Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

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Harry S. Truman
1945-1953


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Provided courtesy of The American Presidency Project.  John Woolley and Gerhard Peters. University of California, Santa Barbara.
  52. Address in Columbus at a Conference of the Federal Council of Churches  
March 6, 1946

Friends of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ:

I like to consider this conference, to which you have so kindly invited me, as one which represents no one particular sect or creed, but rather as one which represents the spirit of the worship of God. We are a people who worship God in different ways. But we are all bound together in a single unity--the unity of individual freedom in a democracy.

We have just come through a decade in which forces of evil in various parts of the world have been lined up in a bitter fight to banish from the face of the earth both these ideals--religion and democracy. For these forces of evil have long realized that both religion and democracy are rounded on one basic principle, the worth and dignity of the individual man and woman. Dictatorship, on the other hand, has always rejected that principle. Dictatorship, by whatever name, is rounded on the doctrine that the individual amounts to nothing; that the State is the only thing that counts; and that men and women and children were put on earth solely for the purpose of serving the State.

In that long struggle between these two doctrines, the cause of decency and righteousness has been victorious. The right of every human being to live in dignity and freedom, the right to worship his God in his own way, the right to fix his own relationship to his fellow men and to his Creator--these again have been saved for mankind.

The fight to preserve these rights was hard-won. The victory took a toll of human life and treasure so large that it should bring home to us forever, how precious, how invaluable, is our liberty which we had just begun to take for granted.

Now that we have preserved our freedom of conscience and religion, our right to live by a decent moral and spiritual code of our own choosing, let us make full use of that freedom. Let us make use of it to save a world which is beset by so many threats of new conflicts, new terror, and new destruction.

In our relations abroad and in our economy at home, forces of selfishness and greed and intolerance are again at work. They create situations which call for hard decisions, for forthrightness, for courage and determination. But above everything else, they call for one thing, without which we are lost. They call for a moral and spiritual awakening in the life of the individual and in the councils of the world.

The last 5 years have produced many awesome discoveries in material things. But it has been truthfully said that the greatest discoveries of the future will be in the realm of the spirit. There is no problem on this earth tough enough to withstand the flame of a genuine renewal of religious faith. And some of the problems of today will yield to nothing less than that kind of revival.

If the civilized world as we know it today is to survive, the gigantic power which man has acquired through atomic energy must be matched by spiritual strength of greater magnitude. All mankind now stands in the doorway to destruction--or upon the threshold of the greatest age in history. And I prefer to face that great age. Only a high moral standard can master this new power of the universe, and develop it for the common good.

When the sages and the scientists, the philosophers and the statesman, have all exhausted their studies of atomic energy, one solution and only one solution will remain--the substitution of decency and reason and brotherhood for the rule of force in the government of man.

If men and nations would but live by the precepts of the ancient prophets and the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, problems which now seem so difficult would soon disappear.

That is the great task for you teachers of religious faith. This is a supreme opportunity for the Church to continue to fulfill its mission on earth. The Protestant Church, the Catholic Church, and the Jewish Synagogue-bound together in the American unity of brotherhood--must provide the shock forces to accomplish this moral and spiritual awakening. No other agency can do it. Unless it is done, we are headed for the disaster we would deserve. Oh for an Isaiah or a Saint Paul to reawaken this sick world to its moral responsibilities! I may be facing that Isaiah or that Saint Paul right now. I hope it is true.

The need for this moral awakening applies to all men and women everywhere, but it applies particularly to the youth of today from whom the leadership of tomorrow will come. The aftermath of a major war always includes an increase of juvenile delinquency. Sometimes it is the fault of the boys and girls. More often it is the result of everything that is abnormal in war--including the absence of fathers and mothers in the armed forces or in business or in war industries.

We shall always be grateful to the women of America, who have performed such an outstanding service to our country during the war. In some cases, however, this patriotic devotion to the national interest has resuited in unavoidable neglect of the children. Smaller children were taken care of through the help of the Government in child-care centers. But this could not be done in the case of older children. We are now paying the social penalties for failing to provide adequate supervision and guidance for many of our children during their formative years.

Whatever the cause, the need is now pressing and unyielding. The younger generation of today yearns for moral uplift. To the parents of the Nation--and to you of the Churches of God--has come the responsibility of helping them on to the right path. We must help them on to the right path. That is the greatest job you can do for America today.

And one of the ways we can all help not only the youth of the Nation but all men and women is by the provision of decent homes. To make up for the lag in home building during the years of the war, this country has embarked on the most ambitious civilian housing program in our history. Every possible resource of Government will be used to reach our goal of 2,700,000 low cost homes within the next 2 years. Nowhere can the influence of deep religious faith and ethical living be more adequately felt than in the homes of the Nation. The spiritual welfare of our people of tomorrow is going to depend on the kind of home life which our Nation has today.

That is why it is so important that all churches throughout America cooperate in the "National Share the Home" effort. If each congregation of the 250,000 churches and synagogues in this country would open their spare rooms to only four veterans, one million veterans and their families could receive temporary shelter until new houses are available.

Nothing could be more helpful in reaching the goal of a decent home for every American--and by that I mean Americans of all races and religions and of all income groups--than the active cooperation and inspiration of the churches of the Nation. By working in your local communities where the primary job and responsibility lie, you can help make this program the success which it must be for home life reflects the Nation's life. It must conform to an ever-rising standard.

To raise that standard should be, and is, the constant aim of your Government and the underlying basis of its policies. It would make the effort so much easier if people and nations would apply some of the principles of social justice and ethical standards which have come down to us from Biblical times. All the questions which now beset us in strikes and wages and working conditions would be so much simpler if men and women were willing to apply the principles of the Golden Rule. Do as you would be done by. Consider the gleam in your own eye and pay less attention to the mote in your brother's.

If we really believed in the Brotherhood of Man, it would not be necessary to pass a fair Employment Practices Act.

If certain interests were not so greedy for gold, there would be less pressure and lobbying to induce the Congress to allow the Price Control Act to expire, or to keep down minimum wages, or to permit further concentration of economic power.

A truly religious fervor among our people would go a long way toward obtaining a national health program, a national housing program, a national education program, and an extended and improved social security program.

As among men, so among nations-nothing will do more to maintain the peace of the world than the rigorous application of the principles of our ancient religion.

We have tried to write into the Charter of the United Nations the essence of religion. The end of aggression, the maintenance of peace, the promotion of social justice and individual rights and freedoms, the substitution of reason and justice for tyranny and war, the protection of the small and weak nations--by these principles the United Nations have laid the framework of the Charter on the sound rock of religious principles.

The United States expects to support that Charter. It expects to defend that Charter. It expects to expand and perfect that Charter. And we are confident that all the other United Nations expect to do the same.

In the crisis of global war the common peoples of all the world became bound together in a great fraternity. It was dedicated to resistance against aggression and determination to overcome the tyrants and dictators who sought to enslave. The resources of all the United Nations were pooled into one fund of power. Weapons, supplies, ammunition, equipment, ships, food--the wealth and manpower of each were dedicated to the common good of all.

Now that victory has come, that has stopped. But throughout the world there are now millions and millions of men, women, and children who still look to the rich and powerful nations of the world for help--principally they look to the people of the United States for help. They look to us for help--not to fight an enemy, nor help for luxuries and extravagances--but just help to keep themselves alive, help in the form of food and clothing, the barest necessities of life. Of course we cannot feed them all. But we can go a long way toward doing it, if we want to cooperate and do it.

As your President, I appeal to you again-and to all Americans everywhere--to prove your faith and your belief in the teachings of God by doing your share to save the starving millions in Europe, in Asia, in Africa. Share your food by eating less, and prevent millions from dying of starvation. Reduce your abundance so that others may have a crust of bread. In short, prove yourselves worthy of the liberty and dignity which you have preserved on this earth, by helping those less fortunate who have been starved by the dictators for so many long years and who still starve even in liberation.

Ours should be a continuous thanksgiving for the fact of victory and for the blessings which are still with us in this land. The brave men and valiant women who made this possible under God will inspire us to face our new problems with resolution. They are problems which call for the best in us. As long as we remain true to the spirit of these men and women, to the religious faith which carried them to victory we shall not fail.

We have this America not because we are of a particular faith, not because our ancestors sailed from a particular foreign port. We have our America because of our common aspiration to remain free and our determined purpose to achieve for ourselves, and for our children, a more abundant life in keeping with our highest ideals.

Let us determine to carry on in that same spirit--in a spirit of tolerance, and understanding for all men and for all nations--in the spirit of God and religious unity.

NOTE: The President spoke at the Deshler-Wallick Hotel in Columbus at 12 noon. The address was carried on a nationwide radio broadcast.
 
Provided courtesy of The American Presidency Project.  John Woolley and Gerhard Peters. University of California, Santa Barbara.