IN the endeavor to establish “civic righteousness,” upon which the religious effort of this day seems to be centering, the Church has addressed herself to a doleful task. It is a doleful “gospel” which she is obliged to preach as its accompaniment.
For example, there appears in the Christian Statesman each week a column on “Christian Endeavor in Christian Citizenship,” conducted by Rev. Chas. Roads, of Philadelphia. This column is filled with accounts of the corruption that exists in certain classes of society and in the sphere of municipal government, and which must be remedied by “Christian Citizenship” methods. In the Statesman of April 3, Mr. Roads dwells upon the evidence of this corruption which was afforded at the granting of licences for saloons by the license court. The plane morality upon which the judges of the court stood was sadly low. They were “familiar with the slang of the bar-room,” and used it for the amusement of the audience. They granted licenses to saloon proprietors in the face of “most damaging evidence” of their bad character, given by himself and the secretary of the Law and Order League. They condoned flagrant violations of the license law because they were committed on “election night,” or “football night,” etc.
Previous articles by the same writer have described the flagrant criminality which could be seen on the streets after dark in the neighborhood of saloons and elsewhere, and which the police knew all about, but seemingly made no effort to suppress.
This is the familiar story which one reads to-day in “Christian Citizenship” literature, or hears from the pulpit of the would-be reformer, in our large cities. There is corruption everywhere, and plenty of evidence of the same which forces itself upon the attention of even the casual observer. Our great cities are “run” by corrupt “rings” or political organizations or political “bosses.” New York City, for example, is largely subject to the unrighteous sway of “Tammany Hall;” and both city and State are, in matters of general government, under the Philistinic dominance of “boss Platt.” In other cities and States the situation is much the same. And all this must be remedied before “civic righteousness” can be established.
Many efforts in this direction have been made, and are being made, but with unsatisfactory results. A few years ago, the Rev. Dr. Parkhurst, with others, undertook the overthrow of “Tammany” and the suppression of municipal corruption in New York City. They stirred the people of the city and engineered an election which “turned the rascals out” in many cases, so that it seemed for a time that the effort was really successful. But the “rascals” who were turned out drifted back, or those who filled their places became like them, and to-day municipal righteousness is as far away as ever.
The Church, however, is preaching that this  “righteousness” must come; and the “Christian Citizenship” and kindred movements are the agencies by which it is to be brought in. The “gospel” of civic and political “righteousness” looks forward to the time when all the political offices will be filled by Christians, and righteousness be enforced by faithful men in all departments of the Government. It looks forward to an enthronement of Christ “on Capitol hill,” the seat of national authority. It predicts that these things will be realized soon. But meanwhile it is forced to dwell upon the doleful realities which fill the field of vision in the place of its cherished dream.
And these realities must continue, and become more and more doleful, as long as this “gospel” continues to be preached. For not only is there no power in it to make the world one whit better than it is, but as the Church descends into the arena of politics to work out this plan for regenerating society, she must open the door to that corruption which dwells in politics, and thus part with her own moral power to elevate mankind. Politics is the congenial sphere of the hypocrite and the unscrupulous server of self; and when the Church incorporates politics into her own sphere of operation, she must take in the elements which are characteristic of political life. By espousing political methods, she offers an inducement to ambitious self-servers to join themselves to her in hypocritical union. She opens her doors to a flood of worldliness, and puts herself in the condition of a foundering ship at sea. While the Church herself is thus becoming, as the prophetic word has it, “the hold of every foul spirit, and the cage of every unclean and hateful bird” (Revelation 18:2), it cannot but be that in the world itself, “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” 2 Timothy 3:13.
The gospel of “civic righteousness” operates by means of the ballot. If the ballot fails, the “righteousness” is lost. And what is more uncertain than the ballot? If at times something is accomplished by its agency in the direction of civic reform, the gain is certain to be but temporary. The powers of evil rally their forces, and the next election restores their lost supremacy. The people can be aroused at times to a spasmodic effort to “turn the rascals out” when corruption becomes too rampant in public affairs, but “the people” are mainly occupied with their individual interests, and constitute but sleepy sentinels around the camp of the public weal. As political reformations do not reach the heart, they can at best but remove the symptoms of the malady from which the body politic suffers. But as the disease itself remains, seated in the carnal heart, the symptoms must quickly reappear, and the situation become as bad as before.
The Church has a better gospel than all this to proclaim to the multitudes around her. She has that gospel which is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth,“—a gospel that contemplates not merely a clean administration of public affairs, but a clean heart in the individual; not the establishment of a man-made legal righteousness, but of the righteousness of Christ which is by faith; not “the enthronement of Christ on Capitol hill,” and in the various seats of State and municipal government, but the reign of Christ on the throne of David in the glorious Capital of the earth made new; a gospel which operates not by the power of civil decrees, but by the power of love; which depends not upon the weak and uncertain agency of the ballot, but upon the word of Omnipotence; which comforts men not with an uncertain prospect of temporal good to come, but with that “love, joy, peace,” which are the “fruits of the Spirit” now and here, in the life of every believer, and with the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.
Why, oh why, will the Church turn from this glorious gospel, for which all the world is dying, to preach the weak and doleful gospel of “civic righteousness”?