Christian Science and the Branch
by Andrew Hartsook
The Christian Church established by the followers of Jesus lasted, in its pure form, for about 300 years. The mass conversions to Christianity decreed by Roman Emperor Constantine probably did as much to drown the spiritual church as the organization of bishops and their attending hierarchies. The simple teachings of Jesus became frozen in ritual and mysticism, and, to a great degree, it has come down to the present century in that form. To be sure there were brilliant bursts of light in the Reformation and the unfettered freedom to worship in the New World, but the spiritual significance and the accompanying power of the Word remained more or less hidden until the last half of the Nineteenth Century when Mary Baker Eddy discovered the Science of the Christ in 1866.
Through great trials she labored to establish this Science practiced by Jesus and the infant Church, and to all accounts, friendly and hostile, she established an astounding Movement which many, including Mark Twain, predicted would sweep the civilized world.
All such talk has ceased since her passing in 1910, and we have arrived at a situation which would have confounded her friends and enemies alike. Most people today have not even heard of Christian Science, and many of those who have regard it with hostility or derision. It is clear that mass conversions will not be one of our problems for the foreseeable future. An entrenched hierarchy is, however, a continuing problem.
By now many Christian Scientists are aware of the clauses in Mrs. Eddy’s Church Manual which were intended to prevent the Boston Board of Directors from governing the entire Movement once her consent, approval, or signature could no longer be obtained. The Directors’ decision to ignore these requirements and to proceed with their regulation of the Christian Science Movement has been discussed elsewhere.
Likewise, the Great Litigation from 1919 to 1921, which resulted in the complete subjugation of the Publishing Society to the Board of Directors even though the 1898 Deed of Trust signed by Mrs. Eddy stated that the trustees of the Publishing Society were to manage it “upon their own responsibility”, has been treated in detail in other writings.
However, some of the consequences of the 1910 Directors’ circumventing of Mrs. Eddy’s design have not been widely considered. The centralization of power and authority has resulted not only in damage by well-meaning Scientists, but has also, perhaps, enabled hostile elements to infiltrate the headquarters and thereby damage the Movement which would have been almost impossible to do in the decentralized Movement which Mrs. Eddy intended.
For example, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union targeted the Boston headquarters for infiltration in the Manual of Instructions of Psychopolitical Warfare published in the early 1930s for use by Communist operatives. In Chapter XIV entitled “The Smashing of Religious Groups” the following appears: “In the field of pure healing the Church of Christ Science of Boston, Massachusetts excels in commanding the public favor and operates many sanitariums. All must be swept aside. They must be ridiculed and defamed and every cure they advertise must be asserted as a hoax… You must recruit every agency of the nation marked for slaughter into a foaming hatred of religious healing. You must suborn district attorneys and judges into an intense belief as fervent as an ancient faith in God that Christian Science or any other religious practice which might devote itself to mental healing is vicious, bad, insanity-causing, publicly hated and intolerable… We must be like the vine upon the tree. We use the tree to climb and then, strangling it, grow into power on the nourishment of its flesh.” So much for détente!
To what extent the Communists have succeeded in their quest would be difficult to determine without an actual investigation. But the purpose of reproducing these poisonous thoughts is to alert the reader and also to suggest a lesson. We should all resolve to be more watchful in handling such aggressive designs, but we should also consider that such infiltration could not be done in a decentralized Christian Science Movement while a centralized organization is an alluring target. If one branch church were somehow infiltrated, it would wither and vanish and serve as an object lesson to all other branches. To meet a broadbased attack, Mrs. Eddy provides in the Church Manual for the churches in any state to appoint a committee on publication answerable to them as well as to hold conferences to confer on a state statute or “to confer harmoniously on individual unity and action of the churches in said State.” (Man 7:15-20) Mrs. Eddy, guided by the one Mind, wisely provided for any contingency even in a decentralized Movement which could successfully meet even the wicked designs of Soviet-style Communism.
It is interesting to note in the report of the annual meeting of the Mother Church for 1985, that all the substantive action planned at Boston was centered in the report of the Publishing Society while all the reports from other departments were mainly metaphysical calls for alertness and steadfastness which, of course, are very important. But these are functions which should be addressed in every branch church all the time, not just once a year at annual meeting.
The simple point is that the areas of real activity in the Christian Science Movement are in the branches and the Publishing Society. All the other activities done in Boston are redundant or even detrimental if they give branches the false feeling that someone else is doing their work for them.
Just as the Department of Transportation in Washington cannot know about, or effectively deal with, potholes in your city streets, the Mother Church cannot know and effectively deal with the challenges and opportunities which arise in branch churches. Conversely, branch churches which look to Boston to offer guidance and solve problems on the local level become paralyzed and rigid, unimaginative and atrophied, and utterly fail to adapt to needs or reach out for opportunities which arise. In fact this failure of local initiative leads to isolation from the community, fear of the community, and finally results in near empty churches with the few survivors going through the motions twice a week and wondering to themselves what they are accomplishing and how much longer they can keep the doors open. All thoughts of reaching out are met with the insecurity which a child feels with his first bicycle. You are here but the only one who can help you learn how to ride is in Boston!
Much has been said and written about the Christian Science Board of Directors, but perhaps a few additional thoughts are in order. It took only three of the five directors to annul the estoppel clauses in the Manual after Mrs. Eddy’s passing. By now, 75 years later, the current members had nothing to with that action nor do they have any personal memory of it. In fact, since the passing of George Wendell Adams in the 1950s, no board has had a member who had personal knowledge of those events. So the current board has, in every sense, inherited what was done more than three-quarters of a century ago. It is hard to evaluate a storm if one is sitting in the eye of that storm, but someone sitting on its fringes can clearly see and accurately describe the overall situation. The current directors bear a heavy burden and responsibility. It would be difficult for them to break fixed traditions and policies. There would doubtless be a wave of despair in many quarters of the field if they were to disband the Mother Church organization, set the Publishing Society free, dismiss one of their own members, and operate solely within the provisions of the Deed of Trust signed, sealed, and delivered by Mary Baker Eddy in 1892.
For that reason alone it might be wiser for only those alert branches which are really ready to forge ahead to do so at this time. Anyone who has visited the independent church in Plainfield, New Jersey, can tell you of their success, the genuine, overflowing love, and the influx of young people, many of whom are new in Christian Science. On the Wednesday evening that this writer visited the Plainfield church, there were about 100 people in attendance and forty-one testimonies. All of this in a town of 46,500 people. Warmth, kindness, enthusiasm, and good humor abounded; and one could not help but think that this is what Mrs. Eddy intended.
But just as the child with his new bicycle hesitates to trust his own abilities, so many branches may need to see and be encouraged by the success of churches and societies which confidently try their wheels and prove to all lookers-on that they have made it. Then the timidity will disappear, and for the first time since 1910, the grand possibilities of Christian Science could be opened to a waiting world.
This is a process which must begin if Christian Science is to survive in this Age. Christian Scientists everywhere must fervently seek divine guidance and move forward when the time is right. The time to save the Cause of Christian Science is now. Branches which are ready must declare and affirm their independence which is clearly stated in the Church Manual: “In Christian Science each branch church shall be distinctly democratic in its government, and no individual, and no other church shall interfere with its affairs.” (Man. 74:5-9) “The Mother Church of Christ, Scientist, shall assume no general official control of other churches, and it shall be controlled by none other.” (Man. 70:10-13)