The end of World War II meant that the world and culture faced new conditions. So, too, the editorial board and the executive committee of the Episcopal Church Publishing Company (i.e., The Witness) wrestled with new conditions and duties. Many meetings were held and as a result four position editorials were produced, starting with May 16, 1946:
First, they said, ‘we believe in Prayer Book revision. The Book of Common Prayer, like the Bible, NEEDS to be revised every generation or two….This revision need not be drastic; the flavor of the old, traditional version ought to be retained, no doubt; but at least for the sake of new communicants, young and old, the translation of the Epistles and Gospels should be more intelligible. There is nothing sacrosanct about the English version. All versions of the New Testament are merely translations–i.e. all but the Greek version are merely translations masde form it, and in some cases translations of translations.”
Second, ‘We believe that Christian reunion is essential to the further progress of Christ’s Church….When we say reunion, we mean the realization of something not yet achieved in the world: a united, positive, convinced, tolerant, and free type of inclusiveness or of catholicity, which will have room for all that is positive and good in every Church, and will rule out only what is narrow, bigoted, divisive, and antagonistic to other Christians or Christian groups. This does not mean a ‘lowest common denominator’ religion, based on the father of God and the brotherhood of man, for example; it means the recovery of what is sound and good in the past, and the sloughing off of what is transitory, unfruitful, ineffective and positively harmful.”
In presenting this item, the editorial quote was from Bishop Henry K. Sherrill of Massachusetts from his convention address:
‘The most discussed question to come before General Convention has to do with progress of union with the Presbyterians…I do repeat my deep interest in this matter. When I think of the terrible realities of our world situation I am convinced of the absolute necessity of a united Christian voice. Here is an opportlunity to make a beginning. Even this beginning will take ime, patience, education and association beween the clergy and laity of the two Churches. But if we who share the experience of Christ cannot resolve our differences how can we expect the nations to do so? I trust that the General Convention will take steps to forward this movement towards unity.’
Of course, Bp. Sherrill was elected the Presiding Bishop at the General Convention and much of his terms, besides being known as administratively superb, was devoted to ecumenical action, with the formation of both the National and World Council of Churches, and with many of the Church’s programs, such as Christian social relations, the National Town-Country Church Institute at Roanridge, etc., having ecumenicity as important components.
Bill Jr. I worked in the Dept. of Social Service in One Joy Street, Boston, while in seminary and upon graduation. I recall having a ‘brown bag lunch’ with Bp. Sherril in the diocesan house kitchen and we were discussing ecumenicity. I still recall him saying; “Bill, this is so important. But I can call up Archbishop Cushing anytime I want to and we can discuss things. Where you are working in the South End of Boston is where the real action is…until the Church becomes a unity on the streets and in the villages, it is very difficult for us to do much at these higher levels.” All I can say, with gratitude, is that he, and a lot of others, tried, as a May 24, 1945 issue of THE WITNESS, dedicated to The World Council of Churches and all of its ending-of-war challenges indicates.)
The Witness: The third policy statement supported the adoption of a new marriage canon. While not being fully convinced that legislation was the best method of promoting Christian observance of Christian ideals of marriage and home life, the editorial said there ‘is far more need for teaching than for legislation and much greater need for good example on the part of Christian partners in married life. If Church and state were identical, or if there were a state Church here in America (God forbid!), then there might be good reason for legislation on marriage on the part of the Church. But the present ambiguous position is an inherited one and we are in favor of the proposed canon as an improvement….”
“But we hope that the Church will not go further and pass canons forbidding perjury, homicide, or sedition; or providing ways whereby murderers, liars and tax evaders may be restored to communion. If you want such canons you can find precedents in the ancient Church; but along with them goes the whole theory of Byzantinism or of Caesarism…the state is ‘the secular arm’ of a church which has itself become paralyzed and secularized without knowing it.
‘The principle that ‘hard cases make bad law’ was recognized from the start by the commission on marriage; at the same time it was recognized thast exceptions are bound to arise and that there ARE –indisputably ARE–Christians who should be permitted to remarry after a first marriage has broken down.”
The editorial ends with an approval of Planned Parenthood and says:
“.The archaic views of the Roman Church on the question are wholly out of touch with the conditions of modern life; they are logically inconsistent and cannot be justified by Christian teaching. Italy ought to be a sufficient demonastration, with about two hundred thouseand young Italians each year for whom there are neither food nor jobs, thanks to the papal encouragement of fifteen-child families, subsidized by the Fascists. The end was war and desolation. What the policy of the Roman Church has cost the rest of us ought to be enough, in itself, to make us very suspicious of Roman Catholic policies and of Roman Catholic interpretations of morals.”
Fourth, the board supported the establishment and work of the fledgling United Nations. At the same time it said we should work increasingly for the eventual establishment of a world government. This is the position taken by the 1946 General Convention.
“We see no reason why these should be mutually exclusive. On the one hand we distrust those who are so unrealistic as to imagine that the world can be promptly united by merely political means. On the other hand it is equally ture that ‘our aim is to focus the consciousness of mankind through institutions’…witness the Christian Church. We have to recognize that permanent peace is not assured if it is to rest on the tenuous balance of power that has so far animated the doings of the U.N. While the U.N. has gone a gratifying distance in abolishing world anarchy, that anarchy will continue to exist until there is a strong central authority with a police force to back it up.
‘Meanwhile, as we see it, the earth ball will be divided between two spheres of influence: the Western block and the Soviet Union. We believe that through all tension and conflict those two powers can work and live together in the same world if the will-to-peace, manifest in all peoples, can force those in authori8ty to forbearance and understanding. Destiny has place dupon the United States the leadership in creating and maintaining trust between the two great centers of power.
And, at the end, the editors said: ‘In the last analysis the issue is democracy; economic and political. We are convinced that a ground of common interests can be found as we in the Western world move towards the former and as Russia moves toward the latter. Both of us have considerale distance to go. Since there are man things to be condemned and many things to be commended in both systems it would seen not only futile but downright wicked to waste our eneries in berating one another; ‘blame is the expedient of impotence.’ Obvious as it is, it cannot be stated too often: the best and only answer to what we do not approve of in the Soviet system is to make our own democracy a reality.”
Bill Jr. In the next issue, in his TALKING IT OVER column, Dad took issue with one sentence in the editorial which, when the policy was first presented, was not included. It was “We recognize that reports of the Russian treatment of populations in territories under their control gives justifiable rise to such fears.” He said that, after considerable debate,’we voted on whether or not this sentence should be inserted. Since I alone voted ‘no’ I want to state my reasons.” He gave some reasons which, in hindsight now, don’t have much cogency. But he ended with: “As for last week’s editorial as a whole, i am of course wholeheartedly with its spirit and purpose, as are all the members of the editorial board.”
Again, it is significant that all of this was before Winston Churchill said that an ‘Iron Curtain’ had descended on Europe and while the U.S. had a monopoly on atomic weaponry.
And when people claimed bias, Dad wrote:
Bill Sr. Maybe it would be the best thing for the Church to have one type of churchmanship and one magazine of news and opinion. And maybe we’ll soon have just that, the way things are going. Anyhow I keep in mind the letter Bishop Johnson always sent those who cancelled their subscription because they disapproved of something we had printed: ‘I never yet have learned anything from anyone with whom I agreed. I suspect the same is true with you. Anyhow if you will persuade about 15,000 others to cancel their subscriptions you will be relieving Spofford and me of a tough job.” That statement by our founder and first editor is still true. (The Witness, Aug. 18, 1949)
Bill Jr. And the statement of Policy IV seems to have been very brief and strange. It read:
The Witness: ‘We recognize that Anti-Semitism is a weapon used by reactionary forces and must be combatted wherever it appears. But we do not recognize that Anti-Semitism is as Christian product and can be ended as soon as Christians agree to end it. It is far older than Christianity and it is a pity that Christianity has not done more to put an end to it. But it is a Jewish problem as well as a Christian and the Jews themselves can do much to put an end to it. Let Judaism be a religion, not a race or nationality, and it will flourish better.” (The Witness, June 2l7, 1946)
Bill Jr. This seems so unlikely a statement by that board that it is hard for me, at least, to scan. The state of Israel, of course, was not in being at this time….although Zionism as a ‘dream’ and program was vividly alive. So, too, the realities of the Holocaust were continuing to be revealed.
And, again, how long ago all of this seems to be, given a world that is approaching the end of this turbulent and bloody century. Some of which the board postulated has come about…others areas are, of course, long buried issues. And, still others, are in the grain fields waiting for harvest or, at least, new or different laborers to wield the scythes of history.