For the sake of argument

Our churches are damning the wrong kinds of sin

REV. W. E. MANN SAYS July 16 1960
For the sake of argument

Our churches are damning the wrong kinds of sin

REV. W. E. MANN SAYS July 16 1960

Our churches are damning the wrong kinds of sin

For the sake of argument


In the face of the revolutionary changes of the twentieth century, as well as the challenge of enemies like Islam and communism, are the churches measuring up?

It is my feeling that the nonRoman churches are generally far behind the times: so far behind, in fact, that they are often talking to a world that is dead and gone.

F-roni a financial standpoint. it is safe to say that t:~c churches have never had it so good. But s~irittial ly. it often looks as if the non Roman churches are just about bankrupt.

Most of our churches are too “good" for those outside the moral law, such as transients, adults living common law or young people released from prison. These people know they are not wanted in church and seldom challenge the prejudice of the “good" people. And. except in very small numbers, Negroes, Indians or Asiatics are not welcomed: they retreat to segregated or one-race congregations of their own.

I lie poor are estranged

Apart from racial discrimination, look at bow our churches are becoming identified with the comfortable. complacent middle classes. those positive thinkers who, someone said, purr to the gentle stroking of Norman Vincent Peale. The retired general secretary of the Council for Social Service of the Anglican Church, Dr. W. W. Judd, wrote recently: "Class-consciousness has aroused its ugly head in our Canadian scene in a way it never ¡.as before. . . . The poor are estranged from the church . . . they don't want us... they are not at home with us.”

Acro.vs Canada, the gidf between religion and the blue-collar group widens. Wnile the Lord preached to the poor and they heard Him gladly, most church people today seem embarra., .ed at poverty and slums and act as if they think that

by ignoring these problems they will somehow disappear.

The non-Roman churches have not only failed to attract the lower classes: they have also had singularly little effect on or liaison with Canada's labor movement. Every year, on Labor Sunday, the churches make a routine bow to labor, in sermons usually brimming witn platitudes or hackneyed clichés. But, when laymen are chosen to church councils or assemblies. they are nearly always from the ranks of business or the professions. When a labor-management crisis strikes a community, how often does the local church give labor's side a fair hearing? In I960, ninetecth - century thinking is still being applied in churchlabor relations.

The spiritual bankruptcy of the churches is shown up vividly, also, in the Protestant obsession with venial sins, drinking, Sunday observance and bingo. In the Victorian era. leading Canadian Protestant churches fiercely opposed liquor outlets. Sunday sport, betting and the like. These were the front-line moral isstiek. To some extent this might have been justified, since churches then confronted the crude morality of a society barely emerging from the boisterous frontier period.

But is there any justification for pretending that such sins are the major enemies of Christ today? Surely we've had time to realize the greater danger of spiritual defects. the lust for power leading to dishonesty, cruelty and corruption in nigh places, or the lust for money and security leading to materialism, social injustice and in humanity to man. But ask any ordinary citizen to name the leading moral stands of the Protestant churches in Canada: nine chances out of ten. he'll say they're against drinking, gambling and Sunday sport.

Too often, pronouncements from some CONTINUED ON PAGE 58



For the sake of argument continued from page 7

. . But surely the deliberate exploitation of sex is a moral evil”

leading denominations give the impression that the front line of attack is still on the liquor industry and racetrack gambling. And just let anyone try to get a new liquor outlet in a town in Ontario —anil many other parts of Canada—-and

virtually all the non-Roman clergy rush into an alliance of protest.

f'ime is lavishly given to fighting new liquor outlets, but how much is given to fighting political corruption, or to getting at the causes of alcoholism?

A few years ago. in the synod of a large Anglican diocese in Canada, a church committee came forward to recommend governmental action to require more attractive appointments and amenities in beer parlors. The aim was to dis-

courage sodden drunkenness. The proposal received short shift. It was quickly replaced by a platitudinous resolution urging all Christians to thoughtful temperance. which in the context seemed to imply complete abstinence.

While the old “enemies” are attacked mainly in the old-fashioned ways, little effective thinking is applied to contemporary moral threats, such as the recent ballooning circulation of lewd literature on our newsstands. I'm referring here as much to suggestive picture magazines as to depraved paperback books aimed solely at sexual excitation.

A few years ago. the regulations governing the import of obscene and immoral publications were given a new interpretation. The country was flooded. An interchurch committee was organized in Ontario to combat this development. Ideas of bringing pressure on proprietors of stores, and on the provincial government. were brought up. Certain limited schemes were approved, but the action taken had insignificant effects, seemingly because the Protestant churches were not aroused in strength or found the whole subject embarrassing. One basic reason, no doubt, is that our churches have yet to enunciate a sexual morality adequately adapted to twentieth-century trends.

Pagans Preferred to Rivals

Granted that sex codes arc changing, and that much Victorian thinking about the human body was prudish. But surely the deliberate exploitation of sex is a moral evil. Surely, too. when newsstands are open to anyone's inspection, and when it is a common thing for teenagers to leaf through lewd picture magazines at their leisure, the churches ought to demand some measure of control. But so far. apart from a slight change in the Criminal Code, no effective action has been taken.

On the issue of church reunion, have we had any new' thinking since the nineteenth century? Is it not true that for the most part we are preoccupied with individual denominational goals? This is perhaps most unhappily revealed in certain missionary activities, for instance in the North, where pastors have often given the impression they would rather have pagan than Roman Catholic Eskimos.

In a recent interview the primate of the Anglican Church said he was "tired of hearing Anglicans confess the sins of the United Church and United Churchmen confess the sins of the Anglican Church." I too am tired of the spiritual snobbery that says of the other denomination. "You can worship Christ in your way; we worship Him in His.”

Here, then, are some of the major spiritual failures of the churches, failures that reflect a grave maladjustment to the needs of the age. Arising directly out of such failures are internal weaknesses that exemplify old - fashioned thinking and poverty of spiritual dynamic. First there is the acute shortage of clergy. The leading non - Roman churches can't obtain enough candidates for the ministry even to replace those due for retirement. The Anglican Church, for instance, will graduate only about sixty men this year. A recent editorial in the United Church Observer noted that the church had 646 fewer clergy in 1959 than in 1925, a drop of nineteen percent, while the number of persons under pastoral care had risen by almost a hundred percent.

With dwindling manpow'er in a time of population expansion, do the churches launch dramatic programs to draw in talented youngsters and university stu-

dents? Seldom, and then usually ineffectually. What business would run itself like that?

In the training of young ministers the churches are similarly slow to adjust to emerging needs. The selection of theological students is still usually quite haphazard, without benefit of personality and psychological tests. (This is not true in some parts of the U.S.) A result is that a good percentage of our clergy are in the wrong vocation. One denomination, for instance, has had 446 withdrawals in thirty years.

Then too the curriculum in seminaries has changed little in fifty years. While Greek is still compulsory (although new Biblical translations provide accurate understanding of the Scriptures, and the average minister soon forgets all but a smattering of what he learned), few seminaries give even the barest elements of sociology, in spite of its many insights into social problems. As a result, many clergymen don't know how to cooperate effectively with their professional colleagues, the social workers, and ignorance often leads to conflicts.

The maintenance of the old-fashioned Sunday school is another classic example of nineteenth - century thinking. These schools were begun in a period when church standards of morality were widely accepted, home religious training was not uncommon and the Christian churches had unrivaled possession of foreign mission work. Today, these things are gone. Yet Sunday school instruction is still given under uncongenial or distracting conditions, often by adolescent or untrained teachers, with material only partly orientated to today's world, and for only one hour a week.

Most Sunday schools have little or no seat work, no homework or home reading of any consequence, or any exams at the end of the year. In a period when general education has advanced from the one-room school to the large specialist school, a period during which the leaving age has risen to sixteen from fourteen, our Sunday schools are virtually unchanged in methods and goals.

If the church education of children is hopelessly out of date, what about adults? How many churchgoers find the sermon a truly learning experience? Isn't there a desperate need for congregational evaluation of ministers' sermons, for feedback from congregation to preacher? How much of the irrelevance of preaching is associated with the fact that preachers never learn precisely

how the congregation interprets and values their messages. We are all so polite at the door.

In one Baptist church in Toronto, three laymen were given ten minutes apiece to tell at the evening service how they visualized the application of the morning's sermon. A simple device, reflecting a twentieth-century approach, but how rare a practice.

These criticisms are not made unsympathetically. I recognize only too well that religious institutions have always tended to be conservative. Moreover, no one really expects the churches to go along with every new' turn in events. We look to religion for stability, for an emphasis upon the tried and tested. On the other hand, religious teaching must be relevant to life situations.

My criticisms are also not directed solely or mainly at the clergy. As leaders they have special responsibilities, but they also face special problems in getting to grips with social realities and in communicating with their people. Their life and work situation is sociologically sheltered. Too often their congregations imprison them in a conventicle-like existence remote from much of real, if sordid, living.

Thus, at a conference in 1958 of Irish laity and clergy, the lay members of the conference expressed the opinion that so often the clergy appear to be innocents abroad, an impression with which the clerical members agreed.

While the social situation of the clergy hinders their sensitivity to change, not so the laity. And, since the laity have in non-Roman churches an equal voice in all major decisions, they must share with the clergy at least equal blame for not adjusting the church to the needs of our times.

Finally, let me emphasize that if the picture looks black and depressing, such is not unusual in the history of the church. Many times the churches have clung to the past, and then made an astonishing recovery. The same thing can happen again; in fact, there are individual leaders and small groups in Canada actually experimenting with twentieth-century methods. Such experiments may be the seedbeds of a new Reformation.

But if steps are not taken soon to tool up the churches for twentieth-century living, significant social groups may w'ell pass by the institutional churches for other social forms that speak to our contemporary world situation. ★