Thursday, January 16, 2014

All Souls

/ Jesse Halsey / November 1934 / Part I

The ship in which Paul sailed toward Rome can be taken as a cross-section of society—then or now. The capitalistic owner and galley slaves. Sailors and land lubbers. Prisoners and police. Soldiers and civilians. A minister of the gospel, a writer, a physician—all sorts and conditions of men.

The Morro Castle disaster apparently is not the first time when sailors showed the “white feather.” Under pretext of putting out an anchor, the sailors on the SS “Castor and Pollux” sought to escape in the one remaining lifeboat. Paul’s word to the Centurion, “Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved,” is a good word for each individual and group in our divided society, today. Each needs the other. It is impossible for the nation to come to its best or to go forward in any marked way, without the contribution that each group can make. There must be some common denominator.

This is equally true for all groups. The Catholic has something to add to our national life. We deeply sympathize with his insistence that religion enter into the education of children and if, by constitutional means, he can secure public funds, as good citizens and believers in democracy, I suppose, we will submit. On the other hand, we will make a vigorous fight to prevent this very thing, believing that our best contribution will be in support of a non-sectarian school system. The trouble with this situation is that most Protestants are anti-Catholic rather than pro-Protestant. For traditional and real causes they will fight Catholics, but when it comes to a positive support of their own churches, they are sadly lacking. Witness the attendance at worship in this church this morning, or in any other Protestant church in the city, unless it happens to be some anniversary or special occasion. A Protestantism that represents only animus toward other groups is entirely beside the point and unworthy.

I am ashamed to make any reference to my next point. It seems so obvious that denominational bounds within Protestantism are outgrown and “out-moded,” and yet we are farther away from any kind of coherent church unity than we were when I began my ministry, twenty-five years ago. The “world” outside, that incidentally contains many discerning people of good will, has little sympathy with our “unhealthy divisions.” They are a crying shame to heaven.

The first step toward a larger unity has been made in the Federal Council, which has had widely representative and capable leadership. No man today speaks with more spiritual authority and keen intelligence than Bishop McConnell, who speaks in our city next Sunday night. He has been one of the guiding spirits of the Federal Council.

The report on the steel situation fifteen years ago, violently opposed at the time, is now recognized as a masterly document that solved a problem in the field of labor that the government in Washington had failed to adjust. This report is an ample vindication of the Council and of future efforts in that direction from the same source, provided they be guided by the principle, which I would call Bishop McConnell’s “Principle of Prophesy,” which briefly is this: On the basis of the best information available, unprejudiced and gathered by experts from all sources, let the Church, in the name of justice and good will, indicate to economic and industrial groups the just policy, and you will have a prophetic voice speaking in no uncertain tones along lines that can be profitably followed. Put human interests ahead of property interests, with all the sanity and knowledge available! Apply the basic principles of the Gospel and the Church can still exercise its prophetic function. That endowment of power in other days came upon individuals, and that may happen again. But, more likely, it is destined in the future to speak through the combined intelligence of the Group.

Yes, we need each other. The Pacifist, in this present evil world, still needs the Militarist. Somewhere, between the two extremes, the public course must be charted. There are too many dangers for complete disarmament. On the other hand, all the enthusiasm of the sincere lovers of peace, all the good sense of statesmen, is needed to prevent the recurrence of war. It is an open question whether war ever accomplished any good commensurate with its awful cost. Nine-tenths of all our present day poverty, moral and economic alike, the world around, can be charged up the Great War. On this I feel strongly and would defend the right of any lover of peace, no matter how extreme, to have his say. But I am enough of a realist to know that in order to make substantial progress, any program, whether it be promoted by churchmen or politicians, must give the assurance of national security to citizens of my country in order to gain their support, tacit or enthusiastic. But more of this next Sunday, which happens to be Armistice Day.

In the present county elections the ugly form of Nazism rears its head. We owe a great debt to our Jewish citizens. In the city they are among our most intelligent and generous philanthropists. This has been true for nearly a century. In the religious field, they have been given a surprising number of outstanding leaders in our city. Culturally and economically they have been a great asset. In the last decade they have proved stalwart supporters, and furnished striking leadership for, the desperate political situation of this municipality. But, I predict that the election next Tuesday will temporarily eliminate some of our most useful public servants simply because they are Jews, for an over-seas hatred, due to historical and racial reasons, finds a strong reflection in “Zinzinnati.” “My beloved brethren, these things ought not so to be” . . . . “Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.”
Now I ask you, as I ask myself, what are the forces that cohere? What are the things that bind us together? This multitude of all sorts, who travel in the same ship of state. [With us, as of old, there are prisoners, and the problems of the under-world and the gangsters are forced home upon us every day. What have we to offset this and the hundred other ills that afflict us?

This was a food ship, in which St. Paul traveled, carrying to Rome the wheat for the daily dole. Our relief situation is nothing new. Make it acute enough however, and you have the seeds of revolution sprouting fast.]

I should say that very likely in American life the thing that most nearly binds us together into anything like a common unity is the Public School, which is worthy of our support in the present or any other tax levy; not for the mere learning of the Three R’s, but enough money available for adequate equipment and a well-paid teaching staff that has had access to all the educational and cultural advantages of our time, that they may pass these on, consciously and unconsciously, to our children. Not a stereotyped, inflexible system that teaches by rote the ‘Law of the Twelve Tables’ or an interpretation of the Constitution sanctioned by the Sons of the Revolution—or the Daughters, but an intelligent, constructive educational policy that teaches the value of all that is good in the past and yet recognizes the inevitability of change. Over every public school might be written into the motto: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”

Organizations like the Boy Scouts, the Red Cross, the present non-sectarian policies of the Y.M. and Y.M.C.A; these, and any other groups for young people or adults, that give them a cross-section of the community, that force people of all sorts and conditions to mix and to mingle—as they must have done on the little ship that sailed to Rome, these “two hundred, three score and sixteen souls,” learning to dislike each other and, in emergencies, to admire each other and depend upon each other for mutual help and support; all the things in our common life that acquaint us with each other, our strong cohesive forces.

And, the religion of Christ, by all means, ought to be one of these unifying factors. If Protestantism has been divisive, let us change its character. Paul said that Christ came to break down “a middle wall of partition” and that without this the Cross of Christ would become of no effect. Whatever the first century Christians may have done in this regard (there are the marks and wounds of strife in the Book of Acts), whatever they may have done or failed to do, our present interpretation of Christianity in Protestant circles is far from “breaking down” any walls. We have as many prejudices as have our Catholic neighbors, only theirs take a different form. Their united front and policy, of opposition to all who do not agree with them in theory, of course, is the very antithesis of the Gospel. Let it be a lesson to us.

Like these ancient mariners, we have thrown overboard much of the tackling of the ship. There is not much water between our keel and the rocks. Shipwreck may be ahead. If all abide in the ship, if there is a unified purpose of good will, all will come safe to land, though it may be on broken pieces of the ship.

No one is wise enough to predict the future. There are certain great and abiding principles that ought, however, to direct our life, individual and social. These have been defied; that is our trouble today. Old-fashioned honesty, a simple faith in action; these have been largely lacking in the setup of the last twenty years. We have become too sophisticated. There are many new helps to navigation, thanks to Lord Kelvin and a hundred others, but none of them can afford to neglect the stars. Like these ancient sailors, “we have cast our anchors out of the stern and long for the day.” Serious thought has been forced upon us and as we revamp our plans for the future, in the Spirit of Christ, regardless of what our traditional religious prejudices have indicated, we ought to go forward with our main reliance on the Ethical Gospel of our Lord. There is salvation in no other Name; and that, in the barest terms, He said, was to love God with heart, soul and mind and ones neighbor as one’s self.

We need a new infusion of the fear of the Lord, reverence for the Highest and Best, a new appreciation of good will and brotherhood, a baptism of the spirit of love that suffers long and is kind, that never fails and cannot fail.

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