Walking "Hand in Hand": Business, Labor, and Religion 1 страница

During the fall of 1950, Sun Oil executive J. Howard Pew, a well-known conservative, recruited fellow business leaders to serve as lay sponsors for a new ecumenical body, the National Council of Churches. This new council would incorporate the older Federal Council of Church­es (FCC), which since 1908 had been the voice of liberal Protestant­ism. Pew's invitation surprised many in the business community since Pew had been a prominent critic of the FCC, charging that it promot­ed socialism and collectivism. Indeed, just two years earlier, Pew had agreed to finance a book exposing "the subversive activities of the Fed­eral Council." But, by 1950, he had decided that rather than fight the Council from outside, more could be "accomplished from within." The need of the National Council of Churches for new sources of funds provided Pew and his conservative supporters with the opportunity to infiltrate a historically liberal organization that was perhaps the most important institution of mainline Protestantism.1

Business leaders believed that the clergy, like educators, played an important role in the creation of public opinion. Surging church membership in the forties and fifties reinforced the importance of reaching the clergy with the message of free-enterprise capitalism. But elements of organized labor, particularly unions associated with the CIO, contested the business agenda. They too sought to walk "hand in hand" with the clergy, asserting that goals of religion were "iden­tical with the aspirations of organized labor."2 Equally significant, conservative business leaders confronted opposition from their more moderate counterparts in their attempts to shape the policies of na­tional church organizations. Finally, the clergy had its own objectives, which did not mirror completely those of any other group. In this complex mix, the story of the Lay Committee serves as perhaps one of the most dramatic examples of the business community's campaign to shape American ideology in the decade after World War II.

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Business criticism of church organizations in the 1940s was a phase in a constantly changing twentieth-century relationship. Through the late nineteenth century, entrepreneurs had enjoyed close ties to churches, especially Protestant denominations. The churches' empha­sis on evangelism, personal salvation, and religious individualism meshed closely with traditional business values. The Social Gospel emerging at the turn of the century, however, questioned many busi­ness practices and called for the church to help reform society. Lib­eral and conservative Protestants began struggling over the role of the Christian church in a secular world. Those committed to the So­cial Gospel called for church involvement in economic, political and cultural struggles, while evangelical Protestants and much of the busi­ness community rejected religion's entanglement with such concerns, stressing the church's primary goals of piety, personal salvation, and individual morality. Those opposed to the Social Gospel triumphed temporarily during the twenties. In many churches, the emphasis on social reform gave way to the task of the moral regeneration of indi­viduals in the business-dominated cultural climate of that decade.3

Depression-era economic crisis, however, revived the Social Gos­pel, driving a wedge between business and the churches. The 1920s celebration of business methods and values disappeared, replaced by sharp criticism of the business community and capitalism itself. In 1932, as unemployment and suffering spiraled, several Protestant churches called for the replacement of America's unplanned, com­petitive, profit-seeking economy with a planned industrial system aiming to provide economic security for all. The Federal Council of Churches provided enthusiastic support for the New Deal, noting that it "embodied many of the social ideals of the churches." Its revised "Social Creed" advocated social planning, the rights of workers to organize collectively, social control of credit, and economic relief for farmers through price controls.4

During World War II, despite wartime pressures to support the sta­tus quo, liberal Protestant leaders, such as G. Bromley Oxnam and John Bennett, continued to worry about the unbridled power of cap­italism. A 1942 conference of the Federal Council of Churches' Com­mission on the Bases of a Just and Durable Peace advocated a post­war "experimentation with various forms of ownership and control, private, cooperative and public."s Business leaders bristled at the con­tinued "socialistic trends" within the Federal Council and at reports that members of the FCC staff were actively aiding CIO organizing.

The widely publicized pronouncement at the 1948 meeting of the World Council of Churches that "Christian churches should reject the ideologies of both Communism and laissez-faire capitalism" cre­ated even more consternation among business leaders. Fortune mag­azine noted the importance of these ideas, but asked, "how much do the churchmen really know about economics?"6

In contrast to Protestantism's fluctuating relationship with capi­talism, the Catholic church had fewer ties to big business. Informed by the 1891 papal encyclical, Rerum Novarum, the Catholic church generally took a more progressive stance than Protestants on indus­trial issues in part because its members were more heavily working class. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, parish priests often encouraged their working-class flocks to join labor unions. After World War I, American cardinals expressed disenchantment with cap­italism, and many major Catholic periodicals repudiated the free en­terprise system. Inspired by another papal encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno (1931), Catholic priests and lay organizations, including the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists, developed a close alliance with organized labor, especially the CIO. Catholic priests formed la­bor schools, acted as union chaplains, joined picket lines, and even became full-time union organizers, using their moral prestige to per­suade the Catholic working class to join the new industrial unions. Still, not all Catholic organizations or clergy advocated industrial planning or supported organized labor; as among the Protestants, many conservatives disapproved of liberal tendencies within the church.7

The fact that liberalism was but one tendency within American religion provided little comfort to business leaders. In the 1940s, the NAM formed a Committee on Cooperation with Churches to change "misconceptions," which nourished among some clergy "doctrines inimical to the American system of freedom." The NAM worried that the church's "inherent sympathies" with the weak had led the cler­gy to support the growth of state-oriented collectivism and "of move­ments to win greater social protection and advantage for labor." Du Pont executive Jasper Crane, who served as a chairman of the NAM Committee, asserted that churches of all faiths and business should be united in a common concern with "the rising tide of collectiv­ism," a system, "in which man's dignity and independence is lost to him, and he becomes a slave to the state."8 Crane's Committee hoped to remind the clergy of business and religion's mutual interests in the sanctity of individuals and each individual's political, religious, and economic freedom. Infringement upon any one of "our constitutional freedoms," the NAM warned, could mean "the loss of all free­dom" including the freedom of worship.9

To drive home this message, the NAM sponsored a series of local and regional conferences in the early 1940s, similar to those held with educators. The Jackson, Mississippi, Chamber of Commerce re­cruited participants to its January 1943 conference with the prom­ise that closer cooperation between business and the clergy would aid in halting the "subversive forces that would destroy that (our) Way of Life and at the same time blow out Christianity and Ameri­can Business." By the end of that year, twenty-six hundred business and clerical leaders had participated in these meetings. Conferenc­es held in 1944 and 1945 emphasized creating a consensus around the question of postwar reconstruction. Business speakers stressed to the clergy the postwar corporate catechism, that improved stan­dards of living and maximum employment could best be achieved through "one basic method—greater production."10

The NAM encouraged local business executives to form groups to meet regularly with the clergy. A Philadelphia committee, formed in 1944, included such eminent local business leaders as William Diss-ton, vice president of Henry Disston & Sons; Larry E. Gubb, chair­man of the Board of the Philco Corporation; Charles S. Redding, pres­ident of Leeds & Northrup Company; George L. Russell, president of John B. Stetson Company; and Charles R. Shipley, president of John Wanamaker. Similarly, the Detroit Conference, organized in 1945 and still meeting regularly during the 1950s, was supported by key auto­mobile industry executives. In West Virginia, businessman F. Steele Ernshaw created the "Moundsville Church Plan." Asserting that he had heard too many sermons that "were on the left-hand side," he invited the community's nine ministers to lunch. That lunch, he re­called "changed the complexion of the whole situation." He suggested becoming better acquainted so that "maybe I can do something for you six days a week" to make "your job easier and maybe on Sun­day you can do something for me." By 1950, Ernshaw's "Mounds­ville Church Plan" included the employers from the other three plants in town for monthly meetings with the Ministerial Associa­tion, after which he proudly reported that he had proved to the Moundsville ministers that both "church steeples and smokestacks are necessary to the welfare of our community."12

The opinions of many ministers, however, were less pliable than those in Moundsville. At a conference in Cleveland, in 1940, fifteen ministers met with fifteen local business leaders and several NAM officers. One minister reported that J. Howard Pew, then a NAM vice president, raised the specter of "industrial totalitarianism" in a speech that was "in effect a plug for free enterprise and an indictment of government control." As the meeting adjourned for lunch, several of the clergy "slipped quietly out... seeking to overcome the feel­ing of disgust and dissent that the morning session had evoked." At other conferences, clergy proposed that labor be represented. A 1943 Brooklyn Church and Industry meeting degenerated badly for local businessmen. Dominated by the clergy, the participants called for the state "to curb the excesses of the profit motive" and to control com­petition. They also endorsed industrial democracy, advocated full employment, and observed that clerical participants shared "a una­nimity of opinion for the labor movement and its goals."13

Following World War II, the NAM expanded its Clergy-Industry Program. Noel Sargent, NAM secretary, assumed responsibility for maintaining contact with national church bodies, such as the Feder­al Council of Churches, the National Catholic Welfare Conference, and the Synagogue Council of America. An active Episcopalian lay­man, Sargent became a member of the Board of the National Coun­cil of Churches at its founding in 1950. Other NAM staff members developed contacts with theological seminaries, arranging for address­es to students, conferences with faculty members, and the distribu­tion of NAM educational materials. Special attention was given to those seminaries where faculty members' initial reception was "cold or even hostile." As part of its mission, the NAM ensured that busi­ness was well represented at the increasing number of church-spon­sored industrial conferences being held in the postwar period. Mean­while, it increased the circulation of special publications to the clergy and even courted editors of church publications to encourage the use of NAM-supplied articles on economics and social topics.14

The NAM, as well as the Chamber of Commerce, also helped lo­cal business leaders cement personal ties with their community's cler­gy. These efforts were an extension of business's broader postwar com­munity relations programs. Firms like General Electric, Allis-Chalmers, Caterpillar, Crouse-Hinds, Eli Lilly, and Bristol-Myers distributed com­pany publications to local clergy and invited them to plant tours and luncheons. In December 1949, for instance, over five hundred Indi­anapolis ministers, priests, and rabbis toured the Eli Lilly company plant just a month after Indianapolis teachers had participated in a Business-Industry-Education Day. Both groups learned about Lilly's employee welfare plans and its contributions to the community.15

More important, corporations provided support to private organi­zations that were dedicated to defending individualism and freedom by teaching free enterprise economics to the clergy. One such group, Spiritual Mobilization, was founded by Reverend James W. Fifield dur­ing the thirties in response to religious support for the New Deal. It struggled without significant support until 1948 when J. Howard Pew began bankrolling the operation. With a new board of directors com­posed of leading businessmen and with financial support of many of the country's largest corporations including General Motors, Ameri­can Cyanamid, IBM, Inland Steel, Johns-Manville, and United States Steel, Spiritual Mobilization significantly expanded its program. By the mid-fifties, it sponsored a weekly dramatic program for 400 radio sta­tions, a monthly magazine distributed to twenty-two thousand cler­gy, editorial columns published in 350 newspapers, and summer con­ferences for clergymen, educators, students, and business leaders. In all these formats, it taught that "the free market economy, informed with the moral and spiritual self disciplines of stewardship, was the only known economic system consistent with Christian principles."16

Another group, the Christian Freedom Foundation, shared Spiri­tual Mobilization's goals. Founded in 1950 by conservative clergy­men Norman Vincent Peale and Howard E. Kershner, it was originally financed entirely by Pew, albeit anonymously. Like Spiritual Mobili­zation, it cosponsored seminars with business groups during which Kershner warned clergy that "creeping socialism, state socialism, gov­ernment controlled agriculture, government subsidies for schools, price and wage fixing" were all "steps toward collectivism." It also published Christian Economics, which was sent to over 175,000 Prot­estant ministers. It called for the church to speak up for capitalism and kept up a steady drumbeat of warnings that the survival of reli­gion depended upon the survival of capitalism.17

Corporate interest in religion meshed with a religious upsurge that characterized the postwar era. In the years after World War II, church membership grew at a faster rate than the population, books on reli­gion led the bestseller lists, and evangelical rallies drew thousands. In a world threatened by atomic extermination and by the specter of communism, religion gained a new place in public life. Prayer breakfasts in Washington, D.C., attracted the highest public officials; the phrase "under God" was added to the formerly secular Pledge of Allegiance; Presidents Truman and Eisenhower repeatedly reaffirmed their own religious faith. Eisenhower went so far as to contend that "without God there could be no American form of government, nor an American way of life."18

Driven by a variety of motives, the business community actively promoted this surge of piety. Corporate leaders recognized that religion could act as a conservative force in society. Accordingly, reli­gion was integrated into the campaign to preserve the American way of life and the free enterprise system from internal and external threats. In 1949, the Advertising Council launched the first of annu­al nationwide advertising campaigns emphasizing the importance of religion and church attendance in family and community life.19

Employers not only believed that God could be enlisted to help fight communism, but also that he was "a good partner to have in the firm." In many ways reminiscent of the welfare capitalist programs of the Progressive Era and twenties, postwar employers began bringing reli­gion directly into the plant in an effort to "inject religious faith into industry." During the spring of 1950, General Electric inaugurated spe­cial Holy Week services for employees of its Schenectady, New York, works. Two years later, US Steel spent $150,000 to purchase subscrip­tions for its 125,000 employees to Guideposts, an inspirational monthly edited by Norman Vincent Peale. By the mid-fifties, over eight hun­dred other companies were distributing religious literature to employ­ees. Nation's Business observed that "not since the Victorian era ... has there been anything like the spate of religious printed matter which employees receive today."20

At the turn of the century, company-supported YMCAs held noon­time bible study meetings in factories; postwar America saw the return of this kind of activity. In 1954, John C. Harmon, Director of the Church-Industry Relations Southern Division of the NAM, reported that employees at Solar Aircraft Company in San Diego, California, and Lone Star Steel Company in Dallas, Texas, worshipped daily at work in company-built chapels. Moreover, during the fifties, employees who gathered for regular devotional services at the Severance Tool Indus­tries in Saginaw, Michigan, or at Ford's River Rouge Plant joined work­ers in at least a thousand other companies across the nation in mak­ing prayer an integral part of their work day.21 Taking these measures a step further, some companies brought religion into the workplace by hiring ordained ministers as industrial chaplains to conduct reli­gious services and counsel employees on personal problems. During World War II, R. G. LeTourneau, Incorporated was one of the first firms to hire a full-time industrial chaplain at its Peoria, Illinois, plant. With­in a decade, approximately forty other firms would follow suit, and many others employed local ministers part-time.22

For some employers promotion of religion was simply an expres­sion of their own personal religiosity and reflected no ulterior mo­tives. Business leaders, like many other Americans, were participants in as much as promoters of the postwar revival. They sought to ap­ply Christian principles to industrial and community problems and to share their spiritual values with their workers. In cities across the country, laymen's groups made up of employers earnestly discussed how to reach these goals. Likewise, religion did not need to be foist­ed on workers; while some workplace religious activities were begun by management, others grew out of employee initiatives.23

For many employers, however, religion in the plant was a useful complement to harmonious production. Industrialists hoped that religious workers would be more cooperative, sober, and industrious employees. One company acknowledged that "while we would say emphatically that the purpose of our chaplain program is not just to get more production ... it is our belief that these are by products of our program." Similarly, in early 1952, the management of the Ply­mouth, Indiana, plant of Gerber Enterprises reported that since the initiation of daily religious services, church membership among em­ployees had increased, profanity had disappeared from the workplace, and grievances had declined. According to company officials "the workers are content and have found that they can talk out any prob­lem with management."24

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The corporate religious campaign confronted a determined foe in organized labor, particularly unions associated with the CIO. In 1953, John Ramsay, head of the CIO Community Relations Department, warned that "the National Association of Manufacturers is making great inroads into the control of religious institutions on the national and local levels and of all religious faiths. Clergymen who stand out for social justice need our support."25 He urged the CIO to intensify and to expand its informal church-labor program, one that was begun in the early forties in part to counter the NAM's religious activities.

Since the late nineteenth century, unions had reached out to or­ganized religion to provide justification and legitimacy for their so­cial, political, and economic goals. Labor's efforts had met with vary­ing degrees of success. The Catholic church, whose congregations were more working class in makeup, viewed cooperation with orga­nized labor, particularly its more conservative elements, as a means of reaching Catholics who had strayed from the church. As noted earlier, the Catholic church readily clasped hands first with the AFL in the early twentieth century and then the CIO in the thirties, par­ticularly its anticommunist elements. CIO leaders, many of whom were Catholics, quickly developed close ties with the Catholic church hierarchy as well as with labor priests.26

Labor's relations with Protestantism were more problematic. During the Progressive Era, when the Social Gospel was most influen­tial, some AFL unions developed institutional connections with lib­eral Protestants sympathetic to labor's efforts to reform society and to improve the plight of the working class. Clergy, for instance, served as fraternal delegates to central labor bodies. Following World War I, however, as labor was tarred with the brush of Bolshevism, most Prot­estant clergy distanced themselves from unions. During the depths of the Depression, national denominational bodies reaffirmed their support for unions as active players in the Christian struggle for the rights of the downtrodden. At the local level, however, ministers who relied on donations from congregations made up of business leaders as well as workers remained suspicious of organized labor. Some unionists carried bitter memories of ministerial opposition to CIO organizing drives in the 1930s.27

In the forties, CIO unions began making tentative steps toward bringing labor and the Protestant religious community together. To offset businesses close relationship with Protestant faiths that stressed individualism, organized labor spoke of mutualistic commitments to equity, social justice, and the rights of all men and women. In 1947, speaking from the pulpit of Boston's St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, the CIO's Van A. Bittner asserted that organized labor had just one aim, "the achievement of the brotherhood of man through the limitation of the competitive and the development of the cooperative."28 Simi­larly, Steelworkers Secretary-Treasurer David J. McDonald pointed out that the "teachings of God have laid a lasting foundation for a civili­zation based on justice and religious law." "We in the CIO," he con­tinued "are devoted to enforcing that justice and righteousness by pro­tecting and improving the economic life of the millions of working men and women who are the backbone of organized religion."29

Some unionists viewed religion simply as a tool, for building a broader base of support for organized labor. Walter Reuther, for in­stance, had little formal commitment to religion but used religious imagery when appealing for the clergy's support for labor. Others, such as John Gates Ramsay, turned to religion as part of a genuine desire to infuse Christianity into the labor movement. Throughout most of the 1940s and 1950s, Ramsay devoted his full powers to rep­resenting labor to religious leaders. A steelworker and devout Pres­byterian, Ramsay joined the Steelworkers Organizing Committee in 1936 and became its public relations representative. An active lay­man within the church, he mixed evangelical Protestantism with the social vision of industrial unionism. "To me," Ramsay declared, "the forerunner of social progress is evangelism. Without new lives we will not have changed conditions that will prove enduring."30

Ramsay's first experience as a liaison between the CIO and the church occurred in the spring of 1941 during the steelworkers orga­nizing drive at the Bethlehem Steel plant in Buffalo, New York. The NAM, as part of its church campaign, had entertained the city's cler­gy at a dinner that Ramsay recalled "resulted in some clergymen preaching against our union." Called in by the steelworkers to com­bat the clergy's opposition to labor, Ramsay borrowed the NAM'S tech­nique and invited Buffalo clergy to meet with union workers; if the "National Association of Manufacturers could entertain at dinner, we could afford to entertain at luncheon." At the end of the first lunch between workers and clergy, Bishop Austin Pardue of the Episcopal church said "Gentlemen, it seems to the union that some of us are preaching against is doing what we preach about." After several more interracial, interdenominational luncheons, the clergy passed a res­olution in support of the organizing campaign.31

In 1943, impressed by these results, Philip Murray assigned Ram­say to devote full time to "bridge the gap of separation between reli­gion and labor." In this task, Ramsay was assisted by a small group of Protestant lay persons and ordained ministers who doubled as union leaders and who shared his vision of a Christian labor move­ment. They included Lucy Randolph Mason, a Southern reformer and labor organizer; Orville C. Jones, a Congregational minister who be­came education director of the Ohio CIO; Charles Webber, a Meth­odist minister who in the thirties became an organizer for the Amal­gamated Clothing Workers and later served as president of the Virginia state CIO council; and David Burgess, a Congregational min­ister turned labor organizer in the forties and executive-secretary of the Georgia CIO council in the fifties.32

Ramsay and his associates relied on a variety of tactics to reach the clergy with labor's message. Pamphlets, articles in the religious press, and radio broadcasts publicized statements from national de­nominational bodies and prominent clergy endorsing labor's right to organize. One pamphlet acknowledged that American workers had often been apathetic toward religion, but chided clergy for failing to actively support labor. It also quoted Jesus, who claimed that "He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, He has sent me ... to set at liberty they that are oppressed." Sadly, according to this CIO publication, "from those who profess to walk in the footsteps of the Carpenter of Nazareth, workers have sought bread and often received a stone."33

Personal contacts with individual ministers, speeches at clerical gatherings, and the formation of fellowship groups also opened up the channels of communication between labor and religion. The fellowship groups grew out of Ramsay's experience in Buffalo. With Ramsay as guiding spirit, labor leaders in cities across the nation es­tablished monthly luncheon meetings of clergy and unionists to dis­cuss the aims of labor and religion and correct misunderstandings between the two groups. Ramsay attracted clergy to the fellowships by promising to help win alienated workers back to the church. One of the earliest fellowships was formed in 1942 in Columbus, Ohio. Still meeting in the late fifties, it provided a forum for labor and re­ligious leaders to exchange ideas on such issues as housing, race re­lations, and collective bargaining. According to Steel Labor, the core of the fellowship meetings was a "simple but effective belief: that no minister can in good conscience oppose the union once he is given the opportunity to know its people and its aims."34

In 1946, when the Southern organizing drive, Operation Dixie, began, Ramsay worked closely with Lucy Randolph Mason. Appoint­ing Ramsay director of Community Relations of the CIO Organizing Committee, the CIO hoped he could help overcome church hostili­ty to labor, a formidable barrier to organizing in the South. His pri­mary focus was winning over hostile evangelical mill-village minis­ters who viewed the CIO as an "un-Christian," "un-American," "communistic organization." With biblical quotations, they con­demned strikers and warned their flocks that the CIO was the "mark of the beast" and the "work of the devil," and that C.I.O. stood for "Christ Is Out." Over the next seven years, through radio broadcasts, pamphlets, and meetings, Ramsay, Mason, Burgess, Webber, and other CIO organizers tried to win respectability and legitimacy for labor by demonstrating the CIO's commitment to anti-Communism and its devotion to the principles of Christianity.35

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