Title: Address Before the Foreign Missions Convention of the U.S. and Canada
Date: January 28, 1925
Location: Washington, DC
Context: Coolidge delivers an address to the opening session of the Foreign Missions Convention of the U.S. and Canada appeals for a revival of faith in the world.
It is a pleasure to receive and welcome here the members of this international conference in the interest of Christian missionary work throughout the world. One of the most Christian things I have observed about organized Christianity is the missionary spirit which pervades it. It was this spirit which from the beginning gave to the gospel of Christ its power over the hearts of men. For it is of the essence of Christian ethics and spirituality that those who have once felt their full inspiration are thereafter enlisted in carrying these blessings to all who need them.
Whoever will study that wonderful story of the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman world in the early centuries of our era must get from it a deep conviction of the service which was rendered. In a time when the old pagan systems were breaking down, when civilization was falling into decadence and unspeakable corruption, the Christian faith came, with its new and better conception of life. It revealed a real justice and a real mercy. It brought promise of immortality, a vision of man as the possessor of a soul that should not perish. To a world in which the vast majority were born to lives of hopelessness and misery, it brought realization of a new destiny. The basis of this new concept was brotherhood. Its essence was an unselfishness which, flowering into the wonderful missionary movement of those early centuries, sought to carry the new dispensation to all mankind.
Those early Christians, living so near to the time of the apostolic mission, were animated by a zeal and a simple faith which, if they could be revived in all their early power, would bring to our world a great blessing. We have come upon a time which men often compare to the later generations of Roman history. Just as, in that older time, there was need for the spirit of Christianity in the world, so now there is need for a revival of faith, a dedication to the works which that revived faith would show to us as the need of the race, and renewal of the spirit of brotherhood at all times and in all places.
The Christian nations have become, in an intensely practical as well as a highly spiritual sense, charged with a great trust for civilization. Whatever misgivings we may sometimes feel about their administration of the trust, we cannot doubt, as we survey the world, that it has been imposed upon them. They are the custodians of a faith which, despite momentary lapses and some perversions, has on the whole been a continuing inspiration to human betterment. Where it has gone, there the light of a better understanding has shown. There the works of charity, of benevolence, of mutual helpfulness, have prospered. Intolerance has been lessened. Education has been summoned as an ally in the struggle against ignorance and bigotry. Science in a thousand realms, the mechanic arts in all their varied departments have been laid under contribution to improve the estate of man.
For Christianity, let it be impressed, is a highly practical as well as a profoundly spiritual mode of life. It loses nothing of its spiritual quality because of its practical helpfulness; but it touches all its practical workings with the spirit and purpose of lofty aspiration. Our confidence in it is justified by our knowledge of its accomplishment. Wherever it has been carried and made a force in the affairs of men it has wrought for their good.
But we must recognize also that it has added greatly to the complexity of human life and problems. Its encouragement to education, to knowledge, to scientific advancement, has created new forces in the world. The spirit of our organized, industrialized, machine-made and interrelated world has touched men wherever they live and profoundly affected their modes of life and thought. It has aroused in them new yearnings and new aspirations. It has truly converted this planet into a brotherhood of races and nationalities, interdependent in a thousand ways, tending more and more to develop a common culture, a common thought and purpose toward the great business of living. The problems which in this new order of life present themselves will not be solved except through a greater and constantly greater projection of the spirit of neighborship and cooperation, which is the true basis of the Christian code.
So as the Christian nations have assumed the responsibility for bringing this new and higher civilization in touch with all peoples, so they must recognize their responsibility to press on and on in their task of enlightenment, education, spiritualization, Christianizing. There can be no hesitancy, no cessation of effort. Not only must they go forward with this great task, but they must be sure that they go with the right purposes. They must carry help and real service.
Let us look this part of the problem fairly in the face, and see if we can find what is demanded of us. Not everything that the men of Christian countries have carried to the other peoples of the world has been good and helpful to those who have received it. Our civilization is yet far from perfect. Its aims are liable to much distortion when it comes in contact with peoples not yet equipped through generations of race experience to absorb, to understand, to appreciate it.
One of the greatest things that a missionary movement could do for the less favored communities would be to assure that all who go out from the Christian to the non-Christian communities should carry with them the spirit, the aims, the purposes of true Christianity.
We know that they have not always done this. We know that the missionary movements have repeatedly been hampered, and at times frustrated, because some calling themselves Christians, and assuming to represent Christian civilization have been actuated by unchristian motives. Those who have been willing to carry the vices of our civilization among the weaker peoples and into the darker places, have often been more successful than those who have sought to implant the virtues.
The Christian Churches and Governments have no greater responsibility than to make sure that the best and not the worst of which Christian society is capable shall be given to the other peoples. To accomplish this is the dominating purpose of your missionary movement. It is one of the most important, the most absolutely necessary movements in the world today. We shall ourselves be the gainers, both spiritually and materially, by our efforts in behalf of those whom we shall thus help.
The early Christians fairly burned with missionary zeal. Our missionary efforts will be the more effective just in proportion as we shall render them in the same spirit of brotherhood and charity which marked the earliest Christian missions.
Such a service as you aspire to do for mankind can be rendered only under the inspiration of a broad and genuine liberalism. It must rest on toleration. It must realize the spirit of brotherhood. And the foundation of all missionary effort abroad must be toleration and brotherhood at home.
The most effective missionary work will be that which seeks to impress itself rather through example in living rightly than through the teaching of precept and creed. The works of charity and benevolence, of education and enlightenment, will best lay the foundation upon which to rear the permanent structure of a spiritual life.
Our liberalism needs to be generous enough to recognize that missionary effort will often build better on foundations already laid than by attempting to substitute a complete new structure of morality, of life and of ethics.
Indeed, those who shall go out from among us carrying the missionary message into the twilight places of the world will there find much that is worthy to be brought back to enrich our ideals and improve our life. They will learn many lessons of industry, of humility, of reverence for parents, of respect for constituted authority, which may quite conceivably become adornments to our social fabric.
If those who bear our message abroad shall realize and accept the lessons that may be learned from the humbler and simpler peoples they will be the more successful in planting the spiritual truths of Christianity. Beyond that, they will be able to bring back much that will serve us well.
We have not all the wisdom that has been diffused among the sons of men. But we have been greatly favored and have much wherewith to aid those less richly endowed.
A becoming modesty, a discriminating sense of our real opportunities and responsibilities are altogether to be desired as helps in the great work we wish to do. The missionary effort of the nation cannot rise higher than its source. If we expect it to be successful in this field we must provide the correct influence for it at home.
Citation: The New York Times, January 28, 1925.