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DEMOCRACY AND THE CHURCH 



R. W. FRANK 
McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois 



"We are at the cross-ways and progress is not inevitable." 
This arresting statement occurs in the Preface to a remarkable 
book on Political Ideals by C. Delisle Burns. He is persuaded 
that democracy and a League of Nations are the only alterna- 
tives to preparation for more civilized wars, the passions of 
the mob, and social chaos. The Christian church, too, is at 
the cross-ways. Whether it shall be discarded as outworn 
machinery or be refashioned to function creatively in the 
socialization and spiritualization of a new human order is no 
mere academic or even ecclesiastical problem. It is a social 
problem with vital implications for the future career of society. 
The purpose of this article will be to analyze the r61e of the 
church in our democracy with a suggested reorganization of 
that institution to fulfil its function. 

Democracy and science are the two most significant muta- 
tions of social evolution today. They go hand in hand. We 
are concerned principally with democracy in this article, yet 
let us remember that science is the intellectual counterpart 
of modern democracy. Both had their small beginnings in a 
remote past. But their rapid expansion and development in 
modern life warrant the use of the mutation figure. They 
have come upon us so suddenly that we have been taken 
unawares and have scarcely had time to adjust outselves to 
them. 

Democracy is not yet achieved. It lies in the future. It 
is an ideal. "It is the ideal of those who desire a society of 
interdependent groups so organized that every man shall have 
equal opportunity to develop what is finest in him." It has 

528 



DEMOCRACY AND THE CHURCH 529 

arisen from the perception that the social organization of 
today does not allow most men to develop what is finest in 
them. In this sense democracy has not arrived, but is on the 
way. It is one of those flying goals that seem within our 
reach, but which we never quite overtake. We trust it is the 
pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that shall 
lead us into a promised land of social order, harmony, and 
peace. 

That is one aspect upon which we wish to dwell more 
emphatically. Democracy seems to be as much a process as 
an organization. It is a movement as well as a state of society. 
This is the dynamic rather than the static view of democracy. 
Stated more technically, democracy is that social process 
which permits and encourages both individual differentiation 
and social integration. It is the process which provides for 
the fullest, richest, freest individualization consonant with 
the most complete socialization. As Mr. Burns says, "Our 
Utopias are not now fixed and eternal situations, but con- 
tinually developing organizations of life." Democracy, there- 
fore, seeks the harmonious coadaptation and growth of both 
individualism and mutualism. It is that progressively changing 
organization of society in which the personalities of all members 
reach their ripest development through constant adjustment 
to and interaction with one another. 

Thus defined, democracy is seen to mean more than the 
rule of "the undistinguished and ignorant 'demos' " in politics. 
It is not a mere counting of heads, or the sovereignty of the 
people. These are but the more or less imperfect methods 
and techniques of democracy as it is organized in society 
today. Democracy is the latest and most rational phase of 
the social process as it has developed among human beings. 

It must be made clear at this point that this form of associa- 
tion we call democratic is not superimposed upon people from 
without. It cannot, by the very nature of the case, be foisted 
upon a group. It is rather the latest step in the evolution 



530 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

of group association. It must be consciously initiated, sus- 
tained, and guided by the group. Every member of the group 
must voluntarily and consciously participate in the further 
functioning of this process. This means that a certain degree 
of education is necessary in the members of the group. The 
power to reason and moral responsibility are prerequisites. 
There cannot be a democracy among animal or low human 
groups. Only those groups capable of consciously directing 
the evolutionary process can be progressively democratic. 

Thus education is ever the central and crucial problem for 
democracy. It has been said that the ideal of education in the 
United States is that each generation shall stand on the 
shoulders of the preceding generation. This is not only the 
ideal, but the method, of a democracy. No individual can 
be either a slave or a spectator here. Although he may occupy 
a subordinate position, each is a creative factor and force 
in the democratic process. Hence everyone must be capable 
of seeing his relation and function in the whole and must have 
developed a sense of obligation for the movement and success 
of the process. 

Democracy does not repudiate all authority. It substitutes 
for the self-constituted authority of a minority or a vested 
interest, however, the freely chosen authority of the expert. 
And even the expert is subject to the constant criticism and 
recall of his constituency. More than any other organization 
or process, it gives recognition to real distinctions of intellect 
and character. "Democracy has been well said to be an 
hypothesis that all men are equal, which hypothesis we make 
in order to discover who are best; for it is only by giving equal 
opportunity that distinctions of intellect and character are 
made to appear." One of the principal functions of education, 
therefore, is not only to lift the level of intelligence and develop 
moral and social attitudes in the masses, but it is to grow 
experts, to provide specialists — in a word, to train leaders to 
guide the democratic process. 



DEMOCRACY AND THE CHURCH 531 

This may have seemed to be a highly attenuated and 
abstract treatment of democracy. But such a treatment is 
necessary. Democracy is too frequently identified with a 
specific organization of society, or confused with certain social 
ideals such as justice, equality, and the like. If this statement 
of what democracy means is valid, we see that it is the latest 
phase of the human social process. It is both organization 
and process, and if it be not paradoxical, it is an ideal. It 
stands for that method of development whereby the individual 
and the group reach their maximum of growth through mental 
interaction that is voluntary and rational. Its method is two- 
fold. The principal technique of democracy is education. 
Following education, its method of development is through 
consciously trained and selected leaders. This in brief is the 
democratic process. 

The church, as it stands today, is an institution which 
democracy has inherited. Organized in a past when authority 
was the ruling force in society and the form of social organiza- 
tion was a hierarchy, the church seems to be somewhat of 
an anomaly in modern life. In many quarters it represents 
medievalism stranded in the rising tide of democracy. The 
Roman Catholic branch of the church is still rigidly organized 
on the hierarchical and autocratic basis. Protestantism has 
cut loose from its mother-institution, yet even here we find the 
constant appeal to authority and a striving to impose a more 
recent hierarchical form upon society. The polity of some 
Protestant churches is avowedly democratic. The theology 
of most of them is conservative, traditional, and unadapted 
to the expanding stream of democracy. In a process where 
the function of religion should be to enhance and reinforce 
the highest ethical values with emotion, symbolism, and 
idealism, to socialize human attitudes and moralize human 
motives, one church is content to institutionalize its members 
and make blind devotees of them, the other would pluck 
individuals here and there from a lost world, like brands from 



532 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

the burning, and save them for a postmortem bliss of question- 
able ethical character. These may be exaggerated pictures, 
but for the main the trend has been, in one branch of the 
church, toward a mechanical ecclesiasticism and, in the other 
branch, toward selfish individualism. Neither fulfils its func- 
tion in a democratic society. 

There may be controversy over that function. Indeed, 
that is the stage at which the churches find themselves today. 
There is a growing body of religiously minded people who 
do not think it is the business of the church either to call us 
back to medievalism or to disinfect us for the hygienic post- 
mortem society. Christianity means more to them than 
ecclesiastical regularity or creedal conformity. It would seem 
that the church should permeate the democratic process with 
passionate religious fervor for the highest ethical and social 
ideals. It should reinforce the democratic process with the 
religious motive. It should cultivate social attitudes, pro- 
mote social values, and observe for the future what is vital 
in the religious tradition of the past. It should neglect 
neither the individual nor the group, but should seek to co- 
ordinate them and perfect them. The otherworldly motive 
should be supplemented by a burning enthusiasm for the 
improvement and amelioration of this world. Nothing short 
of the redemption of the social order from all its vices, diseases, 
malformations, and maladjustments should be the goal of the 
church, and its primary function should be to incite and then 
enlist men to the consummation of this task. Education will 
be the principal method. And this education will not be a 
cognitive affair, a pouring in and stamping in of information. 
It will be more affective and conative than in the past, a 
building up of social attitudes, desires, and habits, a moraliza- 
tion of the individual. 

This will require a reorganization and redirection of activi- 
ties. The basis for entrance into the churches in the past has 
been creedal. And once within the church, the chief duties 



DEMOCRACY AND THE CHURCH 533 

of the member were to observe certain rites and passively 
enjoy in anticipation his future security. Now there is a 
fundamental fallacy in the creedal basis of the church. Creeds 
are made to exclude, not to include. It is doubtful whether 
a creed can be constructed so liberal that all or any considerable 
portion of a community will subscribe to it. Creeds are 
usually the majority's voice in debatable issues and as such 
tend to split groups rather than to integrate them. Should 
not the basis of church membership be an intelligent willing- 
ness to co-operate in the church's enterprise rather than a 
submissive acceptance of ecclesiastical dogma ? Is not loyalty 
to the humanitarian purposes of Christianity the more excellent 
and more just test of fitness for church membership ? Once 
within the church, the members should be under obligation 
to promote the service of the church to its community group. 
The highest social values in the local community should be 
given a religious sanction by the church as those values emerge 
in the democratic process. The membership of the church 
should be the animated nucleus in the promotion of the 
salutary community interests, the moral yeast in an otherwise 
unleavened mass. 

The church in a democracy will not require one peculiar 
type of religious experience as the prerequisite to membership. 
In the past the Protestant church has sought to standardize 
the emotional conversion experience and make that essential. 
In a democratic society the church should allow free play for 
individuality in religious growth. It will not seek to press all 
persons into the same mold or stamp them with a certified 
experience. It will respect variation and individuality so 
long as fundamental loyalty to its major motives hold sway 
in the life. Religion, moreover, is not something to be experi- 
enced once and for all. It is itself a growing experience of 
fellowship and service with God and man. It may express 
itself in a variety of ways, but to be vital in a democracy it 
must assuredly issue in some form of socially useful service. 



534 TEE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

Spontaneity and individuality in religious experience and 
growth ought to be prized by the church functioning in a 
democracy. 

Dogma and doctrine will not be venerated because of their 
antiquity or origin in the sacred literatures of the past. They 
will deserve the respect of people only as they are instrumental 
to more harmonious and richer forms of human association. 
The teaching of such churches will not consist of ex cathedra 
utterances upon biblical interpretations and ecclesiastical 
formulas. It will be a co-operative working-out of specific 
and immediate problems in the lives of pupils in which both 
teacher and pupil participate. The solutions to these problems 
will be reached in the light and by the aid of the moving ethical 
and social ideals, standards, and values of the community. 

The policies and organization of the church will be deter- 
mined democratically. If this change could be accomplished 
in this generation a great step would have been taken. At 
present the overhead organization tends to perpetuate itself 
even in the most democratic of Protestant bodies. New and 
original leadership is excluded too frequently. Only the 
indoctrinated "machine" men are promoted. This is be- 
coming less and less true, however. The strait-jacket of 
orthodoxy is no longer the only style which ecclesiastical 
leaders may wear. More and more variation, originality, 
and individuality will be welcomed, as these tend to enrich 
the life and service of the group. 

Thus we have defined democracy as a dynamic process of 
human social evolution brought about by the conscious 
and voluntary participation and interaction of all individuals 
of the group, in which the goal is the most complete individua- 
tion in the richest social organization. Education and expert 
leadership are the chief methods of furthering this process. 
Institutions represent, more or less, nuclei of experts who are 
attacking specific problems, obstructions, and maladjustments 
which occur in this onward process. 



DEMOCRACY AND THE CHURCH 535 

The church has been organized in the past on the authori- 
tarian and hierarchical basis. Admission came through sub- 
mission to a standardized creed or experience. Its function 
was an otherworldly salvation. It sought to redeem indi- 
viduals out of the group. To function in the democracy of 
today the church must reorganize and redirect its activities. 
It must find the ideals, standards, and values as they emerge 
in the social process which are of highest utility to the group 
and enhance and reinforce these with the religious sanction, 
motive, and fervor. It will seek to build up social and moral 
attitudes in the entire community. Free play will be given 
for originality and individuality in religious experience and 
in the expression of that experience. Its great objective 
will be the redemption of the group rather than of the lone 
individual. 'But the redemption and social regeneration of 
the individual will ever be one of the methods of group regenera- 
tion. All individuals who have the social passion will be 
members of this church. Its immediate objectives will be in 
its own community. But it will also orient itself to the world- 
community of which, increasingly, we are an effective part. 
Thus we shall have the church fulfilling its function in a 
democracy. So long as standards, ideals, and values are the 
moving dynamic forces in society, so long as human aspirations 
reach out toward an unseen, unrealized yet constraining goal, 
so long as the great facts of mystery, death, and imperfection 
abide, man will have a religion. In a democracy the religious 
spirit should permeate the total process. And the church's 
function is to impregnate the process with the religious spirit. 
Only when we have reached that divine-human democracy 
which Jesus called the Kingdom of God, and we more affec- 
tionately call the brotherhood of man, will there cease to be 
a need of a church.