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Pastoral Letter of the House of Bishops

Adopted September 18, 1922 at the General Convention at Portland.

no place: no publisher, 1922.

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

Brethren of the Clergy and Laity:

Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We, your Bishops, send you these words of pastoral counsel after a great convention which has wonderfully revealed this American Church to its members as a national organization, with a national consciousness and a national mission.

We have been meeting in soul-stirring days. The problems and tasks of the time compel us to look underneath the surface of life, and back of the special business which has brought us together, and to ask how we may more faithfully fulfil the purpose for which our Lord established His Church and called each of us to individual discipleship.

If the power of God, through Christ, is to be made a regenerating influence in the world, it must be applied through united witness and in united action to the social and industrial order in which men live. It is significant, therefore, that our Lord made His religion a corporate religion. For the Church is not a by-product of Christianity. It is here, not as the afterthought of man, but as the fore-thought of God. We cannot bring to bear upon the sin, the sorrow and the suffering of men the whole power of the whole truth of God save through the corporate society into which our Lord knits the members of His body in fellowship and love.

This is not a time when the Church of Christ, or any of its members, dare rest at ease or fall back into complacent content. In the sermon preached at the opening service of the General Convention, we were reminded that the best of human activities have often hardened, become institutionalized, hopelessly stagnated, lost vitality and spiritual strength. The Church faces the same peril. Religion has again and again become professionalized, having outward form without inner life. Personal discipleship too easily loses the enthusiasm and devotion of its first profession and drops down into mere conventional and respectable adherence to a system or a creed.

To the Church, then, and to every member of the Church, our Lord asks today, "What is the purpose of your life?" Over against all the difficulties we face--changing customs, shifting standards of manners and morals, social disorder, industrial strife, world confusion--over against all stands Jesus Christ, asking "What seek ye?" The real trouble with much of our modern life is that it is without purpose and without plan, and the first question every professing Christian should ask is, whether one's own life has definiteness of objective.

It is, in truth, this absence of motive that brings anxious thought to many who are troubled by the manners and morals of social life today. We have little sympathy with critics who adopt a censorious attitude towards youth, always complaining and generally condemning. Freedom of behavior and carelessness of speech may mean, and often do mean, not lack of courtesy or consideration, but dislike of convention, the desire to be natural and human. They may mean, and sometimes do mean, readiness, willingness and determination to level social distinctions and forego social privilege, a larger freedom in social habits and a real democracy of thought and activity. What the more thoughtful fear, however, is that for most people there is no such motive behind the crudity and even vulgarity of social life. Is it not, rather, merely careless, heedless, aimless and indifferent? A new generation may well cast away outworn conventions, if only there be high purpose as well as high spirit in the revolt. Are we, in fact, really setting before ourselves any fine ambitions? Have we any worthy object in life? Do we think with any seriousness of the work we should do and the place we could fill, the influence we might exercise and the good we might accomplish? Or is our life empty and meaningless and is that the explanation of its seeming flippancy and amazing frivolity?

We, your Bishops, cannot ask such questions without seriously questioning ourselves, and the men and women of our own generation. The young people of today are exactly what we have made them. Too frequently parents have practically abdicated their position of direction and leadership; certainly they have not exercised strong spiritual influence, by example as well as precept, in building up a simple and natural religious home life. Without a vital faith, without definite standards of conduct having back of them divine sanctions, the level of popular moral opinion will steadily become lowered. It has already been terribly lowered through the menace of divorce, which encourages a selfish and extreme individualism, is disrupting the American home and poisoning the springs of social life. It has been lowered also by a like individualism, which for its own private satisfaction sets aside law and utterly disregards the possible consequent breakdown of public order. We commend to the Laity serious study of the Christian faith and worship, that they may see the necessary relationship between creed and conduct; above all else, that they may see the real basis of moral standards. Such standards are more than the accepted result of human experience; they have their roots in revealed truth. And we commend to the Clergy a revival of their teaching office, and through parochial missions and conferences as well as in stated sermons a more faithful exercise of their prophetic ministry in the awakening of souls and their training in the Christian life. The way in which men and women behave depends largely on what they accept and believe. They offend through ignorance, very often, and their ignorance is due to a lack of definite and authoritative teaching.

Any word of censure of today's new customs which some of you may be tempted to utter, should lead to searchings of heart as to one's own influence--more than that, to grave questionings of conscience for each of us as to the purpose and plan of our own life, and the justice and decency of the industrial and social order which we have been building. Too many of the generation now passing have been content to have, to hold and to enjoy. We have been too easily satisfied with low ideals of the religion of Christ. Our consciences have not been troubled when the strong oppressed the weak. We have been fearful to enquire too closely as to sources of wealth and methods of production. We have been content to make Christianity a religious rule for the individual and the domestic circle, and we have not seriously tried to give it place in commerce, or industry, in politics, in national life and international relations. This unconscious exclusion of the religious motive from the larger life of the world has led to a weakening of spiritual power in the life of the individual and the family. Is it any wonder that a new generation flies into revolt against such inconsistency, unconscious though it be?

It is an encouraging sign that greater things are now demanded of the Church and the individual Christian. Only in the frank and fearless application of Christianity to the problems of our complicated life can the remedy for present evils be found. The world rightly calls upon us for service in this task. It rightly condemns every professed disciple of Christ who is not at least giving anxious thought and care to the Church's real mission and the individual's responsibility for service. If the leadership for which the world cries does not come from the membership of Christ's Church; if we are not willing to take the risks involved in applying, in a world so different from that of His day, the principles which Christ set forth; if we are not ready to serve without counting the cost, we have missed the very aim and motive of discipleship.

Only as we stand ready to serve, shall we dare sound the call of service to others. It is a call which must be sounded if the world is to be saved from chaos.

Service! This is the one aim which the individual, the social organization, the industrial order, the nation, must have set before it.

What a splendid ideal democracy has given the world! Rights and privileges won for men of every race and class; equality of opportunity for all; for every one a fair chance; respect for the innermost life of the undermost man; brotherliness of class with class. But the peril of democracy is that it shall concern itself only with rights. It may be true--there are some who lose faith in democracy because they believe it is true--that we seek rights and privileges with such keenness of desire as to be forgetful of obligations and responsibilities.

Are we, as a nation, to assume no responsibility for any one but ourselves? Can democracy ever live a life of isolation? Our national peril is that we shall be foolishly content with a self-centered national life, never realizing that blessings are given to nations as to men, that they may be shared. We cannot seek only our own. Never was this nation greater than it was, when, in days of war, ideals were high and all that was finest in America gladly gave itself to the task of winning for the world what we ourselves richly enjoyed. Never were we happier than when we had consecrated our life and our possessions to world service. With troubled conscience Americans in these days must confess that we have sunk very low from the idealism of four years ago. The call to service comes, then, to the nation; and the Church must sound that call insistently.

Service! It is the lesson which many of the members of this Church have special opportunity to apply to industrial life. Were great corporations to realize that they are, and must be, primarily corporations for public service rather than for private profit, it would be easier to reply to agitators who threaten their peace and prosperity. And labor! The unions will be as cordially hated as the most unpopular of industrial trusts if they neglect the call to serve while insisting on the right to have. Efficiency in production, honesty in labor, better work as well as better wages--this must be the program, if industrial justice is also demanded.

We are confronted today with world-wide upheaval and embittered antagonism in social and industrial relations. This is, in part, the heritage of war; in part, it is the growing pain of democracy--that democracy which had its birth in brotherhood and now seeks to make brotherhood the actual law of community life and so embody Christian thought and feeling in political and industrial relationships. Difficulties innumerable are an accompaniment of such an effort. Such difficulties, however, open to the Church a wide door of opportunity and leadership. For, as we have been reminded, the Church, ideally, is "a great democracy of God's servants and Christ's brethren." Democracy really seeks to embody in statute law the fact that men are brethren. Necessarily that is not an easy task. We shall solve its problems only as we become servants of God, making our brotherhood a brotherhood of service in Him.

The gospel of the Kingdom is of and in itself a social message. In all industrial questions there is need, above all else, of frank co-operation and sympathetic understanding. There are also certain primary and fundamental principles of economic and social justice for which the Church must stand. In obedience to Christ's teaching the Church is bound to bear positive and corporate witness to the equal and infinite value of every human personality. To this end we would emphasize the duty which is laid upon all Christians, of placing human values first in the conduct of business. The end of business is not primarily profit but human welfare and the common good. In the language of the Lambeth Resolutions on "Social and Industrial Questions," we believe that "an outstanding and pressing duty of the Church is to convince its members of the necessity of nothing less than a fundamental change in the spirit and working of our economic life. This change can only be effected by accepting as the basis of industrial relations the principle of co-operation in service for the common good, in place of unrestricted competition for private or sectional advantage."

To arouse and educate the public conscience to a recognition of the truth of these principles and a brave effort to apply them, and to transmute the present spirit of self-seeking into goodwill and mutual confidence and helpfulness, is the task of the Church, and of every one of its members.

To the Church the call to service has now come with double force. In the last three years the Nation-Wide Campaign has given opportunity for larger response to this call. The outstanding feature of the campaign has been the awakening of the whole Church to its opportunity and obligation. Thousands, of men and women whose Church membership was negative and inert have been aroused to a new sense of responsibility. They have entered with zeal upon the Church's work and have gained a new sense of obligation for the Church's mission to the community, the nation and the world. It could not be otherwise. When the movement began, it revealed the lack of corporate consciousness within the Church itself. We were a congeries of parishes and a too loosely united collection of dioceses and missionary districts. The campaign brought us together in a remarkable way. It created a spirit of co-operation quite unprecedented in our history. What more natural step than that which shall lead us from loyal co-operation within the Church to the teaching and practice of the same co-operation in the community and the social order?

In this fuller response to the call to service lies the promise of renewal and reconstruction of our Christian work. In it also will be found the hope of fuller Christian unity. This Church has labored faithfully in the cause of that unity for which Christ prayed; the Appeal for Unity issued by the Lambeth Conference, and unanimously endorsed by this House of Bishops, was a notable expression of our hope and desire; but, before we can take any worthy part in this great movement, we must set an example of closer fellowship, mutual service and larger consecration. Indeed, the path to unity lies only through service. Conferences on unity will accomplish something; plans for unity may bring Christians of many names into fuller sympathy and understanding and growing appreciation, each of the other; but only as we all give ourselves fully and freely to unselfish service can we come together in unity of life. Common ideals, common motives, a common purpose, are manifested in common service. They reveal an underlying unity greater than our divisions. They offer an opportunity for united work out of which may come that organic unity for which we pray. We must work together and pray together, growing closer to Christ in work for Him and His, before corporate union, if it be accomplished, can become permanent or real. Having then, as a Church, espoused the cause of unity and pledged ourselves by prayer and effort to its realization, the call comes with renewed force so faithfully to serve in the spirit of Christ that we may be fit agents for the accomplishment of the will of Christ.

What one branch of the Church, acting separately, is equal to the task of establishing Christ's Kingdom on earth? It must be clear that only a united Church can bear adequate witness to the essential unity of all men in Christ. Unless racial antipathies, class hatred, national jealousies and suspicions can be supplanted by a vital sense of brotherhood and by a fuller realization of the essential spiritual unity of the whole human race, all forms of legislation and all efforts to unite men must prove inadequate and futile. Men cannot be united simply upon the basis of enlightened self interest or of class or national interest. There must be a spiritual basis for the peace of the world. To prepare the foundations of a democracy that will recognize the worth of every human personality, and to develop a brotherly attitude among men--this is not only the task but also the supreme test of the Church.

The principle of brave adventure for Christ must therefore dominate the Church in its effort towards Christian unity; but even more than the spirit of adventure must there be, as we have just said, the spirit of service, the willingness to labor, in every possible sphere, and with fullest spirit of co-operation, in applying the principles of the gospel to every possible field of human effort. We must refuse to isolate the spiritual life. So shall we find life in losing it, not merely as individuals, but as a Church. Thus giving ourselves in service, we shall develop completer sympathy with others who give themselves in like service. Common servants of a common Lord, we shall, through common service, develop a common life, and witness, sooner than we dared hope, the dawn of that day of unity for which we have prayed.

So, finally, we bid your prayers for Christ's Holy Catholic Church, the blessed company of all faithful people, that it may please God to confirm and strengthen it in purity of faith, in holiness of life, and in perfectness of love, and to restore to it the witness of visible unity. And, as you so pray, we also cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in our prayers, that you may have the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God, that the eyes of your understanding may be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of Christ's calling and the riches of the glory of His inheritance and the exceeding greatness of His power. We commend you to His care, as we call you to His service. May His Spirit guide you, His grace strengthen you, His peace support you, as you seek to do your part in making the kingdoms of this world the Kingdom of God and of His Christ.

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