In the present cold war, which is getting hotter all the time, those who rely on what they hear and read must believe that the United States Government is the champion of freedom and democracy. That's what the leaders of the people — the statesmen, the big press and the labor leaders — say all the time. They can't all be liars. Or can they?
To be sure, the aggressions of our government against China — just to take one example —Would seem to contradict the noble pretentions of our leaders. But to this skeptical suggestion they have a handy answer: That's an another country; and, besides, the Chinese, as Secretary Acheson put it so felicitously at the United Nations in Paris last week, are some sort of subhumans, below "the general level of barbarism.''
But now we have a red-hot issue of democracy and freedom right here in our own country. This issue has been hurled into the political arena by President Truman's nomination of a United States ambassador to the Vatican. What have our leaders got to say about this concession to reactionary clericalism? Nothing very direct and straight-forward; instead, a chorus of silence and evasion.
The politicians and the labor leaders have stood mute, as the lawyers say, or dummied up as some other people would put it, as though they didn't, hear the question. The metropolitan press on the whole, led by the New York Times, cautiously supports the appointment as "an experiment worth trying" without stating the real issue. With that unctuous hypocrisy and specious reasoning which are the trademark of the Times' editorial page, it is represented that "our envoy will be the Ambassador to State of Vatican City," and not "to the Roman Catholic Church.". This distinction without a difference As a rather untimely joke, serving only to irritate people who take a serious issue seriously.
Putting the Issue Squarely
In this situation the Protestant clergymen have stepped forward as the defenders of the democratic tradition so crudely violated by Truman's decision. No doubt religious animosities will be inflamed at some of the lower levels of the fight; and no good can come of that. But the most authoritative and influential spokesmen of American Protestantism are putting the issue squarely on political grounds. They are speaking out fearlessly like real statesmen, putting the cowering politicians and labor skates to shame. And they are being heard.
On Reformation Sunday, Oct. 28, commemorating the day in 1517 that Luther "nailed his theses to the door," the congregations of 8,000 Protestant churches across the country were rallied in a demonstration against the President's action." Petitions to be sent to Washington were signed on- church steps. The preachers have their righting clothes on. They know what the fight is about, and they are pulling no punches.
The Rev. Dr. Robert J. McCracken, minister of the Riverside Church in New York, in his Reformation Sunday sermon, said the Catholic Church is making an "open bid for power and dominance in this country," of which the Truman nomination of an ambassador to Rome was "only the latest example." He called' on the Protestant churches in this country to "build up a resistance movement" against the "encroachments" of the Catholic hierarchy. "There will have to be some plain speaking," said the Rev. Doc, and he proceeded to speak, plainly and truthfully, as follows:
"Ceaseless, Surreptitious Pressure" -
"With the tide running against it in Europe, its stronghold for centuries, Roman Catholicism is engaged in ceaseless surreptitious pressure to obtain a position of preference and control in the New World. Nor can there be any doubt as to the success attending its efforts. "It has an astonishing hold over the machinery of American life — the press, the radio, the films, the whole field of public relations. It is constantly bringing its weight to bear on local, State and national officials, on the political machines which rule many of our cities, on labor unions, welfare agencies, teachers' organizations. . . It is high time Protestants realized that Rome has established itself as an independent empire in the United States."
Other preachers, from one end of the country to the other, have spoken out in the same tone of "God's angry men." But the clearest, sharpest and most political argument and denunciation came, as was to be expected, from Dr. G. Bromley Oxnam, Methodist Bishop of New York.
This man is a tough fighter and no respecter of persons. He practically challenges Truman to take off his coat and grab his best hold for a rough-and-tumble. In his blistering declaration there is no tone of subservience, or even of respect, for the present occupant of Blair House Truman may be President of the United State by accident, but Oxnam is Bishop of the Methodist Church by the grace of God, and he speaks from a superior position.
He starts out by flatly accusing Truman of lying and breaking his promises to Protestant leaders. Writing in The Nation, Nov. 3, the Bishop says:
"He told one of the most influential religious leaders of the nation in the early summer that the issue of an ambassador to the Vatican was dead He told another leader that as long as he was President there would never be an ambassador to the Vatican."
The implication is obvious. Powerful pressure must have been put on Truman by the Vatican and the Catholic hierarchy in this country. But this over-bold aggression of abhorrent clericalism brought an unexpected reaction. The Protestant clergymen are hot under their ministerial collars and up and jumping, with the great Bromley out in front. He calls for a political fight without compromise. Says the Bishop:
On Political Grounds
"The American people will not be led down the road to Rome- - . Protestants will fight the confirmation of General Clark and, if needs be will carry this issue to the American people for final decision."
Leaving theological differences entirely aside, he puts the issue where it belongs on political and democratic grounds:
"The road to Rome leads to clericalism. Hierarchies are characterized by lust for power, property, and prestige. Clericalism is 'the pursuit of power, especially political power, by a religious hierarchy, carried on by secular method and for purposes of social domination.' Protestants are resolved that clericalism shall not take root in this land and that their own freedom shall not be placed in jeopardy."
Bishop Bromley is not taken in for a minute by the pretense that General Clark has been nominated to the "State of Vatican City," and not to the Vatican p.r Church, as the Times editorial writer sophistically explains with tongue in cheek. "No amount of casuistical camouflage can conceal the fact that when the United States government sends an ambassador to the Vatican, it is actually sending a representative to the Roman Catholic church." -
Again on the same point:
"The Roman Catholic hierarchy is not content with spiritual power. It demands temporal power. The present Pope bargained with Mussolini and got a few acres of land and sovereign right thereto. The so-called state is a subterfuge. It is the church in politics. It is the repudiation of the American conception of separation of church and state."
The Road to Rome
From start to finish of his militant manifesto, he political-minded Bishop is in there crowding his opponent and forcing the fight all the way. He winds up with a wallop:
"The road to Rome leads to an alliance with a church that is itself, as a vast landholder, allied with the reaction in Europe that has often stood against the reform necessary to establish the free society."
That thesis will be hard to counter, for it states the simple truth — as far as it goes. The Bishop could have added that the U.S. government is already allied on the international field with the "vast landholder" and power-house of Reaction centered in the Vatican. That's one of the main reasons why the million-masses of exploited workers and land - hungry peasants throughout the world are against America. When the working people of this country realize the full implications of the move to extend this reactionary alliance to our own soil,
and thus to strengthen the trend to reactionary clericalism here, they will have no choice but to join Bishop Oxnam and the rest of the Protestant clergy in the fight against it. If the workers want to know what clerical domination means, let them take one good look at Spain.
The Protestant leaders don't go all the way but as far as they go it is in the right direction and their fight on this issue is the people's fight too.