Christopher Columbus set sail for the Orient but landed in America. Early this month many churchmen set out for Columbus, Ohio, to attend a study conference on church-state relations which they believed would support the Jeffersonian doctrine of “absolute” separation of church and state. But like Christopher, the conference wound up on another continent. It had steered a middle course.
The four-day meeting was a precedent-setting one. It was the first study conference on church-state relations called by the National Council of Churches. It was the first time the NCC had invited non-member Protestant communions to send voting delegates, these representing conservative groups like the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and several state conventions of the Southern Baptist Convention. And along with some 400 representatives of sixteen Protestant and Eastern Orthodox bodies came nineteen Roman Catholic and Jewish “participant-observers,” the first to share even indirectly in the formation of a major NCC document—as they took part in drawing up section reports used by a “findings committee” of delegates in preparing the final 3,000-word conference statement. Observers were named also by the National Association of Evangelicals and the First Church of Christ Scientist in Boston.
The delegates faced a complex and perpetually vexing problem area in Christian thought, and their findings, while not constituting an official NCC “policy statement,” were seen by observers as highly significant guidelines for continuing examination of church-state relations by the nation’s religious bodies. Delegates stated the rationale for their gathering in this way: “The necessity for new attention to the problems of church-state relations arises not only from the expansion of governmental programs into areas where churches and other voluntary agencies have served and continue to serve but also from the transition of this nation from a Protestant to a religiously pluralistic society.” The pluralism motif was stressed throughout the document though there were some who questioned the thesis and wished it stricken.
In qualifying the “complete” separation, or “wall of separation,” theory, the document points to the frequent “overlapping” of the functions of church and state, and thus the “interaction” of the two structures. Yet it asserts church-state separation to be a constitutional principle and declares “acceptance and support of Supreme Court decisions insofar as they prohibit officially prescribed prayers and required devotional reading of the Bible in schools.” An attempt to delete the word “support” was defeated. Opposition was asserted to “any proposal such as the so-called Christian Amendment which seeks to commit our government to official identification with a particular religious tradition.”
On the other hand, the document states that “government exceeds its proper authority if it shows hostility or even indifference to religion”: “While it is not the business of government to promote or support religion, it is government’s role and duty to further religious liberty. The clause of the First Amendment prohibiting an establishment of religion must be balanced against the clause prohibiting interference with the free exercise of religion.”
Going beyond this, the document asserts that “under some well-defined circumstances, government may legitimately support specific programs of church-affiliated health and welfare agencies. The sole purpose of any governmental policy in this respect must be the promotion of a clearly identifiable public interest as against a private interest of an individual or religious group.” It is also declared that such government aid should not be aimed “primarily” at the support of religious institutions or programs but should be “incidental” to large programs in the public interest. It should also be made certain, the document says, that agencies receiving aid do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed (this point was sharply debated), or national origin.
This brought the delegates to what proved the most controversial subject in their statement of findings—federal aid to parochial schools, which in general they opposed, but with certain exceptions. Following is the key passage: “Since parochial elementary and secondary schools are maintained by churches so that ‘religion permeates the entire atmosphere’ of the school, government funds should not be authorized or appropriated for overall support of such schools as distinguished from aid in support of specific health and welfare programs conducted by such institutions to meet particular needs.”
This section, adopted by a vote of 85–57, was a revised version of wording that would have approved federal aid for any “specific programs” of private and parochial schools that would meet a public need. As amended, it approves federal aid for such programs as school lunch projects and medical treatment while rejecting government funds for educational purposes.
There was lively debate over a proposed amendment that would have removed the word “overall’ in reference to government support for parochial schools, a revision that would have given the findings a more rigid separationist tone. The proposal died on a 79–85 vote.
The delegates acknowledged the parental right of choice of schools, but they denied that a choice of parochial or private schools “imposes on the state any obligation to support such choice through the granting of public funds in overall support of such schools.” They cautioned that such support “may well have the result of further fragmentation of the educational system and weaken the role and position of the public schools.”
But recognition was given to “the seriousness of the financial problem of the parochial schools.” In response, the conferees proposed “shared time as the most creative measure for solving this problem and [we] are willing to explore other legal methods for solving it.”
The study document passes very quickly over what is becoming an increasingly thorny problem for U.S. congressmen: the differences between education at primary and secondary levels on the one hand and college education on the other with regard to proposed federal aid. The document says simply that “these differences [undefined] with respect to the constitutional and policy questions involved in governmental support of non-public education enterprises remain to be explored.”
Summing up the conference, one leader said: “This is not the first or the last step in the quest. But I think it’s a significant step.”
Closing Up Shop
The major agency of cooperation among American Lutherans began a formal dismantling process this month. At its forty-sixth annual meeting, held in Charlotte, North Carolina, the National Lutheran Council took initial steps toward transferring activities to the proposed new Lutheran Council in the United States of America.
The LCUSA, as now projected, will embrace the Lutheran Church in America and the American Lutheran Church, both of which participate in the present NLC, as well as the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, which do not belong to the NLC.
Planners have a target date of January 1, 1967, for establishment of the new agency.
Among key problems in the transition are those connected with the separation of the council’s regular program from its functions as the American committee for the Lutheran World Federation. The Missouri Synod and the SELC are not members of the federation.
Another problem is what to do with the campus ministry of the present NLC. An NLC news release noted that “the NLC bodies differ with the Missouri Synod in their philosophy and approach to this area of activity and lack of doctrinal agreement is a major obstacle.”
Sacred Precincts Picketed
Now and then Britain gets a reminder that old-time militant Protestantism, like Charles II, is an unconscionable time dying. In Scotland each July 12 it organizes noisy processions to celebrate King Billy’s victory over the Papists in 1690; in England it has all but forsaken vocal protests during Anglo-Catholic services, and witnesses chiefly through incisive little notices in the “Personal” column of The Times. Earlier this month, however, it took to itself a modern weapon when its supporters picketed the decently somber confines of Church House, Westminster.
Inside, the Church Assembly was debating a controversial measure that sought to regularize the use of eucharistic vestments. This has been a well-aired subject in recent times, and nothing new emerged from the discussion, though a prominent layman, Mr. George Goyder of Oxford, created a stir when he asked why if our Lord wanted them to wear vestments he did not dress up specially for the Last Supper. In the end all three houses, Bishops by 31–0, Clergy by 214–30, and Laity by 182–68, voted in favor of the measure, which now goes forward finally for parliamentary approval. Such approval would not make vestments mandatory; it would merely give official sanction to a practice which hitherto has been illegal.
Later in the week pacifist pickets took over and found the house more sympathetic to their cause. A resolution by the Bishop of Chichester, Dr. Roger Wilson, opposing Britain’s independent nuclear force, was carried with an addendum which stated, “believing that the use of indiscriminate weapons must now be condemned as an affront to the Creator and denial of the very purpose of the Creation.”
When the House of Laity met separately, evangelicals again received a setback when a move that would in effect have officially permitted non-Anglicans to communicate in parish churches on occasion, was defeated 101–84. Two things were significant about the voting, however: the minority vote on this issue was the largest so far; and the majority vote was cast very largely by older members of the house.
The whole assembly discussed the report on deployment and payment of the clergy (see “New ‘Pauline’ Document,” CHRISTIANITY TODAY, News, February 14) and agreed to receive it after an official assurance was given that such reception in no way committed the church. It seems certain, nevertheless, that many of the report’s recommendations will in the church’s own time be implemented. As one means of furthering them, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Michael Ramsey, pleaded for more clergymen to make a vocation of celibacy. This would help solve the problem of filling vacant parishes by allowing men without domestic ties to move from place to place, wherever the need was greatest. The Bishop of Woolwich, Dr. John Robinson, said the report would not bring in the Kingdom of God, but that the future would be “very grim” if its recommendations were not received.
J. D. DOUGLAS
Jeopardizing The Union
Despite the somewhat ostentatious support given by the upper echelons in both churches, opposition is growing to the proposed Anglican-Methodist merger in England. This month in London saw the inaugural meeting of the Voice of Methodism, a movement pledged to uncompromising opposition to certain proposals in the current report (the issue will probably be decided next year). It seems likely that if these are accepted there will be a split within Methodism with, suggested some of the speakers at the meeting, a majority of Methodists dissenting.
The new movement, which has already appointed a full-time secretary and is inundated with offers of voluntary help, is planning to publish a regular journal and a series of booklets, and is appealing for at least $55,000 from supporters. One of the elder statesmen of Methodism, noted Old Testament scholar Norman Snaith, was unable through illness to attend the inaugural meeting but sent a message pointing out that “the essence of the Gospel and of Protestantism was justification by faith alone,” and that acceptance of the report involved “denying this by agreeing to the unhistorical notion of apostolic succession.” He was backed by Dr. Leslie Newman, who is reputed to have the largest evening congregation in Methodism (he takes up an appointment in the United States this summer). Some people spoke very confidently about reunion as the will of God, said Dr. Newman, but “this age was not conspicuous for its concern for God’s will.”
Meanwhile the (Anglo-Catholic) Church Union, which perhaps hoped the merger proposals would founder on other rocks, has at last come out with a plain statement. This body, which makes wide use of such pejorative expressions as “separated brethren,” professes to welcome the merger report but says it is “not an adequate basis of communion.” The union finds the language equivocal at times and points out that “some important theological questions are left unresolved, others barely mentioned.” It cites two notable differences of discipline in the two churches: the problem connected with Holy Communion, and that dealing with admission to holy matrimony after divorce.
The union has reserves also about Methodist insistence on maintaining relations with other non-episcopal churches, and comments: “It does not appear from the report either that the theological implications of communion have been adequately considered, or that the respective relations and discipline have been reconciled. An Anglican attending Holy Communion in a Methodist church might find that the celebrant was, say, a Congregationalist minister.” What the union’s statement fails to add is that already an Anglican who attends communion in the Lutheran Church of Sweden (with which the Church of England is in communion) might find the celebrant is a minister of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, whose orders are accepted by the Swedish Church but not by the Church of England.
J. D. DOUGLAS
‘One Man’S Way’
If anything can be an omen in the flickering world of Hollywood, the Protestant clergyman may be in for a new public image. After decades of movies that presented the Protestant minister as a confused and bewildered oozy sentimentalist whom no man in his right mind would take seriously, United Artists’ One Man’s Way presents a credible image of one of America’s best-known clergymen.
The film is the story of Dutch Reformed minister Norman Vincent Peale, played very satisfactorily by Don Murray. Born in the manse, the last thing Peale wanted to be was a minister, and he turned to journalism. But exposure to crime and human need awakened a compassion for people that sent the police reporter to the seminary. He wanted to meet human need with positive action, not simply write about it. Here lies the motif of Peale’s ministry.
When in a gas station his future wife met his back bumper with her front one—with a very positive impact—the romantic chase was on. The bumped became the pursuer, and the pursued the girl-who-is-never-at-home—for the last thing she wanted to be was a minister’s wife, which she thought could only be dull.
With the bright persistence of the original positive thinker, Norman refused to accept a negative answer. In the end, Ruth herself asked for what Norman wanted, and he complied by taking her to wife. Playing a starring role in her first motion picture, lovely Diana Hyland is no typical minister’s wife—but then neither is Peale a typical minister.
One Man’s Way is not the usual story of the minister’s struggle to coexist with the special attention of the congregation’s “unclaimed jewels” turned sour and with the usual cantankerous, immovable church boards. It is just what the title suggests: one man’s way of preaching. The script faithfully reflects Peale’s way of preaching down the years. At the first, he proclaimed a kind of do-it-yourself-with-God religion—a combination that makes all things possible. In the movie as in his life, there came—especially with his growing popularity—severe criticism, and even the charge that his message was blasphemous. Peale countered, in the movie as in life, that he was really preaching the God in Christ who so meets aching human needs that man, even in this world, can live on a note of optimism and in a mood of triumph. Here lies the key to Peale’s extraordinary appeal. He stresses what is often an unnecessary deficiency in preachers of more obvious orthodoxy.
Based on Arthur Gordon’s book, Minister to Millions, and produced by Frank Ross, One Man’s Way is certainly one of the best current religious movies. It is serious, warm, authentic, reverent, and always in good taste. May One Man’s Way become the way in which other religious movies are made.
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