Science in Christian Perspective



Frank A Houser M.A.

From JASA 8 (December 1956): 20-21.

Did your church vote Republican in the election Did you say politics are not discussed in your pulpit' Not even prohibition? Well, that is rather interesting because a lot of churches are having a difficulty in knowing whether to (1) preach, (2) preach and megdle, or (3) meddle. For some reason or other religion seems to be tied up to life, and it often happens' when one gets religious he gets ethical. At least so denominations find themselves wrestling with questions of both personal and social ethics along with the religion.

I'd like to chat with you for a while on some find ings by sociologists interested in the church and social issues. O f course this is an extremely broad subject;
so, we'll restrict ourselves to one recent study about one phase of the question. This study is reported by C. Y. Glock and B. B. Ringer in the April 1956 issue of the American Sociological Retview. It's entitled "Church Policy and Attitudes on Social Issues." The Protestant Episcopal Church wanted help in planning a social relations program so they set up a study getting at attitudes of both clergy and laymen in their church. Several groups assisted in the study, and the report we have is by sociologists connected with the study.

In my opening paragraph I intimated that some churches are somewhat in a quandary on their matter of discussing issues that make up politics. Why is it that on some 'matters like "prohibition", "pacifism", and Communism evangelicals will venture forth with pronunciamentos from the pulpit, but on matters such as race, labor, business, and the United Nations there is a silence broken only by occasional pins dropping? Let us look at Glock and Ringer's study of the Protestant Episcopal Church to get some suggested answers.

First, let's note the subjects which were included in* the study: war, political role of the church, government control, labor, United Nations, immigration policies, conscientious objectors, human rights, and intermarriage with Roman Catholics.

Of these nine issues the church has passed resolutions on seven. That is, official policy has been established by their national governing body. No resolutions have been passed on the political role of the church; and there is no official declaration on government control although these issues have proponents and opponents among the clergy. For the seven issues on which a stand is taken the official body is either committed or equivocal. It favors a given point of view on the UN, human rights, conscientious objectors, immigration and intermarriage. It takes an equivocal position on other issues (e.g., war and labor).

We are advised by the authors that on issues classified as ideological (excepting the UN) church officialdom takes a, strong position. However, they equivocate on issues dealing with the question of power. Power refers to the distribution of power between classes as in labor and government control, to that between communities as in war, or within the community as is the case of the political role of the church.

Why is it that on non-power questions the church that is, the official representatives of the church--speak forthrightly? And, why the equivocation on social issues involving power in society? Try this nasty suggestion: where the parishioners lead the church follows. In other words, where the parishioners have made up their mind so has the church; and where they have not, neither has the church.

As a matter of fact, this hypothesis is not supported by the facts. Glock and Ringer show that on matters where officialdom has stated a most forthright resolution, the parishioners are least agreed ! There is more divergence of opinion among laity on ideological or moral questions (e.g., intermarriage and human rights) than on power questions. Now, it could very well be that the church can afford to take a clear stand knowing that the laity are split on the issue. As we look at the parishioner's attitudes on power questions we find that there is quite a bit more agreement or convergence among them. And, here the church has to tread carefully lest it offend a solid bloc of opinion in its midst. Therefore, it equivocates on these issues.

Does the church follow the laity? Does it compromise with secularism? The answer, according to Glock and Ringer, is "no." It is ahead of or decidedly different from its laity on most issues. But, on power questions it must proceed cautiously. Even its ministers in the parishes are similar to parishioners in attitudes on power questions, It looks like the official church actually leads the laity except where the solidified collective will of the parishioners is strongly entrenched. This, it seems to me, is about all one could realistically ask of the church on social ethics. Or, do think the clergy is wrong in leading?

By way of tidying things up let's return to the question about your church vote in the last election. If there was no explicit endorsement of a candidate or an issue was it really because all political issues are verboten in the sanctuary as a matter of principle? Or is it because such actions depend on the state of parish sentiment, the minister's attitude, the structure of church government, the clarity of the moral issue, and the socio-cultural background of the church?