The deliberations of a body of Christian men and their mature conclusions reflect in large measure the thought and life of the people whom they represent.
We have seen how in the early days of our history Congregational Nebraskans were keenly alive to all that was going on in their own midst and in the country at large. Recent declarations in the meetings of the State Association show the same characteristics.
The Ashland meeting, 1889, appointed a committee, Rev. M. L. Holt, chairman, to report upon "The religious and moral condition of our army"; originally to "cooperate with army chaplains for the better welfare of our soldiers." This committee at the Fremont meeting, 1891, reported the following, which was adopted:
"To the Nebraska delegation of Honorable Senators and Representatives in the United States Congress:
"GENTLEMEN--We, the Congregational churches and ministers of Nebraska, in Annual State Association assembled, recognizing our obligation to the national army and navy for their moral and spiritual training and development, do most respectfully urge upon you the importance of the passage of the bill entitled 'An act to increase the number of chaplains in the army of the United States; to define their duties and increase their efficiency.' We do, moreover, pray that a moral condition of promotion be at once established in the army and navy, whereby no man of immoral character of any rank shall he promoted over one of pure moral character. This we do in order that every incentive be used
to encourage the army and navy to combine in an effort to remove from, among them the debasing immoral practices which to so large an extent prevail."1
In the '90s our churches were considerably interested in the Chautauqua movement, and maintained for some years an assembly at Crete. Many have regretted that the assembly was ever given up. This is what was said of the movement at the Omaha meeting, 1892:
"Whereas, The Chautauqua movement has proven to be strongly helpful to our churches, Sunday schools, Bible students, and Christian workers; and
"Whereas, The Crete assembly has special claims on us as a denomination, therefore
"Resolved, That we commend to our ministers and churches the wisdom of promoting local training classes in harmony with the assembly work, of preaching an annual sermon in the interests of the Chautauqua endeavor, of securing a large attendance at the summer assembly, and of acquiring a proprietary interest by the purchase of assembly stock."2
The Crete assembly had the reputation of presenting annual programs of high order of merit; and from the standpoint of literary, moral, and spiritual benefit was a great success.
The management secured men of national reputation to lecture from its platform; but as a financial venture it failed, and after a few years' trial was given up. It is a question well worth considering, if the time has not now come when the denomination should take up some phases of Bible study, normal training and correlated subjects in a summer assembly established at a center like Lincoln, where a larger attendance could be secured with better financial
prospects. The difficulty is in reviving an effort which has once failed for want of financial support.
The association at its meeting in 1891 appointed Rev. John Power, Dr. Joseph T. Duryea, and Rev. Lewis Gregory a Committee on Divorce Legislation. The next year this committee made the following report, which was adopted
"To the General Association of Congregational Churches of Nebraska:
"Your Committee on Divorce Legislation recommend that the following petition be presented to the legislature of the state of Nebraska:
"'To the Honorable Legislature of the State of Nebraska:
"'Whereas, By the law of the state no remedy is provided for a deserted husband or wife within the space of two years from the date of desertion, and then only by an action for divorce; and,
"'Whereas, Alimony, when allowed, is to be collected only as a civil debt, and consequently, in most cases, not to be collected at all; and,
"'Whereas, Marriage, followed by immediate desertion, is the easiest method of escape for an unmarried man from the consequences of an action for seduction or bastardy, and has been frequently performed for that very purpose; and,
"'Whereas, A divorce may be obtained from an absent respondent where due diligence has not been used to notify such respondent that action for divorce has been commenced;
"'Therefore, we, the undersigned, do respectfully petition your honorable body that during your present session such amendation of the law may be made as shall
"'First--Make desertion on the part of a married person a penal offense.
"'Second--Subject a man against whom desertion has been proven to the same conditions as one against whom bastardy has been proven.
"'Third--Give this remedy independent of any action for divorce.
"'Fourth--Prohibit proceeding in any action for divorce until due diligence has been used to bring the respondent into court.
"'And your petitioners will ever pray.'
"Your committee further recommend that this petition be presented to the legislature by a delegation from this association, and that the W. C. T. U. and other associations be invited to cooperate in urging the matter upon the legislature"3
Some of the evils petitioned against have been removed by recent legislation, and desertion in some cases is made a criminal offense, and in other ways the law has been improved.
Spirited resolutions are sent to the President of the United States, requesting that vigorous measures be taken to protect American citizens, and maintain the treaty rights in the Ottoman Empire.4
"Recognizing the increased activity of the Mormon church, and the aggressiveness on the part of the polygamous propaganda, be it therefore
"Resolved, That we hereby most respectfully call upon our United States Senators and Representatives to use their utmost endeavor to secure early action by Congress proposing an amendment to our Federal Constitution forever prohibiting the practice of polygamy in any place sub-
ject to our governmental jurisdiction, and providing for the disfranchisement of those who are guilty of this crime."5
Some years ago a plan of church union of all Protestant bodies in this country was proposed. It was called the New Jersey Plan and was considered by the Nebraska churches during 1894 and 1895, but the association came to the conclusion that "We are unable to find a feasible way to such unity in what is known as the New Jersey Plan."6
The time, in the estimation of the association, had not come to agitate the question of the organic union of the Protestant bodies, but the Plan itself is of interest. The essential features of this plan are stated by Dr. A. H. Bradford of New Jersey in a letter dated January 6, 1905:
"The New Jersey Plan for the Union of Protestant Evangelical Churches was based on four proposals namely: 1, The acceptance of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, inspired by the Holy Spirit, as containing all things necessary to salvation, and as being the real and ultimate standard of Christian faith. 2, The discipleship of Jesus Christ, the Divine Lord and Savior, and the teacher of the world. 3, The Church of Christ, which is His body, whose mission it is to preach the Gospel to the world. 4, Liberty of conscience in the interpretation of the Scriptures and in the administration of the Church.
"I have not given the proposals in the exact form in which they were originally presented, but in their substance. You will find them in the Minutes of the National Council of 1895, page 36.
"Very sincerely yours,
"AMORY H. BRADFORD."
The plan of church union in some form has, however, been kept before the Church, and the action of the National
Council, October, 1904, in adopting the report of the committee appointed in 1901 to confer with other denominations, especially the United Brethren and Methodist Protestants, has made this a live question, and it is possible that some kind of federation may be adopted in which these denominations, together with the Free Baptists and Congregationalists, may come into much closer fellowship, and perhaps eventually into organic union. This is for the churches of all the denominations to say. There can be no coercion. Local and state bodies are discussing it. Denominations are coming closer together, but there are many obstacles to be overcome before organic union can be realized. The readjustment of missionary boards and church papers, of publishing houses and Sunday school literature, is a tremendous undertaking; but this is a simple problem as compared with that of bringing the individual churches into line with the movement, and "delivering the goods." There will doubtless be a cleavage when it is undertaken. Some United Brethren and Methodist Protestants will prefer the M. E. Church to the proposed Union Church; some Congregationalists will prefer to remain Independent; and so there is a danger of the proposed union of denominations resulting in the organization of still another, and the weakening of those that remain. Much will depend on the skill, wisdom, and patience of the leaders in the movement. Congregational Nebraska at the Geneva meeting, 1903, unanimously adopted the following resolutions, which may be said fairly to represent the thought and desires of our churches:
"Whereas, There is at the present time a movement looking toward a closer federation and possibly organic union of different denominations with the Congregational body; therefore
"Resolved, That we hail hopefully the movement for a closer association with sister denominations, trusting to find in it the beginning of that consummation of Christian fellowship so long desired and prayed for by the Church. The end sought is worth sacrifice, and while we still cherish the constitutive principles of our order--the independence of the local church, and the fellowship of the churches--with a conviction too profound to be surrendered, we stand ready to sink personal preferences and all non-essentials of method and tradition that w may strike hands in love and labor with the wider fellowship.
"Resolved, That it should be the aim of our churches to strengthen the denomination through the development of an inner life, and the application to all our work of those historic ideas which have left such a profound and beneficial influence upon the development of our national life, as well as upon the educational and spiritual life of our churches.
"Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be sent to the next National Council as a testimony of the position of our churches in the state of Nebraska."7
These represent a friendly attitude toward a closer affiliation of Christian workers in all denominations, but emphasize the need of the "development of an inner life, and the application to all our work of those historic ideas which have left such a profound and beneficial influence upon the development of our national life, as well as upon the educational and spiritual life of our churches."
The same Geneva meeting in connection with the preceding adopted the following resolutions on the Bible Society; Labor and Capital; Temperance and the Observance of the Lord's Day:
"Whereas, The American Bible Society, through its translation of the Holy Scriptures into many languages and the distribution of the same in mission fields, has become an indispensable agency in the development of our missionary work; therefore he it
"Resolved, That we heartily commend the American Bible Society to our churches as worthy their moral and financial support.
"Resolved, That it is the sense of this association that the Bible Society should also print the very best English version, and we therefore respectfully request that the society publish the American Revised Version of the Holy Scriptures for general distribution.
"Resolved, That the state registrar he requested to send a copy of these resolutions to the officers of the Bible Society in New York.
"Resolved, That without at present expressing ourselves as to the merits of the controversy between organized labor and capital, we heartily approve of the appointment by the National Council of a labor committee to inquire into the facts as to labor and its relation to capital and to the churches, and recommend the appointment by this body of a committee to cooperate with the national committee as requested.
"Whereas, We recognize in the use of alcoholic liquors, and in their agent, the liquor traffic, after sin in the heart, the most destructive foe to the progress of the Kingdom of our Redeemer in the hearts and lives of men; be it
"Resolved, 1, That we pledge ourselves to favor total abstinence on the part of individuals and total prohibition of the traffic on the part of the state and nation.
"2, That working toward this we favor vigorous presentation of the evils of intemperance and vigorous enforcement of existing laws, and as rapidly as possible the enact-
ment of new restrictive measures until the traffic is wholly outlawed."
"We deplore the growing laxity in the observance of the Lord's Day and urge upon our ministers and churches the necessity of recovering the reverent regard for the Lord's Day so valuable to family life and to the Kingdom of Christ."
The Lincoln meeting, October, 1904, was alive to the inhuman treatment of the natives in the Congo valley and adopted the following resolution:
"In view of charges made by responsible parties that grossest outrages are being perpetrated upon the native people of the Congo valley, reducing them in many instances practically to a condition of slavery,
"Resolved, That the General Association of the Congregational Churches of Nebraska urges upon Congress a thorough investigation of the charges made against the authorities of the independent state of the Congo, to the end that if such charges are found to be true, the United States unite with other western powers to secure to the native people of the Congo the humane and just government which is their right."
In all these, and in other declarations, the churches of the state show an active interest in the questions which affect not only the denomination but our common humanity as well. Congregational churches would be untrue to their historic life if they failed to keep in touch with the great movements in thought and life which characterize the present century. A new and interior state feels the throb of this vigorous life as well as those states nearer the great commercial centers of the country.