Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with J. Randolph Taylor, May 23, 1985. Interview C-0021. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The social movements the Church should pursue

Out of Jesus' calls for peace, Taylor asserts, the contemporary American church should have a variety of social concerns: social and civic justice, anti-hunger and anti-poverty campaigns, environmental activism, racial equality, and feminist issues.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with J. Randolph Taylor, May 23, 1985. Interview C-0021. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

What key social issues are foremost now on the church's agenda? What social issues do you feel the church should be addressing right now?
I think the great issue before us right now is the whole matter of peace. Of all the issues we have, the implications of this one are so horrendous, in that we do clearly have the capacity to simply eliminate life on the planet. This means that this is not an elective; this is a mandatory moral issue, and we've got to find effective ways of reconciling the present hostility that's being exacerbated between the major powers. There are some things that flow from that. One is that peace grows in the soil of justice a whole lot more than it does in the soil of order, which is something that neither Washington nor Moscow seems to understand. That is to say, it is when you provide just structures and systems and affirm human life and human rights that you have the possibility of peaceful change, peaceful revolutions and so forth. If you insist on order only as a way to peace, you're going to make violent revolution inevitable, and therefore I think one of the consequent moral issues before us is this whole matter of justice and human rights, not only in this country but in this hemisphere and around the world. There are other issues that flow out of that, too. Hunger is a very basic moral issue, I think. There are people starving in a world in which there's plenty of food. That means that our systems of production and delivery and the economic implications of where we place our priorities are suspect. That's a genuine moral issue. The environment, the whole matter of a sensitivity to soft energy patterns, is a very important issue for us, because those are the kinds of things that precipitate despair and death and thus violent response and reaction, the sorts of things that build for terrorism and ultimately for annihilation. There are plenty of other issues that come at other matters before us. I think the whole matter of feminist concerns, the rights of women, is a basic revolution. I frankly think it's a more basic revolution than the racial revolution, because it affects every single home, and I think my five daughters have sensitized me in this area as much as anything else. I am delighted to find the doors that are open to them, and it just simply makes me realize they need to be more widely opened, and that's an unfinished battle. The whole issue of poverty in this country is very serious, and we're not working at it very well at all, I think. This whole business of hands off. Well, I could say a whole lot about the present administration's role, but I think it's mistaken, and I'm afraid it's going to have to get worse before the country sees that this is just simply ... This is benign indifference that's causing people to suffer in ways that are simply not justifiable in the wealthiest country, probably, in the whole history of the world. There are a number of others, but that's enough catalog of issues. The thing about human life is that there are always such issues. You don't really solve these issues. The human predicament is such that you resolve an expression of the problem, and then you deal with the consequences that flow out of that resolution.
What specific moves can the church in general and the Presbyterian Church in particular take to address this social agenda?
I think the church ought to begin to take very seriously the fact that it needs to be in the business of peacemaking. And this is strange. For instance, the Presbyterian Church has never been known as a peace-loving church. I expect we probably historically have been the second most militaristic church in America. I expect the most militaristic church has probably been the Roman Catholic Church. We didn't bless the bombs and the guns the same way their priests and bishops did, but we carried them, all the way from the Revolutionary War forward. But there's something happening. It's subtle, it's quiet, but it's substantial. Catholics, Presbyterians, other mainline folks are beginning to take quite seriously the fact that peacemaking is a part of what we are about. We used to leave that to the Mennonites and the Quakers and the Brethren and so forth and be thankful somebody was doing it, you know, but we're suddenly coming to terms with the fact that "Wait a minute. The man in whom we believe was known as the Prince of Peace, and Jesus said Himself, 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.' " And we haven't been doing much peacemaking. I think it's not just a matter of fear of nuclear annihilation, although, God knows, that's enough to fear. It's also a matter of faith, a matter of awareness that this is part of our faith that we've been silent to and blind to. But peacemaking is a very basic and revolutionary thing. If I'm to be a peacemaker, I've got to be a peacemaker in my own home. For instance, I don't get angry or moody with the Russians. I may not like the communist systems, but the persons who are likely to receive the animus of my real hostility are the members of my family. Peacemaking is just pervasive. We've got to be peacemakers in the community; we've got to be peacemakers in the state, in the region, in the nation, in the hemisphere, in the world. It involves a revolutionary change of priorities and of life. And it's happening, very slowly. Here in this Myers Park Presbyterian Church, a very establishment-oriented, predominantly white church here in Charlotte, we have a very active Peacemaking Council working. Tomorrow we go off on retreat with some fifty members of the congregation with a theologian from St. Louis, Missouri, on the whole matter of how you effectively mold your life toward peacemaking. That's significant. That's going to bear some fruit, because that's a new phenomenon.