Politics and the Church – The Hypocrisy of Politics in the Church [Part 21]

During the MFSA conference of 1951, the conference chief McMichael denounced the Korean War.  Even during this conference some division was starting to appear.  Retired Bishop Francis McConnell, at the very same meeting, derided Stalinist communism, while admitting some MFSA ideas “Might seem like Communism.” [“Left Wingers Open Evanston Church Session”, Chicago Daily Tribune (September 5, 1951) Page 8]. A professor from Methodism’s Candler Seminary in Atlanta who served on MFSA’s executive committee warned his colleagues:”You are going out of your way to expound a justification for Communism.” [“Red Issues Win Debate in Group of Methodists”, Chicago Daily Tribune (September 7, 1951) Page 3].

     A Methodist laity group called “Circuit Riders” arose in 1951 to combat MFSA, which they claimed “encourages anti-American teachings, notwithstanding the reputable bishops who may be members of it.”  McMichael responded that allegations of communism were “very silly stuff.”  He called the Circuit Riders a “small clique of laymen who were using scare words to try to silence or intimidate the social impetus that grows inherently out of the Gospel of Jesus.” [“Perkins Will Lead Methodist Drive on Anti-Americanism”, Baltimore Sun (October 2, 1951) Page 32].  (Communism a growth from the Gospel of Jesus?)

     Then the Methodist Church’s involvement in politics hit the ‘big time’.  In 1951, the US House of Representa-tives Committee on Un-American Activities condemned MFSA, repeating its 1948 statement that MFSA was a “tool of the Communist Party, denounced by numerous loyal American Methodists”, but claiming to speak for 17 Methodist bishops and 4,000 ministers and lay people, while exploiting Methodism to “promote the line of the Communist Party.”  Of course MFSA called the congressional charges “ridiculous and untrue.” [“Left Bias Seen in Church Unit”, Baltimore Sun (February 17, 1952) Page 24].  The 1952 Methodist General Conference, meeting in San Francisco, disavowed MFSA, asking it to leave Methodist offices in New York, which it did, and to delete “Methodist” from its name, which it declined.  One conference delegate derided MFSA for opposing the Marshall Plan, supporting the communist Chinese, and funding legal defense for US communists. A delegate defending MFSA admitted it was “vigorously liberal” but warned against the “present tendency to shut up dissenters.” [“Methodist Social Action Unit Asked by Church to Alter Name”, Baltimore Sun (May 6, 1952) Page E9].  The 1952 General Conference declared:”There can be no condoning of the ideology or practices of Communism,” because of its “terrible forms of tyranny,” its “atheistic totalitarianism”, “clever deception” and “ruthless violence”, making it the “major foe both of Christianity and of freedom in the world today.”  The conference urged communication with Christians in Russia, who persevere “despite severe repression.”  The delegates resolved that the “best defense against Communism” is not “military force or the suppression of civil liberties,” but improving democracy by ending racial discrimination, poverty, hunger, and disease while also meeting spiritual needs.  It repeated the 1948 opposition to war. [Journal of the General Conference, Methodist Church (1952) Pages 154-197].  Little did these church leaders understand about communism. (I can’t help but wonder who funded some of these Methodist organizations?)

     In their episcopal address to the 1952 General Conference, the bishops celebrated that America had “chosen to defend the Republic of Korea, through the United Nations, from the aggression of a Communist invasion…a price to pay for a safer world.”  Contrary to the to the MFSA position…no worry here about offending…The bishops also admitted the “philosophy of atheistic communism must be frankly and aggressively faced by the Christian forces of the world.”  They declared:”We believe we have the truth, we believe the Christian, democratic way offers the only solution, but if the earth-bound philosophy of Communism is not to be accepted by the multitudes of earth we shall need to out-think, to out-love, and to out-sacrifice the leaders who offer it.”  Communism is a “perverted and godless way of directing revolution to its own evil ends.” The bishops expected that millions in revolt around the world would eventually turn to the “God-given yearning for freedom.”  They also derided growing McCarthyism as a “sinister threat to the liberties we cherish.”  A police state was not to be the answer. [Journal of the General Conference, Methodist Church (1952) Pages 154-197].  Today some of the largest Christian churches in the world are in the Republic of South Korea.

     Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam took the lead in defending Methodism from charges of softness on communism. In 1952, while addressing the Methodist Board of Education, he lashed out at a “new breed of self-appointed un-American vigilantes” who “masquerade as defenders against infiltration of Communism and Russian aggression.”  He insisted that the Communist threat to freedom was so serious that “we dare not allow these racketeers to divide us,” urging trust in the FBI and the courts. [“Bishop Oxnam Scores Sowers of Distrust”, New York Times (March 5, 1952) Page 10].  In 1953 Bishop Oxnam declared:”I challenge the critics of the church to name one clergyman who holds a position of large responsibility in any Protestant church who is a member of the Communist Party.” [“Oxnam Challenges Critics on Communist Infiltration”, Christian Science Monitor (July 2, 1953) Page 5].  He also admitted that the US Congress had the “right and duty” to investigate churches, and communists in churches “should be found guilty and punished.” [“Oxnam Favors Punishment of Church Reds”, Chicago Daily Tribune (March 23, 1953) Page 20].

     Not to be outdone, California Congressman Donald Jackson responded to Oxnam by declaring on the floor of the US House that the bishop “served God on Sunday and the Communist front for the balance of the week.”  At his own requests, Bishop Oxnam testified before the US House of Representatives Un-American Activities Committee in his own defense, blasting the committee for “playing into Communist hands” and “bearing false witness” against him. [Oxnam Report Debates Charge of Links with ‘Communist Fronts'”, Christian Science Monitor (May 7, 1953) Page 12].  This makes putting voter guides in the narthex look pretty tame.

     The debate on communism by politicians and the church had come nowhere close to the end.  We will continue the ‘debate’ next week.  I have still yet to identify the break of politics from the church.  Church leadership is heavily involved.

– Bob Munsey

“It isn’t where you came from …it’s where you are going that counts”  

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