The following letter of resignation was read out loud by my father, Warren Baltzer, to the congregation he was serving as pastor on Sunday, September 1, 1963. Dad was 38 years old when he wrote this, with four sons ranging from 6 to 12 years old, and Mom was pregnant with my sister at the time.
MARINE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST
Sunday, September 1, 1963.To the Members of the Marine United Church of Christ,
Dear Christian Friends:
Purpose of LetterWith the reading of this letter today, I am informing the congregation of my decision to resign as pastor of the Marine United Church of Christ. I have come to this decision only after the most difficult of soul-searching and prayer, as well as a thorough sharing of thoughts with my wife, our Synod President, and a few trusted friends.
For me, there is one issue, and one issue alone, upon which I base this resignation. That issue has to do with the witness of the Christian Church in a very crucial area of life in our today's world, namely, race relations.
Our Previous GrowthUp until a few weeks ago, I have always been genuinely encouraged by the growth in understanding among our members of the need for racial justice in our churches and in our American society. Many of you have given positive testimonies in behalf of Christian Brotherhood in Bible study groups, organizational meetings, and in personal conversations. Our church’s Christian Social Action Committee has voluntarily put forth steady, earnest efforts over the past year-and-a-half to help us all move in the right direction. Last January at our annual congregational meeting, after recommendation for approval by both our Christian Social Action Committee and the Church Council, our congregation voted to invite a Negro pastor to preach in our services sometime during 1963. The welcome, given by our people last March to the Rev. Chester Marcus, was a warm and sincere welcome indeed. Again last January, and this was after recommendation for approval by both the Christian Social Action Committee and the Church Council, our congregation also voted to declare our church “open” in worship and membership to all Christians, without regard to race or color. Although some honest doubts were raised by a few in that meeting, certainly the favorable vote on this resolution was a strong one indeed. For the above reasons, I think you will be able to understand why I felt we were ready to take the next step forward into a practical application of all that we had been saying together thus far. It was with sincere confidence that we requested the congregation’s moral support in inviting Phillip Kano, 22 year old African student from Nigeria to share our common life in the parsonage family, and in our church and community. Again it should be noted that the members of our Christian Social Action Committee backed up this idea.
The Vote of the CongregationOur confidence was shattered on Sunday, August 11, by the congregation’s overwhelming vote (65 to 16) opposing this invitation, and opposing it primarily on the grounds of race. From the beginning, this issue was presented to our people without threat or demand of any kind. Many of you have agreed this was so. The vote was by secret ballot, and was taken with full freedom granted each member to express his true convictions. The real mind of the congregation on this issue was revealed more openly than ever before. Since that meeting, I have sought personal conversations with a number of individual members, as well as with the Church Council. Over and again it has been admitted to me that, in effect, this decisive negative vote “nailed the lid” once and for all on this issue. Some acknowledged frankly this was its intent.
A Crucial, Living IssueAt this point, we should all try very hard to realize that this issue simply cannot be “buried.” Just as it was not possible to seal the tomb on our Lord Jesus. He lives! And this issue will be alive for God's children to face on this Earth, until Brotherhood triumphs and God's will is done.
There is no other issue facing all mankind today, which is so central to the faith and life of the Christian Church. It has to do with the fact that Jesus Christ, crucified by men but, by God's power, raised from the dead, is truly The Living Lord over every area of human life. And this includes today's controversial struggles in the area of race relations. This Jesus has shown us the Father, a God who looks with compassion upon the hurts of all his children, and who extends his mercy and forgiveness to all alike. He offers this love in Christ without favor, and certainly without regard to whether one of his children happens to have been born with dark skin or light. As members of the Church, we belong to this Christ, and are called to give our first loyalty to Him. We do this by sharing His kind of love, again without favor, to all in the human family. To withhold Christian fellowship from another person because of his color or race is an utter contradiction of the very nature of that Fellowship. This is why the issue of racial brotherhood goes straight to the heart of our Christian Gospel. It is why this issue is so crucial, compared to others upon which we might have honestly differing viewpoints.
A Ministry Taken AwayBecause this is so, a vital part of the ministry given to me in March 1960 has now been taken away. I can no longer preach this badly needed message of Christian brotherhood, when, in the back of my mind, I must remember that the majority of the congregation has declared its intent not to practice what is preached. Sadly, such lip service to the Gospel has too much been a part of the Church's life these past 100 years, or the race problem in America would have been solved long ago. If I did try to speak, even in the most vague or general terms, some would surely feel that their toes were being deliberately stepped on. Others might quietly “laugh up their sleeves,” already knowing where the majority of their fellow members stand, and that nothing really will come of such preaching anyhow. I could no longer, with freedom, invite unchurched white persons in our community to share the fellowship of our church, knowing all the time that I did not have that same freedom to invite Negro persons to share our fellowship. Already, I am discovering that it is not possible for me to represent the vote of our congregation before the children, youth, and adults of the church, or of the community at large.Last May, our South Illinois Synod took the following action with an overwhelming vote of approval:
“Be it resolved that the Synod gives priority of attention to the active and conscious encouragement of the inter-racial composition of our churches, through such means as the power and persuasion of leadership; official adoption of inter-racial policies of church membership; enrollment of the individual members who are homeowners in freedom of residence pledges; programs of inter-racial visitation and exchange, and the like.”
(from Minutes and Handbook, pp. 28, 29.)
Before this resolution was adopted, I took the floor urging its approval and mentioned our own congregation’s decision for “open membership” last January. In the light of our recent vote, I could no longer take the floor as pastor of this church and offer my convictions on this matter. In the terms of simple justice, I could not even accept for myself the privilege of living in this parsonage and in this community, knowing, that under the present attitudes, another person is denied that same privilege, and for no more reason than that he happens to have colored skin. You can see what I mean, when I say that a vital part of the Christian Ministry has been taken away from me by your action of August 11.
With Deep RegretImmediately, let me go on to say, personally, I do not want to resign from this pastorate. It is difficult to make this emphatic enough, but it is true, nonetheless. It has never been a part of my thinking to leave. In fact, several months ago, I quickly and quietly said, “No, thank you,” to one invitation to consider another pastorate. We have been pleased with the pastoral relationship here at Marine. In terms of warmth and affection from the members, no pastor could ask for anything more. This has remained true, in spite of the crisis situation of the past few weeks. It only makes this decision the more difficult. Many factors, even recently, would give us encouragement for continuing our ministry here for a good long time to come. Among these, I would mention the real understanding and courage demonstrated by the members of the Christian Social Action Committee and some few others who would sincerely like to move forward with a practical witness in the area of race relations. Our church school teachers and Board of Christian education have shown a fine spirit in wanting to venture with our United Church of Christ in the use of new lesson materials. Those interested in deepening their Christian faith through Bible study, and those wanting to strengthen the adult education program of the church and its organizations, all offer the kind of challenge that would encourage a pastor to continue his leadership. For these reasons, and others I could mention, the decision to leave this pastorate has been reached with real pain and heartache. We count on you to know that there is no grievance in our hearts toward any person in this church or this community. We simply have not taken this matter personally. But there is a deep, empty sadness that we are at a place where we can move no further in terms of practicing Christian Brotherhood across racial lines. And this, unfortunately, is at the very time when the Church's witness in our society is so urgent.
A Lesson for Pastor I would like to acknowledge with you a “learning” that has come to me with new force during these last days. It is that the fears and the sickness besetting us on this question of race relations are very deep and strong indeed. At its root, racial prejudice in our society is a moral and spiritual sickness. We allow ourselves to be driven by fears that the community will be overrun with Negroes, fears that property values will fall, fears of inter-racial marriage, and the like. Though in fact these fears are largely unfounded, they are real to the person's possessed by them. It is more clear to me now that they must be recognized, and dealt with out in the open. I am more convinced than ever that these fears can be overcome only as we learn to know individuals of another race as persons; only as we are willing to apply the power of the Gospel to the problems of actually living together in interpersonal relationships. There could hardly be a better place to do this than in the Christian Fellowship, the Church.
A Lesson for CongregationThrough this experience together, it is my hope that at least one lesson shall have been learned by our congregation. It is that we no longer talk comfortably the words of Christian brotherhood, without being willing to risk ourselves in putting our talk to the test of actual practice. Christian Social Action means just that. We are called to “be doers of the word, not hearers only.” For to say “Lord, Lord,” without intending to try to do the will of the Heavenly Father is to risk the most serious kind of hypocrisy. Our Lord was clearly against that. I really think all of us want to be on guard against that too.
No Alternative Under These CircumstancesThe negative vote of our congregation was by no small majority. If it had been, the situation would be different. But it was decisive. Persons with influence and insight, including members of the Church Council itself, have continued to let me feel that the overwhelming attitude in our congregation is against any further action to welcome persons of the Negro race to share our common life together. I am deeply sorry this seems to be true. I wish it were not. It is this attitude which brings me to the decision to resign the pastorate here. If there were an honest, clearly demonstrated desire on the part of at least a majority of our members to overcome these racial fears and prejudices, and to grow in our ability to actually live together as Christian brothers across racial lines, the whole situation would be different. I know that there is this desire among a few. For that we all ought to be humble and thankful. But it is clear to me that regarding this crucial issue at least, the large majority have in effect said, we don't want to change; we don't really want to be healed. And this is the next thing to saying, “We don't really need the doctor.” I have urgently asked the congregation, especially those who opposed inviting the student here, to show me other alternatives. Thus far, I have received no answers. Now, I see none myself, except to resign.
Termination of PastorateTo allay any possible doubts, I would like to assure the congregation that we want to remain with you to share in the 100th Anniversary in October. In a special meeting of the Church Council this past Wednesday night, it was decided to call a special congregational meeting following the second service of worship, 11:30 a.m., two weeks from today, Sunday, September 15. The purpose would be for the congregation to act on this resignation. It was further agreed that we might wait until that congregational meeting to set a definite date for our actual moving. It is probable that this would be after the usual three-month period, or near the end of November.
Future MinistryAs of this moment, we do not have a call to another congregation. As a matter of fact, it was our decision to not even make inquiries regarding a possible future ministry, until after reading this letter to you. We only know for sure that our future ministry will need to be at a church where pastor and congregation together are in firm agreement to work earnestly, both in learning and in practical witness, for the cause of Christian brotherhood among all of God's children, regardless of race. This is a living cause, a matter which stands at the very heart of the Gospel. It has to do with the teachings and commandments of our living Savior and Lord. The human pressures against this may be great. But it is more important, and better for us, that we try to be obedient to Christ, than to be conformed to the opinions of men.
All Have Sinned; All Need Christ's LoveEach of us should remember one thing more; we are all sinners. It is the Lord Jesus who both judges and offers his forgiveness to us all. We stand in this need, alike. We may differ sharply on matters of utmost consequence. Rather than judge, however, we are called to hold each other in Christian love. Actually, I believe it is a credit to our Church Council, as well as to the great majority of our members, that we have learned at least something about “agreeing to disagree agreeably.” We count on that spirit to continue. We want to hold one and all in our prayers and in the love of Jesus Christ. We feel you will do the same for us. For our future ministries, both as Marine congregation and ourselves as a parsonage family, we pray for the renewing and strengthening power of the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ.
signature of Warren Baltzer
Warren Baltzer, Pastor.
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Having shared something from my dad, now I will share a Mom story.
I came home from Marine Elementary School one day, and asked my mom, "Are we poor?"
Why did I ask that? Can't remember. Maybe I noticed something different about me, as a third son who wore mostly hand-me-down clothes. That's just a wild guess.
Mom thought about it for a second, and then said, "No. We're together as a family, and we love each other. We're not poor."
February 19, 2019
Update February 20, 2019
Here is one more story about Marine, Illinois. I was in the second or third grade at Marine Elementary School, can't remember for sure which grade. It was the evening of the school year that was set aside for parents to come to the school to talk with the teachers about their children.
I was in my regular classroom that evening, and since the teacher was out of the room to meet with parents in another part of the building, there was a girl from the 8th grade who had been assigned to my classroom to keep an eye on things. For the first part of the evening, I was wild, running around, being loud, and maybe behaving badly. All of a sudden, the thought went through my mind that if I kept this up for the rest of the evening that when I left the room with my parents, that 8th grade student might tell my parents that I had behaved badly. That would probably mean getting a spanking from my dad after we got back home.
I noticed the books on the shelves along the walls of my classroom. Some of them were anthologies, large books that were collections of short stories with illustrations. I picked up one of the books, sat at my desk, and started to read. The stories are great. I had fun reading for the rest of the evening. When I left the room with my parents, the 8th grade student told my parents that I had been well-behaved. Maybe part of my love for reading is the association with getting praise with my parents.