“Toward a Christian Approach to International Issues,” A Statement by the Board of Sponsors
December 9, 1946
Five years ago, when Christianity and Crisis was founded, it seemed to us particularly important to arouse the Christian people of America to the responsibilities which our nation faced in meeting the threat of tyranny in the community of nations. We were also concerned to re-examine our faith in the light of world events, for many current interpretations of that faith were not profound enough to help us to understand the tragic history through which we were moving.
Since then the war against Nazism and its ally in the Far East has been successfully concluded. Yet there is no stable peace. In the words of the prophet: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended and we are not saved.” A United Nations organization has indeed been achieved; but the principle of unanimity among the great powers, which is at the very core of the charter, makes it impossible for the United Nations to solve any of the immediate tensions, since the lack of unanimity among the great powers is the very crux of our problems. There is, therefore, slight prospect of having the security of a really stable peace for some years or decades to come.
This insecurity, together with the vast social and political confusions of our day, tempt many people to despair. We are in a situation of moral frustration in which it would seem that none of the things that belong to our peace can be done quickly enough or thoroughly enough. The Pauline confession, “The good that I would do, I do not; and the evil that I would not, that I do,” seems the most accurate description of the contradiction between the desire of nations and their actions. In such a plight it becomes important, both to understand our situation and to redefine our responsibilities in the light of our Christian faith.
The Christian faith has always taken a more sober view of the realities of man’s common life than contemporary philosophies. The prophets insisted that a leopard does not easily change his spots, and that it would be as hard for nations “accustomed to do evil” to “learn to do good.” From the standpoint of the Christian faith there has never been any reason to hope that the nations of the world could be brought, either easily or immediately, to accept the kind of responsibilities which modern nations must accept if we are to have a stable world community of nations.
If we understand the realities of our day in the light of our faith, they must prompt us to repentance rather than despair. Judgment without faith leads to despair. Judgment, interpreted by faith, leads to repentance and to a new life. The prophets of Israel believed that after a great historical judgment, the “saving remnant” would be that part of Israel which understood the judgment as having a divine origin and meaning. It would therefore be able to re-order the life of the nation according to the divine law. St. Paul conceived the Christian church as a kind of perpetual “saving remnant” which should be able, by faith, to discern both the justice and the mercy of God in the events of history, and thus bring forth the fruits of repentance. If the church is to be truly the “saving remnant” in our time, it must mediate the divine judgment and mercy to our hearts and consciences, so that, no matter what happens, we shall know that our individual and our common life stand under God’s sovereignty, and shall discern new opportunities and new responsibilities for doing God’s will in every crisis which disturbs old securities and disrupts traditional modes of life.
Such a faith will induce a kind of sober serenity which saves men from bitterness, despair and bewilderment. It knows that “neither life nor death—nor things present nor things to come can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This sober serenity, prompted by faith, is not the same as the social peace among men and nations. But it may well contribute to that peace by dissuading us from all forms of hysteria and frantic efforts to “save” our civilization. Civilizations, like life itself, are best saved, if we are not too anxious to save them. For self-interest always becomes mixed with such anxiety and we may aggravate the perils of a civilization by trying to save, not civilization, but our peculiar conception of it.
It is not possible for Christians to reach perfect agreement upon detailed political policies, even when they sincerely seek to derive such policies from the presuppositions and resources of their common faith. But we should like to suggest in broad outline a policy upon which we have reached agreement, and by which we intend to be guided in this journal.
(a) The tension between Russia and the Western nations is, today and may be for years to come, the primary issue in the world community of nations. In meeting this issue we must recognize our responsibility both to defend what is valuable in the standards of freedom in Western civilization against totalitarian encroachments, and also to make our civilization more worthy of defense and more defensible.
Insofar as Russia represents a new totalitarian threat against established forms of justice in the Western world, we have a responsibility which must be met by firmness. Mere yielding to Russian pressure will not guarantee peace. Insofar as Russian communism, despite its corruptions, is a challenge to the Western world, we must, however, meet that challenge. Europe, Asia, and Africa require economic reorganization and security. If the Western powers fail to assist in the establishment of such security, or prevent the nations in the orbit of their influence from establishing it, desperate and harassed peoples will be tempted to seek security without freedom. Strategic firmness without a creative economic policy is therefore insufficient.
We in America face a particularly challenging situation. Our wealth and our power are so great, and we have had so little experience in wielding our power, that we are in peril of failing in our task for lack of knowledge. We believe, therefore, that a knowledge of the complex fundamentals of international life has become more than ever a prerequisite for an understanding of our responsibilities as citizens of this nation.
(b) The United Nations organization must be maintained, and every opportunity must be sought through it to build bridges across the wide chasms which separate nations. We do not, however, believe that the extension of the United Nations organization into something like a constitutional “world government,” would solve any of our immediate problems. Governments do not create communities. They presuppose them and are able to perfect them, provided some minimal form of mutual trust has laid the foundation for community. A world government which does not rest upon a minimal foundation of world community would degenerate into world tyranny. Our immediate task of preserving a tolerable peace is more modest; but it is an urgent task from which we must not be beguiled by ideal solutions which are immediately irrelevant.
(c) We started badly, as a nation, in dealing with the problem of atomic energy. We not only unleashed this terrible instrument of destruction without warning, but also pretended at first that the world ought not to fear the bomb, since it was in the possession of so righteous a nation. But our moral and political advance in dealing with this issue has been very considerable. We are ready to bring atomic energy under international control, and to divest ourselves of any advantage which we now possess. We have insisted, however, that the control must be genuinely international. The Russian counter-proposal providing for the outlawry of the bomb through the independent action of sovereign nations is neither morally nor politically feasible. If the principle of genuine international control is accepted, we should be ready to bargain on the question of the “time-table,” under which the secret and the power are internationalized. If no agreement is reached, we may face the dread possibility of an armament race. Even in such a case it will be important to avoid hysteria and to resist all temptations for a so-called preventive war. War between Russia and the West is neither imminent nor inevitable. We are living in a period in which we obviously lack the foundations for a stable peace; but we must not regard war as the only alternative. It may be the fate of mankind to live for a long time in insecurity.
(d) We must be critical of all tendencies in our nation to weaken or to circumvent the principle of trusteeship for backward nations and undeveloped areas, such as embodied in the United Nations charter. If we circumvent the principle for strategic reasons we shall aggravate the tension between nations. If we circumvent it in order to remove checks on American economic power, we shall increase the injustice which tends to develop in the relations between powerful nations and weak ones. The problem of “colonialism” is not solved merely by disavowing the responsibilities of power, and demanding the freedom of all peoples, some of which lack the external or internal basis for complete freedom. But neither is it solved by blindness to the perils of power.
We present these suggestions, not as an exhaustive program for peace, but as indicative of a broad policy toward world affairs which we believe to be, both in accord with our faith and relevant to the world’s pressing needs.
James C. Baker
Eugene E. Barnett
John Crosby Brown
Charles C. Burlingham
William F. Cochran
J. Harry Cotton
Harry Emerson Fosdick
Charles W . Gilkey
Ivan Lee Holt
Lynn Harold Hough
F. Ernest Johnson
Henry Smith Leiper
John A. Mackay
Benjamin E. Mays
Rhoda E. McCulloch
Francis P. Miller
Elizabeth C. Morrow
Justin Wroe Nixon
Edward L. Parsons
Howard Chandler Robbins
Francis Β. Sayre
H. Shelton Smith
Charles P. Taft
Channing H. Tobias
Henry P. Van Dusen
Charles Τ. White