Science in Christian Perspective
It is not always possible to review a technical book about an unidentified place and then go to that place and see for yourself. "Elmtown's Youth"1 is a description of the manner in which economic factors and social structure of a typical Midwestern county seat actually affected the behavior of the young people growing up in that community. The city, its landmarks and the individuals mentioned were given other names in order to prevent identification. But the people of "Elintown" knew, when the book was finally published recently.
The people of this unidentified town were classified into Classes I to V from top to bottom. The morals were said to be bad in the poorer classes but Class I was not only rich but they were the "better people". The thing that impresses a Christian reader is that the entire town seems to be bereft of any truly effective Christian witness, but also there is a strong suspicion that the author would not appreciate the "unshackling" the liberation of captives, the life changes of conversion if he had seen them before his eyes. Hence it is not surprising that the population is so thoroughly involved in sex delinquency, rather openly displayed in the poorer classes, but more covert higher up.
On reading "Elintown's Youth" recently, I was impressed by the fact that I knew that community, that it was not far away. So I drove the few miles to this community to investigate. Stopping at a filling station, I asked about "Elmtown".
"Elintown?" queried the business man. "Oh, you mean the book,"
: Then there proceeded from his mouth a series of oaths about the author, who was said to have printed "lies" about their fair little city of elm trees. I continued to ask residents of the town about "Elintown". In most cases it caused them to see "red," proceeded in curses, and ended up with the assertion that the author had lied about them. In only one case was I able to elicit what these lies were. Since most of them talked about the description of moral delinquency, I had a suspicion that these were the "lies". One observer exclaimed- "Why our young people ain't that bad."
From my own viewpoint, I saw nothing too unusual about the delinquencies related. They were of the sort that commonly occur in most groups of unregenerate people. I had reason to believe that they were true anecdotes. Then again, perhaps the "lies" were merely the reaction of non-technical people to the author's devices to cover the identity of individuals.
"Why that author is as bad as Kinsey," exclaimed one irate resident.Finally I found a business man who asked.
"Do you know what I think both this town and this
author need? You may not agree with me, but I say
that what they all need is Christ."
1. Hollingshead, Ebutown's Youth, (Wiley & Co., 1949).
Thus I had found in Elmtown a true believer with whom to have fellowship, something of which the book gave not one single hint. Moreover, I found that one church and its pastor, who were highly criticised by the author, were the only island of believers (along with one other smaller church) to be found in this home town mission field. The pastor of this church welcomed me with open arms when he found from where I came in this personal investigation. In fact, he asked me to speak impromptu at their midweek meeting. The Sunday School Superintendent told me how the author of the book had come in to see the S. S. one morning when all the children were on their knees in prayer. His only question was, "What's the matter with these children? Are they normal?"
It is thus understandable that the author might honestly misrepresent this Gospel Lighthouse, and it is to their credit that they did not refer to this situation as "lies", but rather as an example of I Cor. 2:14.
I told those people that they were a mission compound in the midst of an ungodly civilization, just as you find in thousands of other American cities, but many of these communities have no Gospel Light in their midst, as Elintown has. Such a Gospel ministry can be used of the Lord to seek others. "You are a Mission station, which the Lord wants to use for His glory in this community. Don't worry about the goings-on of Elintown's Youth. How can unsaved people be otherwise than as described in the book? They and their fathers and mothers from the 400 ritzy ones who live in the West End, down to the poorest worker who lives down by the canal and all their children-what is their greatest need? They need to be changed psychologically, though not by the techniques of psychology. They need to be 'unshackled, from their sins. There is no human technique or method which can accomplish this task. Only Christ can do this thing by changing their hearts. How necessary it is to see the wonderful missionary task before us in our own community. Gifts for foreign missions are splendid, also candidates for the foreign field, but God will always bless missionary work, next door to you.
"A bad book was written about 'Elmtown's Youth', but how much better to have written in the Lamb's Book of Life the record of 'Elmtown's Youth in Christ'."
After the mid-week meeting, the pastor had to leave and have a conference with Elmtown's latest delinquent who had been paroled to him, but from the local paper, he was not doing too well. The people however, thronged about me and their response was this-
"We never realized it before, but what you said about our being a mission station is just as true as can be. Why haven't we seen this before? We were proud of our missionary gifts, and we thought that that was enough. We now have a new High School building and it's fine, but it's just another pagan high school in pagan America. We've got to do something about it."
I told them that the most of these poor people were ready to hear the Gospel. They were seeking something and they were not Gospel hardened like many communities. To prove it I challenged them to step outside. We asked the Lord to send along the street some one needing Christ. In a few minutes, along came two working boys, of what the author would call Class IV and Class V. We proceeded to deal with these two Elmtown Youth and presently one of them came under conviction and stated his acceptance of Christ. These youth were hungry for Christ.
The author of "Elmtown's Youth" had been much concerned, not about misbehavior, but about the stratification of classes which he found to be characteristic of our American society. He admitted that it was not according to American ideals of democracy and of the Declaration of Independence. However, he pointed out that in spite of the ideals of a Jefferson, American society was already stratified in the days of Washington. Moreover, he saw no way clear to correct this ever-growing tendency to build up classes, which is found in all societies and which reaches its culmination in the caste system of India. The author too showed his own reaction by casting aspersions upon the Norwegians and the Poles of the community. My own contact with these two groups showed that there were many Christians among them and that they were very stanch American citizens.
Where the church learns to "preach the Gospel to the poor" as it is instructed to do, there is a tendency for the poor not to sink as low, either economically or morally. The rich, who are not Christians, often find but few generations from "shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves". In fact, the author relates a few such cases where the members of the upper crust lost caste. In a Christian group where all have come on common ground, before the Cross, as sinners, the class tendency seems to be ameliorated to some extent. If all believers were truly yielded, there would be none of the motivation of self-enhancement which builds up classes. Christ is the answer to our social and psychological woes.