The following is a portion of Dr. William H. Dickinson’s sermon “Living Out Our Faith” delivered on November 24, 1963. Dr. Dickinson was the pastor of Highland Park Methodist Church, one of the largest, most prominent Methodist Churches in the world, one of the most influential churches in Dallas, and was the church home for many of the leading citizens of the city and region. Dr. Dickinson was at the Trade Mart and was to give the benediction following the lunch that President Kennedy was to address.
This sermon calls for serious reflection on what it is to be a Christian, living faithfully in the midst of a broken world and responding faithfully to fear fueled anger, aggression, and hate. The sermon challenges intolerance that seeks to tear down or apart anything outside of a narrow spectrum of ideas or opinions. Such a spirit permeated the city in 1963 and has reemerged in recent years in many parts of society and the Church. Thus, this sermon still strikes a relevant tone 50 years after the it was preached. “Living Out Our Faith” was included in the book That Day With God, an international collection of sermons preached on November 24th, 1963.
Consider, if you will, at least four implications in the expression of our faith within the world:
First, this is God’s world, not mine nor yours, but God’s creation. And being free to make it what God wills it to be, we are, thus, called to live together, even in our disagreements. We are called to so order our society that our business and our government and our personal relationships in God’s world will move toward more justice and compassion, more responsible citizenship and more awareness of our personal guilt in this less than Godly life which our humanity imposes on us.
In the second-place this concept of a world as the only place in which our faith can be lived calls for a new dedication, at this very moment in history, to law and order. Do not underestimate the essential nature of this problem, for in times of stress and strain, fear and bitterness, the only way our freedom can be maintained at all is by the diligent acceptance of the limitations of some particular freedom imposed by law and order for the sake of the larger good. There can, in fact, be no freedom apart from discipline and law.
This leads to the third implication which is the fact that our faith must be lived in the world. When I speak of law and order, I do not mean merely paying enough taxes or going to the polls or providing adequate police protection or convening courts for the administration of justice. I mean the subtler support of our orderly society, maintained by deliberately refraining from irresponsible talk and excitement.
You will be, as I was, shocked to know that at a respectable dinner party two nights before the president’s visit to our city, a bright young couple of fine education, members of a church and possessing a promising professional future, said to their friends that they “hated the president of United States” and that they wouldn’t care one bit if somebody did take a “pot-shot” at him. You will be chagrined and deeply troubled to know that less than a month ago an honored and respectable doctor in Dallas, a member of a church, could not carry on an intelligent telephone conversation with one of his patients without making abusive and damaging remarks about the United States Ambassador to the United Nations who was, at that time, a visitor in Dallas.
Such irresponsible conversation, even when intended as facetiousness or humorous, has no place in the life of a Christian. Every Christian citizen in Dallas today may well join with the mayor of our city who on Friday evening stated that we must all search our souls for something we might have said.
There are among us today too many purveyors of hate, people who speak of intelligent, sincere holders of public office as traitors – people who fill our cars with leaflets bearing printed lies and calling our public officials “disloyal” – people who fill our mail with emotional, bitter, harangue and accusations, who make harassing telephone calls to honest and sincere citizens at all hours of the night. And then there are those who get subtler approval to such extremists through either indifference or through financial support.Hate, not only in our city but throughout the nation, has become big business and is supported by large contributions and exceedingly competent leadership. And we in Dallas, it seems to me, have more than our share of extremists. It is not a pretty picture into which an assassin found his place.
This leads me, then, to the fourth implication of living out our faith in the world to which Jesus sends us as Christians. There can be but one faithful motive for conduct in our world. Civic pride is not enough. Protection of our economic interest is not enough. The maintenance of our political prestige or getting our share is not enough. Recognition of God’s law and response to his love is the only motive by which our actions can be justified.