To get a good look at oneself is not always easy; it may be even discouraging, but it is always helpful. Seldom are we enabled to see ourselves through the eyes of others, but that is what happened at the North American Public Relations Council held recently in New York City.
This history-making convention was held in the newly opened evangelistic center. This representative center of activity was featured in the January issue of THE MINISTRY. Situated in Times Square, half a block from Broadway, it proved to be wonderfully suited for such a convention. More than 130 Adventist public relations representatives were in attendance, and these came from all over North America. It was the first division-wide convention of its kind, and was under the direction of the General Conference Department of Public Relations, or what used to be known as the Press Bureau. Public Relations, however, takes in a much wider sweep than does publicity alone. Howard Weeks, secretary for the department, and his associates, had planned an excellent program, with every hour of the four days filled with features of vital interest. In addition to a number of leaders from our own ranks, there were also prominent speakers from different groups representing various interests who shared with us their convictions.
Many times during these packed-full days we were made to realize the vital place that public relations has in any growing organization. And of all organizations the church is surely the outstanding example where true principles of public relations should have greatest expression. The success of the evangelist, the pastor, the administrator, the Bible teacher, the colporteur, or any other worker in this cause is bound up with proper public relations. In fact, if we think it through carefully, we will discover that 90 per cent of all our work can rightly be classified as public relations.
It is good to have a department to foster the interests of this work, but the public relations representatives at this convention were all aware that in actuality every worker in this cause is a vital part of the over-all work of our public relations. The accountants, the desk clerks, as well as the doctors and nurses in our medical institutions, even the janitors, must be expert in this field. And the same can be said for every other institution in our midst.
In certain lines of scientific research one's I.Q. (Intelligence Quotient) is of vital interest, for it is the index of what a man knows about people and things. But one's P.Q. (Personality Quotient) in most other fields of endeavor is even more important, for it is the index of what a man does about people and things.
This convention marked a significant development in our denominational thinking and planning, and in no respect was this more evident than the fact that those who organized it sought the help of others outside of our own ranks. Their contributions were priceless in helping us to see ourselves as others see us. Eight different speakers representing a wide range of interests were brought to this convention, and they were asked to express freely their criticisms of us as a people and of our methods of propaganda. These were friends, not enemies, and consequently their observations were all the more meaningful for us. Their friendship, however, did not obviate their forthrightness. The good Book says, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend," and while some of the comments of these friends were disturbing, even devastating, yet they revealed some of the causes for the misunderstandings that people have concerning Adventists.
While each speaker dealt with things in his own field, yet all of them touched upon our tendency toward denominational exclusiveness. They were not discussing exclusiveness from the spiritual standpoint, such as separation from practices definitely worldly, but rather our community exclusiveness. While our Lord was "separate from sinners" in His life, for He was without sin, yet He associated with all classes as a member of the community. Examples of our need for better community relationships were cited by these speakers. John Coffman, twenty-five years editor of the Takoma Journal, with his office just a block or two from the General Conference headquarters, and now a Government official in the Small Business Administration, said in a kindly spirit: "All too many people feel that you folk have set yourselves apart as a group and have failed to realize that the better people know you, the more loved you will be. If you isolate yourselves in a community, you cannot carry the full confidence of that community."
Lynn D. Poole, public relations director of The Johns Hopkins University, echoed the same thing. Like each of the other speakers, he also paid us many compliments but pointed out the same weakness declaring, "Your success will be in exact ratio to the public's understanding of you. How much better off you folk would be if people only understood you and that, of course, goes for all people all over the world. We misunderstand each other's motives because we do not know each other better."
Walter P. Martin, Baptist minister and author of the forthcoming book, The Truth About Seventh-day Adventists, a research expert and one who has come to know our faith and background like few others, expressed his joy in the fellowship that he has found among Adventist leaders. In panel discussion and expressing himself to groups he said in effect, "The trouble is so few people have had the opportunity afforded me of being close up to your denomination. However, with all the commendable things that can be rightly said about you, never forget, brethren, that your exclusiveness is about the first impression one gets of you as a denomination. In fact, as I have studied your background this seems to be one of the most prominent features of your history. Anyone who knows anything about Adventism recognizes that you people have real convictions and feel called to proclaim special truths to the world, and no thoughtful person objects to that, but while doing that it is vital that you find where you can agree with others and emphasize those points of agreement. On the great cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith you can enjoy real fellowship with other Christians. So make your points of contact with other Christians in those areas where you can agree." Reading the words of our Lord, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another," he said, "There is a new spirit abroad today, particularly among evangelical Christians, and if you are wise you will take advantage of it. If you do, you can dispel much of the error that has been published about you. Remember, dear friends, that distinctiveness is one thing, exclusiveness is another."
He urged us to put forth every effort as a denomination to help other people to understand us. Then climaxing his analysis on the panel, he read pertinent statements from the Spirit of prophecy which as leaders we read far too seldom. He is familiar with Ellen G. White's writings, for he has carefully read and marked seventeen of her books. He therefore felt no hesitation in urging a group of Adventist public relations representatives to study these counsels. "The clearest principles on this subject are set forth right here in the writings of Ellen White," he said, as he read statement after statement from her pen.
Concerning our attitude in the presentation of our special message, he read, "Be very careful not to present the truth in such a way as to arouse prejudice, and to close the door of the heart to the truth. Agree with the people on every point where you can consistently do so. Let them see that you love their souls, and want to be in harmony with them so far as possible." —Evangelism, p. 141. (Italics supplied.) "Present the truth as it is in Jesus. There must be no combative or controversial spirit in the advocacy of truth."—Ibid., p. 142. The strong counsels against the spirit of debate were also read from the same source as he climaxed his points on the principles of true public relations.
"To hear a minister of another denomination urging us to study and heed the counsel of the Lord contained in our own books was, to say the least, unusual," was the way one of our denominational leaders expressed himself.
Mark Foster, of the McCann-Erickson Advertising Agency, one of the largest in the nation, expressed in a frank but kind way his conviction that many of the criticisms that come against us as a people could be silenced. "I do not know all your methods of evangelism," he said, "but from all I gather, you, as a people, have at times been charged with seeking to hide your identity. All such methods are an evidence of defensive thinking, and a man is never really strong when he is on the defensive. If you folk, in advancing your ideas, would give no place for misunderstanding, it would clear up many misgivings. Your work is far too important to permit of anyone having a wrong estimate of it, and as public relations representatives you can do much to clarify the situation."
Two days later Mrs. Margaret Donaldson, experienced news editor and now public relations director for the Methodist Church, New York area, re-emphasized Mark Foster's thought expressed in an earlier panel. Emphasizing the importance of this work, she said, "Never forget we influence people most when we identify ourselves with them." She did not use the word empathy, although that is what she meant and what our psychologist friends would have called it. The word empathy describes that quality of grace and ability that enables one to so extend himself to someone else, to so reach over by sympathetic understanding, that he can become one with him, willing not only to find a common ground on which to stand, but to so completely identify himself with him that he is, as it were, the other man. The apostle Paul spoke about becoming "all things to all men." When that is our attitude we can lead many to our way of thinking.
The chairman on this particular occasion was Donald C. Bolles, director of public relations for the National Council of Churches. He has the highest regard for Adventists and their work, and he expressed himself in almost the same words as Walter Martin. "We do not suggest that you strike your colors," he said. "Far from it! Hold to what you believe, but be sure to emphasize those points where you have theological agreement with others. While you as a denomination are to do your work, we, that is you and all of us, must do our work as a community and a nation. To do that we must understand each other and stand together. The other fellow's point of view is understandable only as we see it through his eyes." Then in conclusion he said, "Remember that the final test of good public relations is that no one is unduly embarrassed by anything we say or do." And we might add this editorial note that when called to proclaim vital and unpopular truth we must do it in the spirit of Christ, who would not break a bruised reed or quench a smoking flax.
There was really nothing new in such counsel, for did not our Lord say, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and despitefully use you, and persecute you"?
Donald Boyce, a leader in the Laymen's Movement for a Christian world, and a former New York advertising executive, gave one of the most spiritual talks of the whole convention. Appealing for reality in our dealings with others, he said, "Too often we think we possess reality and experience in our relationship with God when all we have is words and formulas. Someday some people will have to listen to these fateful words, 'I never knew you.' And among them will be some who mistakenly thought they knew the Lord all the time." No one present on this occasion is likely to forget this speaker's invitation to quiet meditation and silent prayer as the preparation for all worth-while service. He began his address with a call to spend a few moments in meditation and prayer. "The farther out we permit ourselves to go into this old sick world, the deeper we must go into our relationship with God," was his significant appeal. His was also one of the most practical talks as we reached the high point of a very practical convention.
The concluding message by the chairman, Howard Weeks, presented a deeply spiritual challenge to the assembly as he appealed for a purposeful leadership by "P.R." men in a meaningful fellowship, endeavoring to reach out even beyond the churches where the mass of the people are.
This convention will mean something to the church, for it has stressed the importance of true public relations. "Our greatest days are ahead," he said, and then closed with the historic words of Franklin D. Roosevelt on the acceptance of his second nomination: "To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation . . . has a rendezvous with destiny." These words, so weighted with meaning for all the world in this decade, have a particular significance to those who have a conviction that God has called them to special spiritual service in a world that needs nothing so much as dedicated Christian witnesses.
R. A. A.