Evening Post Office,
Referring to the letter addressed to you by Messrs. William Allan, A. M. Lewis, the Rev. James Gibb, and twenty-one other gentlemen, who, writing as "representatives of the Re formed Churches and citizens of Wellington," desire to call your attention to the "one-sided and unfair treatment" to which they are from time to time subjected in the columns of the Post, and to which I am asked to reply, I herewith subjoin the answers.
It is no easy task to deal concisely with a general charge of "onesided and unfair treatment" based on our attitude to the keen controversy which centred for three months in the manifestoes and counter-manifestoes of the Roman Catholic Bishops and the Bible-in-Schools Executive. In such a controversy it is almost inevitable that each party should consider that the other has treated it unfairly, and the criticism to which the Post is subjected is but an example of the general rule. We are accused of having described the first manifesto of the Roman Bishops as "in many respects a model of controversial dialectics," though it is said to have been "redolent of insult" to all who differed from the writers on the question of Bible-teaching in the public schools. In writing as we did, we expressed what we believed, and what we still believe, to be the verdict of the great majority of fair-minded critics, but to say that the manifesto was "in many respects a model of controversial dialectics" was not meant to imply, and does not imply, that it was in every respect a model of judicial balance or of controversial good taste or of doctrinal accuracy. We are certainly not concerned to defend every word that it contains, and we studiously refrained from a single syllable that could be considered to have any bearing, one way or the other, upon the doctrinal aspect of the discussion, it is, however, worth pointing out that the "insults" of which the manifesto is declared to be redolent had not, for the most part, the offensive personal turn which is ascribed to them. The present objectors have overlooked the fact, which did not escape the notice of the Bible-in-Schools Executive, that all the imputations of doctrinal bias were levelled at the Victorian Commissioners who compiled the text-book, and not at its champions in New Zealand. On a matter of doctrine the Post could of course take no line, and on the matter of taste, the objectors would feel less aggrieved if they appreciated the distinction referred to.page 2
As to the converse complaint that the Bible-in-Schools Executive was criticised for the use of such phrases as "cool audacity," "cynic ism," and "malicious falsehood," very little need be said. The objectors urge that the first two of these phrases were more than justified by the facts, and that the third was hypothetical only. The Post expressed no opinion whatever on the accuracy of these charges, but merely urged that such language should be kept out of a controversy in which the subject-matter was religion, and the disputants Christian ministers. The Post is still of that opinion, and the objectors should at least see that the opinion does not touch the merits of their case or the force of their argument, but only the propriety of their phraseology. The question is purely one of taste, upon which it is proverbially useless to dispute. But, in concluding this branch of the subject, it is surely permissible to take some credit for the fact that the worst that can be said of a series of articles spread over several months, and dealing with one of the most controversial subjects of the day, is contained in the charges now made by the party whose side they did not take. No misrepresentation of fact is alleged, no distortion of arguments, no imputation of motives—nothing but a general imputation of bias, from which the critics themselves would not profess to be absolutely free, and a difference on one of those questions of taste upon which the best of men must often agree to differ.
It is perhaps as well to add that a letter sent at the time for insertion in the Post in the usual way would have enabled both criticism and explanation to have attained full publicity weeks ago.
"Our letters," say the correspondents, "have been withheld from publication until their significance was well-nigh lost . . . . . but that correspondents who have no more right to ventilate their views than we should receive so much more favourable consideration, is not to be borne with equanimity." Like all other correspondence, the letters of these gentlemen have had to wait their turn. Doubtless many have been denied publication for the simple reason of lack of space, but the same treatment has been meted out to the other side. In the case of Mr. Gammell, where he required more space than could fairly be allotted to him, he procured publication by paying, as an advertisement, for the space that was otherwise denied to him; yet Mr. Gammell is one of the ablest of the opponents of the Bible-in-Schools This instance is sufficient illustration of the fair play that has been shown by the paper in the matter of correspondence.
It is said to be the practice of the Post, "in harmony with its policy of suppression," and in contrast with other leading papers, "to treat with scant courtesy many of the matters in which the Christian section of the community are most deeply interested," and the recent centenary of the Bible Society is specially cited as illustration, inasmuch as the Post did not "report the amount of the collections." The collections on the centenary Sunday were explicitly stated in page 3 several churches to be incomplete, and the totals when made up were never communicated to the Post. This is what the Post did, without any request or suggestion from the churches:—
Published, a week in advance, a short article drawing prominent attention to the forthcoming centenary services.
On the day preceding, devoted the first editorial article to the history and work of the Bible Society, mentioning that the Society had a large deficit, and urging liberal support to "a noble institution."
On the day following, reported that special services had been held; and collections made in nearly all the churches, and that a substantial sum had been raised; outlined the nature of the discourses, and gave prominence to a suggestion that the first Sunday in March should be annually observed as "Bible Sunday." The statement that "so far as these columns are concerned no man to this day is aware whether a single commemorative service was held or a single collection obtained in this city," is therefore absolutely untrue. Moreover, it is doubtful whether any other leading daily paper gave equal prominence to the subject or dealt more sympathetically with the movement.
The following references to articles that have recently appeared in the Post furnish further answer to the baseless charge that it "is the practice of the Evening Post to treat with scant courtesy many of the matters in which the Christian section of the community are most deeply interested":—
1. Bible Society.
- 29th February.—News Article, 7 inches (original), calling attention to special centenary service, and giving account of Exeter Hall meeting on 12th January to welcome delegates on return from colonies.
- 5th March.—Leader, 13 inches, drawing attention to services on the morrow—"the most unanimous festival ever kept by Christians in modern times." Closes thus: "Successive deficits in five years have drawn on the reserve fund to the extent of nearly £60,000. An effort is being made to raise a centenary fund of a quarter of a million. To-morrow friends and sympathisers will have the opportunity of showing their practical sympathy with a noble institution."
- 7th March.—Local, 3½ inches: "The British and Foreign Bible Society and its work was the leading subject of the discourses in most of the churches of the city and suburbs yesterday at one or both services." (Lines taken briefly summarised.) Suggestion made that first Sunday in March be set apart annually as "Bible Sunday." "As special collections were made in most of the churches, the aggregate result should be an acceptable contribution to the Bible Society's funds."
2. Roman Catholic Manifesto.
- 30th April.—Special Article, 25 inches, "Rival Versions," defending the accuracy of the passages in the Authorised Version to which the Roman Catholic Bishops took exception, and pointing out that the Roman Catholic version in these passages is inconsistent with itself. Article concluded: "The point as taken by the Bishops does not appear to be a strong page 4 one, for among the Vulgate versions themselves there are more serious discrepancies than there are between the Rheims and the Authorised Version in the sole example they have chosen for illustration."
- So far as the Post is aware, no other paper in the colony defended L the "Protestant version" against the criticisms of the manifesto.
3. Methodist Churches.
- 4th March.—Leader, 11 inches, "The Methodist Conference." Address of President Luxford discussed. "Representing; one of the most aggressive, active, and influential branches of the Church in New Zealand, in conference assembled, his point of view was naturally that of a Christian minister and a loyal Methodist. ... He took a wide view, and showed a due sense of proportion, in placing first the advancement of the Kingdom. ... On some of these points the President! spoke wisely and well," etc.
- 20th June.—Leaders, two—29 inches, "The Methodists in Conference" and "Church Union." "Far more than ordinary interest attaches to the recent gathering in Victoria of the representatives of the Methodist Church of Australasia. The importance of the occasion was recognised by the Melbourne press." . . . There was "manifested throughout a deepened sense of responsibility, a broader view, and a loftier tone than is usually met with in meetings of this kind." The Church "may be expected to take courage and go forward, and to celebrate worthily next year a festival for which it is already preparing—the jubilee of Australian Methodism."
4. Free Church of Scotland.
- 3rd August.—Leader, 16 inches, "The Dead Hand in the Churches." Chiefly concerned with legal aspects. "The significance of the decision lies in the fact that a definite legal principle has been established, so far-reaching that no church or congregation in the Empire remains unaffected. ... It has . . interposed an unlooked-for obstacle in the growth of that spirit of Christian brotherhood which has found its outward expression in the successive unions of bodies long divided by mutual intolerance and misunderstanding." Also 6-inch editorial note appended to cable message.
5. Church Union.
- 4th March.—Leader, "Methodists in Conference," incidentally.
- 5th March.—Leader, "Bible Society Centenary," incidentally.
- 9th April, Leader, 24 inches, "Church Union and Doctrinal Tests." Chiefly historic, defining position of movement. Sympathetic, represents movement as "symptom of widening spirit of charity."
- 16th April.—Letter from Dr. Gibb, dated 12th April, one column (22 inches). "Permit me to thank you for your able and timely article. . . . Your statement of the benefits that would be secured by a union . . could not be bettered." "I am sorry to have to agree with you that the present outlook is not as promising as might be wished."
- 23rd April.—Headed Article, 8 inches, summarising letters from Wanganui and Dunedin in reference to Leader of 9th.
- 20th June.—Leader, 10 inches, "Church Union," the subject before the Methodist Conference. "There is apparently a page 5 somewhat prevalent delusion that the advocates of union are indifferent as to creed, and either reject or ignore the Scriptures as a Divine revelation. So far, not one syllable appears to have been uttered at any religious conference to warrant such an impression. The loyalty of the Methodist unionists to their church is as unimpeachable as that of their Presbyterian brethren, and the actual basis of union is the book which every church holds sacred. The suggestion that the movement is in any way an outcome of 'modern Biblical criticism' is preposterous."
- 3rd August.—Leader, "Dead Hand in Churches," deals also with subject.
- Various Dates.—Meetings of Presbyteries and Kirk sessions in Wellington district, and resolutions passed, have been recorded in Post.
"Fragmentary and Unsatisfactory "Reports.
As to the alleged "fragmentary and unsatisfactory" reports of affairs relating to the Christian churches, here is copy of a letter from Mr. Mills, of the Post staff, which explains itself:—
31st August, 1904.Dear Sir,—
You Ask me to set out my experience on the Post in regard to the reporting of matters relating to the religious side of the city's life. I have never received any special instructions but those which are applied to general reporting—namely, to give publicity to all news items that pertain to any section of the community. In pursuance of these instructions I have given special attention to securing as wide a circle as possible of correspondents in religious circles, especially amongst Nonconformist churches. I have attended many contentions of religious bodies as the Post's representative, and the sub-editorial instructions have on each occasion been the same as those given when I have reported Farmers' Union, Municipal, Friendly Societies', and other conferences—viz., don't miss any points, and give all matters their news value, keeping an eye always upon the space available. This, I take it, is the whole duty of a reporter for a metropolitan evening paper. I have commonly been selected to report religious matters because it is recognised by the Editor, Sub-editor, and Chief Reporter that I am in strong sympathy with the churches and their work. If the paper was not in touch with the religious community it would not put its most sympathetic reporter in charge of church matters. As a matter of fact, I am given a very free hand in regard to publishing church news, and have as a consequence frequently been thanked by pastors of churches for the treatment they have had in the columns of the Post. At conventions, also; the Post has received votes of thanks for the attention of its representative. I have again and again urged the churches, through their pastors and leading members, to elect an official reporter, one who could write a news paragraph whenever occasion arose, and then that church reporter could keep me informed upon matters affecting his section of the community. The Baptist Church did appoint such a reporter, and I have fre- page 6 quently had good news items for the paper through him. I have always informed pastors and people that the Post is always anxious to get news, and have assured them that such news sent addressed to me; will always receive attention and publication. By this means I now-adays keep in touch with several of the churches. On the other hand I have found ministers particularly unresponsive in taking advantage of the columns of the Post when occasion has offered. These are my experiences and impressions as a member of the news-getting staff of the Post.
Tom L. Mills.To the Editor, Evening Post.
The above is sufficient answer to the last of the charges contained in a letter that, were it not a grave reflection upon its authors, I might well suppose had not been perused by many of the gentlemen; whose signatures are attached to it. They should be interested in this reply, and that they may have full opportunity to peruse it, I propose to send a copy to each of them.