Hot spring weather with intermittent storms greeted commissioners to the 98th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U. S., in Charlotte, North Carolina. Meeting April 24–29 in this stronghold of Presbyterianism, the clergymen and elders, hosted by historic First Church, promptly took their cue from the weather. If the heat and storms generated by the assembly did not match nature’s excesses, there were sufficient pressure areas in view to maintain a sense of expectancy on the floor and in the corridors.
Retiring moderator, Dr. William M. Elliott Jr. of Dallas, wasted no time in declaring the chief emergency area, In his year of travel for the church, he had discovered a “rampant … form of individualism and Congregationalism” which was manifesting itself in repudiation of “constitutional processes” and in “hostility” toward the “courts of our church, particularly her highest court.” The threat was to “ ‘the peace and unity of the church,” ’ (some delegates quickly pointed out that this quotation from their ordination vows was incomplete, the word “purity” having been dropped).
Dr. Elliott’s reference was obviously to the negative reaction of many to the church’s Council on Christian Relations, which has been reaffirming the 1954 General Assembly endorsement of the Supreme Court’s outlawing of segregation in the public schools. For a week the press had been heralding the coming battle on the race issue, but when it came—on the assembly’s last day—it was in terms of an ancient theological debate on the nature of the church, the significance of which was missed by many, who regarded this simply as a smokescreen.
Admittedly, the occasion of such a debate decreed the “loadedness” of both sides of the question. The assembly ...1
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