Friday, September 09, 2016

A Voice from the Past for the Present

I have long thought that the tide toward social justice as a matter of faith, inclusion as a principle of the Gospel, and the opening up of the church to the world began in a major way not during the time of Presiding Bishop John Hines, but of his predecessor, Arthur Lichtenberger (Presiding Bishop 1958-1964).  That is not to say that many others led in this direction much earlier than his tenure, but as PB he spoke in a way that I do not think was the previous norm.

I've been reading a collection of writings of Lichtenberger's and came across this quote from a speech he gave at the Convention of the Diocese of Missouri (of which he was bishop) in 1954.  As they say, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up:

The spirit of our time--or more accurately, the spirit of great numbers of people in our time--is a spirit of fear which demands conformity. How else can we account for the many people who still approve of the inquisition carried on by certain congressional committees in the name of American freedom? [He is, of course, referring to Joseph McCarthy and others]

We have too little confidence in our Lord's assurance, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." The demand now is not for truth but for conformity. Americanism is what this Senator or that Congressman says it is, and woe to anyone who would say otherwise! The rise of a demagogue is nothing new in the American scene, but a new phenomenon now greatly imperils American democracy. That peril lies in our timidity and fear, which has so blinded us that we cannot tell the difference between a tyrant and a patriot, between a charlatan and an honest man, between one who would destroy our liberties and one who would preserve them.

We, the people, could reduce this present danger to a harmless and unnoticed side show within a week if we would--if we but stood resolutely against totalitarian methods and objectives wherever they appear. This time, above any that I have known, requires us as Christian people to reassert the principles of freedom on which this nation was founded and by which it lives. And it is a time when we, as Christians, must keep on insisting that the Gospel is not for one corner of life marked religion, but for the totality of existence. This we must proclaim and demonstrate.

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