Friday, January 22, 2010

Faith Statements and the State

In December, answering the call issued in Philip Clayton's Transforming Christian Theology, I laid out my own credo (statement of faith) focusing on the seven core Christian Beliefs.  I even issued a meme, asking others, especially fellow bloggers, to do the same -- to offer their own confession.  You can still do it!

A bit later, I came across a sermon preached by Edgar DeWitt Jones, the founding pastor of the church I now serve as pastor.  Jones was a liberal Protestant of the Harry Emerson Fosdick school.  In fact, Jones had Fosdick in to preach at Central Woodward Christian Church when he was on vacation.  In this sermon, apparently preached around 1941, Jones set out his own statement of faith.  He touched on some, but not all of the seven core beliefs. Interestingly enough, he doesn't address the Holy Spirit -- but that is not surprising considering the Disciple emphasis on rational belief.  What surprised me, but perhaps shouldn't, was a statement about the American Republic.

The reason it shouldn't surprise me is that while today we think of ultra-conservative Christians rallying around the flag, two generations ago there was a much stronger connection between liberal Christians and the political realm.  I'd like to invite you to respond to the following statement, which I republish in full.  The sermon appears in a book of sermons published in 1943 by Bethany Press (now Chalice Press) entitled A Man Stood Up to Preach.

  I believe in the American republic!  I believe in its institutions and in the spirit of democracy.  I do not believe it has failed.  I think it is broken down temporarily and needs to be overhauled, rejuvenated.  This republic was an experiment in government and it still is.  The Constitution may be expanded, amended, or so interpreted as to meet new conditions.  Whatever is good in socialism or communism may be appropriated by our government and embodied in our structure without going to extremes or developing a warring and dangerous class consciousness.  The people of the United States have the power to correct the evils and inequalities that are bound to appear from time to time.  The ballot is the mightiest weapon ever put into the hand of man in the realm of government.  Democracy is not simply one great experiment, it is a series of experiments.

I believe our republic will endure, not because there is anything inherently indestructible in its make-up, but because its structure looks to the people for renovation from time to time, for periodic house cleanings, for scourings and polishings, and the liberal use of disinfectants when the case so requires.  To me there are few subjects so fascinating as American history and the story of our humble beginnings as a nation.  Our nation cannot endure without faith in the God of our fathers, faith in humanity, faith in the dream that the pioneers and pathfinders knew, men who were not disobedient to the heavenly vision.  I believe in love of country, but not to the exclusion of good will toward other countries and devotion to the global objective of the Christian faith.  I believe in an intelligent and dynamic spirit of internationalism; but at the same time, I thank God that I am an American.  (pp. 190-191).

As I read these words, there is much in them that I can and do affirm.  The United States is by no means perfect, but I have no desire to live anywhere else.  At the same time, I would never think of including a statement like this in a statement of faith.  Indeed, it wouldn't even occur to me to do so.  Yet, in 1941 it was possible for the relatively liberal pastor of one of the flagship churches of a mainline denomination to issue just such a statement.

(The flag is found at Gospel Clip Art)

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