Handout 4: This Letter Is to Express Our Personal Disapproval
The following letters were exchanged among a pair of members of Arlington Street Church (Boston), the board of the congregation (Prudential Committee), and the congregation's minister, the Rev. Jack Mendelsohn.
5 November 1967
Arlington Street Church Prudential Committee
355 Boylston Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116
This letter is to express our personal disapproval of the method of protest that was demonstrated within the sanctuary of Arlington Street Church on October 16.
We do not deny that people have a right to protest against actions of our government of which they disapprove. We, too, disapprove of the war this country is engaged in in Vietnam. However, we strongly believe that the method of protest demonstrated in Arlington Street Church on October 16 and in Washington, D.C. on the following weekend does nothing to hasten the end of that war. Rather, we believe such demonstrations serve only to provide aid, comfort and encouragement to North Vietnam in prolonging the war and refusing to discuss any reasonable basis for ending the conflict.
It seems to us that the only reasonable, proper and effective means of protest that we have in this democracy is direct communication of our views to our duly elected representatives in both houses of congress and in the White House. We believe those people do pay heed to the advice they receive by letter and telegram from their constituents.
We believe that conscientious objection does not give an individual the right to choose in which wars he is willing to be selected for service and in which wars he is not willing to be selected for service. A true conscientious objector should conscientiously object to all violence and warfare. Conscientious objection should, as the words imply, be an individual decision of the conscience. That decision should not be influenced in either direction by mass hysteria.
It would be presumed that a decision to permit such a controversial demonstration to take place within the confines of Arlington Street Church would be made by the Prudential Committee representing the church membership. Perhaps it would have been in order to take a vote of the membership to permit, or not permit, such a demonstration within the church.
Our protest is such that we now notify you of our intention to withdraw our financial support of Arlington Street Church for the balance of the current fiscal year. The money still due on our current pledge will be donated to other worthy causes with which we now have more favorable feelings. When the new fiscal year arises, we shall reassess our position and at that time may, or may not, reestablish our financial support of Arlington Street Church.
___________ and ___________
cc to: Dr. Jack Mendelsohn, Arlington Street Church
Dr. Dana M. Greeley, 25 Beacon Street, Boston
Response from Rev. Mendelsohn:
November 9, 1967
Dear ___________ and ___________:
I have read your letter to the Prudential Committee with the most profound feelings of disappointment and sadness. It would have never occurred to me that you would write such a letter without troubling to acquaint yourselves with the total context of the October 16th service at the church and without doing me the simple, rudimentary courtesy of a personal chat.
I am acquainted with a quotation often found in church literature which reads as follows: "If one supports the church because he hears what he likes, and withdraws support when he no longer hears what he likes, he is offering the church a bribe. There is only one legitimate reason for supporting a church, and this is commitment to its goals."
You have an unquestionable and unqualified right to express your dissent concerning specific activities of the church, and to do so in the most vigorous fashion. But I don't think anyone has a right to exercise financial coercion on an institution he is voluntarily a part of.
I have no desire to effect a change in your course, but I do feel that you owe it to yourselves to read the enclosed sermon. I am utterly convinced that if you had been at church on Sunday, October 22, and experienced the full service, or if you had taken the trouble to talk with me at any time since October sixteenth, you would not have used a financial sledge hammer to make a point which belongs solely in the realm of conscience and free faith.
cc: Arlington Street Church Prudential Committee
Reply to Rev. Mendelsohn:
November 12, 1967
Thank you for your letter of November 9.
We had read your October 22 sermon before. It did not alter my feeling of disappointment and sadness that my church had been so deeply involved in the October 16th demonstration.
I do not wish to enter into a debate on this matter. Let us allow it to remain as it is, a difference of opinion within our religion.
Time has cured some of my shock and revulsion. The form of protest cited in our recent letter was perhaps a hasty decision. We have strong personal ties to Arlington Street Church. We are Unitarians. You are right in reminding us that we have the right to express our dissent, but not necessarily the right to exert financial force to back up that dissent. We shall comply with our current financial pledge.
cc to: The Prudential Committee
Dr. Dana M. Greeley, 25 Beacon St., Boston