Religious Assemblages

Climaxing 100 years of California Lutheranism of the Missouri Synod variety, some 900 delegates and 300 board and committee members and advisers descended upon San Francisco’s Civic Auditorium for their 2,500,000-member denomination’s triennial national convention June 17–26. The City of St. Francis, boasting about as much color as one city can bear, gave a warm welcome to heirs of Martin Luther with floral decorations and excellent press coverage despite headline competition from offshore sharks and the National League’s pennant-aspiring Giants. Nature’s own air conditioning startled some of the thinly-clad Midwesterners representing the heartland of Missouri Synod Lutheranism, but the traditional fog obligingly trod lightly to allow a Golden Gate envisioning of the Oriental setting of the greater part of the synod’s foreign missionary work. Mayor George Christopher was on hand and President Eisenhower wired acknowledgement of the synod’s “concern for the welfare of mankind.”

This is the Western Hemisphere’s largest Lutheran group, yearly adding more members than any other. This is the “Church of the Lutheran Hour,” world’s most widely-broadcast, regularly-scheduled radio program, which for a quarter of a century has been “bringing Christ to the nations.” One hundred and fifteen nations contribute weekly some 20,000,000 listeners.

From the impressive liturgical Communion service which opened the convention and on through the proceedings, an observer could not miss the dual emphasis—sound doctrine and impassioned outreach. The orthodoxy found here was not the sort against which a Sören Kierkegaard might inveigh from his European state church setting. But these Lutherans are well aware of the ravages of the rationalism and destructive higher criticism on loose in the land of their fathers. On the other hand, they avoid the European reaction to this, all the while manifesting a warm devotional spirit, by guarding against the vapid results of an undefined pietism.

Setting and sustaining the mood was convention President John W. Behnken who followed Isaiah in urging the church as a tent to “lengthen thy cords and strengthen thy stakes.” Intensive evangelism, to be distinguished from “sophistry” and “rationalism” of many “modern pulpiteers,” must be properly grounded through driving “the stakes supporting God’s tent ever deeper into the divinely inspired and inerrant Word of God.”

Giving scholarly support to this ideal was Professor Paul M. Bretscher of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, who delivered four lectures on the theme “Take Heed unto the Doctrine.” He spoke of widespread modern Protestant indifference to doctrine, warning against this but also against “dead orthodoxy.”

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The convention produced one long debate around doctrinal matters, but its crux appeared to be functional rather than strictly doctrinal. In question was a resolution reaffirming the content of a “Brief Statement” of Lutheran doctrine adopted by the Missouri Synod in 1932 (likewise by The American Lutheran Church)—to be “public doctrine in Synod.” Pastors and professors would be held to teach them, or consult with appropriate church officers concerning a contrary conscience on any of the doctrines included. Among these were: the verbal inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, the Trinity, creation as against evolution, “single” rather than Calvinistic “double predestination,” and the fulfilment of the prophecies of anti-Christ in the papacy.

Fears were expressed as to the careers of certain professors, but assurance was given that a “club” or “sword” was not intended. The aim was rather a unity of conviction upon historic Lutheran doctrine. The “Brief Statement” was not elevated to the level of the Lutheran Confessions.

The resolution passed easily, as did the “Statement on Scripture” which also attested the verbal inspiration and authority of Scripture (while opposing “mechanical dictation”). This doctrine was reaffirmed many times in the course of the convention, leaving no doubt as to the historic stand of the Missouri Synod.

The convention also: invited representatives of The American Lutheran Church (TALC) to meet with its doctrinal unity committee “for the purpose of seeking a God-pleasing unity and fellowship”; reaffirmed its opposition to lodges; and spoke out against racial discrimination.

Much convention time was taken up with education, inasmuch as congregations of the Missouri Synod maintain the largest system of parochial schools in U.S. Protestantism—1,418 elementary and 16 high schools. It was voted to build a new six-million-dollar junior college in the Detroit area. College and seminary expansion alone in the next six years will cost about $30,000,000. The synod’s programs for that period will cost $144,500,000 apart from congregational expenditures.

The Missouri Synod has more foreign missionaries than any of the world’s Lutheran bodies. The stress is upon indigenous church growth. Medical missions are prominent. Perpetuating the missionary emphasis, the convention voted to begin new work among Moslems of the Middle East.

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And in early 1960, the 112-year-old Missouri Synod anticipates “what will probably be the largest single evangelism effort by any church body.”


Lutherans And Ecumenism

The San Francisco convention of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod “may prove to be one of the few great ecumenical events of our day.” Such a statement provokes demand for explanation in several quarters, for the Missouri Synod had declined invitations to become a member of the National Lutheran Council, which embraces about two-thirds of U. S. Lutherans, and the Lutheran World Federation, composed of 50 million of the world’s 70 million Lutherans.

But an explanation was readily forthcoming from the author of the statement, Dr. Herman Sasse, formerly a professor at the University of Erlangen, and now a professor of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church seminary in Adelaide, Australia. An eminent scholar in the field of historical theology, Sasse was addressing the Missouri Synod convention on “The Ecumenical Movement in Lutheranism.”

“True ecumenicity,” he asserted, is a “quest for truth, for the true church.”

“The ecumenical movement is essentially not a union movement as it is being interpreted, though it may become such in the future.” He cited the Lausanne Conference of 1927 which was confessedly concerned with truth and not with church reunion.

Describing broad, historic movements which sweep across church borders, Sasse pointed to the pietism and rationalism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the nineteenth century’s Great Awakening, and the twentieth century’s ecumenical movement, which is “penetrating all churches, including Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy.” Its effects may be as “far-reaching as those of the sixteenth-century Reformation.” The great post-Reformation era “seems now to be drawing to an end.” The ratio between Christians and non-Christians is rapidly changing in favor of the latter. “Old Christian countries” are becoming “mission fields.” Asiatic religions revive and atheistic communism grows, Protestants and Roman Catholics enjoy friendlier relations in some areas. The “Pilgrim church” of the United States disappears into a united church. Sects grow rapidly.

The prominent position occupied by ecumenism on the present scene, Sasse attributes to American church life, and cites two formative factors. The first of these is the federation programs of Reformed Protestantism. A nineteenth-century Lutheran, Samuel Schmucker, considered all Protestant churches “as essentially one,” but confessionalism was then too strong for his move toward unity to succeed. Likewise, the Disciples of Christ effort failed. “You can’t reduce the number of denominations by adding a new one.”

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But a change has taken place, Sasse avers. The Protestant Episcopal and United Lutheran churches had not been able to join the Federal Council of Churches but subsequently joined the National Council. The crucial change was not within the councils but within the churches. “I cannot understand how a Lutheran leader could participate in the inauguration of the NCC with only the formula, ‘We believe in Christ as Lord and Saviour’ ”—this is subject to “such varied interpretations.”

Sasse cautioned his listeners against pharisaism, suggesting that non-creedal groups such as Baptists, Disciples, and Quakers could not understand the Lutheran position. And Presbyterian and Episcopal creeds have a “different content and function,” while the standards of the Church of South India allow for contradictory doctrines of the sacraments. For the Lutheran, his historic confessions “express the eternal truth of the Gospel.”

The other big boost to ecumenism has been, said Sasse, the Anglican insistence upon the visibility of “one holy ecumenical church,” this idea being found in “The 39 Articles” and affirmed by the Lambeth conferences. For the Lutheran, the “only holy church” is hidden. The visible church was divided even in “ancient Christendom.” Origen tried to explain the divisions to Celsus, not deny them. The New Testament gives evidence of false church leaders as well as the existence of Greek and Hebrew churches.

The pagan in Rome had to make up his mind as to which church was the true church as claimed. The Lord’s prayer for the oneness of believers “included the different churches of all ages, not just one.”

Sasse called the Missouri Synod “perhaps the last fortress of world Lutheranism,” and counseled hard study of the Scriptures and Confessions of the fathers.

Toward this end, Missouri Synod theologians had gathered with Lutherans of like conviction from many countries in a pre-convention theological conference, which will probably be repeated.

The Missouri Synod was represented at the 1957 Lutheran World Federation meeting but could not endorse a confessional statement prepared there due to lack of “clear-cut Scriptural statements on such important issues as the Word, the Lord’s Supper, the total depravity of man, and other basic doctrines.”

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Improved relations with the synod’s fellow members in the Synodical Conference—the Wisconsin Synod, Slovak Church, and Norwegian Synod—were reported.

The convention voted to invite the National Lutheran Evangelical Church (of Finnish origins) to unite in the Missouri Synod.

First-named objective in the constitution of the Missouri Synod is: “The conservation and promotion of the unity of the true faith (Eph. 4:3–6; 1 Cor. 1:10) and a united defense against schism and sectarianism (Rom. 16:17).”

A 25-Year President

During its 112-year history, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has known only six presidents. But despite the commonplace of lengthy tenure, President John W. Behnken still managed to shatter all precedent as the 1959 convention elected him to serve a ninth three-year term.

Capably presiding over convention activities. Behnken appeared to carry his 75 years lightly. His margin of victory was not overwhelming as formerly, due in part to a previously-announced decision not to seek reelection, which he later reversed. But he saw the delegates bury a resolution to limit tenure of the presidential office.

Synod elections for president and four vice-presidents feature a wide-open primary ballot with no advance nominations. In subsequent balloting a majority of votes constitutes election. Chosen to be first, second, third, and fourth vice-presidents, respectively, were: Dr. Oliver R. Harms, Houston; Dr. Roland P. Wiederanders, Corpus Christi, Texas; the Rev. George Wittmer, St. Louis; and the Rev. Arthur C. Nitz, San Francisco.

Behnken defeated Harms for the presidency by a vote of 377 to 311 on the fourth ballot.

Only one other man has completed eight terms as president of the Missouri Synod. He was the late Rev. Frederick Pfotenhauer, whom Behnken defeated for the office 24 years ago.

A native of Texas, Behnken was pastor of Trinity Church in Houston from 1908 until 1935.

Decision: Study

Delegates to the 153rd annual General Synod of the Reformed Church in America went on record against committing themselves, for the time being, on whether Red China is entitled to diplomatic recognition from the United States and the United Nations.

The delegates decisively defeated a move to repudiate the Red China recommendations of last November’s Fifth World Order Study Conference, sponsored by an agency of the National Council of Churches. (The Reformed Church in America in an NCC constituent.) Instead, they adopted an overtures committee recommendation that the denomination “give serious consideration to the issues and make a concerted study of the matter throughout the Church before coming to any official decision.”

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Delegates to last month’s synod at Buck Hill Falls, Pennsylvania, defeated an overture which would have forbidden the body from making public pronouncements “involving the entire Church, especially on non-ecclesiastical matters,” before submitting them to the denomination’s classes (regional groups) for approval by two-thirds majority.

The synod approved a six-point statement on the “theological basis for Christian concern and action.” Here are beliefs expressed in the statement, which was written by Dr. Jerome De Jong, chairman of the church’s Christian Action Commission:

“1—Absolute sovereignty of God. 2—Man was created in the image of God. 3—God’s sovereign love and concern for man is clearly revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. 4—Man was created to live in community. 5—The Redeemed community (the Church) stands within a paradox. Scripture indicates that Christians are to separate themselves from the world and also indicates God’s love for the world, and the Christian’s duty to witness. 6—The authority of the Church is rooted in the authority of Christ Who rules as sovereign Lord today through the Word and Spirit.”

In other action, the synod: (1) called for extension of minimum wage legislation to include groups not now covered; (2) reaffirmed its position of voluntary total abstinence for the denomination; (3) defeated a proposal to change the denomination’s constitution so that women could be ordained or hold congregational offices; (4) disapproved a proposal that the church’s office of evangelism be moved from Holland, Michigan, to New York; (5) put off creation of an executive council for the denomination (a proposal which had won approval of last year’s synod and two-thirds of the church’s classes); (6) formed a national youth organization as a church agency to be known as the “Reformed Church Youth Fellowship”; and (7) authorized Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, to explore the possibility of developing its curriculum so that it could grant masters degrees in theology and Christian education.

Delegates were told that the membership of the Reformed Church in America increased by 3,338 in 1958 for a record total of 219,131. Out-going President Marion DeVelder said the membership gains were “not impressive.” He interpreted the figures as pointing up needs for “complete commitment and inner revival in the local congregation and person-to-person lay witnesses and evangelism.”

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A record benevolence budget of $4,334,870 was adopted for 1960, an increase of $519,670 over the previous year.

A ceremony held in connection with the synod marked the 175th anniversary of the denomination’s New Brunswick (N. J.) Theological Seminary, oldest Protestant theological school in North America.

Later, the synod established the John Henry Livingston professor of theology chair in honor of the seminary’s founder. The professorship will be held only by presidents of the school. First occupant is Dr. M. Stephen James, soon to be succeeded by Dr. Justin Vander Kolk.

Another ceremony commemorated the 400th anniversary of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.

True Destiny?

President John Stensvaag urged before the 63rd annual conference of the Lutheran Free Church a “special effort to deepen the inward life” of members.

“Stress needs to be placed on group Bible study, prayer fellowship, witnessing to others, and private and family devotions,” he said. “The call to repentance, faith and dedication needs to be constantly sounded.”

Stensvaag’s plea to the conference, held June 10–14 in Minot, North Dakota, also had an ecumenical twist. He reported that he had become “more convinced than ever” that “the true destiny” of the denomination lies in becoming part of a proposed Lutheran merger. Two previous referendums have defeated such a move.

At Stensvaag’s urging, delegates adopted a recommendation that congregations pay their pastors a minimum salary of $4,600 to $4,800 annually plus parsonage.

Marking 75 Years

Among greetings addressed to last month’s 75 th anniversary convention of the Evangelical Free Church were words of congratulation from President Eisenhower. The greeting was conveyed to the delegates by Dr. Arnold T. Olson, president of the church. A few days before the convention, Olson had visited the White House to present the President with a copy of a newly-published history of the denomination which Mrs. Eisenhower’s grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Carl Carlson, helped to found in Boone, Iowa, in 1884.

The parents of Mrs. John Sheldon Doud, Mrs. Eisenhower’s mother, whose maiden name was Elivera Carlson, were present at Boone when the Swedish Evangelical Free Church of America was organized. This church merged with the Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Free Church in 1950 to form the Evangelical Free Church. Founders were Scandinavian immigrants who had broken away from state Lutheran churches over ritual and doctrine.

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Olson spent 25 minutes with the President. He was accompanied by Representative Elford A. Cederberg, lay member of the Evangelical Free Church of Bay City, Michigan.

Cautious Optimism

Canadian Presbyterians met in a mood of cautious optimism last month, feeling that a financial crisis aggravated by the recent recession was passing, but that greater liberality and deeper commitment to Christ were necessary for fulfilment of the church’s mission.

The 85th annual General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, held in Toronto, asked presbyteries to study within the coming year a reorganization plan for the denomination prepared by a special committee and based on the survey of a firm of management consultants. After studying the financial and administrative structure of the church, the committee had recommended top-level consolidation and creation of a “Church Council” representative of all the denomination’s departments. The church had a deficit of $31,261 last year despite increased revenue.

For the first time since 1925, the assembly named a full-time executive secretary for the church’s Board of Evangelism and Social Action, the Rev. A. J. Gowland. Chairman of the board is the Rev. Mariano DiGangi.

The assembly rejected an overture asking a reversal of the church’s position which recognizes the right of a civil magistrate to impose capital punishment.

Appointment of women to standing committees of presbyteries was recommended by the assembly. Commissioners adopted a report which asked that women be given increased responsibility in administrative work. The Presbyterian Church in Canada does not ordain women either as clergy or elders.

A lay delegate, Justice A. M. Manson of the British Columbia Supreme Court criticized clergymen whose lack of conviction and other pulpit faults “put their congregations to sleep.” Loud applause greeted Manson’s call for graduate homiletics courses for preachers.

Protestant Panorama

• Education Minister Geoffrey Lloyd told the English House of Commons last month that the government is introducing a bill to increase state aid for financially hard-pressed confessional schools. Of 29,145 primary and secondary schools in Britain, 8,210 are run by Anglicans and 1,964 by Catholics.

• A new law authorizes clergymen in Guatemala to perform civil as well as religious marriage ceremonies. Supporters of the law say that previously, when only mayors and notaries could effect civil weddings, a great percentage of Guatemalan children were born out of wedlock.

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• Louis de Rochemont Associates, producers of the most widely-distributed film on Martin Luther, plan a motion picture on the struggle of East German Christians against communism.

• At its annual meeting last month, the American Baptist Convention presented citations to Roy Rogers and Dale Evans (for identifying themselves “with the Christian way of life on radio and television”) and to Eugene W. Roddenberry, writer for “Have Gun, Will Travel” (“for skillfully writing Christian truth and the application of Christian principles into commercial, dramatic TV scripts”). An award also went to the Rev. John DeBrine, associate pastor of Boston’s Ruggles St. Baptist Church, “for producing ‘Songtime,’ a radio program unique in its presentation of a Christian message through the disc jockey technique.”

• The North American Baptist General Conference is erecting a $225,000 national headquarters building in Forest Park, Illinois.

• Archaeologist Joseph Free of Wheaton College returned from Jordan last month with a trove of relics, some of which date back 3,000 years. A staff of nine from Wheaton made up Free’s exploration team.

• Boston’s Tremont Temple Baptist Church is sending five young people for 10 weeks of missionary service in Latin America this summer.

• Cornerstone-laying ceremonies were held last month for the Methodists’ $5,000,000 Southern California School of Theology in Claremont.

• The Birmingham chapter of the Southern Negro Improvement Association of Alabama, which claims to represent 15,000 Negroes, adopted a resolution last month which criticizes “self-styled Negro ministers abandoning the gospel and substituting integration and other social doctrines.”

• A Southern Baptist group is holding its first services in Rochester, New York. The services are classified as a mission work of the Ohio Baptist Convention. Area missionary Arthur L. Walker is spearheading the project.

• The Evangelical Welfare Agency now holds a child placement license in California.

• A “Christian Writing Center” was dedicated at Green Lake, Wisconsin, early this month. The building is located on a site where summer conferences have been held for the past twelve years for Christian writers and editors.

• Allen C. Thompson, former engineer and program director for the Voice of America, was ordained to the Lutheran ministry last month. Thompson, 42, plans to go to Africa to set up and maintain a radio station for the Lutheran World Federation.

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• KHOF, Christian FM outlet in Los Angeles, has Federal Communications Commission approval to operate on 100,000 watts which makes it the second most powerful station west of the Mississippi River.

• The Protestant Council of the City of New York will move its West 46th St. headquarters to the $20,000,000, 19-story Interchurch Center now being built for occupancy this fall. The council has a 45-member staff.

• The United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. dedicated a new “Ecumenical Training Center” for overseas mission candidates last month. The four-building center is located on Long Island.

Gains And Losses

U. S. Illegitimacy

Newly-released figures show U. S. illegitimate birth rates at a record high. Nearly one out of every 20 babies are born out of wedlock, according to Department of Health, Education and Welfare figures for 1957 (the latest available because of time required to compile and analyze birth statistics).

The statistics show that at least 201,700 unmarried mothers in this country gave birth to live babies in 1957. The total was said to represent an increase of 8,200 over the previous high set in 1956.

Here is a breakdown of the ratio of illegitimate births per 1000 registered live births (from figures of statesNot all states report illegitimate births. In the case of these states, the Federal government makes estimates in formulating national figures.):

The illegitimacy rate climbed in 1957 for both white and non-white mothers. It was more than ten times higher for the Negro population than the white.

A total of 70,800 children were born to unmarried white mothers, and 130,900 to non-white mothers in 1957. This represented a rate of 19.6 per 1,000 births for white mothers, or about one in 50, and a rate of 206.7 for non-white mothers, more than one birth in five.

The total rate for the U. S. population was 47.4 per 1,000 births, or nearly one in 20. This compares with 39.8 per 1,000 births recorded in 1950.

The increase in the rate of illegitimacy since 1950 amounts to slightly more than 10 per cent for both Negro and white.

More than 80,000 illegitimate babies were born to teen-age mothers in 1957, the government reported. Some 4,600 babies were born to unmarried mothers 14 or under, 60,000 to those 20 to 24, nearly 30,000 to those 25 to 29, and 28,000 to those 30 to 39.

Highest rate of illegitimacy was in the District of Columbia, with 188.1 children per 1,000 born.

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A Session’S Reply

From New Jersey last month came one of the first internal reactions to business conducted by the 171st General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. The session of the First Presbyterian Church of Lambertville unanimously adopted resolutions which said: (1) “We deplore the action of the [assembly] in confirming a man in a high ecclesiastical and educational position who is unwilling or unable to give an unequivocal statement of his belief in the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ.” (2) “We dissociate ourselves from our Christian brethren who call upon our government to recognize Communist China and urge that it be admitted to the United Nations.”

Worth Quoting

“He has not denied the virgin birth … he has not abrogated his ordination vows … he stands in the center of Reformed theology.”—Dr. W. Paul Ludwig, chairman of Standing Committee on Theological Education, United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., to the 171st General Assembly during discussion of the theological views of Dr. Theodore A. Gill, president of San Francisco Theological Seminary.

“After the wrangle, the assembly went ahead and decisively confirmed Dr. Gill in his new job. Back in California, he willingly explained his firm stand. ‘I cannot pledge allegiance to the doctrine of the virgin birth,’ he said. ‘I believe in the Incarnation of God in Christ. You cannot discuss the fact that He was Christ, but you can discuss the how of the fact that He was in Christ.’ “—Newsweek, June 8, 1959, issue.

Visit From Moscow

Two representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church came to Geneva, Switzerland, last month for two weeks of talks with officials of the World Council of Churches.

The visitors were Archpriest Vitalii M. Borovoi, described as a lecturer in early church history at a Leningrad theological academy, and Viktor S. Alexeev, lay worker with the patriarchate.

Metropolitan Nikolai, second-ranking prelate of the Russian Orthodox Church, went on record in favor of joining the WCC after a meeting with ecumenical leaders in Utrecht, The Netherlands, last summer. The Russian church in 1948 turned down an invitation to join the WCC at its organizational meeting at Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Religious Honors

A Jewish clergy leader was selected last month as “clergyman of the year” by a national organization which seeks to promote, on an inter-faith basis, the concept that America is undergirded with a strong religious foundation.

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Rabbi Maurice N. Eisendrath, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (the national congregational body of Reform Judaism) was cited by Religious Heritage of America, Inc., as a “dedicated prophet of the Holy One.”

The group also honored former Democratic Representative Brooks Hays, immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, as “lay churchman of the year”; Mrs. Theodore O. Wedel, wife of the Canon of Washington Cathedral, as “church woman of the year”; Willmar Thorkelson, religion editor of the Minneapolis Star, as “the year’s outstanding journalist in the field of faith and freedom”; Life magazine, for “comprehensive presentation of major religious faiths of the world, keen perception of the basic principles of the religious life of America, and faithful attention to events of ethical and spiritual significance which add to our national religious heritage.”

The awards were presented at a dinner sponsored by Religious Heritage of America as part of its annual “Washington Pilgrimage.” The “pilgrimage” brought to the nation’s capital 250 Religious Heritage associates representing 27 states for a sightseeing tour and participation in ceremonies hailing “this nation under God.” Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas was honorary chairman of the pilgrimage.

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