Changing Attitudes Toward the Churches
A FEW years ago the churches were generally held in esteem. Have you observed a change in this attitude? Do you note an increasingly critical tone in what you read or hear about the churches these days?
It is amazing today with what frequency news sources, if not directly expressing criticism, are quick to describe troubles of the churches. Consider some recent reports.
MAGAZINES FEATURE CHURCH DECLINE
The October 4 “Newsweek” in large white letters on a red cover asked: HAS THE CHURCH LOST ITS SOUL? Focusing on Christendom’s largest religion, the article inside said: “‘The Catholic Church is in one god-dam mess,’ complains a liberal monsignor who puts much of the blame on the bishops for whom he works. And in their own restrained manner, some members of the hierarchy agree. ‘The church is in disarray,’” admitted Bishop Joseph Bernardin.
The October 19 issue of “Look” advertised on its cover, THE DECLINING POWER OF THE VATICAN. Inside, the bold title declared, THE POWER AND THE GLORY ARE PASSING. The article’s final paragraph said: “The Roman Catholic Church has three classes of members—the hierarchy, the clergy and the laity, in whom the devastation is enormous.”
Also, “U.S. News & World Report” of November 1, beneath its article heading NEW VS. OLD—THE STRUGGLE AMONG CATHOLICS, said in boldface type: “Everywhere, troubles mount for Christianity’s largest church.” A study by a Jesuit, the article said, shows that in the United States “ordination of diocesan priests had declined from 1,694 in 1965 to 1,226 in 1970—and that dropouts, in that period, had risen from 166 to 1,578.”
CHURCH LEADERS VOICE CONCERN
During October, newspapers almost daily carried ominous reports from the meeting of Catholic leaders in Rome. Beneath the heading SEMINARY PERIL TOLD TO SYNOD, the Boston “Herald Traveler” of October 2 reported: “Cardinal Gabriel Marie Garrone of France warned the third international synod of Roman Catholic bishops yesterday that the seminary system is in danger of collapse because of doubts sweeping through the priesthood. . . .
“‘Seminaries are in danger of disappearing,’ the French cardinal said. ‘They are in slow and progressive decline.’”
Under the heading, TROUBLED TIMES FOR THE PRIESTLY CALLING, the New York “Times” of October 10 said: “Synod fathers . . . are only one week into their discussions, but one fact is already indisputable: The church faces a serious international crisis in the priesthood, and the bishops know it. . . .
“Surveys from virtually every country represented here tell a story of fewer seminarians and substantial defections among those already ordained.”
The next day, October 11, the Los Angeles “Herald-Examiner” reported: “‘Let us ordain married men now,’ said the archbishop from the Central African Republic. ‘Otherwise, within 10 years I will have to go back to planting onions.’
“Ndayen was voicing a fear that the priesthood might dry up and the Catholic church itself wither.
“Many of his fellow 209 delegates at the Third International Synod of Bishops agreed.”
Reports also show other churches to be in decline. “The Alabama Baptist” said: “Denominational leaders are alarmed at the rapid exodus of some of their best trained clergymen, with some estimates as high as 10,000 pastors and priests leaving churches of American denominations each year, the chief of chaplains at Georgia Baptist Hospital, Atlanta, said.”
Beneath the heading SYNAGOGUES FACING CRISIS, RABBI TELLS CONGREGATION, the Los Angeles “Times” reported: “‘This year has seen a flood of articles and statements by Jewish intellectuals, laymen, young people and rabbis on the emptiness of synagogue life,’ said Rabbi Lewis M. Barth.”
HOSTILITY TOWARD CHURCHES
Some reports express strong criticism of the churches, even to the point that some persons may be stirred to hostility toward them. An example is the October “Reader’s Digest” article, MUST OUR CHURCHES FINANCE REVOLUTION? It claims: “The World Council of Churches is using church power and church funds to back insurrection in the United States and Africa.”
The Roman Catholic Church, too, has approved revolution if it is for the purpose of overthrowing “tyranny.” Thus quite a few of the clergy now are revolutionaries. Their activities are more and more bringing the churches under fire.
Reporting on the new military government of Colonel Banzer, the British paper “The Guardian” this fall carried the headline: BOLIVIA MOVES AGAINST CHURCH. It reported: “The new Banzer regime’s predictable move against the so called progressive church in Bolivia appears to have begun. First hints have been the death of Father Maurice Lefevre . . . More priests are still in hiding and claim that orders have been given for them to be shot on sight.”
Similar action is under way in other countries. The Miami “Herald” of October 15 reported: “Several Roman Catholic priests are under investigation for alleged anti-government activities in Panama.”
A report from Brazil carried in the San Antonio “Express/News” tells of “this past week’s conviction of four Dominican clerics on charges of subversion.”
Beneath its headline SOUTH AFRICA RAIDS HOMES OF CLERICS AND TEACHERS, the New York “Times” of October 26 explained: “South Africa’s security police raided the homes of churchmen . . . as a nationwide drive against subversion.”
The Baltimore “Sun” of October 4 reported “the arrest and three-day detention last week of 47 priests” in Argentina. The paper noted that this is the latest expression of “the government’s willingness to repress forcibly what it considers revolutionary activity by radicals in cassocks.”
Although this has not generally been the case in other lands, Communist governments have long taken repressive measures against the churches. As one spokesman noted: “Communist regimes have conducted an anti-religious policy in the different countries where they have been in power.”
Regarding the Soviet Union’s attitude toward churches, the November “Reader’s Digest” observes: “Evidence abounds of wholesale closing of churches, of thousands of Christians harassed or sent to labor camps for nothing more than having Bibles.” China, the largest Communist country, is perhaps even more hostile to the churches. The 1970 “World Book Encyclopedia” explains: “The government prohibits missionary work and formal religious teaching in churches, homes, or schools.”
Already Communism controls a third of the world’s population, and its influence is increasing. This was again evidenced on October 25 when, by an overwhelming majority vote, Communist China was admitted to that international organization the United Nations. Thus China joins the Soviet Union as a permanent member of the United Nations’ powerful Security Council. Of significance, too, is the fact that in France, Great Britain and the United States, the Security Council’s other permanent-member nations, the churches are in steep decline.
What does this mean? To what is this trend of hostility toward the churches throughout the world leading? Evidently a great change in the social order is at hand. Could it be that religion that has failed to adhere to the Bible is due to disappear off the scene? It would be worth your while to investigate.