Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Address at the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, Evanston, Illinois

August 19, 1954

Your Grace, the Archbishop, President Miller, members of the clergy, my fellow citizens and friends:

There are many good reasons why I am so delighted to meet with this assembly of the World Council of Churches on this beautiful campus in this charming city. I think it is very fitting that one of the great universities of our country should be the host of this wonderful body of world representatives.

Now I should like to enumerate a few of the reasons why I believe that I speak for the American people in saying that we are proud that this assembly has chosen to meet here. First of all, the citizens of the United States feel highly honored that you have chosen this country in which to hold your Second Assembly of the World Churches, because you are a world body of spiritual leaders. Here in this land, we sometimes are thought to be too ready to adhere to and to place our trust in material values. Now it is true that in today's world of risks and alarms, we must and we will remain strong, and seek to make our good friends strong in all those scientific, material, and military means that ensure or enhance our safety, and discourage aggression against us or against our friends. But we know that there is no true and lasting cure for world tensions in guns and bombs. We know that only the spirit and mind of man, dedicated to justice and right, can in the long term enable us to live in the confident tranquility that should be every man's heritage.

We are likewise delighted that your conference representing 48 nations and 163 church groups, virtually brings the world to the center of the North American continent. However fervent the citizens of this land may be about our own country--and we are--all of us realize that the problems and hopes before us today are world problems and world hopes. More and more we understand the prophetic wisdom of John Wesley's statement: the world is my parish.

Again, you call yourselves a council. The term suggests that you accept the injunction "Come, let us reason together." Deliberation such as yours, involving long-term as well as immediate objectives, can lend depth and distance to our own thinking. International political conferences deal habitually with crises, and its results often are little more than a series of improvisations. Indeed, responsible officials have no opportunity to deal with the matter until it becomes a crisis.

Woodrow Wilson complained "By the time anything gets to me it is a problem." We in Government today feel the same. In many respects, we envy the chance of the members of your great convocation to meet and plan on a positive basis for the world in the years to come. Still another reason for our gratification in your presence among us is that you are a council of churches. You represent a vast body of believers, of men and women, and you know the power of believing. You are custodians of a great faith, and this in an age of uncertainty and bewilderment. Many of you have what the Quakers call a concern. Your energies are pledged. You are committed to a program that involves personal responsibility for the general good. It therefore heartens us to have an assembly of this sort in the United States of America, and on our part we think it fitting that you meet here.

Almost anywhere you turn in this country you will find a confluence of religious forces producing a person or an institution with service to others as an objective. Moreover, we are a nation of many people, out of many lands; practically every national group is represented in all branches of our Government. With our diversity, if you could look at us from afar, we would be theoretically impossible. But we do exist. And in reasonable harmony. Thus we meet the variety of this great assembly with a variety of our own, and with the feeling that we can understand something of your hopes and aspirations.

So, even as you have announced your aims, we as a people have put our ideals on record. We have chosen to state these ideals for all the world to see.

At our national beginnings, now a century and three quarters gone, we announced what we intended to make out of this country. We proclaimed then the principles on which it was rounded, and toward which we continue to strive. We have fallen short, yes. But the ideals we have set forth, that we have blazoned on the record, stand always there to challenge us. Thus we shall view with the greatest of sympathy your own efforts here to set forth a steadily higher ideal toward which man in his growth must always move. We will watch with great interest what you do here, for another reason. We are essentially a religious people. We are not merely religious, we are inclined, more today than ever, to see the value of religion as a practical force in our affairs.

Contrary to what many people think, the percentage of our population belonging to churches steadily increases. In a hundred years, that percentage has multiplied more than three times. Recently, a great bible society announced that it had doubled the distribution of the Scriptures in the United States since 1948. Bible distribution in this country last year rose to almost 10 million volumes, published in 81 languages.

Now, these two facts are not in themselves proof, either of piety or of an approaching millennium. But they are signs--an indication--that our interest in religion is serious and genuine, not merely theoretical. A score of religious faiths, large and small, are represented in the membership of our present Congress, and it will interest you to know that a good many Members of our Congress periodically meet together outside of legislative hours, to consider how religious principles can be applied to the practical affairs of our Government. I think that you ought to feel at home here, and to know that you are among people who feel in harmony with your purposes. Believing as we do in the importance of religion, we shall expect much of this convocation. We hope that you will touch our imagination, and remind us again and again of the vision without which the people perish. Give us criticism in the light of religious ideals. Kindle anew in us a desire to strive for moral greatness, and to show us where we fall short. We shall listen, if you speak to us as the prophets spoke in the days of old.

We look to you for another thing, and that is for a practical demonstration of the Christian ethic. We hope you may show us additional and better ways in which it can be applied to all sorts of problems. This is what you might call the logistics of faith. We as a people have sought, however imperfectly, to carry out in this spirit programs that have been regional and even global in scope.

The war was scarcely over, may I remind you, when American hearts were digging cash out of American pockets to help restore the devastated regions, to relieve suffering. There was finally established the great system of CARE--CARE packages going everywhere in the world to feed the hungry, and to bring a moment of belief and of good feeling to millions who are in despair; the Marshall Plan, and its effort to restore to other nations something of the abilities they had to earn their own livings before the cataclysm of war struck them; the technical assistance that spread around the world from Peru to Pakistan, everywhere that people needed technical help to help themselves. And aside from all these, we have a great record of Red Cross and church and other groups doing their mightiest all the time, to help their brethren who are less fortunate.

Now admittedly, my friends, these programs always reflect our own enlightened self-interest, as well as humanitarian purposes. We know that no nation may live by itself alone. To preserve the individual freedoms we prize so highly, we must not only protect ourselves as a nation, but we must make certain that others with like devotion to liberty may also survive and prosper.

We have wanted a world in which we might live in peace and confidence. And in striving toward that goal, we have understood that to help others was often the best way ourselves to advance. But underlying all these practical considerations has been belief in the dignity of man, and in the rights conferred upon him by his Creator, and so eloquently stated in our Declaration of Independence. Which I hope, by the way, Your Grace, you have read.

Now, my friends of this convocation, there is another thing we can hope to learn from your being with us. I illustrate it by quoting the statement of a former college president, and I can understand the reason for his speaking as he did. I am sure President Miller can.

This President said, "I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent."

Now this, I think, represents a dilemma of modern man. Your being here can help place the important before us, and perhaps even give the important the touch of urgency. And you can strengthen our faith that men of goodwill, working together, can solve the problems confronting them. Because these men, these people, these devoted people meeting here believe, first of all, always in faith.

Faith is the mightiest force that man has at his command. It impels human beings to greatness in thought and word and deed. I am going to call to your mind just two instances. First, the First Crusade--1096. Five columns of individuals starting in Europe, out of a great burst of faith in their ability to rescue, as they thought, the Holy Land from the infidel. Five columns started out, without taking the slightest thought of military organization, of the terrors and troubles and tribulations on the way. They had no commissaries, lines of supply--they just started toward the Holy Land. Only two reached Constantinople, bedraggled, torn, suffering. But the point is, the other three, lost on the road, their numbers down, had not a thought of turning back. It was their faith! And they moved on into the Holy Land, to carry out the mission for which they started.

Faith unlocked the energies of that whole continent, and carried men forward through sufferings, and hardships that are almost inconceivable.

And then let us come down in years to something nearer our own shores, but of course, in size, much smaller. In 1620 a little group of pilgrims started out from the eastern seaboard of the Atlantic. And they landed at Plymouth Rock, after a passage across a stormy ocean in a ship that today no one in his senses would think of attempting to use. They came across without the slightest diminution in their faith that here in this untrammeled, unfettered land they could build for themselves a place in which they would prosper and they could stand upright before their God.

And they made this compact. It began: "In the name of God, Amen." I cite these two just to show what man can overcome. And I assure you, ladies, when I use the term "men" I mean humanity as a whole. What people can overcome when they believe enough. Those of us who have seen the incredible deeds of devoted and dedicated men on the battlefield, know that you don't have to go back even to the pilgrims to be certain of this same truth.

The achievements of believing men and women, then, in every generation remain a challenge to us, in ours. Faith has indeed moved mountains.

Now, ours is a time when great things must again be dared in faith. Around the world men and women anxiously search the future for the dawning of a just and lasting peace. Its winning cannot be left to the diplomat and the soldier. History is filled with the stories of their failures, no matter how skillful or devoted their efforts. Yet those failures have not destroyed hope. There is no other longing of men so universal and so indestructible as the yearning for a lasting, just, and global peace.

I believe that even if this goal seems for a moment far beyond our reach, there is, nevertheless, much that each of us--you and I--everybody in this audience--can do to help attain it.

Let me speak then, for a moment, not as this Nation's Chief Executive, whose days are largely devoted to the efforts of Government to secure peace, but as a private citizen, a single member of one of the constituent bodies of this Council of Churches.

But I must speak also inescapably as one who has seen at first-hand the almost miraculous battlefield achievements of men bound together by mighty devotion to a worthy cause. A thousand experiences have convinced me beyond room for doubt that common, fervent dedication to a noble purpose multiplies the strength of the individual and the body, and brings within the scope of his capabilities almost any conceivable objective.

Today--now--the campaign for a just and lasting peace desperately needs the lifting and transforming power that comes from men and women the world over, responding to their highest allegiance and to their best motives.

Now, how can we help strike this spark of dedication in receptive hearts around the earth? I believe that you, members of this convocation, spiritual leaders of a great world organization, together with your brethren of other faiths, can lead the way.

The goal should be nothing short of inviting every single person, in every single country in the world, who believes in the power of a Supreme Being, to join in a mighty, simultaneous, intense act of faith. That act of faith might take the form of a personal prayer, delivered simultaneously and fervently, by hundreds upon hundreds of millions who have the devotion, wisdom, and stamina to work unceasingly for a just and lasting peace. If this mass dedication launched an unending campaign for peace, supported constantly by prayer, I am certain wondrous results would ensue.

First, and at the very least, there would be a reminder to each of us that the cause of peace needs God. We would come to know also that responsibility for peace or conflict rests in some degree with each of us. Each would be heartened and strengthened by the certainty of close comradeships in faith and purpose. Thus there would be set in motion a great and growing force that could unify men in peace as a common peril unifies them in war. There would be initiated unceasing and universal study of the principal factors in the global problems that seem to impede progress toward peace. There would be generated a support for honest and devoted world leaders that would inspire them to plumb new depths of knowledge and understanding, and seek new paths toward conciliation. There would spring forth and be carried out new projects for defeating the despair and suffering and hopelessness in which millions now live. And the destruction of the conditions that shrivel the soul and starve the body would add new millions to the soldiers of the faith, the faith that the children of God can live--if they so will--in the climate and the relationships that mean justice and decency and peace for all.

Now, my friends of this great convocation, I hope you do not deem me presumptuous in expressing to you my personal belief in your opportunities and capabilities as spiritual leaders of men. But if I have, I plead in extenuation the universal realization that the time has come when for mankind there is no substitute for a just and lasting peace. We may have ignorance and selfishness and greed and atheism, and war and destruction. Or we may have courage and stamina, and understanding, and faith and peace.

None of us is denied the high honor of working in this cause.

May each of us have the vision to recognize his own opportunity to contribute effectively.

May each of us in his own faith find the strength to do his full part.

Thank you, my friends.

Note: The President spoke on the campus of Northwestern University at 4:35 p.m. His opening words "Your Grace, the Archbishop" and "President Miller" referred to the Most Reverend Geoffrey Francis Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Dr. J. Roscoe Miller, President of the University. Following the address Dr. Miller conferred an honorary degree on the President.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Address at the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, Evanston, Illinois Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232572

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