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The Agony Of The Southern Minister
(Continued from Page 2) without exception, ordered that every person is welcome in the House of God. When a Roman Catholic layman’s organization in New Orleans angrily and publicly defied a local Church order against segregation and appealed directly to the Pope, the Vatican took a “serious and most unsym pathetic vidw” of the appeal. A high Vatican source said “the Church is unalterably opposed to all forms of discrimination — in New Orleans as much as in South Africa.” Such policy statements by na tional and regional church organi zations are, of course, gratifying. They provide a necesary yardstick. Nor is it fair to say they are with out influence at the church or parish level. But church congre gations—particularly the dominant Protestant ones of the S o u t h— either have or assume considera ble local authority. Most of them harbor an ele ment — perhaps only a minority, but a potent one—who will never agree that a Negro should be ad mitted to a white church. These all-out segregationists unhesitat ingly put the separation of the races ahead of Christian teaching, law or moral principle. With an example before them of ... public officials’ defiance of the courts on school integration, they find it easier to bomb churches and schools, to defy Christian teaching and church policies and iU uiarvv; mv uwiv, am. hw possible, for any minister who seeks to follow his conscience, secular law and church policy. Publications by extremist states’ rights groups and White Citizens Councils repeatedly urge that ' weak-kneed preachers" be “whipped into line" by the with > holding of contributions. They sneer at the clergy of all faiths, saying, “Money talks and they all listen.” Lay attacks on ministers rarely are so open as that which at tracted national attention in Co lumbus, Ga. For the most part, they take the form of relentless, petty harassments and slow de struction of th epastor’s program. Some of the “big givers" reduce their pledges and let their dislike become known. Some move to another church where the “re ligion” is the “right kind.” Or the meeting of the church board will produce budget wrangles and decisions which, while not so stated, have the effect of negating the pastor’s program. When, for example, the congre gation of an Atlanta church, sens ing the intention of some hostile members to reduce their giving, destirred itself to extra effort and sacrifice and turned in the full amount of the budget anyhow, the board suddenly found a need for an expensive addition to the physical equipment of the church. By this and other devices, the board so depleted the budget that the pastor’s program was wrecked. One of the largest Methodist churches in Georgia had a strong ly worded resolution offered at an April meeting of the stewards which called for the instant dis missal of any church officials (in cluding the pastor) or Sunday school teachers using the facilities of the church to practice qc ad vocate integration. It was defeat ed — but the chairman of the board said the vote did not mean the church would permit Negroes to attend. Thus ministers are squeezed be tween the dictates of conscience and church policy, on the one hand, and the prejudices of those who “run” the church, on the other. Save for the so-called “Bi ble floggers,” the Ku Klux chap plain breed, and those who are sure that God himself is chief among segregationists, this is a time of agony of spirit for the ministers of sensitive heart and mind. “We are all in a long period of Gethsemane,” said one recently. ‘And once again Judas is with us.” Every minister with any shred of awareness sees that, just as the racial issue is the greatest politi cal issue before the world today, so it is for Christianity. If the first great commandment of Jesus, and the second which is “like unto it,’ have no validity in the minds of church members, then the churches are finished, or eventual ly will be. “The thing that gets me,” said one minister who has taken a moderate stand, “is the silence I encounter. I go and expose my self to members of my congrega tion who I know to be in oppo sition, so that we may talk. They won’t. The silence is worst. “Then, too, it is uncomfortable to see successful business and professional men, who have been uiu iiiciiud aim on uug iiucuitidi props, suddenly become cold and aloof because one voices the opin ion that a colored person is a child of God and has a right to worship in any of God’s houses. You want to kneel and pray with these men or to put your arms around them and say, ‘Please, what is it in your hearts that makes you so stubborn and afraid?’ But today too many men are wrapped in the armor of un reasonable fears and anger.” Many ministers sorrowfully note another effect of the church’s po sition on desegregation. It is that many people today love their church, but not Christ and the faith He taught. “It had never occurred to me,” said one, as he talked of it, with genuine grief in his voice, “that for so many people the church was the building, the meeting with old friends, the association in the women’s organizations, and that Christ meant little, if anything. But it is true. There is a great gulf between what some mean when they say they love the church and what another means for whom Christ has validity. It saddens me to learn how many persons do not want Christ to in trude on them, indeed will not permit it, if He makes them un comfortable.” A sense of shame and self-ac cusation is especially noticeable among younger ministers, encoun tering for the first time the hard ness of some older men whom they had regarded as great Chris tian lay leaders. They have stories to tell which, while some times wryly humorous are always sad with disillusionment. Many a minister today is hold ing on in a Southern church, de .v.ejopipg^a technique of .survival, merely because he does not want to desert those in the congrega tion who depend on him and need him. Still others Iremain, believ ing that time and God are work ing together in their behalf. There are some grounds for this optimism. Slowly but surely, if not always clearly, one may see at work among lay groups the in fluence of Christian ministers courageous enough, and with status enough to counter some of the fanaticism. More and more individuals, and a slow procession of churches, are making the de cision that houses of worship should be open to all seeking God. It will be slow, in some areas, tortuously so, but it will come. It will come most slowly of all in those Deep South states where there is sure to be the closing of public schools over the same issue. But there are a few churches even there which welcome Negroes to mass and to worship. Although bo Southern church is integrated in the true sense of the word, almost every Southern city has one or two churches to which Negroes come with some regularity. So far the doors are open mainly in Catholic churches, although beginnings toward de segregation are evident in some others. This development is lim ited entirely to the cities; solid opposition to integration persists in rural areas. As some things cannot be meas ured in dollars and cents, just so the impact of all that has hap n#>n#»d. and is in nroeress. in this field of race, religion and church, cannot be put down in statistics or any sort of box score. It is something which involves the heart, mind and adrenal glands. An example of what could be i called an awakening, or impact, I is the experience of a Methodist Church congregation in Georgia whose minister has recently ac cepted a call to a large church ! in the Southwest. The board of | deacons had harassed him for more than a year without ever making the harassment overt. It had depleted his budget unneces sarily. It had dismissed his as sistant and otherwise frustrated his program. The pastor believed most of the members were on his side, but he did not feel he could appeal to them over the heads of his board. The board was, as usual, made up largely of the major financial con tributors. ""Some few of these had come to him privately to protest and argue that his policy of being willing to admit Negroes to worship was wrecking the church and to urge him to renounce it. Some treated him with contemptuous conde scension, saying he was just trying to attain publicity at the expense of the church. One, who said he wanted to talk to him “like a father,” appealed to him not to ruin his career by being so radical. Still another board member, a man of considerable wealth, asked him to his office. “I like you,” he said, “but you have outlived your usefulness. I .will give you $5,000 if you will, resign quietly and go elsewhere. It will be a matter between us, t No one will know.” The minister, managed to restrain his anger, refused, and quietly walked out. The pastor stayed on for about a year. Then, to prevent a tragic, open break, he resigned. He him self did not know what the impact of the affair had been on his con gregation. But soon afterward an excited, happy member came to him and said, “We had a meeting to discuss your replacement. And you know, we found that we have just about fifty - three die - hard segregationists in our congregation of more than 2,000. We are going to engage a man with convictions like yours.” Other congregations are slowly learning more about themselves. Without question, the controversy over desegregation is causing soul-searching; the result in the months and years ahead may be to break the race barriers in most churches. Those ministers who have come to grips with this problem see the church as fulfilling its greatest role in the years ahead—that of binding up the spiritual wounds, and of moving mankind another inch or so forward toward a brotherhood of man, under God, so that this nation, or any nation so dedicated, can and shall have a new birth of freedom. The pastor of one large Southern church has said: “We are all in tegrated * * * every one of our churches is integrated. The faces in the pews may be all white. But the Negro is there. He is present in the anger and guilt of some of the congregation. He is present in the consciences of many. He is present in the fears of the ushers who wait each Sunday to see if he will come. He waits in the wings, invisible, but present just the same. "God is at work. Some of the churches may become private clubs and establish rigid rules against the presence of nonmem bers. They will never be happy. They will never know peace. We are all integrated and there is nothing we can do about it save ask God’s grace to make us see it.”—(New York Times Magazine). | Drive Safely The Petal Papei THE PETAL PAPER: Printed on Thursday of every other week by THE SOUTHERN FARMER, INC., Mont gomery. Ala Published by East Publications Co., Box 349 Hattiesburg. Miss Entered as second class matter at the Post Office at Petal, Mississippi, under Act of March ft. 1879 RE-ENTERED A1 MONTGOMERY, ALA Second class postage paid at Mont gomery, Ala RETURN FORMS 3579 TO: THE PETAL PAPER. BOX 349. HATTIES BURG, MISS. P D. East_Editor A Publisher SUBSCRIPTIONS Six Months-$3.00 Per Year_$5.00 /Ik. jtT ,,iv ''v '"v ',v *'*v • ^ ^ ^ -”■ n I BOOKPLATES free catalog t ? showing scores of beautiful bookplates. Ideal for j | gifts or for your own use. Address: ANTIOCH f I BOOKPLATE CO., Yellow Springs 6, Ohio | Read The Ads Along With The News . • visiting the sins of the fathers on the children, and on the children's children . . Did you know that— Geneticists estimate that tests of H-bombs already completed may ultimately mean 13,000 more deformed i babies born? And that each new test adds unknown numbers to that tragic total? The Council of Atomic Scientists in Great Britain has warned that as many as 50,000 people may get cancer as a result of tests already performed? 9,235 scientists from many countries, including 36 Nobel Prize winners, have called ending of nuclear tests “imperative”! Diplomat George F. Kennan writes— “l have expressly refrained from speaking, in connection with these other matters, of that aspect of the atomic problem that now worries many of my countrymen most of all: namely, the damage that may be done to our human environment and to the genetic make-up of human beings by the mere testing of these fearful weapons, not to mention their actual use in war ... "Surely it is better that many of us should die somewhat before our time, than that we should live at the cost of prejudicing the conditions of life for our children. So long therefore, as the scientists disagree about the effects of all this testing, it is our duty to be guided by our obligation to other generations—not just our own.” —George F. Kennan, BBC December 1, 1957. Write the President today to stop the .testing of nuclear weap ons. And to find your comrades in ''‘the struggle against war and tor peace, write - - - The Fellowship Of Reconciliation Box 271 Nyock. N. Y.