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Speaking the Truth in Love

Frequently in recent years, ever since rabbis, priests, and ministers have found their voices and have begun to speak freely and pointedly on political and economic subjects, complaints have been heard in the land that the Church ought not to enter politics and that churchmen ought not to dabble in economics about which they know very little. Involved in the latter statement is the assumption that bankers, brokers and merchants know a good deal more about economics than clergymen—an assumption which has been completely controverted by their demonstrated collective asininity in recent years. Captains of industry appear to be helplessly bewildered and quite desperate and reckless and they do not seen to know the first principles of a sound and secure economic order.

One could readily concede that the Church should not reach after political power nor attempt to control government. The alliance of Church and State has always worked iniquity. The possession of temporal power corrupts the Church, and theologic bias saddles bigotry upon government. No Church ought to align itself with any political party and its spiritual leaders ought not to further the interests of political aspirants just because of their religious affiliations.

On the other hand, the Church should not permit itself to become the tool of the State and to be exploited as the apologist and defender of all of its political policies and acts. The Church should be autonomous, loyal at all times to its own spiritual and moral mission. It should be the guide, critic and censor of State and society. It should transcend the State. It should resist coordination and total submergence in the political State, in the spirit of the German Church Opposition.

Similarly one can readily concede that the Church should not entangle itself in economic dogmatism. It should not—as in all conscience it cannot — champion the present economic system. On the other hand, it should not commit itself or give blanket endorsement to any avowedly utopian economic system which in practice may not even approximate the perfections claimed for it by its zealous advocates. The Church is concerned with the safeguarding of principles of morality which are involved and endangered in any and every economic system, and which no system can completely express or represent.

Some sincere churchmen have suggested that the organized religious bodies should endorse Communism. What, then, of Communism as realistically exemplified in Soviet Russia? Should they endorse that, too, with all that it involves —dictatorship, the rigors of suppression and terrorism, the purges and liquidations, the nascent class inequalities, the dogmatic materialism and the bitter hatred of all religion? Or should the Church rather remain uncommitted to any specific economic system and thus remain free “to make justice the line and righteousness the plummet” at all times and under all forms of economic organization?

We may concede that the latter position is the only valid one for organized religion to take. This does not, however, mean that leaders of religion should content themselves with pious abstractions and should not touch life in the raw. Quite the contrary. They should face the everyday social, political and economic problems with which men are struggling, and wherever men suffer from the harsh inequalities of an economic order, their voices should be heard admonishing, chastising, counseling and pointing the way to concrete and specific measures for amelioration. Ministers who denounce social injustice in the abstract and the general, and make no local and specific application are, like Xerxes, whipping the unheeding sea—a wearying exercise for the lasher, but what does the sea care?… Unless the ministers speak concretely, fearlessly and in decisive moments of social wrong, of the gross evils of our economic organization, of exploitation, of economic insecurity, of the shame and disaster of unemployment, and of the rights of labor to organize and work collectively for a fuller share in the social goods, they and their churches are irrelevant and worse than useless.

Leaders of religion, however, should remember that their weapons never were and never can be those of hate and class struggle. They are teachers and guides, not agitators. Their task is to persuade through reason and love. There is such a thing as “speaking the truth in love.” Their unique appeal is to the spirit of justice and compassion and the sense of human solidarity.

This may seem to be platitutudinous and gloriously safe. But it is safe only as dynamite is safe before the spark is applied to it. Platitudes are truths which all men accept—and ignore. It is hard to draw the line between leadership and propaganda, between education and agitation. Oftimes much pusillanimity and worldliness hide themselves behind this distinction. But the truly spiritual men will quickly detect the difference and will understand.

Selina Dolaro, Anglo-Jewish actress, produced Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Trial by Jury” in the 1870’s in the London Haymarket Theatre.

Christian Wilhelm von Dohm, at the suggestion of Mendelssohn, wrote a work in two volumes in 1781 advocating emancipation of the Jews.

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