*The Christian Laborer in the Industrial Struggle, p. 29.
Let us consider the first point of the principles adopted by the last synod of the Christian Reformed Churches on the Unions. We quote it here again:
“Church membership and membership in a so-called natural labor union (CIO and AFL) are compatible as long as such union gives no constitutional warrant to sin, nor shows in its regular activities that it champions sin.”
Now we may pass in silence, or at least just mention in passing, some of the minor objections that may be raised against this “principle.” The Synod here leaves the impression that a labor union may be neutral, that is, neither for nor against Christ. It is true that it tries to save itself by the qualification “so-called.” but the fact that it declares the possibility of compatibility of church membership and union membership certainly proceeds from the same assumption. In 1916 Prof. Berkhof, one of the members of the committee that advised synod to adopt the above “principle,” knew better. He then spoke of “the antichristian character of the general labor unions.” Then he directly opposed the stand he now assumes, as is evident from the following quotation: “Conditions being as they are, we can only come to the conclusion that our Christian laborers must organize separately, if they feel constrained to take an active part in the industrial struggle. We can say this advisedly, notwithstanding the position recently defended in one of our Church papers that a Christian may join ‘an organization in the sphere of natural life that does not officially name the Word of God, and is therefore neutral in religion.’ For our contention is that the general labor unions are not neutral and cannot, strictly speaking, be neutral.”* It seems to me that prof. Berkhof owes it to God and his conscience, as well as to us who listened to him in 1916, to tell us frankly and clearly just how he was converted so radically to the opposition on so serious a question as this. For a serious matter it is, no doubt, first to point out to the people of God the Antichrist, and then, some twenty five years later, to advise them to join him because he is “neutral.”
We may also mention just in passing the ambiguity of the wording of this first “principle,” an ambiguity that always characterizes the attempt to justify the wrong standpoint or the lie under the cover of maintaining the truth. For, if we take this first “principle” literally, it only declares that church membership and union membership are compatible so long as it involves no sinful act on the part of the church member. And who would not agree with this? But if this is the meaning of the first point in this declaration of principles, it says exactly nothing that everybody did not know before the committee made study of this problem, and it surely says nothing with regard to the problem the committee was appointed to investigate: the character of existing labor unions. But everyone feels, too, that this cannot be the meaning of the first “principle,” exactly because the committee was to give advice with respect to the concrete question of a Christian’s membership in the existing unions. And one feels that the committee makes a declaration here with regard to that concrete problem. And herein lies the ambiguity of the statement. No one can accuse the committee of having literally declared the compatibility of church membership and union membership; yet everyone will understand that this is exactly what the committee here virtually advocates and the synod adopted.
But this last element in the “principle” adopted by the synod we cannot pass in silence. It is all important. Synod adopted the “principle” that church membership and union membership are compatible! And this settles the matter as far as the Christian Reformed churches are concerned. The first and main clause of the entire program of “principles” adopted by synod is positively in favor of union membership on the part of their own church members. Such is the literal wording of the first point: “Church membership and membership in a so-called neutral labor Union (CIO and AFL) are compatible!”
You object that this is not the meaning of the first “principle” because this clause is definitely qualified? But my answer is:
- That if the first declaration has any meaning at all, and is not a mere commonplace, the qualifying clause means that the existing unions do not necessarily give “constitutional warrant to sin” nor show in their “regular activities” that they champion sin. For if this is not the sense of the qualifying clause, it has no sense at all, and there surely was no earthly sense in adopting it. And exactly because this is the sense of the limiting clause, the main clause stands in all its sinister meaning: “Church membership and membership in a so-called neutral union are compatible!”
- That by members of the Christian Reformed churches this first “principle” will be interpreted exactly in the sense we here ascribe to it, especially by those members that look for the synod’s “moral” support for their union membership. It must: be granted that this first “principle” declares plainly that compatibility of church membership and union membership are quite possible, because the condition for such compatibility (no constitutional warrant to sin, etc.) is presented as quite possible. Hence, the general membership of the Christian Reformed churches will certainly draw the conclusion that their membership in the union is approved by the synod.
Once more: in 1916 Prof. L. Berkhof virtually wrote this first point as follows: “Church membership and membership in the general labor unions is incompatible, because they are anti-Christian, give constitutional warrant to sin, and show in their regular activities that they champion sin.” One but has to read the pamphlet from which I quoted above to convince himself of this.
I ask why the radical swing to the left?
Prof. Berkhof owes us an answer. I ask him to give its. He once taught us to shun membership in the general labor unions as anti-Christian; now he advises us to join them. In 1916 he supported his stand by an abundance of grounds. For his present stand he does not offer a single ground. We would like to hear them. We are entitled to hear them. We are entitled to hear from him a refutation of his own arguments offered us in in 1916.
But it is evident that the synod here dealt the death-blow to the Christian Labor Alliance, and that, too, upon advice of one of its own members, Mr. John Van Vels!