restricted access The Oxford Conference [II]. To the Editor of The Church Times
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[ 517 The Oxford Conference [II] To the Editor of The Church Times The Church Times, 118 (20 Aug 1937) 1841 Sir, – Having been away in a rather remote part of the country, I have only just seen your issue of August 6, and apologize for the following comment being a week overdue. In your first leading article you say, “Mr. Eliot points out that the Life and Work Conference was dominated by American Protestants.”2 This is not quite what I was trying to convey. I said that there were too many Americans (indeed I think that there were too many delegates altogether), but this is not the same thing. So far as I was aware, the few Americans who could be called “dominant” owed their position, like the representatives of other countries, to their individual abilities; the Conference was very much in debt to Professor Reinhold Niebuhr, among others.3 But the policy of statesmen has to be shaped according to the temper of the majority of the people whom they have to rule. What I fear for such assemblies in the future is the insensible influence of the mass; and there appeared to be a larger mass of American liberal Protestantism than of anything else. I doubt whether a Conference can be “oecumenical” and at the same time “democratic.”  T. S. Eliot 24, Russell Square, W.C. 1 Notes 1. The CC is dated 16 Aug 1937, written on return from a week’s holiday with Geoffrey and Enid Faber in Gwent, Wales. 2. The editorial in the Church Times of 6 Aug addressed TSE’s letter published in the same issue (5.514): “Mr. Eliot points out that the Life and Work Conference was dominated by American Protestantism. The Coloured Methodist Episcopal Church and the United Brethren in Christ had exactly the same representation as the Church of Wales and the Episcopal Church of Scotland. Of the four hundred delegates, the Church of England had only eighteen, and of these ‘at most five could be qualified as Catholic.’ It seems to us obvious that to describe a body of this sort as ‘oecumenical’ is such a misuse of terms as to lead to misunderstanding and illusion. It is a good thing, as Mr. Eliot says, that we should have a closer understanding and a keener appreciation of the members of other Christian communities. But it is an evil thing when fundamental differences are obscured” (136). Essays, Reviews, Commentaries, and Public Letters: 1937 518 ] 3. The American Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) was a delegate to the Oxford Conference and gave a paper titled “The Church Faces a Secular Culture” on 13 July. Moreover, W. A. Visser ’t Hooft and J. H. Oldham drew upon Niebuhr’s works in introducing the conception behind the Conference in The Church and its Function in Society, specifically Niebuhr’s article on “The Secular and the Religious” in The Christian Century of 4 Nov 1936, and his Doom and Dawn (1936). Visser ’t Hooft and Oldham were also given access to Niebuhr’s essay on “Christian Faith and the Common Life” before its publication in The Christian Faith and the Common Life, eds. Nils Ehrenstrom, M. G. Dibelius, et al. (1938), one of seven books related to the Conference themes. ...