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 ...1
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