Insight on the News
New York’s Churches in Trouble
● Brooklyn was long known as the “city of churches.” Earlier this year, however, “representatives from 30 Brooklyn churches gathered for a conference on survival,” according to the New York “Times.” Survival strategies advanced were: First, church mergers within the same denomination; second, interdenominational mergers; and, as “the final resort,” closing the churches. Across the river in Manhattan, the Central Presbyterian Church, once a prosperous center of Protestantism, decided on the “final resort.” Membership had steadily dwindled to just 33 persons.
In New York’s black and Hispanic communities, churches fare somewhat better, but are not without their problems. The pastor of one of the largest black Protestant churches said: “We exist in a crisis community.” Though most black churches are Baptist, cooperation is admittedly not the best. As the “Times” article expresses it, the average black Protestant church is “fiercely independent, sometimes even competing with others in the area for members and status.” The pastor of Harlem’s “Church of the Master” points up a major weakness in New York’s churches, saying: “In the past, the church has . . . identified too much with the world. The church hasn’t demonstrated its importance to the city—if all the churches disappeared, would anybody care?”
A “Buffer” Against Decay
● In contrast with the above, “The Search,” a paper published for lawyers by a U.S. insurance company, has some interesting comments on the purchase made by Jehovah‘s witnesses of the fifteen-story Towers Hotel in Brooklyn. The building was bought early this year to meet expanding needs resulting from worldwide growth of Jehovah’s witnesses. “The Search” first notes the gradual deterioration seen in the Brooklyn Heights area, with some hotels becoming havens for addicts and derelicts. The new ownership of the Towers Hotel has “infused a new quality,” it said. In keeping with their faith, “the premises have been . . . repaired and maintained by expert workmen, with cleanliness, order and dignity.”
The building’s new residents, Jehovah’s witnesses, have also “added a new dimension to the safety and well-being of the community,” the article continues. “The public press and other spokesmen have commented upon the presence of ‘these clean-cut, decent, moral, high value persons’ as a buffer to the negative changing conditions in the neighborhood. Elderly people, as well, have indicated a feeling of safe-being because of their presence.”
The K.K.K. Adds a New Element
● The Ku Klux Klan got its start in the southern United States after the Civil War and waged a secret war against politicians from the North and against freed slaves. In time the Klan practically disappeared but was reorganized after World War I. The leader then was Col. William J. Simmons, a preacher and promoter of fraternal orders. The Klan then professed devotion to the ‘protection of womanhood and the supremacy of white Protestants.’ To its hostility toward the black race, the new Klan added strong prejudice toward Catholics, Jews and foreigners.
Surprisingly, therefore, an article by Catholic professor John E. Fitzgerald presents evidence of considerable Catholic membership in the modern Klan. The claim is made, he writes, that “almost half the members in Louisiana are Roman Catholic.” Why this change? He suggests that worries over growing crime, combined with racial prejudice, motivate Catholic membership. Going deeper, however, he adds that some “fault might be found with our Catholic clergy’s failure to clarify the distinction between the Klan’s calloused and corrosive philosophy and Christianity’s compassionate teachings.” Any solution, he believes, must “begin with conscientious individuals determined to follow the original challenge of Christianity as a way of life.”
A good start would be to accept the Bible’s inspired statement that God “made out of one man every nation of men, to dwell upon the entire surface of the earth,” and the apostle Peter’s inspired words that “God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.”—Acts 17:26; 10:34, 35.