Politics and the Church – The Hypocrisy of Politics in the Church [Part 37]

     In a less controversial setting, Vice President Hubert Humphrey spoke at a testimonial dinner for Indiana Bishop Richard Raines in 1967 at DePauw University. “Almost persuadest thou me to be a Democrat”, Raines told the aspiring presidential candidate with a smile, noting Humphrey would be “rewarded” for his good works.  “All the Democrats of course will be hoping that you will be rewarded in this world a year after November…and the Republicans will be hoping you will be rewarded in the hereafter.” Humphrey recalled his own Methodist background and having taught Sunday school.  As a young man he had brought “some of his sinful Democratic friends along to church and we used to sit in the front row, just as we are today”, he said laughingly, referring also to Senator and fellow Methodist Birch Bayh.  Humphrey hailed Raines for having “been in the forefront of the churches’ confrontation with our gravest and most important issue as a nation: our assurance of equal rights and opportunity to all Americans.”  He noted: “from our first beginnings as a nation, men and women of the Methodist faith have had a great part in building this country and making it what it is.” (I suppose that involves political involvement.) But such comity between Methodist leaders and politicians was often strained during the Vietnam era. [Audio recording of “Remarks of Hubert Humphrey, Bishop Richard C. Raines Testimonial Reception”, DePauw University Archives, (September 1, 1967)].

     A New York-based Methodist Women’s Division official in early 1968 fretfully warned: “The nation faces the danger of Congress using its opposition to our basic rights to dissent as a political whip to get votes from fearful people, thereby returning our nation to the witch-hunting climate of the McCarthy era.”  She cited congressional investigations of dissent. [“Methodist Leader Fears a ‘McCarthy Climate’ from Congress”, Concern (January 1-5, 1968) Page 19]. (They could see that coming 50 years ago.)

     Many Methodist were not pleased with continued antiwar blasts from church officials. (Does this mean that they were offended?)  A Delaware church in 1968 “strongly” disapproved of their Bishop John Wesley Lord’s “unduly harsh accusations” of US war crimes in Vietnam. [“Bishop’s War Criticism Hit”, Washington Post, Times Herald (February 10, 1968) Page D9].  Undeterred, eight bishops soon after demanded a US unilateral cease-fire.  An Iowa bishop complained: “Military victory has become more of an obsession than a reality.” [“Bishops Urge Cease-Fire by US, Saigon”, Washington Post, Times-Herald (March 27, 1968) Page A8].  Shortly after President Johnson announced he would not run for reelection, three bishops commended his “courage and initiative”, while at the same time hailing the “apparent willingness of North Vietnam to hold talks.” [“Laud President’s Peace Push”, Concern (May 2, 1968) Page 21].  Three bishops also urged amnesty for US draft avoiders (dodgers) who were “vindicated morally.” Amnesty would show the nation could “acknowledge its error,” and “remove the scandal of political imprisonments in America.”  They also urged the ending of the bombing of North Vietnam. [“Clergymen Request Amnesty”, Concern (September 5, 1968) Page 3].  A “United Methodist Viet Nam Seminar” convened in late 1968 at the denomination’s Church Center for the United Nations. Speakers condemned the war and US “imperialism,” while one warned that Latin America would be the “next Viet Nam.”  [“Foreign Policy Challenged” Concern (December 26, 1968)].

     At the 1968 General Conference, where the United Methodist Church was born in a merger between Methodism and the Evangelical United Brethren, delegates expressed a “growing concern over the course and consequences of United States foreign policy, especially in Southeast Asia.”  They surmised that “intervention…by one nation in the affairs of another raises grave moral issues, particularly when it conflicts with principles of self-determination or aids governments lacking popular support.”  Their resolution urged the US to “reexamine” policies toward “nations with Communists political and economic systems.” [The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church 1968, (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 1968) Pages 10-12].

     In their episcopal address to the 1968 General Conference, the bishops denounced war without specifically citing Vietnam.  They asked, “Is it possible to murder without becoming a murderer?”  Further, “Can individuals or nations lie without becoming liars?”  They noted such examples as “U-2 incident, the Bay of Pigs, the Dominican Republic incident, the Gulf of Tonkin, and the most recent Pueblo embarrassment.”  Asking, ” Can we embrace chicanery and savagery without becoming contaminated?”  They went so far as to offer support to draft avoiders (dodgers) and acts of civil disobedience.  Their justification included, “When the dissenter moves outside the law in obedience to the voice of conscience and accepts the penalties of law, the Church dare not desert her child.  The Church must insist that the nation listen to the voice of conscience…” [Journal of the General Conference, The United Methodist Church (1968) Pages 251-254)].  (Is that what is going on today in the looting and destruction of property?)

     Later in 1968, the Board of Social Christian Concerns operated a “Vietnam Education Project” costing about $100,000, with two full- and six part-time staff, to lobby against the war, including US recognition of the Viet Cong.  “I believe that this is the first time a church has sought to directly influence foreign policy,” one board official surmised (He must have been a graduate of seminary…cemetery.) [“Methodist Push Viet Peace”, Washington Post, Times-Herald (December 29, 1968) Page C4].

     Unfortunately the Vietnam controversy did not end with 1968.  Next week we will see how the ‘non-involved’ Methodist Church got even further involved in politics… especially as the war became even further spread in Southeast Asia.

     A side note:  Some may wonder why I spend so much time researching material and writing about the church.  I believe that the church has an important part to play in the politics of our society and it concerns me when some church leadership finds comfort it ignoring that responsibility.  If we can’t tie the Word of God to the acts of man from the pulpit, then where?  I believe that each human is created with a purpose.  Some find that purpose early in life and others spend a lifetime looking for that purpose.  I believe that life experiences has led me to being a ‘sentinel’ (watchman)…sounding the alarm and notifying people of the threats that are readily among us.  If my writing opens the eyes of just one person then it will have been worth the time and effort.  I hope readers find my writing informative and of value.

– Bob Munsey

“It’s natural to have fears, but it’s detrimental to our physical and spiritual health to live in a state of constant fear.”  Cindy Hess Kasper

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