pole, Boston layman: ’Miss Scudder asked for study of movements with an open mind. But if you keep your mind too open, either you have a mind like a sieve that doesn’t hold anything, or you have a liberal, who is a ;person who sits on the fence and spits on both sides until a crisis comes and then you can’t find him anywhere.’
Adelaide Case, professor at E.T.S [the Episcopal Theological School, Cambridge]: ’Our business is to study social questions and to take active part in trying to solve them. One thing we can agree upon and that is that economic problems are solvable, and we take that position because we are Christian.’
Florence Converse, editor and poet: ’I believe in research thoroughly, but do we have to make ourselves absolutely sure on every point before we work with secular people? Some say that to leave our fold is to go into the wolves’ den. But who’s afraid of the wolves’ den? Study and act–why can’t we do both?’
William Wood, professor at E.T.S.: ’Our chief task is to make peole see that God in Christ claims our first allegiance. if they can have a vision of God, then they can have over against that the vision of the tremendous need that we are all in–the complete wrongness of our whole social order.’
Smith Dexter, rector of Trinity Church, Concord, Mass.: ’We have got to come sooner or late to collective sharing and it seems to me that we can commit ourselves to that. But let us stand on the value of personality; to stand with the most down-and-out because God shared everything in human life and mind and soul. Our technique is equally important–not to allow ourselves to be drawn into violence but rather to stand for the method of the Cross.’
Mary van Kleeck, director of industrial studies for the Russell Sage Foundation: ’The class struggle is created out of the fundamental concentration of power and privilege in the hands of a few, and if we let ourselves be so deluded into believing that there should never be force and never be violence, we are thereby perpetuating force and violence. –If we say that there is to be no class struggle and no class conflict, we ally ourselves with the dominant class and we separate ourselves from any possibility of serving our day. –We in the United States have the skill, the development, the resources, the democratic ideals, which are very priceless possessions, and we have the ability to develop a new commonwealth and a new society here. –Our opportunity here will come by the leadership of the class which represents creation rather than possession, the leadership of those who possess nothing. But we will play our part only if we take the secondary place, if we are willing to go into the ranks, let the workers take the lead in the direction that they are going, and see that the reat issue is the human issue over property rights.’
All of which was, as I have said, in 1934. So, more than twenty years later, a lot could be said about the direction that the workers, or more accurately their leaders, went in the interval.
More could be said too about the direction that the Church and its leaders went during that same period.