“For the Long Pull Ahead,” by Charles W. Gilkey
September 16, 1946

On the editorial page of the New York Times for August 3, Anne O’Hare McCormick, its distinguished correspondent on foreign affairs, contributed a brilliant column on “The Evolution of American Internationalism,” in which these are the crucial sentences:

“A year after the defeat of Japan, the world watches the peacemakers in Paris in a fatalistic mood induced by a two-edged cynicism—doubt of peace and doubt of the power of ordinary people to do anything to influence big-power decisions. This mood is not so marked in the United States as in other countries…

“But the cynicism is there, more widespread than ever before, and one reason for it is that almost for the first time in his history the American is up against problems he can neither simplify nor escape… Nevertheless they do not shake his resolution to go on. Several recent polls have shown that support of international organization is steadily growing in the United States…

“There is not as much fervor for the League we have joined as there was for the one we rejected a generation ago. It is internationalism without cheers. But it is also internationalism without tears or regrets, and that is more remarkable; it signifies that we are without illusions regarding either the necessity of this policy or the difficulty of realizing it.

“Considering the American temperament, impatient for quick solutions, fired by ideals more than by ideas, this dogged adherence to a course we don’t like is something like a miracle. It proves that the United States is mature enough to draw conclusions from experience.

“It proves something else. For the first time the people of this country feel vulnerable on their own soil. For the first time they are dealing with a force and a mentality they do not understand… They know they do not understand Russia, this power that rises out of the vague Eurasian steppes, out of the dim pages of unread history, to be our partner in a game which neither the Soviet Union nor the United States has played before.”

The last month has made it even more evident that the effort to understand and work out a modus vivendi with an enigmatic and often exasperating Russia will be a major preoccupation, both for American public opinion and for American foreign policy, through years and probably decades to come—with the peace of the world and perhaps the future of civilization as the stake. For this long pull ahead before we can reach quiet waters again, Christianity has something to contribute, especially to the many of us, who have no sources of information or bases for opinion about Russia beyond those provided by the public press.

Christian history reminds us, for one thing, of the ultimate inevitability of diversity. Not only in biological evolution, where emerging differences have provided possibilities for change and progress, but equally in family life, where parents and children are all of them distinct individualities, does the Creative Power, at work in the universe, continue to produce and maintain variety. For nineteen centuries attempts to base Christian unity on uniformity of creed or ceremonial have sooner or later broken down; and the hopeful emergence in recent years of the ecumenical movement is based on unity of spirit, practical cooperation, and warmth of fellowship between Christian bodies which recognize and respect their differences. All this suggests that the Russian pressure for “world-wide acceptance of Soviet political philosophy” as the indispensable basis for peace and security, to which Mr. J.F. Dulles in Life and President Van Dusen in this journal have recently called our attention, is one more attempt to force a totalitarian creed against the grain of the universe.

But it also suggests to Americans, and particularly to American Christians, that they must likewise recognize the Russian right to differ from our western ways, and that we must develop an un-American but a truly Christian patience with those whose history, experience, and convictions are so unlike our own—without our claiming too much virtue for the patience itself!

Again, Christian experience reminds us constantly of the importance of faith and hope toward that which we do not fully understand. It summons us to trust in a God Whose thoughts and ways are not as ours, and who is never fully understood: as the Latin proverb profoundly puts it, “Deus cognitus deus nulhis.” This is not at all to say, that the voice of Russia is the voice of God—even if some Americans do act as if it were: it only says that complete understanding and agreement are never necessary to confidence and cooperation. But even though our ground of faith in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ rests upon a wisdom and character in Him which we and all our fellow-men are far from possessing, Christianity bids us be always ready to meet our neighbors more than half-way, even when we can neither fully understand nor agree with them. The promise of peace on earth, as every Christmas reminds us, is to men of good will. Doubtless we cannot expect nations as such, including our own (among all of whom Christian faith in any vital sense is always in a minority), to adopt toward other nations the forgiving and trustful attitude enjoined by the New Testament on individual Christians: but we Christians can remind our fellow-citizens in and out of season, that the hope of peace and progress for our children lies along the road of conference and cooperation rather than of conflict, and that we must always be ready to take the first steps.

Finally, our Christian faith puts its trust in a God Who works in human history in ways and for ends far out beyond our comprehension—but in line with the purposes of Christ. If we and our allies have been the rod of judgment in the divine hand upon some of the most ruthless oppression and cruelty in human history, that is not because of our worthiness or because of any future freedom of ours from chastisement for the sins which do so easily beset us. Second Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord saying to the pagan Cyrus, “I will gird thee, though thou hast not known me.” Humbly we must always keep in mind that a similar role, both as instrument of the divine purposes and as object of the divine judgment, may fall to nations in our own time who seem to us self-seeking, aggressive, or irreligious. God’s times and seasons, like His thoughts and ways, are not as ours. Nations as well as individuals must walk through dark nights and long winters by faith and not by sight—remembering that this holds across the generations into our children’s unpredictable time, even more than into the unknown years of our own personal future.

Charles W. Gilkey (1882–1968) earned his bachelor’s and master’s from Harvard in 1903 and 1904, followed by a doctorate from Union Theological Seminary in 1908 and further studies at Universities of Berlin and Marburg (1908–09), United Free DH College Glasgow (1909–10), New College Edinburgh, and Oxford University (1909–10). He also received honorary doctorates from Williams College (1925), Hillsdale College (1925), Yale University (1927), Brown University (1928), Harvard University (1929). and Colby College (1931). In 1910 the Hyde Park Baptist Church ordained Gilkey as their pastor and he remained there for 18 years. Gilkey acted as a trustee of the University of Chicago from 1919–29. In 1928 he accepted the position of dean of the university’s Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, which he would hold until 1947. He also served as the associate dean of the Divinity School and represented the University in the position of the professor of preaching of the University of Chicago Divinity School at Princeton, Yale, Cornell, Chicago, Toronto, Wellesley, Stanford, Purdue, Harvard, Wellesley, and the University of Washington. The University of Chicago also appointed Gilkey as the Barrows Lecturer to India (1924–25). He retired in June 1947.

“Editorial Note,” by Reinhold Niebuhr
September 16, 1946

The conference on international relations of the World Council was badly reported, probably in part because reporters were not admitted, for reasons which seemed wise to the continental delegates but which the American delegation regretted. In consequence none of the reports, which were elaborations of inadequate news releases caught the spirit of the conference. In an earlier committee meeting of the World Council an Anglican bishop, rightfully concerned about the fate of the Christians in the Baltic states, had rather unwisely declared that world Protestantism ought to make common cause with Catholicism in opposing Russia in foreign affairs. While the Christians of western Europe are naturally apprehensive about the spread of communism, they were not prepared to take the Roman Catholic line, partly because they felt that communism in western Europe should be defeated by wise economic policy rather than by purely strategic steps of the great powers, and partly because they were even more apprehensive about a third world war than about the spread of communism. The one thing about which there was an almost complete consensus at the conference was that it was necessary not to adopt the line, which the American newspapers attributed to the conference.

In this, as in similar instances, it remained however for a religious publication to outdo the secular press and to add malice to stupidity in misinterpretation. In an article in the Episcopal weekly, The Witness, a well known fellow traveller, Prof. Joseph Fletcher, purports to know that the American delegation forced a straight anti-Russian line upon a reluctant ecumenical meeting. The American delegation had no such position and there was no difference between it and other delegates on this issue. The one continental delegate, who held a very strong anti- Russian position, accused the leader of the American delegation, Mr. John Foster Dulles, of being too tolerant toward the soviet system. But the majority agreed with Mr. Dulles that the only hope of peace lay in gradually dissipating Russian fears by common life, though it was recognized that Russian truculence would severely try the patience of the Western world. Dr. Francis Wei of China, made a profound impression upon the conference by his recital of the shift in Russian policy since the bomb was dropped last August. It was generally agreed that Russian fears were not identical with Nazi dynamism, however similar the two forms of totalitarianism might be.

There is furthermore no disposition in Europe to bring on another war if patience can avoid it. Sometimes on both the continent and in Britain this is put in anti-American terms in such a phrase as this: “America may want an atomic war with Russia but we don’t.”

Everyone recognizes, of course, that Russia’s refusal to participate in an international atomic authority will create some very grave problems in the future. If she should develop the bomb by herself, and if meanwhile the Western nations should organize an international atomic authority, the chasm between Russia and the West will be deepened.

On the other hand it is generally believed that Russia’s truculence is motivated by fear and not by a sense of strength and that it has neither the moral nor the political basis of Nazi dynamism. It is different politically because Russia does not stand on a narrow ground, geographically, but has a vast expanse of territory which must be developed. Morally it is different because, whatever the evils of communist totalitarianism, Russian ideology is not morally nihilistic and does not worship force, race and nation as final ends.

One may therefore assume that patience and lack of provocation may through the years allay Russian fears and mitigate Russian truculence. It would of course require a very wise statesmanship to accomplish this end. We may therefore fail. For the statesmanship of the nations is on every hand inadequate for the magnitude of our present problems and perplexities. It ought to be clear, however, that this is the direction in which we ought to go; and that hysterical reactions to Russia are irresponsible.