Meeting in Detroit’s Statler Hilton Hotel, December 2–3, the policy-making General Board of the National Council of Churches manifested all the self-consciousness of an auto executive caught driving last year’s model. Public reaction to Cleveland Conference pronouncements on Red China appeared to have induced in some of the 250 board members a case of headline shock. The occasion: a pronouncement called “Ethical Issues in Industrial Relations of Concern to Christians” which opposed, among other things, right-to-work laws. In a board not noted for vigor of debate, and where committee reports nearly always enjoy smooth sailing, this was the one issue which produced lively exchanges. The pronouncement was adopted by a vote of 73 to 16, with 12 abstentions. But the minority was vocal.
Southern Presbyterian John V. Matthews, a lawyer, opposed such pronouncements in principle: “The most prevalent criticism we face is that the Church speaks mostly on all sorts of things on which it is not qualified to speak, while it remains silent on matters where it qualifies as an authority.” Others opposed the pronouncement on grounds that it was divisive and that the NCC should speak only when it has a “Thus saith the Lord.” The rejoinder: “Christ cleansed the temple” and thus attacked the “big business” of the day—religion.
Then the debate descended to arguments about the type of headlines this pronouncement would produce. Before grinning reporters, one board member suggested that a paragraph condemning “featherbedding” would be more apt to capture headlines than “right-to-work.” In a singular display of public relations sensitivity, a reluctant officer of the General Public Interpretation Committee was called upon to gauge the “timeliness” of such a pronouncement. For him, propriety dictated a noncommittal stance, though he voiced respect for the pronouncement’s framers and suggested the need of an appraisal of “the whole matter of pronouncements.”
Several expressed “profound regret” for the impression that headlines had assumed priority over God’s will. United Lutheran Dr. F. Eppling Reinartz reminded his fellows of the costliness of their right to speak: alienation and “good solid dollars.” He estimated cost of their recent convictions at a possible $100,000.
The 1960 budget of $19,374,420 was down from 1959’s $21,565,450. Expressions of anxiety were met by assurances that no reduction of program was involved, but rather the termination of certain work projects. Some were not satisfied. Dr. Glenn Moore pointed to potential curtailment of race relations work.
Despite fears that the NCC was rushing into an economic area “several hundred yards ahead of the angels,” the board voted unanimously to offer the council’s services to the two sides in the strikebound steel industry, “to be of any assistance within its power.” A special committee is expected to prepare a report on the facts of the strike and ethical implications involved. “In view of the difficulty resulting from Cleveland,” request was made for specific reference as to whom the report would represent.
The NCC has not yet taken a stand on the lively birth control issue, though a report is in the works. But Dr. R. Norris Wilson, executive director of Church World Service (a “central department” of NCC) stated to the press his opposition to President Eisenhower’s declaration that our government should not provide birth control information to other nations. Church World Service maintains workers in overpopulated areas who give instruction in family limitation.
In a telegram of good wishes to President Eisenhower on the eve of his trip abroad, NCC President Edwin T. Dahlberg made a pertinent point: “We note that your visit to the Vatican is construed as a visit to the head of a church rather than the head of a state, and we trust that it will in no way be interpreted as promoting official United States diplomatic representation at the Vatican.” He suggested the President also visit Eastern Orthodoxy’s Ecumenical Patriarch.
Turning to problems of foreign missions, board members heard Dr. Virgil A. Sly tell them their denominations should yield more power to the International Missionary Council and World Council of Churches as well as to the NCC “to carry forward the mission of God.” He noted that this decade has seen for the first time “boards not associated with the National Council” sending out more missionaries than those so related.
Methodist Dr. Eugene Smith had some healthy words of self-criticism for the ecumenical movement: “It isn’t sufficiently ecumenical. The most rapidly growing churches are not members of our group. Historically, these groups exist because of our own theological and spiritual failures. The real problem is not their intransigence but our indifference.” He indicated that conservatives were not missed when absent from conferences and drew a picture of a “small group of professionals” figuring out plans in an office with the larger group “on the front slugging it out.” To overtures from conservatives, “we’ve responded with massive immobility, being too busy with our own machinery.” “We must have theological study with them.”
A large minority group, which split the Presbyterian Church in Korea by walking out of its general assembly in September, widened the wedge last month by holding its own assembly and rejecting a reconciliation proposal.
Elected moderator of the “National Association of Evangelicals” group (not affiliated with the American NAE) was the Rev. Yang Hwa Suk, a vice moderator before the split. The Rev. Mr. Yang thus becomes the dissident counterpart of the Rev. Chang Koo Yi, who was elected moderator of the so-called “Ecumenical” faction when it reconstituted the September assembly.
A peace plan laid before the “NAE” assembly provided for compromises on key issues which divide the two groups. It was rejected despite pleas from 12 missionaries who drafted it in behalf of the United Presbyterian Church, U. S. A., the Presbyterian Church, U.S., and the Presbyterian Church of Australia.
Two missions executives of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. flew to Korea this month for two weeks of meetings with dissident nationals.
Dr. L. Nelson Bell, Executive Editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, and Dr. S. Hugh Bradley made the trip at the urgent request of their church’s Korean Mission. They sought to effect understanding and reconciliation between two major factions of the schism-riddled Presbyterian Church in Korea.
Bell and Bradley were officially dispatched on their mission of mediation by the Board of World Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. Bell is a member of the board and Bradley is its field secretary for the Far East.
A total of 2,208 baptisms were recorded during a Methodist evangelistic mission in Korean high schools and colleges last month. The two-week mission was conducted by Dr. Harry Denman, general secretary of the Methodist General Board of Evangelism, and five other Americans.
Ike at the Vatican
President Eisenhower’s call on Pope John XXIII caused embarrassment in Protestant circles in Italy and other countries, according to the Federal Council of Protestant Churches in Italy.
The council expressed concern that the visit might be interpreted as a personal act of homage to the pontiff as a religious leader and he exploited for “propaganda purposes” in some segments of Catholicism.
Eisenhower rose early on Sunday, December 6, to attend the 8 a. m. service at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Rome conducted by the Rev. Gerardus Beekman. He left after Communion.
The President was received by the Pope on the threshold of his private library at 9:30 a. m. For their private conference, Eisenhower was ushered into the papal red damask-walled studio by Domenico Cardinal Tardini, Vatican Secretary of State. With John XXIII also were Archbishop Antonio Samore, secretary of the Sacred Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, who acted as interpreter for him and Lt. Col. Vernon Walters, who was the President’s interpreter.
The only report to be released on the nature of the topics discussed was a statement from the Vatican press office which said that “the President explained to the Pope the spiritual values on which he bases his action for peace—values that safeguard human dignity and liberty and therefore lead to peace.”
Despite the significance of Eisenhower’s Vatican visit (Woodrow Wilson’s call on Benedict XV in 1919 was the only other time a U. S. president and a pope have met), only one reporter, a Roman Catholic, “covered” the story within the Vatican for all American news media. He was the “pool” man, Edward T. Folliard, correspondent for the Washington Post and Times-Herald and a contributor to the Jesuits’ America. The other 83 members of the presidential press party were already on their way to Ankara, the President’s next stop.
Unity and Orthodoxy
A “Pan-Orthodox” meeting, the first since 1921, is scheduled for next July at a site along the Mediterranean Sea.
Participants will seek to draft a statement on Christian unity, according to Archbishop Iakovos, head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America.
Besides bringing together many Eastern Orthodox bodies, Archbishop Iakovos stated, the meeting is expected to attract representatives of Armenian, Jacobite, Coptic, Ethiopian and Old Catholic churches, including those in Red lands.
The unity statement, he said, will be sent to the World Council of Churches before it holds its next General Assembly and to the Vatican before the Ecumenical Council convenes.
“We are going to tell both we are ready and willing to participate in any universal attempt to restore church unity,” he added. “I am convinced we can have union without doctrinal unity. There can be union based on cooperation in matters of moral order, however.”
Leaders from 10 world confessional bodies representing some 250 million Christians held a two-day meeting in Geneva last month. Speaking only for themselves, the leaders expressed joint hope that the coming Vatican-convened Ecumenical Council will “speak clearly on the question of religious liberty.”
This is “highly important,” said a statement prepared by the attendants, among whom was Dr. David J. du Plessis, past general secretary of the Pentecostal World Conference.
In addition to du Plessis, there were representatives of the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed (Presbyterian) Churches, the World Methodist Council, the Church of England, the Baptist World Alliance, the International Congregational Council, the World Convention of Churches of Christ, the Friends World Committee for Consultation, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church.
Major story of the year, according to Associate Editor Albert P. Stauderman of The Lutheran, was Pope John XXIII, his call for an ecumenical council and the Roman church’s wooing of Eastern Orthodoxy.
Other top stories on Stauderman’s list include the tensions between church and state in East Europe, the issue of a Roman Catholic for president, court action on prayers and Bible reading in public schools, Sunday closing laws, growth in church membership, the rise of liturgical movements and religious reaction to Nikita Khrushchev’s visit to the United States.
Government quotas provided for about 3,000 persons, mostly Christian Arabs, to cross armistice lines to the Old City of Jerusalem for Christmas Eve observances in Bethlehem this year. It was reported that about 10,000 had applied.
Faith and Freedom
“There exists in Mexico absolute freedom of belief,” President Adolfo Lopez Mateos declared this month. It was one of a few times a Mexican president has spoken publicly of religion since the stringent anti-clerical decrees imposed by Plutarco Elias Calles in 1927.
Mateos was reassuring a textile labor leader who claimed that his union was being discriminated against because of religious beliefs. Mexico is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.
Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.
The Liberty Bell, which bears the above inscription taken from Leviticus 25:10, will appear on a new 10-cent U. S. stamp for overseas air mail to Latin America. The stamp will go on sale June 10 in Miami.
‘Mine Eyes Have Seen’
Dr. Daniel A. Poling tells in his newly-published autobiography how Sen. John F. Kennedy cancelled a scheduled appearance at an inter-faith meeting under pressure from the late Dennis Cardinal Dougherty. According to the Christian Herald editor’s book, Mine Eyes Have Seen, the cancellation occurred in 1950 prior to a Philadelphia banquet marking the end of a financial drive for building the “Chapel of the Four Chaplains.”
Told of the published account this month, Catholic Kennedy’s initial reaction was a “no comment.”
The American Association of Theological Schools’ Commission on Accrediting voted this month to continue accreditation of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, whose academic standing was threatened following dismissal of 13 professors. A special AATS committee which visited the seminary this fall reported that “adequate steps” had been taken by the seminary to repair “damage” caused by the dismissals. The school had rescinded the dismissals and asked resignations instead.
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