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, ...1
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