Jesse Halsey | 1934
2726 Cleinview Av
John Harley is always in church. He is proud of his church, is one of its trustees, and is a loyal and friendly toward his minister. He is a capable lawyer, direct and plain spoken, though not profound.
Last Sunday the minister preached on a curious text, “The Holy Ghost saith, Today!” It hardly made sense in itself. And then the minister was—well, he said something about the New Deal and the President’s latest message. Being a Democrat, Harley agreed, though he wasn’t sure that the minister gave entire approval. That didn’t matter.
Then the minister had something to say about that two-thirds of Protestantism who seldom or never go to church. That was true—and that was fine. Harley is always there.
But then he started on war, the minister did. Its terror and its devastation, its awful waste. Harley knew all about it; he had been over there. And just fifteen years ago to the day, and the hour, Harley had been sailing up the Bay coming home. The band had been playing and there was the Statue of Liberty—the world had been made safe!
The breeze, cool from the night’s thunder shower, blew in through the church window and summoned the minister to an extra five minutes—and Harley to his thoughts.
What was he saying? The danger of the hour is in a nationalistic religion whether you look at Germany or America? There was a reference to the MacIntosh case. Harley is a great admirer of Mr. Justice Hughes. So apparently, in this instance, was the minister.
Then bang—“never again”; “the method is wrong”; “naval preparedness is the worst possible gesture . . .”; “Christ said men were brothers”; “I must act that way even in the face of propaganda . . .”; “I can’t say categorically, in advance, in face of any or all conditions that I won’t fight, but I wish I could.”
That was good but likely camouflaged pacifism—(Harley wears a legion button). Hang it, he came here to worship, to get a start for the week and its problems, to get out of himself and find God, and here the minister was shooting ethics. Well, that was a minister’s privilege, his honest soul replied, and likely his business.
But why today? Fifteen years ago he had come home after eighteen months in the trenches and all he had believed then was held false now. What was the matter? Anyway, there was no use getting mad about it and—well, the minister had been over there, too. His church had sent him and paid his salary to his family; he had served the government without pay.
The sermon went on to a swift conclusion. God is Lord of the Conscious. The state is not supreme . . . God comes first . . . In a Christian state there is room for the conscientious objector . . . No Christian should ever cross the boundary of another country with any but good intent, in peace or in war—and then there would be no war. No thorough-going pacifism, but enough to irritate the veteran who was sailing up the bay just fifteen years ago to the minute—allowing for daylight saving time; this careful lawyer.
So Harley tackled the minister, expressing not his anger, but his doubts. “Fifteen years ago we (that was generous) went. Now you advocate a philosophy just the opposite.”
“Yes, because the other didn’t work. Only ideals got us in and none of those objectives were accomplished.”
“That was the miserable politicians,” countered Democrat Harley. “But when the duly constituted representative of the people in congress assembled vote for war, every loyal citizen who can bear arms must respond, regardless.”
“Miserable politicians” then perverted the peace, “high minded statesmen” shall mould the future issue?
The minister’s logic, for the moment, was better than the lawyer’s—and they agree to defer further argument until after the Trustees’ meeting on Monday night.
Meanwhile, Harley is puzzled. Nor is the minister entirely sure. It would be so much easier to be a thorough-going Pacifist than a reasonable (and reasoning) Idealist.