Religion: Is Communism Christian?

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The Very Rev. Dr. Hewlett Johnson, "Red Dean" of England's Canterbury Cathedral, has long managed to maintain a strict distinction between pulpit and soapbox. Last week, for the first time, the Red Dean decided to move his soapbox into church.

He had just begun the first of six announced sermons on "Christianity and Communism" when Canterbury Cathedral's 100 loudspeakers began emitting earsplitting squeals. Said the Dean: "I think there must be an enemy here." (Technicians later found that somebody had tampered with the public-address system.) Then he turned off the mike, launched into a sermon that his congregation found even more earsplitting.

"The faith of Communism has gripped the world as no other movement since the rise of Christianity . . ."he said. "I am convinced that a synthesis of the two faiths is possible and will eventually bring blessings to the entire human race . . . Is [Communism] Christian? I say 'yes,' as I did 50 years ago. Russia . . . has, in spite of all her faults, founded her economy on a Christian theory."

London's tabloid Daily Mirror immediately nominated the Dean for "the most unending ass, half in Christendom and half in Communism." The London Daily Sketch's editorial columnist, Candidus, angrily scored his "antics and political clowning," suggested a boycott of the cathedral whenever he preached. From the pulpit of London's St. Luke's Church, the Rev. Hector Morgan issued another blast: "Send Dr. Johnson on a permanent mercy mission to the prisoners in the salt mines of Siberia."

But as Londoners know, the Red Dean, appointed by the Crown in 1931, cannot be removed from his post as long as he fulfills his clerical duties and does not infringe on the laws of church or state.