Whittaker Chambers Sitting in Committee Hearing

(The following adaptation is excerpted from a letter of Whittaker Chambers to his children, which also serves as the introduction to his 1952 bestselling memoir, Witness.)

But one day, a Southern Baptist pastor really hears their screams. He is going about his routine ministry assignment. He is making the rounds at the local hospital. He is arguing predestination or closed communion or the documentary hypothesis with his fellow pastors at an associational meeting. He is writing his sermons and counseling young couples planning their wedding vows. He is reviewing the packet of materials from the entity where he serves as a trustee in preparation for the coming semi-annual board meeting. Suddenly, there closes in around that pastor a separating silence, and in that silence he hears the screams. He hears them for the first time. For they do not merely reach his mind. They pierce beyond. They pierce to his soul. He says to himself, “Those are not the screams of a child in pain. Those are the screams of a soul in agony.” He hears them for the first time because a soul in extremity has communicated with that which alone can hear it — another human soul.

Why does the pastor ever hear the screams? Because in the end there persists in every minister of the gospel, however he may suppress it, a scrap of soul. The pastor who suffers this singular experience says to himself: ‘What is happening to me? I must be sick.’ If he does not instantly stifle that scrap of soul, he is lost. If he admits for a moment that his entire congregation has within it the most horrible ugliness of the human condition and that he is completely incapable of curing them, he will soon recognize the scream of his own soul.

The denominational apparatchik will sense his weakness, and the protectionists are peculiarly cunning at sensing such weakness. They will humiliate him, degrade him, condemn him, expel him. If it can, the system will destroy him for he has betrayed that alone which justifies its existence — the vision of Almighty Man. He has brushed the only vision that has force against the vision of Almighty Mind. He stands before the fact of God.

Once, I was reading Shakespeare to a small child and I came to that passage in which Macbeth, having murdered Duncan, realizes what he has done to his own soul, and asks if all the water in the world can every wash the blood from his hand? At that line, his whole body twitched and I gave great silent thanks to God. For I knew that if he could as a child feel in his own soul the reverence and awe for life and the world, which is the ultimate meaning of Beethoven and Shakespeare, as man he could never be satisfied with less. I felt a great faith that sooner or later he would understand what I once told him: ‘True wisdom comes from the overcoming of suffering and sin. All true wisdom is therefore touched with sadness.’

4 thoughts on “Witness

  1. BB

    You certainly have the tongues wagging.

    No matter what happens at the Kvention … how long will it take for local congregations to get on board?

    How many Baptist’s know what EC stands for?

    However, something has to be done!

    Thank you for all you energy and effort?



    Some even think you might be a nice person. Are times changing?
    Next thing you know they might even want you a committee!

      1. Awesome!

        To bad …. you could have become a member of the “Secret Society.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s