A Sermon Delivered by D. ELTON TRUEBLOOD at the Chicago Sunday Evening Club, ca. Early 1950's.
Motter, Alton M., ed. Great Preaching Today. New York: Harper & Brother, 1955, pages 229-326.
This is The Quaker Homiletics Online Anthology, Part 4: The 20th Century.
As I looked all around the crowd to see what kind of people they were and what was going on, I
noticed that there were young girls, fourteen or fifteen years of age, circulating in the crowd
selling literature, especially The Daily Worker. All of them were intent upon their job. I listened
for a while and then went on down to Kings Cross, and a half hour later, when I had bought the
ticket, I came back. Again I heard the sound. Again I went in and this time I saw that the speaker
was another man, the first having, no doubt, finished what he had to say. More people had come
in and the affair was going on with vigor. Other young girls were again in the crowd distributing
literature and I knew that I was observing something of remarkable power.
Then I looked across the street at the outline of St. Pancras Church, one of the great churches of
London, built soon after the battle of Waterloo. All was dark, without a sound. The apparent
power was in a movement in which the men were saying things which I hated, things which
disturbed me terribly, things which seemed to be unfair, but, oh how persuasive they sounded to
many of the people. As I walked back to the hotel I knew that I had seen an important sight, and
one that reveals something about our world.
Now why were the people so glad to go off the street to listen to these men? You wonder, don't
you? Don't you often says "Why would so many people be carried away by what seems to us so
obviously a false doctrine? How could it be that so many millions in China, including many of
those who were in the Church, are now strong and powerful members of Communist party and
have given up Christianity?"
Recently the chancellor of Yenching University in Peking forced to go on trial and was found
guilty of being opposed the regime. Who do you suppose was the chief witness a him? It was his
eighteen year old daughter, who maintained her father was a reactionary. She felt that she
represented new teeming, surging, youthful life of tomorrow to which father, the distinguished
president of the University, was posed. She testified that he had sown the seeds of doubt her
All this seems very surprising. We say, "How could it be?" The reason for it is very complex, but
one aspect is this: We are today in one of the great revolutionary periods of the world. It is not
the first and it will not be the last. We know something of the revolution that came at the end of
the eighteenth century, of which the American Revolution was one phase and the French
Revolution another. We know that this had some ugly aspects, especially in France. We all know
something of the Revolution of 1848, especially in Germany, which sent so many fine people to
this country, including Carl Schurz.
Now, it seems we are in a third period of revolution which has marked these last two centuries. It
is worldwide and it takes many forms. We know something of the form that it has taken in India.
Here were hundreds of millions of people, who had been under alien rule, without full liberties and
without full equality, but especially without social equality. And now in our own time India and
Pakistan have both become independent nations, because of a great upsurge of revolutionary zeal.
We know something of what is going on in South Africa. Night after night come reports of many
people being sent to jail. It is a terrible time, but it is a time when men who have not been given
equality or opportunity or the same privileges as other men are finding ways of demanding those
privileges. It has some dangers, but, with its fundamental drive, we, as Christians, are bound to
Or take West Africa. There are a good many students in this country from West Africa, especially
Nigeria and the Gold Coast, and some of these are among the most brilliant, able and forward
looking students that we have in our American colleges and universities. Do you know what these
young men say? They say they are going home to be the Washingtons and the Jeffersons of their
country. It is possible that Nigeria, in a short time, may get dominion status and be just as much
an independent country as Canada or Australia and all this is occurring under the leadership of the
native people, who are showing remarkable ability. They demand that they be given the same
opportunities that other people have sought for themselves and their children.
Something of what is going on in Persia is bound to be understood in the same way, even though
the revolution has been harmful to many. The driving out of the British technicians brought the
Persian oil industry to a standstill. If you talk With some of the young Persians who are studying
in this country, they will tell you that, though they have oil in such tremendous quantities, very
little of the economic gain has heretofore reached the poor people of Iran. They are absolutely
adamant that, in some way or other, they shall get some of the advantage of it, so that their
education can be lifted and their poverty overcome and so that they have opportunities similar to
those which we have in this country.
In every case there is a drive for emancipation, for freedom, for equality, but in every case there
are also ugly aspects that go along with that drive.
In China, apparently, we see the extreme case, in the modern world, of this double truth. The
drive is extreme; the ugliness is extreme. We are helped in the effort to understand something of
the reason for this situation when we learn how large the average farm has been in China. It is less
than one acre. The beautiful countryside of Indiana and Illinois is dotted with magnificent farms
where frequently one farmer will have twenty five thousand dollars worth of machinery, where
many of the men farm four or five hundred acres, where farmers have large bank accounts and
where they have all the great opportunities of the city plus the opportunities of their farm life.
When you ride across the countryside and look at them, try to think what must be like in a
country where the average farm is less than one acre. How would you like to support your family
on that much land? Most of us have never tried anything like it.
It came to me very vividly one winter in Texas. I was invited out to spend the night with some friends of mine, on what was described locally as a small ranch, since it included only two thousand acres. As I lay in bed in the ranch house, I could hear the lowing of the cattle over the beautiful Texas hills. Here were two thousand acres to support one family, and then I thought of the other people of the world, for whom this situation would seem so fantastic that they couldn't even believe that it exists anywhere in the world. As I lay there, and couldn't sleep, I knew better than I had known before something of why ours is a revolutionary world. Specifically I understood why the idea of land reform has a potent appeal to the submerged peoples of the
Now what is to be the Christian attitude toward all of this? The forces of the Christian faith have a
terrible temptation today, and the temptation is this: We see the evils that go along with these
revolutionary movements, the killing, the hatred, the bitter struggle, the recriminations, and we
tend to turn our backs upon the entire business. We tend to say, "This is evil, let us have nothing
to do with it." But this is an awful temptation for the simple reason that such a reaction puts the
forces of Christianity wholly on the side of the conservatives, the rich, the favored nations, the old
people who appear to the other people of the world to be trying to hold on to what they have out
of self indulgence and a love of power. If we allow ourselves to be maneuvered into such a
position, we shall lose almost every bit of our influence in this world. In that case the Church may
go on, but it will go on as a small side issue, away from the main center, and something new will
have to come to unite with this revolutionary power, for ours is a revolutionary age whether we
like it or not. We shall not stop it! The thing for us to do is to know this and to find our right
place in it. It will go on and it will increase, because ours is a century of storm.
In all its great periods, the Christian faith has been a revolutionary faith. Look again at the 17th
Chapter of Acts. What it says is that the early Christians in the Roman Empire were looked upon
as revolutionaries and subversives, who were turning the world against Caesar to another king,
namely, Christ. Consequently, it was said of them, "These are the men who have turned the world
upside down." That is what the Christian revolution means. We should have known this all along
if we had listened carefully to the words of the mother of Jesus.
He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their
hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath
filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
The Magnificat is a revolutionary document! In its great periods Christianity, instead of simply glossing over the order, the pagan order, the worldly order, has always challenged the secular order at point after point. See what happened in emancipation of women. The Christian faith very early give women the same status in most areas as men. Even in New Testament we find the great sentence, "In Christ neither bond nor free, neither male nor female." was bound, in time, to overcome both slavery and on the basis of sex. It was through the Christian faith that first real change came in the treatment of prisoners in jails penitentiaries. And so the figure of the beautiful Elizabeth Fry going into Newgate Prison, is one of the glorious figures in history of the Christian faith.
Christians were the first who tried to overcome slavery in this country and in the British colonies
and we know the names of the people who did k for conscience' sake. Very largely the labor
movement in both Britain and America came through Christian auspices in the first instance. I
have heard it said in Britain that John Wesley had more to do with the coming of the labor
movement in Britain than Karl Marx. This was 'because John Wesley, by his evangelical revival,
took common men at the head of mine pits and gave a new dignity to their lives as the followers
of Jesus Christ and, therefore, equal to all of their brothers under the Fatherhood of God.
Christianity, when it is vital, shakes men, changes them. It changes the order by which they live.
Never forget, therefore, that Christianity is a revolutionary faith. What then is our right relation
to the revolutionary movements of our age? Certainly not just to stand off and have nothing to do
with them. That is to make ourselves irrelevant. Certainly we ought not to try to oppose them, for
that is to try to do the impossible. The way of wisdom, remembering the genius of the Christian
faith, is to acknowledge the revolutionary movement, to glory in it, to be glad that people want
their freedom and their equality and the dignity o[ their lives, but, at the same time, to seek to
guide the revolutionary movement aright so that it will not go into the dangerous and cruel
aspects which a revolutionary movement will enter unless it is guided by something like the
Gospel. The revolutionary movements, without the Gospel, are almost sure to be cruel and
ultimately totalitarian, as was demonstrated in the Reign of Terror in France long ago. Let us
bring these revolutionary desires of men into the orbit of the Christian faith. Instead of trying to
oppose the revolutionary desires of our time, let us head the procession, take the people who are
trying to get justice and help them to get justice in a Christian way. This will surely be one of the
major ways in which a better world can be born.
It is an awful thing to hear some of the people from Europe talk about the Christian faith. Many
are almost afraid to use the Christian terms and when asked the reason for their hesitation they
say, "Oh, the Christian religion is allied with the corrupt politics of the old parties. It's the old
regime, and we are looking for something new." That hurts when you hear it, but we can
understand because in many cases that has been the exact situation.
Dear friends, in so far as we have anything to do with it, let us determine that such will never be
the situation here. We have a chance to keep the Christian movement bold, fluid, progressive,
new, not simply trying to hold things as they are, but attacking evil wherever it appears, including
ourselves, and bringing to bear the mighty dynamic of the Christian faith to overcome it. The
notion that every man is created equal in the sight of the living God is the most revolutionary
single idea in the world. And it will finally, if understood and followed, break through every
barrier, every prejudice, every wall of hatred. We must make the Christian faith far more bold. It
must be made more demanding. If the salt loses its savor, it is worth nothing. It is only if it keeps
its saltiness, its vigor and its tang that it is able to affect the kind of world in which we live.