Throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s Methodists offered differing views about Soviet communism. Northern Bishop Lauress Birney, based in China, warned against Soviet influence there. [“Soviets Worst Peril in China, Bishop Asserts”, Chicago Daily Tribune (October 1, 1924) Page 20]. Methodist missionaries in China also complained that Soviet influence was enhancing “anti-Christian sentiments” in China. [“Lays AntiForeign Attacks to Soviet”, Boston Daily Globe (April 1,1927) Page 33]. After visiting Russia in 1926, southern Bishop James Cannon found it stable, relatively prosperous, lacking in tension, and offering religious toleration, though the regime disapproved of religion. [“Soviet Russia Outlook Bright”, Christian Science Monitor (September 15, 1926) Page 3]. Former missionary to Russia George Simons, in 1929, cited the Soviet Education Minister as saying:”We hate Christianity and the Christians.” [“Assails Dewey on Russia”, New York Times (May 14, 1929) Page 24]. Southern Methodist Board of Missions chief W.G. Cram declared in 1930: “The situation in Soviet Russia with reference to the persecution of the Christians is one that should unite in making such a representation of the case to the Soviet Government as will bring immediate relief.” [“Methodist Official Urges Protest to Soviet”, Los Angeles Times (February 23, 1930) Page 1]. A New York pastor in 1930 denounced immorality in the Soviet Union, where “children are to be raised in masses and women are to work in factories like men”, while “marriage is an easily shiftable toy,” and “morals and even righteousness are a myth.” [“Reisner Assails Reds”, New York Times (April 7, 1930) Page 23].
Then, speaking at a Baltimore church in 1933, Methodist Federation for Social Service chief Harry Ward praised the Soviet Union as place where even children are educated about their obligation to society and where freedom from profit making allows greater unselfishness. [“Sees Capitalism Destroying Itself by Own Selfishness”, Baltimore Sun (April 3, 1933) Page 16]. This sounds very similar to some of the professions of some of today’s liberal politicians. A New York pastor enthused in 1935,”It is a wonderful thing they are doing in Russia, in abolishing the church,” which was a “grasping religion, with all its temporal power and billions of dollars worth of property.” [“Reds’ Church Ban Approved by Davis”, New York Times (October 23, 1933) Page 12].
Contrary to the pro-Soviet message, in 1936 former missionary to Russia George Simons preached to a New York church against “alien Bolshevik agitators,” urging their deportation and banning the US Communist Party.
He sermonized :”Because we believe in the universal Christian Church, many of us Protestants are willing to join the Roman Catholics or Greek Catholics in waging war against atheistic materialism in whatever form it may appear.” [“Methodist Pastor Calls for United Front Against Reds, Urges Bolshevik Deportation”, New York Times (September 21, 1936) Page 15]. In 1937, a northern Methodist missions official disclaimed in a very different vein:”While I have no use for most of Communism outside of Russia, I believe it has been good and is good for Russia,” where he rejoiced that “church devils” were being cast out. [“Methodist Official Lauds Communism”, Atlanta Constitution (October 15, 1937) Page 7]. In 1938, Pasadena Methodist minister Albert Day, who formerly headed the Federal Council of Churches, insisted the “totalitarian state has no future.” He predicted that “disillusionment will come, even about a Hitler, a Mussolini, and a Stalin,” while the “path of tyranny, sooner or later, winds up in the abyss.” [“Methodists Hit Nazism”, Los Angeles Times (June 23, 1938) Page 6].
Texas US Congressman Martin Dies, chair of the US House Committee Investigating Un-American Activities, urged a revival of “old-fashioned religion” to the 1940 General Conference in Atlantic City. “There can be no democracy without the Christian religion,” he declared, condemning both Nazism and Communism. “If democracy fails it will be because the people have turned their backs on God.” Some students at the conference protested Congressman Dies’ “nationalistic religion”. [“Methodists Deny Place to Swastika” New York Times (April 28, 1940)]. I suppose that even then some opposed the American flag being displayed in church.
The 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union aroused sympathy for the Soviets, and President Franklin Roosevelt asserted that the Soviet constitution upheld religious freedom…was the president colluding with Russia…was an investigation needed? It did not take long for a rebuttal lead by Detroit Methodist Bishop Raymond Wade. “Undisputed imprisonment and slaying of tens of thousands of priests, clergymen and laymen for religion in Russia, together with thousands of closed churches speak louder than printed words.” he proclaimed. [“Many Faiths Join in Hopes that Reds Win”, Baltimore Sun (October 2, 1941) Page 4].
By this time the United States was just two months away from becoming embroiled in a war that would consume the world. It was time to join forces with elements, good;bad;or evil, in an attempt to recover some semblance of civility in the world. First of all millions would have to die. Next week we will see how we had to join with the anti-Christian communist to achieve this end.
– Bob Munsey
“None is so blind as those who refuse to see.”