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Pastoral Letter of the House of Bishops

Adopted October 23, 1919 at the General Convention at Detroit.

no place: no publisher, 1919.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2008

Brethren of the Clergy and Laity:

The history of the War is not all a horrid memory. Its red glare has revealed to us the comforting fact that there is that which we Americans hold more precious than peace, prosperity and happiness, yes, than life itself. That we are capable still of putting ideals of fairness, honor and freedom above everything. That we are still ready to die cheerfully for a real cause, as our fathers were. That we are our fathers' sons.

This spirit is not a passing mood. It is an "undying fire." Let our settled convictions be threatened, and its flame will leap to heaven. It helps us to new self-respect, new confidence and new hope to be assured that we love ideals better than safety, and the benefit of the commonwealth better than ourselves or our belongings.

Side by side with this comforting bit of self knowledge there is something disquieting. We may be courageous when our convictions are the convictions of the crowd. We are inclined to timidity when our idealism forces us into loneliness or a minority group. It is a chief fault of America. The inclination of democracy is to worship majorities. It is important to recognize this frankly. The old order which we glibly say has passed away represents the majority of yesterday. We cling to it. There is a real danger of its regaining international and national control. We who are true to our ideals must forbid this calamity at any cost. We cannot do other than fight it. We declared war on the old order on April 6, 1917, when we exalted the unseen above the seen and made the greatest adventure of faith in our national history. Neither in America nor in the world at large may the vicious features of the old order ever again receive the hand of welcome from honest men. We are done with them as completely as this country was done with slavery after the Civil War.

Realize this. Your young men who died on the battle line were fighting the evil character of the old order as their bitterest enemy. Shall you and I again stretch out a friendly hand to that which they died to slay?

What, then, were some of the vicious features of the old order? Soft surrender of ideals to material things. Ascendancy of wealth over moral and spiritual considerations. Interpreting every department of life in terms of money. Absolutism in business. Industrial and social unfairness. Amiable compromise of principle with expediency. Contempt for or fear of minorities involving radical change, whether in State or Church, as disturbing comfort, and consequently counted dangerous. A plain contradiction in many respects of the example and teaching of the Christians' God who died on the Cross to combat these very things.

If the Nation dare not in common decency settle back into the old order, much less can the Church. Why? Because the Church is the depository and guardian of ideals, and the special abode on earth of the living Christ who hates the glaring defects of the old order. The Church is not a religious attachment to society. It is not a system of rewards for the well-behaved. It is not an insurance society against outer misfortune and inner discomfort. It is not a soul-saving apparatus that enables us to have an easy time in this life and then floats us to another easy time on the farther shore of the river of death. It is not a fetich or charm to win us favor with God.

No. The Church is the one society of men in which God has covenanted with us to dwell. It is a social organism charged with the performance of a social task. The Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, is present and at work in and through His Church. Christ's Spirit is Christ Himself in His fullest and widest power and influence. The Church is the instrument through which He continues His mission, begun in the days of His mortal career. Its chief function is to bring men into vital relationship with Him, His wisdom, His strength until His life is theirs; to make His interest their first concern; to be positive and clear in its preaching of Him that no one may doubt who He is, where He is and what is His mission. This is important for His mission is ours. It is to save men by giving to them a common impulse, a common purpose and a common life.

The Church is not a society dependent upon us for our favor. It is a society upon which we are dependent for favor with God. It demands our undivided loyalty. If hitherto we have given it the second or third place in our lives, let us now be bold enough to give it the first. If the Church's mission threatens to carry us into unpopularity or contempt, let us remember that the Church's Master was the most unpopular and despised man of His day at the supreme moment of His life. A Church afraid of the cross of unpopularity could never retain Christ in its life. If we distrust minorities let us remember that all the world was against Christ when He died. All majorities begin in a minority; all great victories in a struggle against odds.

To-day the greatest need of the Church is not more caution, but more daring. Not more money, but more loyal adherence and devotion to her Master. Not more intellect, but more heart. Not more activities, but more worship. Not more philosophy from the pulpit, but simpler theology.

So far this applies to all the Christian Churches. Their charter and right to exist hinges upon loyalty to these eternal facts and principles. Our own Church has its own way of proclaiming and applying them. If we insist on a meaning and value for our Orders and our Sacraments which other Churches cannot accept, it is not that we are stubborn or indifferent to unity. As trustees of God's treasures we hold them as our special reading of the truth. If we were to disregard or minimize what we have come to know in our fellowship with Jesus Christ, the whole volume of truth would be impaired. We have something real to give and must not be afraid to be misjudged because it fails of full recognition from the outside in a day. Adherence to definite principles is the sure sign and proof of real moral and spiritual strength. This Church should make men everywhere understand what are the essential principles for which it stands, in regard to which it is determined to make no compromise. Friendliness toward others can never be allowed to interfere with our fundamental family loyalty or our God-given experience or convictions.

It is right here that we wish to meet the charge that this Church talks unity but sticks to its prejudices. We do not ask its sister bodies to agree with it. We ask them to think, to pray, to confer. If an organic ideal is worthy of the consideration of the Kingdoms of this world, how much more is such an ideal worthy the consideration of the Kingdom of the Lord Christ, who prayed earnestly that His Kingdom might be one. Do not misunderstand the position of this Church. It is not an abdication of its ancient faith and order, but an invitation to all Christians everywhere to meet as brethren and consider how far we can remedy the frightful mistakes of the past.

Let us therefore, restate our position; if possible, in plainer language that we may be more plainly understood.

The Catholic Creeds, the Written Word of God, the Sacraments, Holy Orders, stand in our Communion in the rugged solidity of simplicity, free from the limitations of over-definition. Our generosity permits of a considerable degree of individual interpretation. Men may abuse their liberty, but nothing that can be said or done by a few radicals can destroy the Catholic character of our Church.

The Creeds are more intelligently than ever held in their complete substance by virtue of the scrutiny that they have undergone. The Bible has come through the furnace of criticism not only without damage but also with benefit to its spiritual contents. The Sacraments receive a degree of reverence which makes plain that the Church increasingly esteems them as no bare tokens, but as effective means of keeping men in vital fellowship with God in Christ. As for Holy Orders, the proposal on the Church's part to consider sympathetically the request from without our Communion for admission to the Diaconate and Priesthood, is an opportunity to be seized. Our co-operative response with proper safeguards is the only answer that a Church pledged to organic unity could give. The issue, we have every reason to believe, cannot do other than dignify and honor the Catholic conception of Order.

High theory must not be so high that it never touches earth. Whether it be in affairs ecclesiastical or in social and national affairs, the test of the Church's faith is her works. The Church has it as her duty to blaze new trails in the forest of human affairs. She does it with a certainty and firmness of tread which none other can have. The world experiments with human theories. The Church applies eternal principles.

At this moment among the many problems calling for the Church's aid, there stand out from the rest the much-discussed question of capital and labor, and the persistent recurrence in our Nation of crimes of disorder and race hatred.

In the strife between Capital and Labor neither the one nor the other can have a background of certainty on which to proceed without the aid of the Church. The clergy alone cannot supply this disabling lack. The one way in which the Church can make itself effectively felt in the business world is through Churchmen. Pronouncements such as this General Convention has made to the effect that brotherhood binds employer and employee in a common cause; that co-operation is brotherhood in practice; that business exists primarily not to create wealth but to serve society, are valuable. But they must be put into terms of common life. It is the layman as employer or employee, who alone can save the situation and bring every move in the industrial world in a practical way under the searching test of Christ's example and teaching as touching neighborliness, friendship and brotherhood, and effectively claim for the "law and teaching of Jesus Christ the ultimate right to govern social practice."

Nor dare the Church remain silent or inactive in the presence of race hatred and of violent outbursts of disorder. America hitherto has been a nation generous in receiving aliens to her shores. We owe the high character of our citizenship, of which we are justly proud, to the fine quality of manhood contributed to us by many countries. For this very reason we are in honor bound to prevent racial prejudice from developing against those of alien blood who are amongst us by our invitation or permission, or without any choice of their own. The problem is one of our own creation. We must meet it by the same sure principles of brotherhood and common citizenship which the Church is never afraid to apply freely to every human problem.

Some years ago on the anniversary of a horrible lynching, a Christian gentleman from a neighboring State feeling his own responsibility as a citizen for conditions which would permit of such a crime, went to the scene of the crime for a prayer meeting of penitence. He said in the course of a remarkable address:

"Some months ago I asked a friend who lives not far from here something about this case, and about the expected prosecutions, and he replied to me 'It wasn't in my county,' and that made me wonder whose county it was in. And it seemed to be in my county." The speaker went on to say that he lived elsewhere than at the scene of the crime, but he recognized that this great wickedness was not the wickedness of any one locality or of to-day. "It is the wickedness," he continued, "of all America, and of three hundred years--the wickedness of the slave trade. All of us are tinctured by it. No special place, no special persons, are to blame. A nation cannot practice a course of inhuman crime for three hundred years and then suddenly throw off the effects of it. Less than fifty years ago domestic slavery was abolished among us; and in one way and another the marks of that vice are in our faces. * * *

"This whole matter has been an historic episode; but it is a part, not only of our national history, but of the personal history of each one of us. With the great disease (slavery), came the climax (the war); and after the climax gradually began the cure, and in the process of cure comes now the knowledge of what the evil was. I say that our need is new life, and that books and resolutions will not save us, but only such disposition in our hearts and souls as will enable the new life, love, force, hope, virtue, which surround us always, to enter into us.

"This is the discovery that each man must make for himself--the discovery that what he really stands in need of he cannot get for himself, but must wait until God gives it to him. I have felt the impulse to come here to-day to testify to this truth."

It is profoundly true that any State, county or city where fiendish crime and wild confusion occurs in our State, county or city, whatever be our fixed abiding place. This is social fact from which there is no escape.

In conclusion we would remind you that at this critical moment we have decided to prosecute a Nation-Wide movement in our Church to aid us better to meet in a corporate way our heavy responsibility. The movement is spiritual in its origin and motive. It must be kept spiritual throughout its progress. Upon our success depends in no mean degree our ability to make to the life of the Nation and society at large that contribution of vitality which God demands of us. The Nation-Wide Campaign is now an accepted and authorized effort of the whole of our Church with the obligation involved resting on every Bishop, Priest and baptized member of the Church. It is not only a fitting, but also a necessary effort with which to begin our life in the new order which is at its dawn and requires enthusiastic, corporate service for its inauguration and inspiration. We have confidence that this Campaign will reveal and focus the latent power of our Church and so organize it as to make it more effective than ever in the promotion of the Kingdom of God.

However complicated and difficult the outlook for mankind and for our Nation and Church, we face it with hope and that will-to-win in the name of Christ which leads to sure victory.

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