Religious Pluralism


PLURALISM IN A university church is a laudable goal. But in pursuit of this goal, the preliminary report of the Committee on the Future of Memorial Church suggests inappropriate and destructive measures. The committee is chaired by Krister Stendahl, dean of the Divinity School.

The Stendahl report, published in November, recommends the establishment of a Board of Preachers limited to three persons: a Protestant minister, a Roman Catholic priest, and a Jewish rabbi. This would eliminate the single post of Preacher to the University which currently entails responsibility for all facets of religious life. In its place, only three specific groups are granted recognition, resulting in direct representation for some instead of virtual representation for all. With one preacher, all people are represented; with three, only the followers of each may be said to have a voice.

The Stendahl plan ignores all religious interests outside the Judaeo-Christian axis. In one of the four minority reports filed in protest to the committee findings, Constance W. Williams, a member of Stendhal's Committee, called for an "equitable distribution of resources among the various groups represented in the University." This goal is at the heart of any move toward pluralism. The use of Memorial Church facilities by three groups will do nothing for all those ignored.

Moreover the establishment of three "congregations" would mean an unwise curtailment of a successful institution's activities. The resources of Memorial Church are presently being used to capacity. There are many indicators of the vitality of the current congregation: a large and increasing attendance at services (both in and out of term), the superb quality of the music, and especially the tenor of religious teaching led by Acting Minister Peter J. Gomes '63.

A far better solution was propounded by the United Ministry, a group of 21 ministers serving the Harvard-Radcliffe community. Their proposal calls for non-paying Corporation appointments for United Ministry members. This plan embraces a far more complete pluralism which would not require sect-by-sect modification to the number of "Preachers to the University" as congregations and interests varied over time. It would maintain the present, single post of preacher to oversee the entire University's religious life with no denominational limitations.


The final report of the Stendahl Committee has not been published. If it makes recommendations substantially similar to those in the preliminary report, religious life in the University will suffer. It is the particular duty of the President of the University, or failing that, the Overseers, to see that this does not happen. The United Ministry plan offers an excellent alternative. To refuse to incorporate their ideas would be to pursue a highly suspect concept of pluralism.