John Ben Shepperd: Longview Y.M.C.A. Banquet
March 7, 1957
Kick-off Banquet for the Y.M.C.A. Fund Drive (Longview, Texas)
In a dry-goods store in London in 1844 a little group of working men used to gather at lunch time for a few words of prayer. The group was led by a man named George Williams, who wanted to do something for his fellow workers. Out of those little noon-time meetings there grew an organization called the Young Men’s Christian Association, which was so well received by the world that it is now active in 56 countries, has more than 10,000 Associations and in the United States alone owns property valued at more than $300,000,000. That organization is devoted to Christian service—the physical, social and spiritual betterment of mankind.
About the same time the little group was meeting in London, another little group was meeting in Brussels, Belgium. They too wanted to do something for working men and they formed an association called “The league of the Just”. Out of the meetings of the little group in Brussels there came a book called “The Communist Manifesto”.
In a little more than a hundred years, Communism, born in the same manner and almost in the same year as the Young Men’s Christian Association, has engulfed two-thirds of the world. Instead of 10,000 Associations, it has 10,000,000. Instead of $300,000,000 in property, it holds 600,000,000 or 700,000,000 human lives in slavery.
How could two such dynamic movements, born almost out of the same motives, become exact opposites and deadly enemies? Why is the Y.M.C.A. one of the strongest bulwarks our society has against Communism? What is the difference in the two?
It all goes back to the beginning. George Williams wanted to do something for his fellow workers because he loved them and appreciated them as individual human beings. Karl Marx, who wrote the Communist Manifesto, wanted to help working men because he hated the men they worked for. He didn’t care about working men as individuals—in his book he calls them “the masses”. His doctrine is founded on hate, but the Y.M.C.A. is founded on love. Communism thinks only in terms of masses of people; Democracy thinks in terms of individuals and recognizes the value and dignity of every one of them. The Y.M.C.A. is the embodiment of all of the principles of Christianity and Democracy.
Oddly enough, both Communism and Democracy want all men to be equal. But again they are opposite. Communism says, “I’m as good as you are, so I’ll pull you down”. Democracy says, “You are as good as I am, so I will lift you up”. The Communists want to lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. Democracy wants to lift the wage earner by lifting the wage payer so he can pay better wages.
The Y.M.C.A. is dedicated to lifting human lives—to bringing up young men and women in the healthy associations of Christian fellowship. It is more than a mere organization—it is a dynamic idea. It is a faith that men and women are still made in the image of God. It is an Association of Christian hearts and minds working together to build a better world and better people to live in it.
One of the most outstanding and constructive activities of the Y.M.C.A., in which I have had the honor to take part, is the “HI-Y Youth in Government” program. It is a genuine inspiration to see young people come to the State Capitol and assume control of the legislature and the government for a day, pass bills, elect officers and do everything they will be doing when they actually do become the governors and legislators of tomorrow. It is surprising to see how ably they do the job and even more surprising to see how much they enjoy it and how much they learn by doing it. The HI-Y Youth in Government program is one of the most constructive steps any organization has ever taken to preserve our American and Christian way of life.
It is vitally important that such things be done. Our young people are going to have to be better citizens than their fathers and mothers or they will never survive the era into which Communists and the atom bomb have carried us.
The Longview Y.M.C.A. over the past two and one-half years has been participating in programs that are designed to do just that. It now serves thousands of youth in clubs, in teams, in HI-Y and Tri-HI-Y, in church basketball leagues, industrial leagues, hobby and craft groups and gymnastic groups.
I was reared in, love and respect the rugged individualism of Longview and Gregg County folks. You know that while I am still an East Texan at heart I now live in West Texas and you don’t want an outsider telling you how to run your business, but I say to you with all the sincerity at my command that the program of the Y.M.C.A. is worthy of your financial, physical and moral support.
Tonight it has reached the point that if these commendable programs are to be continued and expanded, it needs a permanent home.
I flew to this meeting from Washington, D.C. and I had occasion to discuss with several of our law makers the speech that President Eisenhower recently made to Congress on the State of the Union.
On the way back here, I began to wonder and speculate on what we, as individuals, would say if we were required to go before Congress some day and give a report on the State of the Citizen. I am afraid too many Americans would have to report something like this: “I am in pretty good shape except for my coordination. My right hand doesn’t know what my left hand is doing. On one side I have a fist that I shake at the government demanding more economy and less socialism, but on the other side I have a palm that I use to accept handouts from the public treasury. My eyes are not too good either; whenever I see the word ‘government’, I think it says ‘givernment’.
“Still, I am in pretty good shape except for my inferiority complex. When somebody tells me I had better write my Congressman about a public issue, I feel as though he wouldn’t pay any attention to little old me, a mere taxpayer. He knows a lot more than I do about such things.
“Yes, I am in pretty good shape except for my mental depression. I worry about corruption and waste in high places. But of course I can’t do anything about it so I just try to forget it. I know several good Christian men who wanted to run for public office and they would have done something about it, but naturally I had to advise them to stay out of politics. It’s a corrupt business.
“I was in good shape in 1956 when I went to the polls with millions of other people who were unaccustomed to voting, like me. We really turned out for that one and we are all bragging about it. But sometimes I feel as though this bragging is like the cackling of an old hen that lays once every four years. It seems a decent hen ought to lay more often than that.
“Of course I vote at other times too—I vote by default. I vote to tear down the church by not attending faithfully. I vote to destroy the home by not spending enough time with my family. And I vote to ruin our educational system by not supporting its activities nor helping the teacher to teach the fourth ‘r’—responsibility.”
That isn’t the kind of report we want to make to Congress. We expect the President of the United States to tell us the Union is in a good state or show good reason why it is not. We have no right to demand such responsibility from him or anyone else in high office until you and I as citizens can get our personal house in order—until we can stand up before Congress and say, “In all points, the State of the Citizen is great!”
I think we can still do that if we really believe in the principles the Y.M.C.A. stands for; if we can honestly say that in spite of the influence of cheap foreign philosophies, we will keep our country the kind where men and women are masters of their destiny . . . where children are allowed to grow up in Christian love and fellowship . . . where excellence is allowed to excel . . . where a young man can start from scratch and become a millionaire . . . where individuality is applauded above cheap collectivism and uniformity . . . where men and women are free to climb to whatever heights God will lead them, to become what He wants them to be and by their strength, strengthen others. That is Christian Democracy and thank God it lives in the Y.M.C.A.
Yes, we need organizations like the Y.M.C.A. as long as we have Americans who must be constantly reminded that nobody can go down to the bank and file away a title to an American sunset. Nobody can lay gold on the counter and purchase cherished friendships, nor can we purchase at any price the love and companionship of a loyal wife or husband. And all the dazzling wealth of the universe is not half so beautiful as the sound of a mother’s lullaby or the laughter of a strong, free man.
Because freedom is old, not young; yet it is born anew in the first cry of a free man’s son;
It is not a living thing; yet it dies if we do not love it;
It is not weak, but strong; yet it must be defended;
It is light, yet it weighs heavy on him who is without it;
It is without price, yet it dearly costs the one who sells it;
It is not small, but great; yet once lost, it is never, never found again.
Yes to be born free is an accident;
To live free is a responsibility;
But to die free is an obligation.
[Note: The views expressed in this speech were those of John Ben Shepperd, and do not necessarily represent the views of the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute or the University of Texas Permian Basin.]