A Statement to Government Leaders
1968 Church of the Brethren Statement
The General Brotherhood Board recommends to Annual Conference the adoption of the following paper:
A Statement to the Leaders of the United States Government
July 1, 1968
We come to you as deeply concerned citizens. It is our judgment that the nation is in a crisis which is tearing apart the fabric of our democratic society. Awakened racial minorities, stimulated by recent advances and promises of full participation in the good life in America, are no longer willing to remain outsiders while the white majority enjoys prosperity, power, and privilege. They know better than others that more than one third of their number live in poverty and in substandard housing. They are also aware that this nation is diverting a substantial share of its resources to an undeclared and controversial war in Southeast Asia at the same time it tells them there are not enough funds to help them live in dignity and security.
A small number of these persons have responded by rioting. An increasing number may conclude that violence, though regrettable, is necessary to obtain redress of their grievances and enjoy a full life.
We do not condone this violence. Those committing criminal acts should be apprehended and tried. But these acts have brought to light the daily violence visited upon our racial minorities and our poor by the imbalances in our political and economic system which drives them to desperate and self-wounding blows at society.
White Americans are slowly realizing that basic changes are called for in the structures of our society if the American dream is not to become a nightmare. Some are showing signs of irrational panic. Some are calling for brutal repression. Of great concern to us is the fact that so little leadership toward a way out of the threatened civil struggle seems forthcoming from our elected representatives. With significant exceptions, recent Congressional actions do not reveal a responsiveness to the gravity of the situation, nor a vision of the drastic and thoroughgoing changes that are needed.
Our Christian Perspective
We come to you compelled by our Christian faith. In this we are like many of our fellow citizens, who have liked to look at the United States as a chosen nation upon which God has smiled. It is clear that the country has not always lived up to this claim, but at its best it has stood for the Judeo-Christian ideals of brotherhood, charity, and liberty and justice for all.
As Christians, we look upon the upheavals we experience as God-given opportunities for progress. Sometimes tragedy is required before an individual or a nation is ready to act in creative new ways. A fever in the body politic may allow debilitating disease to come to the surface and to be treated. Our faith teaches us that we must face the difficult problems at hand with courage and confidence, not with fear and hatred.
Proposals to Meet the Crisis
We come to you with moral concerns and with some general proposals for action by Congress and the Administration. Although we have studied the issues with some care, our proposals do not include details. These specifics lie within your realm of responsibility.
Our nation is faced with a triple crisis of poverty, racism, and war. They threaten to sunder the nation into two societies–a repressive majority and an alienated minority. We see these crises as interrelated. Tensions would not be so high if the country were not spending an estimated $100,000 to kill each “enemy” in Vietnam and only $55 per year to help each person classified as poor in this nation.
The Poor People’s Campaign has helped to call attention to the plight of the thirty-four million Americans living under the poverty line and to the twenty-eight million persons living so barely above this line that a sudden calamity would plunge them below it. These “invisible poor” are becoming visible. This is the necessary first step in focusing energies to meet their needs. We are convinced that the country has the resources and the knowledge to solve the problem of poverty in large measure, if the will is forthcoming from the people and their government.
We commend the Administration for its initiative and the Congress for its legislative approval of past and current actions to meet the need of jobs, housing, and education for the disadvantaged. We view with concern those voices who would deny such programs the resources they need to succeed. A halfhearted and intermittent campaign will not win the war against poverty.
We believe that, to meet the present crisis of unemployment and underemployment, opportunities for full employment should be provided for an those able and willing to work. This will call for the cooperative efforts of government and private enterprise. We agree with the National Commission on Technology, Automation, and Economic Progress that, if necessary, the government should be the employer of last resort. We urge increased efforts at coordinated job training, and full incorporation of minority groups into all branches of labor, business, and industry. We commend the provisions of the poverty programs which provide for maximum feasible participation of the poor in plans to help them, and we urge the extension of this concept.
We call for drastic revision of the welfare system. Punitive and degrading aspects of current welfare practices should be eliminated, especially those which disrupt family life and discourage employment. Each citizen should be assisted toward receiving all the benefits which are legally his. More attention must be given to the reclamation of those individuals and groups currently alienated from society and unable to contribute to it positively.
We recommend enactment of legislation which would provide a basic floor of economic support for all Americans, be it by a guaranteed annual income, negative income tax, or family allotment, as may be found best after thorough study.
We call for appropriate education of quality for all children. Compensatory education must be provided where needed, as the best way to lift the disadvantaged out of the cycle of dependency and despair.
We recommend a shift in priorities in the use of existing government income in order to provide the resources needed for such programs. We pledge our willingness to help pay the taxes needed to make these possible.
The President’s National Advisory Committee on Civil Disorders (Kerner Commission) has made clear the need for massive change in the attitudes and actions of white America if domestic order is to prevail. We endorse the Commission’s findings and call on the Federal Government to implement its recommendations as a significant beginning.
We commend the passing of the Civil Rights Bill of 1968 with its open-housing provisions, and the Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the 1866 act. We urge more energetic enforcement of earlier civil rights legislation, in particular the vigorous application of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 allowing Federal grants in aid to be withheld where discriminatory practices are found. We call for adequate funding of the agencies assigned enforcement responsibility.
We urge the erection of public housing for low-income families in all parts of our cities and towns, not just in the inner cities.
We call for a full sharing of power with racial minorities in deciding public policies which directly affect their lives and communities.
We urge an end to de jure and de facto segregation of schools
We ask that law and order be enforced impartially and justly. Nonwhites will not respect a double standard of law enforcement.
We pledge our support for all efforts to eliminate racist actions and attitudes. We promise to do everything in our power in our home neighborhoods to create a more healthy climate of opinion and wholesome human relationships.
It is clear to us that the widespread violence in our domestic life is linked to the violence with which this country pursues its foreign-policy goals. We cannot expect the populace to disavow the methods of force in solving real or supposed problems here at home when our nation follows methods of violence abroad. The riots and the assassinations in our nation can be fully understood only in light of this fact. We cannot continue to mobilize our national effort for destruction, and preparation for destruction, and yet expect this to have no adverse effect on our citizenry.
We commend the government for efforts to regularize trade and diplomatic relations with Iron Curtain countries and to control the nuclear arms race.
We plead for an end to the Congressional practice of treating military budget requests as all but untouchable.
The military system is economically and inherently wasteful. A dollar spent for armaments is in large measure lost to the economy, while a dollar spent for most nonmilitary ends helps to create more wealth. Furthermore, it is common knowledge that widespread waste is found within the military system itself.
We commend the Senate Subcommittee on Refugees for exposing the extent of graft and corruption related to our efforts in South Vietnam and encourage them to push for a correction of the situation.
We condemn the continuation of the military-industrial complex, which acts as a state within a state, unresponsive to the will of the people and the processes of a free-market economy.
We condemn the priority of military over domestic concerns. We call for major reduction in military spending, including the elimination of the Anti-Ballistic-Missile System (which even the former Secretary of Defense warned against), overseas military construction, and chemical and biological warfare.
We call for a broader and more realistic concept of security, based on international organization and a world of law, and the fullest cooperation with the United Nations and its programs. We should work harder at constructing a viable democratic society at home instead of trying to act as policeman for the world.
The Church of the Brethren has persistently opposed the military involvement in Vietnam. We reiterate our previous calls for a speedy end to the tragic fighting there.
We commend the government for its partial limitation in bombing of North Vietnam and its initiative in bringing about the talks in Paris.
We call for complete cessation of bombing in North Vietnam because it is morally wrong. The Secretary General of the United Nations and many others have indicated that a cessation is a necessary pre-condition to effective cease-fire negotiations.
We call for the United States to make a public commitment to support a government in South Vietnam representative of the major segments of political thought and dedicated to the elimination of corruption and graft and to reforms in land use and taxation.
We pledge our support for all measures calculated to limit the disproportionate investment of money and resources for the military. We promise to do whatever we can to further the growing public opinion for withdrawal of the American military presence in Vietnam.
What We Are Doing
The Church of the Brethren is a denomination of only two hundred thousand members, but we have taken seriously our responsibility to respond to the three crises of poverty, racism, and war.
Many of our congregations and individual members are participating in programs to help relieve the crisis in our nation and communities. Some are taking initiative and leadership in their communities and states in such areas as adequate housing, employment, and education and in fair law enforcement. Some have initiated housing projects for low-income families, job opportunities and job training projects for the unemployed, and other programs of assistance to the poor, the handicapped, and the disenfranchised. Some of our congregations are working both for changed environments that provide increased opportunities for economic and social justice, and for changed lives through pastoral nurture of persons regardless of class or color.
During the present year, the Church of the Brethren General Board has undertaken the following new ministries in these areas of concern:
We have endorsed the “Crisis in the Nation” program of the National Council of Churches calling for unprecedented and immediate action by the churches in working together for justice on the domestic scene. We have allocated $15,000 for participation in this program, in addition to re-allocating staff time and program to this effort.
We have provided information and called upon congregations to educate their members to the urgency of the crisis. We have called upon our congregations to involve lay persons and to free their pastors to work as agents for reconciliation.
We have authorized the investment of up to $200,000–10% of our denomination’s investment funds–in programs of inner-city renewal.
We have allocated $15,000 for participation in the Poor People’s Campaign sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. This includes the assignment of two of our staff persons and sixteen of our seminary and college students to the campaign.
We have appropriated $5,000 to the Negro Industrial and Economic Union, which seeks full participation of the Negro in America’s economy.
We have contributed more than $75,000 to programs of relief in Southeast Asia and are continuing our efforts to relieve suffering in Vietnam through Vietnam Christian Service and International Voluntary Services, Inc. More than a dozen Brethren young people have served as volunteers in these programs in Vietnam.
We have continued or increased our involvements in community development projects in several impoverished and critical areas of our nation, especially in Baltimore, Maryland, Los Angeles, California, Flat Creek, Kentucky, and Germantown, Pennsylvania.
More Is Needed
These are some tangible evidences of our determination to do what is needed to help meet the triple crisis of our nation. We confess that we have done too little. We are determined to continue and to increase our commitments.
Major action, however, to meet these crises must come from the government. We look to you to provide leadership. You are in a strategic position to take the initiative. Courageous and decisive action on your part can lead individuals, communities, and the nation to new and constructive programs to remove the causes of the crises, not to treat their symptoms. In this hour we appeal to you to provide the vigorous leadership needed for bold steps to eliminate poverty and racial discrimination, and to end the Vietnam War.
The paper was presented by W. Harold Row. The Standing Committee’s position, which was to “recommend that we give it our wholehearted endorsement,” was represented by A. Paul Wagoner.
Action of 1968 Annual Conference:
The paper was adopted as amended, by a two-thirds majority vote.