Criticism of the Protestant ecumenical movement in America has soared to new heights. Laity and clergy inside the National Council of Churches, as well as Protestants outside the movement, even Roman Catholic leaders, are voicing stern disapproval of ecumenical trends in consequence of the Fifth World Order Study Conference’s “Message to the Churches.” Criticized many times for actions of the Federal Council of Churches and then the National Council of Churches, the ecumenical movement today faces widening deterioration of its already tenuous relationship to American churchgoers. At no time in recent years have the prestige and morale of ecumenism sagged so low.

The Ecumenical Dilemma

The dilemma of corporate Protestantism in America may be stated simply. On one hand, ecumenical leaders hail the National Council for achieving a new unity of the disjoined American churches. On the other, increasing numbers of churchmen and churchgoers publicly assert that ecumenical leaders speak neither authoritatively nor authentically for American Protestantism in their pronouncements on major issues.

The Cleveland Conference on World Order, convened by National Council mandate, commended to NCC’s 144,000 churches a message urging U.S. recognition and U.N. admission of Red China, and far-reaching socio-political changes. Although the NCC General Board emphasized that the study conference spoke only for itself, it defended the conference’s right to frame a position on these issues, did not repudiate its message, and some officers expressed private and even public approval of the action.

The NCC resolutions at Cleveland drew a thunderbolt of criticism. Government protested: Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, himself an elder statesman in ...

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