Today’s complaints about politicians and their political selfishness is nothing new. And the church leadership had something to say that touched on both parties…these guys had fortitude. Southern Bishop William Ainsworth in Birmingham suggested in 1931 that America solve the Depression by cutting in half “armaments, war debts, and tariff walls that national selfishness have builded.” He even went so far as to say that America’s hoarded gold would resurface and “rehabilitate the commerce of the world”, transforming the “world’s mourning ” into “days of rejoicing.” Bishop Ainsworth complained that Democrats were “ranting for more liquor” and Republicans wanted “more privilege and protection.” The bishop wanted a “new statesmanship of unselfishness” to “save both America and the world.” [“Cutting Armaments, War Debts, Tariff Walls Urged by Ainsworth”, Atlanta Constitution (June 23, 1931) Page 14].
In 1931 President Hoover addressed by radio a gathering of world Methodism in Atlanta. “Your conference meets at a time of universal but temporary difficulties”, he told the event. Citing “unemployment” and “lawlessness” the President expressed confidence the Methodists would not succumb to “despair”. He declared:”Governments have their normal limitations”, depending “largely on churches and schools to create, preserve, and increase the spiritual and moral basis essential to the life of the states themselves.” He said national leaders rely on the churches to live up to ideas of “courage and charity, sympathy, honor, gentleness, goodness, and faith.” He further said, “I appeal to you as representatives of Methodists everywhere to unite with all other lovers of good will and followers of the Prince of Peace for the making of human brotherhood.” [“Hoover Makes Strong Attack on Armaments”, Washington Post (October 26,1931) Page 1].
That very same year, northern Bishop William Anderson reassured a Boston church that the Depression afforded opportunity for developing spiritual resources. “In times like this the soul struggles, and thus gains more spiritually than it does in times of ease and sloth.” [“Slump as a Spiritual Aid”, New York Times (November 16, 1931) Page 17]. Other Methodist were more political and blamed capitalism for the downturn. “Some are asking why God let this terrible day come upon us, when all the while it is the judgment of time upon all of us for having built our capitalistic social system upon selfishness.” So pronounced a New York City minister in 1932. [“Sockman Decries ‘Pollyanna Cheer'”, New York Times (April 11, 1932) Page 13]. The 1932 New York Annual Conference declared:”A capitalistic system based on the acquisitive motive will not result in a stable social or economic order”, adding that “competition has stifled trade, not stimulated it.” The resolution urged placing private production under a wider social ownership. [“Sermon Causes Stir in Methodist Meeting”, New York Times (April 1, 1932) Page 23]. Just as a side comment, it is interesting to see what the church was involved with in the 1930’s…politics and economics…and what it is dealing with today…homosexuality and abortion. Any wonder that some denominations are failing?
Meeting in Atlantic City, the northern church’s 1932 General Conference essentially condemned capitalism without naming it, while also endorsing initiatives that would later become part of the New Deal. The Delegates declared: “The present industrial order is un-Christian, unethical and anti-social, because it is largely based on the profit-motive, which is a direct appeal to selfishness.” They directed three bishops to appeal directly to the president for “immediate Federal relief.” Delegates also endorsed unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, reduced work hours, and increased public works. It appealed to the “conscience of mankind to create a social way of life in which all men have opportunity to develop their capacities to the fullest possible extent.” [Methodists Assail Industrial Order”, New York Times (May 26, 1932) Page 27].
Newly elected northern bishops declared the economic slump was primarily a spiritual problem. “This depression is a moral and spiritual breakdown”, said Bishop Ralph Cushman, “and can only be solved permanently by a rebirth of moral and spiritual vision.” He said that “legislative” measures would help only “temporarily”, but a true solution depended on the “ideas of Christian principles.” Bishop J. Ralph Magee similarly emphasized individual spirituality: “What the world needs is a spiritual readjustment”, and any “mass readjustment can only take place by individual adjustment.” [“Bishops Point to Need of Spiritual Aid in Solving Depression”, Washington Post (May 29, 1932) Page M9]. There were also some contrasting views as some clergy favored drastic political responses. “I would make Herbert Hoover the dictator of America for twelve months”, proclaimed a Philadelphia Methodist pastor. “He fears God and has at heart the welfare of the people.” [“For Hoover as Dictator”, New York Times (July 11, 1932) Page 2]. Methodists had overwhelmingly backed Hoover in 1928 but hesitated in 1932. The reason…Hoover’s ambivalent Republican convention acceptance speech as “surrender to the speakeasies, bootleggers, and nullifiers of the Constitution”. The Baltimore Southern Methodist editorialized ,” We may vote for Hoover as the ‘best of a bad business'”, since voting “weak” may be better that voting “wet”. [Cannon Says Drys Can Back Neither Ticket”, Baltimore Sun (August 18, 1932) Page 1].
Some Methodists were even encouraged to vote for candidate Norman Thomas, a Socialist Party candidate. They would rather support a socialist over a prohibitionist back-slider. [“Dr Wilson to Cast Vote for Thomas”, New York Times (September 4, 1932) Page 13].
Southern Bishop Arthur Moore, not directly commenting to the 1932 South Georgia Annual Conference, did blame 25 years of materialism for “bearing fruit in the spiritual as well as economic depression.” He warned that moral breakdown was “the greatest present danger to our prohibition laws with men apparently grown willing to revive that which blights, blots, and damns in order to increase dividends in this period of financial stringency.” [“Bishop Deplores Loss of Idealism”, Atlanta Constitution (November 18, 1932) Page 21]. A Los Angeles Methodist pastor sounded a similar theme: “We have abundant resources by which life can be made rich and comfortable, but the world’s poverty and wretchedness are due to a perversion of spirit on the part of mankind.” He insisted that the cure for world depression was a “change of heart’. [“Change in Hearts of Men Held Depression Cure”, Los Angeles Times (November 21, 1932) Page A3].
Next week we will work our way into the times of the “New Deal”. Methodists condemned the “New Deal” for preserving capitalism. I must admit, though, that it surely is refreshing to see the church get involved in discussions that approach on the Biblical application to politics. The Church’s early leadership must be in amazement watching today’s leadership in discussion over homosexuality…abomination, same sex marriage…anti-Biblical union, and abortion…infant murder. What has happened to the Methodist Church?
– Bob Munsey
“A gun is like a parachute. If you need one, and don’t have one, you’ll probably never need one again.”