Shutter Sermon Excerpts
Compiled by John Addington
About scientific progress as no substitute for human solutions
From “THE FORGOTTEN DREAM,” APRIL 29, 1933
We live in an age of multiplied helps and devices, but they do not solve any of our real problems . . . The multiplication of electrical and mechanical devices . . . throw no light upon the main thing, the great and noble ideals and the higher dreams of life and how to reach them. On the other hand, it is these alone which give meaning and purpose to all the ingenious appliances which science and invention have bestowed. But it is the dreams and aspirations which we too often forget.
Let us remember that these accessories are HELPS AND NOT SUBSTITUTES. They enable us to do our work more easily and swiftly. . . . But the work is still the object. Even a robot is no substitute for brains . . .
It is the risk of losing the main thing which CONFRONTS THE CHURCH as well as the individual. We need machinery, organization, in Church work. But after all our solution is not in machinery. . . .
And so it seems to me sometimes as if our churches have been forced almost to give up religion just to look after and finance the machine. . . . Keep the machine. Improve it. Use it. But never forget its object. Never forget the dream of Jesus. Never forget that the church is the instrument through which that dream must be realized.
About the role of Jesus
“THE SIGNIFICANCE OF JESUS,” preached by Dr. Shutter on Easter, March 19, 1939, was chosen by him on the day before his death at 86 on August 31, 1939, as the Women’s Association’s first pamphlet publication of the fall season.
In all ages Jesus has presented a problem to be solved instead of a life to be lived. The ordinary discussions about Jesus try to prove that he was God or at least some supernatural being; that he existed before his advent at Bethlehem; that he came into this world by an event that transcended the laws of nature; and that he lived in a region of miracle and in close companionship with beings who were not of earth. . . .
I am not going to try to find out how much of him was God and how much of him was man. . . . The Trinity and his relation to it are questions of abstract theological mathematics, and have no more to do with the conduct of life than Einstein’s theory of relativity.
What I am concerned with today is not what Jesus meant to another generation . . . The question is: “what does he mean today?”
He looked ahead and believed that something of him was going to survive, that his words at least would live, though earth and heaven passed.
But something more than that. The influence of Jesus in the world now and always is the influence of a great personality. . . .
I tell you that his teachings are vital enough to be at the bottom of the unrest, the confusion, the conflicts of this unsettled world. . . .
Jesus is still the head of a mighty enterprise. This man dared to dream of a moral conquest of the world. He dared to make it the one purpose of his life. . . .
He is still the interpreter and inspiration of life. . . . Jesus still stands in the world as the basis of our hopes for the future.
About infallibility of the Bible
From “THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IN THE MODERN WORLD,” undated.
When I am told that I must accept the Bible as literally and infallibly inspired and without error, I ask, “By what right does anyone say I am not a Christian if I refuse? . . . Who shall demand that I accept the accounts in Genesis or the story of Jonah? Who shall demand that I accept the New Testament mythology about Jesus — the supernatural birth, His miraculous control of the elements, the resurrection of His body? . . .
Do not tie up your religion with any unhistorical statements of Scripture, with any theological or economic system. If you do, your religion will last only till these statements and theories are discredited. . . . Build your life and your religion upon Christ’s life.
Nor has science any real conflict with religion. It has changed our ideas about the nature of the Universe . . . But it has not changed our ideas about the spirit of Christ in the heart.
From a pamphlet “NATURALNESS OF THE LIFE HEREAFTER,” an Easter sermon preached on April 20, 1933, published by the Women’s Association and printed by the Boy’s Printing Club.
Let us admit that we are largely in a realm of conjecture. We cannot speak with absolute certainty. Time after time, I have felt my utter helplessness in the presence of bereavement. “I do not know! I do not know!” This has been my answer so often when questioned about the destiny or condition of those who have passed away. But, “What do you believe? What do you think?”
I believe that we live on; that if you or I should die tonight, we should be living tomorrow — our own conscious selves! “But how would you prove it?” I cannot prove it. I do not pretend to prove it. I believe it, because I am made that way; because having been once introduced into the universe, I see no way of getting out of it; because the power that brought us here cannot afford to destroy the spirit of man, its noblest work; because, if I am a part of God, I shall last as long as God lasts!
From “MAETERLINCK AND LIFE AFTER DEATH,” an article written for the Minneapolis Journal of Oct. 13, 1913.
NOTE: Maeterlinck, a Belgian poet, dramatist and philosopher, had written an article in the Century magazine, one of the leading national magazines of the day, on scientific investigations into what Shutter calls “certain classes of phenomena which seemed unrelated to the material world, such as apparitions, table-tipping, messages through mediums, and all that borderland of mystery.”
[Many Universalists in the late 19th century were interested in these phenomena, which must have led to Shutter’s article, strange as it seems to us today. Maeterlinck comes to no definite conclusion, though he cites many purported incidents described by reputable people. ]
Personally, I have no prejudice against the doctrine of transmigration. What I say upon this or any other theory, I say as dispassionately as if I were discussing a problem in mathematics; and with the utmost respect and consideration for all who differ. . .
Our conclusion is that, whatever dormant faculties the soul may have awakened and developed, whatever new and strange knowledge may now be communicated in ways as new and strange, yet the veil that hides the hereafter is . . . dark and impenetrable. The demonstration has not yet been made; and speaking for myself — if not for others — I do not care whether it shall ever be made or not. If others need it and believe they have found it, I bid them Godspeed!
I am speaking again for myself . . . When I say that no outward proofs could add to the certainty of that conviction which I find in my own nature, the conviction that if I die tonight, I shall somewhere, in God’s great universe, be alive tomorrow! . . . It is a matter of faith and hope. It is a belief in the sanity of the universe and the love and wisdom of the power behind it. It is a faith in the eternal righteousness and justice of the system in which we live. It is a conviction of the rational outcome of human life and human destiny.
From “READY FOR THE QUESTION?” Dated Nov. 1, 1936, the Sunday before the Roosevelt-Landon presidential election.
Standing in the Valley of Decision, it is a good time to ask ourselves what we really think of our campaign methods.
What do we really think about the violence, the abuse, the “mud?” . . . Do we really believe all the mean things that we said and applauded about the candidates? . . . It offends me when such terms as “scab” and “liar” and “Communist” applied to the president of the United States. Equally do I resent the disgraceful epithets applied to his opponent, which reduce him to the intellectual status of a cabbage head. And above all do I resent the caricature of the Supreme Court at the “Washington Merry-go-round” [a syndicated political column in newspapers]. Is it true that common decency has no place in a political campaign? . . .
We must consider, too, that no matter how the elections go next Tuesday, there will be many problems left unsolved for the coming administration to take up. [He lists unemployment, poor relief, Social Security, the question of the future of the industrial order, the budget, taxation and tariffs] . . . The builders of the Chinese Wall and of the Pyramids of Egypt, if they look down on [Jan. 20, 1937] may well congratulate themselves that they lived when life was simple and jobs were easy!
About anti-war sentiments
From a talk delivered to the Home Folks’ Association on March 25, 1918. The Association was apparently composed of family members and friends of soldiers. The talk is a denunciation of people opposing the war.
I am glad to meet with you and with you hear these messages from the front. These letters are the real thing. In the presence of a great crisis, the heart speaks in its truest terms. These boys are teaching us (1) Duty, (2) Sacrifice, (3) the value of the Spiritual. . . .
We send back to our boys the assurance of our sympathy and backing. . . . They will take care of the foe at the front, if we take care of the foe at the rear.
The insidious character of this opposition at home, it is difficult to measure and handle. One thing about it is that (1) it never denounces the crimes of the enemy, but dwells upon our own defects. If it is proposed to punish a criminal red with murder and black with lust, the pacifist says: “Stay your hand, judge; remember you have a wart on your nose or a mole on your chin.” (2) Advises forgiveness. An article I read this afternoon, suggests that we get together in our churches and pray for a forgiving spirit. That will end the war — the writer says. There are two conditions that are laid down in Scripture, as conditions of forgiveness: (1) Repentance, and (2) Restitution. When Germany shows some signs of complying, it will be time enough to forgive. . . .
First is to be settled whether we continue as American freemen or pass into slaves of Germany. . .
The great question is whether we shall fight with one hand tied behind us, and with our feet hobbled and with a flint-lock in the free hand, or whether we are going to fight with both hands, with the best weapons, with the whole power of the body behind the hands and the whole power of the soul behind the body!
From a talk entitled “CITIZENS MILITARY TRAINING CAMPS,” delivered at an American Legion meeting at the St. Paul Hotel on April 10, 1930.
In spite of Kellogg peace pacts, the government still makes appropriations for Citizens’ Military Training Camps. I assume that the government sees no inconsistency. The conditions that prevail in the world are more significant than treaties. The things out of which war grows are in force — nationalism, economic pressure, pressure of population, fear and suspicion. . . .
I believe in [such training] in spite of the treaties. I believe in it in spite of the objections of pacifists: [They say that the training is] a form of militarism, gloss it over as we may. Training young men for war is not the best way to bring peace.
[My answer is] What is militarism? The control of the Civil Power by the military. In this country the Army is the instrument of the Civil Power. . . . [The camps are] Not the best way to bring peace? I am not so sure. The object of military training is to prepare youth for citizenship; and as one of the duties of citizenship is to uphold the government, this training will help them to defend it. When it is understood that they are able and willing, to defend their country, the chances of peace will have been measurably advanced. Peace is assured where the power exists to maintain it.
NOTE: The reader should be aware that Shutter’s son was a career Army officer.
About Government and Fiscal Responsibility
From “AGAINST A PHILOSOPHY OF DEFEAT,” June 1939, when Shutter was past 80 and two months away from his death.
(He quotes from a letter from Marriner Eccles, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, to the reactionary Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia: “I think the individual, whether rich or poor, has a right to a decent place to live. I think he has a right to security in old age and to protection against temporary unemployment. I think he has a right to adequate medical attention and equal educational opportunities with the rest of his countrymen. The government expenditures which you condemn have in large part been the means of translating these basic rights into realities.”
Shutter calls that a philosophy of defeat. )
It is the philosophy which teaches that the individual is a victim of forces beyond his control — forces that work against his development. He can do nothing for himself.
His character and abilities are determined by heredity and by circumstances. He is shaped by unseen hands — hands that are dead and dust, circumstances that are unconquerable.
We express in terms of economics an old theological conception that man was totally depraved . . . The social science of today picks that discarded rag from the refuse heap of theology, and binds man as tight in economic chains, as ever he was bound in those of the creeds. He can do nothing for himself, nothing to improve his own little patch of ground. . . This is the philosophy of despair and defeat. This is the propaganda of many a government agency today. . . .
What are the effects of this philosophy? What is the result of all the fine and pious teaching about man as the child and the ward of society and government? . . .
It destroys the character of the individual. . . A philosophy that destroys the morale, and saps the courage, and cuts the incentive out of the individual, can never inspire man to the achievement of which he is capable! This philosophy which keeps millions out of employment and millions on relief has spread the pall of paralysis over the entire land. . . .
What to do? Have faith in yourself. When you are told that someone else must take care of you, that society must rock your cradle and the state must guide your uncertain steps, Say “That’s a lie and I know it to be a lie.. . .”
Have faith in your country, without its communist and fascist propositions. . . Finally, have faith in God. Not that for so much praise and prayer and worship, he will get you a job, or send you a loaf of bread or a new coat; but that faith in the great unseen power, a power out of which the world has come and all the history that has been staged upon it; such faith will keep one’s courage high; it will gird him for the struggle and bring him into fellowship with Him who said: In this world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world!”
NOTE: It might put this sermon in perspective to remember that for much of Shutter’s pastorate, the leaders of his congregation were wealthy and powerful men.
From “THE BILL OF RIGHTS,” Oct. 31, 1937.
In . . . a world which once craved political liberty above everything else, the yearning for that liberty has largely passed. A war that we were told was to make the world safe for democracy has made the world unsafe for democracy or anything else that is reasonable and right. . . . The people became the prey of ruthless revolutionists. Dictatorships arose . . . Whatever the name, these forms of dictatorship are one and the same thing at bottom. That is the style of the [Roosevelt administration’s] Brain Trust. But the Trust has gone into bankruptcy — for the lack of capital.. . .
Communism takes shape in leagues and war and fascism, while it prepares for violent and bloody revolution. . . It seeks, through certain labor unions . . . to rehearse in communities the scenes that are to blaze into tragedy upon the larger stage. . . . They vilify and abuse business and business men . . . They never see the marvelous achievements and the wonderful progress of our country under the capitalist system. . . .
Whether communistic or not — and I know there are those who will resent the use of the term — we are having in Minneapolis, at this very moment, an attempt to destroy, for certain of its citizens, every right guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. . . .
Why has this church been surrounded by pickets for four Sundays in succession? Why has it been singled out for this demonstration, when it has no labor dispute with any labor man or labor union? Why has it been dragged into this publicity upon a purely private and personal matter?
[NOTE: This refers to a dispute involving Shutter, his chauffeur and the Private Chauffeur’s Union.]
Do you need to be told that an effort is being made to turn Minnesota into the banner state of communism? . . . Is not that the object here – – to keep the doors of this Church shut, to put us out of business? Is not that the object of the threats to keep the pastor out of this pulpit, to shut off our coal supply, to shut down our heating-plant? . . .
Some of my ministerial friends are catering to communism . . . Perhaps you think it is old-fashioned Socialism that you are encouraging, but communism is something more and something more vicious. Communism is socialism filled with dynamite. . . .
This evening, in the Eagles’ Hall, on the other side of the River, a celebration will be held of the twentieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. No one is objecting. . . . If interference were attempted, I would be one of the first to protest. The meeting is held under the auspices of the Minnesota Communist League. The principal speaker is himself a member of the Central Committee of the National Communist party. His three brothers — “Trotsky Communists” — are among the men who dominate the Union that has been picketing this Church and trying to drive its pastor into the snare of racketeers. . . . All the unions . . . Combine to crush ONE man! . . . The REIGN OF TERROR IS HERE. Its shadow lies across every business in this city. . . We are either free citizens of a free city with the rights guaranteed by our constitution, or we are the slaves of communistic and revolutionary organizations.
NOTE: The three Dunne brothers, who openly described themselves as Trotskyite Communists, led the bloody strike of Minneapolis Teamsters in 1934, and were leading the Teamsters local in 1937. The 1934 strike eventually led to Minneapolis evolving from an open-shop town to a union town.
From “THE PILLARS OF THE TEMPLE,” undated
NOTE: but undoubtedly 1933, because he refers to the United States’ recent diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union. It’s a period of profound change. The Great Depression is ravaging the nation, and the new Democratic administration and its New Deal are struggling to cope with it. The sermon contains a strong, sometimes sarcastic, attack on the Roosevelt administration’s policies and Shutter’s customary condemnation of the Soviet Union.
[Shutter’s text is the story of the mighty Samson, blinded and imprisoned by the Philistines, who pulls down the pagans’ temple upon them, destroying them and him in the process.
[He lists the “pillars,” or elements, of civilization as the conservation of human energy, the mastery of nature, the social heritage (“the conservation and strengthening of the home,” ) and education.]
Our civilization . . . Has its defects. If you doubt it, read the doleful articles written about it. Listen to the hysterical ravings about it. . . . Fifty theorists want you to try their particular adventures in cloud-land.
If the capitalistic system . . . must go, so be it. But remember that it is the system under which the individual and society have made the greatest strides in human history. . . Under it . . . The wealth has been produced which it is proposed to redistribute — which is in process of redistribution. And I remember that this wealth has not been produced by those who are jauntily distributing it. . . .
We have just recognized [the Soviet Union] and given her a status of respectability, And in gratitude for all this, Russia now proposes to buy all of our goods that we will lend her the money to pay for! . . . We have created another debtor and laid another burden upon our own taxpayers, in the interest of “world prosperity’! . .
And this question of liberty is one that we are balancing in our own minds today. Some of the plans for that national recovery for which we all hope and for which we shall all work, raise the general question, How far is it necessary to bind the strong in order to help the weak? Or how far will making the strong weak help to make the weak strong? How far is it necessary to put the industries of this country under the direction of those who do not understand them, in order to secure “social justice”? I do not suggest these questions in anything but the most kindly spirit. But they are questions that are being asked — not by carping critics — but by serious minded citizens who have a right to an answer. I believe in the general health and soundness of the country. Like the human being, it has its “sick spells”; but I think the patient will recover, in spite of the doctors!
About the idea of damnation
From “RISE AND GROWTH OF THE DOCTRINE OF ENDLESS PUNISHMENT” delivered in the Church of the Redeemer, Minneapolis, Sunday Evening, November 16, 1890.
NOTE: This was four years after Shutter abandoned a Baptist pastorate in Minneapolis to become assistant minister of our church, and one year before he became senior minister. The main Sunday service was held in the evening in this period.
The early belief of the Church was that of ultimate restoration to righteousness of all souls that have wandered from God. . . . The doctrine, as held by the great leaders of the Church and taught in the schools of Christian learning, up to the middle of the sixth century, was the restitution of all things. But at the council of Constantinople, the theology of Origen was condemned, and the theology of Augustine thenceforth reigned with undisputed sway. .
The doctrine of endless punishment first appears distinctly and unmistakably in the writings of Tertullian of Carthage [between 190 and 220 A.D.]. “That day [Judgment Day] . . . How shall I admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many kings and false gods . . . groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness! . . . So many sage philosophers blushing in raging fire, with their scholars whom they persuaded to despise God, and to disbelieve the resurrection.” . . .
[Shutter goes on to explain what circumstances in the early church contributed to the rise of the punishment doctrine. One was the growing exclusiveness on the part of the church. ]
They came to regard themselves as the special favorites of heaven, and to look with intolerance and scorn upon their neighbors.
[There was also] a feeling of retaliation for the opprobrium heaped upon them by the heathen fellow-citizens.
[And there were degrading views of God]. Such writers as Tertullian looked upon God as a magnified man, with human passions, with the human thirst for revenge. . . . They were not much in advance of the pagans themselves They had, it is true, only one God, while the pagans had many, but they made their one about as bad as all the pagan gods put together.
[He then moves on to Augustine, born in 354 A.D.] A man of powerful intellect, he put into system the ideas of Tertullian, stamped upon it the impress of his own thought, and shaped the theology of the west for more than a thousand years.
[He quotes from a book titled History of Latin Christianity] “The Church was the predestined assemblage of those to whom, and to whom alone, salvation was possible; the Church scrupled not to surrender the rest of mankind to that inexorable damnation entailed upon the human race by the sin of their first parents.”
[Then he moves on to the Dark Ages.]
The Northern Barbarians had conquered the Roman state, the Church now had to conquer the barbarians.
By this time the Church had developed. Its organization was perfected. Its machinery was complete. But it retained the spirit of Imperial Rome, and the aims of Imperial Rome. Its purpose was a world-wide external conquest. The Founder of the Church had said that the Kingdom of God was within; the Church at Rome said that the Kingdom of God was outward and visible. Territorial extension was the great object.
By what agencies was this object accomplished? (1) By keeping the people they sought to influence in ignorance. One of the Gregories [popes] declared that “ignorance was the mother of devotion.” The price of heaven was intellectual stupor.
(2) By materializing the high conceptions of religion – – by making worship as sensuous as possible — by addressing the eye rather than the understanding of the heart.
(3) By the use of fear. They made the interdict and excommunication their weapons so far as this world was concerned, and the flames of hell in the next world. . . .
The darkest period of Christian history is precisely the period during which this doctrine flourished most luxuriantly. It was the appeal of priest craft to ignorance.
[Shutter then lists some of the consequences.]
1. In the immense increase of insanity. . . .
2, In the rise of ascetism. Under terror of coming judgment, thousands forsook the world, friends, families and all, and fled into the wilderness, thinking that in isolation and penance they could alone lead a life that would save them from the flames of the future.
3. In persecution for heresy. . . .
In the rise of the practice of granting of indulgences.
The ideas of hell became so awful that some mitigation was at length devised in the invention of Purgatory. . . . For although the spirits of the dead might be detained in Purgatory to be fitted for heaven, they were allowed to slip through to hell unless the surviving friends paid liberally for the prayers of the Church.