Let us take a little closer look at what the Synod had to say on the question of corporate responsibility, and its application to union membership.
We find this in “principles” 2 and 3:
“1. The Biblical doctrine of corporate responsibility and the Biblical teaching of the Christian’s separation from the world make it imperative for members of neutral labor organizations to discontinue membership of such unions whose common practices are clearly in conflict with the principles of the Word of God.
“2. The doctrine of corporate responsibility does not imply that membership in unions which have engaged in sinful practices makes one liable to ecclesiastical censure, however, when members of the church render themselves guilty of acts that are contrary to the Word of God, the usual application of the rules for discipline shall be made. Corporate responsibility may render one worthy of ecclesiastical discipline but the degree of guilt must be determined by the local consistories.’ ’
In passing we may notice here that “so-called neutral” organizations now are simply called “neutral labor organizations.” This reveals what was in the committee’s mind. As far as they are concerned (and as far as the Synod is concerned) you may as well omit the qualifying phrase “so-called.” Neutral labor organizations are a possibility.
But let us confine ourselves to the main question: that of corporate responsibility.
We must make a serious attempt to understand what the committee and the synod meant to say in the above two “principles.” This is not easy, as anyone will admit as soon as he asks himself the question what definite action consistories will have to follow on the basis of these principles. The language is such that it is in need of a commentary by the committee or by synod itself. But we shall try to interpret the meaning of the committee.
1. It appears that synod on advice of the committee adopts the principle of corporate responsibility. We say advisedly, appears, for several other statements in these two “principles” give the impression that the committee and synod did not adopt this principle in all its meaning and implication, but rather so qualify it that sufficient room is left for church members to be members of ‘’neutral labor organizations.” This is evident from:
a. The fact that the committee and synod do not speak of the imperativeness to discontinue membership in organizations whose constitution is clearly in conflict with the Word of God. But suppose that a constitution of such an organization declares that all men are born free, that they all have a God-given right to happiness, and that the pursuit of happiness consists in the seeking of material things, that government derives its authority from man, in other words, that a constitution is based on the principles of the French revolution, thus denying all the fundamental truths of Scripture and the Reformed Faith; and suppose that the same constitution plainly declares that only these that subscribe to these philosophical principles can be member of such a union, is one who joins such an organization responsible for its philosophy? Is he not an open denier of the Christian faith? Or suppose that a constitution demands .of its subscribers an oath or solemn pledge that they will hold their union membership sacred above all other relationships, social, political, or religious, is one who joins such an organization responsible for this oath, and that, too, regardless of the question whether he is actually compelled to swear it or not? The committee does not seem to think so. To us this is the first and most important element in corporate responsibility for the acts of any organization one may join. But the committee and the synod speak only of “unions whose common practices are clearly in conflict with the principles of the word of God.”
b. The fact that the synod speaks of the “common practices” of such unions. Now, it is not very clear whai the synod would comprise under this term. Very common practices of the existing unions are the strike, picketing, the closed shop, and the boycott, and all the violence necessarily connected with these. Did the committee have these in mind and did the synod adopt a resolution condemning these when they adopted “principled? But that is unthinkable, for these practices are so common that no union could be conceived without these practices, and in “principle” 1 synod adopted the possibility of compatibility of church-membership and membership of such unions as the AFL. and CIO. If this had been the meaning of the committee, it should have plainly stated that the Biblical doctrine of corporate responsibility makes it imperative for members of “neutral” organizations to discontinue membership in the AFL and the CIO. Yet, I cannot possibly think of other and more common practices which the committee and the synod can have had in mind. But, plainly, the committee and the synod meant to convey the thought that a distinction must be made between “common” and “uncommon” practices. What did they have in mind by this distinction? Which are the “uncommon” practices of the union? Are they such acts of violence as were committed in the “sit-down strikes?” Or did the synod have in mind all kinds of acts of violence and molestation committed by union members upon non-union workers, to make life miserable if or them, and thus to compel (them to join the union? Such acts are “common” enough, indeed. But does synod mean to say that a Christian who is member of a union that connives at and encourages such acts of violence committed upon a fellow Christian that works in the same shop with him, is not corporately responsible for such acts, and is free in his conscience to sit with the same maltreated brother at the communion table? It is evident, that although the language is very ambiguous, and although we are clearly in need of a commentary by the Committee or by synod on this distinction between “common” and “uncommon” practices, synod did after all not fully adopt the principle of corporate responsibility, and left plenty of room for union membership by members of the church.