The Great War is blamed with many disasters. How it broke down the standards of sound management in nearly every human enterprise is the commonest of daily recriminations. The Presbyterian Church was not to escape. Restlessness was everywhere after 1918. The Inter-Church World Movement, born in 1918, was our Church’s star exhibition of post-War eccentricity.
Here was an attempt to do away with New Testament missionary methods and substitute for them the practices of Big Business in the evangelization of the world. It was advanced by full-page advertisements in the press, by spectacular outdoor displays on billboards, by public teas, dinners and banquets, and by whirlwind drives for the funds of “friendly citizens.” Mr. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., approved it and spoke for it. Among Presbyterians Dr. Robert E. Speer and Dr. William Hiram Foulkes were its sponsors. Doomed as it was to quick collapse from wild extravagance and over-expansion, the Movement was not detached from the Boards of the Church without heroic efforts at rescue, and most of the Boards were entangled in the wreckage.
A year’s running commentary in The Presbyterian and the two speeches by Dr. Maitland Alexander addressed to the 1920 General Assembly in its sessions at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, proved sufficient to take the Church out of the organization. The debts would have to be paid, but there would be no additional liability. These debts, colossal in size, are a memorial for posterity’s inspection. In addition to demonstrating the ease with which money can be spent before it is collected, they go far to show that efficiency is decreased with the pooling of management in the great Protestant Churches. The Inter-Church World Movement was impressive in magnitude, but unwieldy, ungovernable, and in the end, grotesque.
The Presbyterian played a part, possibly the most effective part, in steadying the Church in this and similar upheavals during the rash days following the War. Elementary Christian convictions and ordinary prudence usually prevailed in the General Assemblies and when the votes were counted the Church’s views and The Presbyterian’s views as a rule coincided. Conservative sentiment was strong and came to the front invariably.