American Methodists chafe under the image of a segregated church. Delegates to their General Conference in Pittsburgh faced problems squarely and set in motion orderly, if controversial, transitions.

A nattily attired company of young pickets, among them an expectant mother, marched quietly before the main entrance to Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena. They carried placards with a mutual plea to the 1964 General Conference of The Methodist Church: “Integrate Now!”

Racial upheaval is the pre-eminent theme of discussion among all major denominational conventions this year. In no religious communion is the problem more acute than in American Methodism with its segregated framework of church government: five geographically divided jurisdictions and a sixth embracing 90 per cent of the church’s 373,000 Negroes. A majority of the 858 delegates at the Quadrennial General Conference in Pittsburgh favored abolition of the Central (Negro) Jurisdiction. But the issue is so intricate that delegates settled for another try at voluntary restructure under a constitutional amendment dating back to 1956.

Demonstrators pressing for more decisive action staged an all-night vigil at two downtown Pittsburgh churches. Some 1,600 persons took part. They climaxed the effort with a “kneel-in” outside the arena. A spokesman, the Rev. James H. Laird of Detroit, said the demonstrators had come “hopeful of renewal among the people called Methodists and now find ourselves in dismay and sorrow at the failure of this conference to provide courageous leadership in removing racial injustice among the house of God.”

Laird’s group calls itself “Methodists for Church Renewal,” with “renewal” meant to apply primarily to the area of civil rights. A broader type of renewal, however, was urged on Methodism by important conference figures. The most outspoken was Dr. Eugene L. Smith, chief of the Methodist foreign missionary program, who successfully steered the enactment of a program designed to achieve “greater oneness.” Smith related the experience of J. B. Phillips, who in translating the Pauline Epistles told of feeling “like an electrician having to rewire a house when he could not turn off the main current.”

“We are called,” Smith declared, “to rewire the house of God with a rewiring adequate to our day, and we have to do it while the wires are ‘hot’ with the power of the Holy Spirit moving through them. If we do this, we have no idea whether we will be burned, whether we will be illumined.”

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Smith, a leading advocate of rapprochement between mainstream Protestantism and the theologically conservative bloc, asked that a proposed congregational sharing program not be limited to Methodist churches. As an example, he indicated, “I know where we ought to throw strength behind Pentecostal churches.”

Smith is blunt in speaking of Methodist problems. Although the 10,235,000-member denomination is more prosperous than ever, signs of weakness are increasingly apparent. Since its last General Conference, The Methodist Church has been displaced by the Southern Baptist Convention as the nation’s largest denomination. The population percentage of Methodists in the United States has been declining gradually but steadily since 1950. A dramatic review of the encouraging as well as the discouraging trends in American Methodism was narrated by Smith and proved to be a highlight of the conference. It was patterned after a Broadway musical.

Hungerford in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Reprinted by permission.

The two-week conference opened April 26 with the Episcopal Address given by Bishop Gerald H. Kennedy of Los Angeles. This traditional state-of-the-church report is prepared by a specially chosen bishop, then reviewed by all other bishops before he delivers it (see excerpts on page 32).

The racial problem hung heavy over the conference from the outset. Bishop Kennedy said that the General Conference “should insist upon the removal from its structure of any mark of racial segregation and we should do it without wasting time.” But he did not mention the Central Jurisdiction by name, and he offered no formula to abolish it. The eighty-two Methodist bishops sometimes debate on legislation affecting agencies on which they serve, but they have no vote in plenary sessions.

One of the first announcements made at the conference was that the Council of Bishops had chosen Bishop Prince A. Taylor, Jr., of Monrovia, Liberia, as president-designate. No other Negro has ever held the post.

A total of 4,503 proposals for legislative action were filed with the 1964 General Conference. They ranged from a request to have bishops appoint preachers by casting lots to a plea for the study of chiropractic. As expected, however, the most recurring theme was what to do with the Central Jurisdiction, which is as old as the present Methodist Church. It was created in the interests of ecumenicity at the 1939 General Conference, which brought together in a merger the Methodist Protestant Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Negroes voted against the racial division, but Southern whites generally regarded it a condition of unification.

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A constitutional amendment aimed at voluntary abolition of the Central Jurisdiction was enacted by the 1956 General Conference and ratified by The Methodist Church’s ninety-eight annual conferences in the United States within two years. The legislation provides for optional transfer of annual conferences and local churches from the Central Jurisdiction to one of the geographical jurisdictions. Thus far twenty-seven local churches have made the switch or are in the process. Not a single annual conference, however, has yet transferred.

Responsibility for digging Methodists out of their racial dilemma rested during the past quadrennium on a thirty-six-member commission headed by New York lawyer Charles C. Parlin. In this role the 65-year-old Parlin was easily the most respected personality among the 10,000 or more Methodists who traveled to the Pittsburgh conference. His broad understanding of issues and procedures and his calm and humble spirit were esteemed even by his opponents.

Parlin’s commission, which included six Central Jurisdiction representatives, brought lo the conference a thirty-four-page “Report on Plan of Action for the Elimination of the Central Jurisdiction.” Four Southern representatives on the commission refused initially to endorse the document, but by last month they had reversed themselves. The document therefore had the support of thirty-five of the thirty-six commission members (the lone dissenter: Dr. Dean Richardson, a district superintendent from Buffalo who favors a new constitutional amendment).

After more than nine hours of debate, the conference adopted the plan with only minor changes. It includes provisions for working out the thorny problem of Negro representation in the church leadership—which now is much greater than Negroes are entitled to on a strictly numerical basis. A measure of financial relief is promised for underpaid Negro ministers.

Subsequently, the South Central Jurisdiction Board of Lay Activities voted to urge annual conferences in its area to implement the Parlin commission plan. This was regarded as an encouraging development. Chief resistance, however, is expected in the Southeastern Jurisdiction, in whose boundaries reside nearly half the members of the Central Jurisdiction.

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The racial question came up in a number of other ways throughout the conference. Delegates repeatedly beat down attempts to impose integrationist mandates, despite a reminder that a Negro bishop had been barred from Easter services at a Methodist church in Jackson, Mississippi.

Probably the most decisive vote on the racial question came during consideration of the proposed merger of The Methodist Church with the 758,000-mcmber Evangelical United Brethren Church. Dr. W. Astor Kirk, an economist and political scientist, asked delegates to record a judgment “that the Central Jurisdiction structure of The Methodist Church not be made a part of the plan of merger with the Evangelical United Brethren Church.” Kirk’s motion carried by a vote of 464 to 362.

The merger itself with the more theologically conservative EUB Church was approved in principle. Preparation of a plan of union was entrusted to a committee that was instructed to present it at a special session of the General Conference to be called in 1966. Target date for the actual merger is the spring of 1968. EUB Bishop Reuben H. Mueller, currently president of the National Council of Churches, conceded that some EUB pastors and churches will withdraw in protest of the merger. The merged denomination will probably be called “The United Methodist Church.”

Delegates also quickly approved a commission report which was regarded as a setback for the six-way Protestant merger proposed by Dr. Eugene Carson Blake (see CHRISTIANITY TODAY, News, May 8, 1964, page 47). Parlin, who represented the commission, told delegates:

“The promoters of this proposal ask each of the six participating churches to get from their highest legislative bodies directions and orders to proceed to the drafting of a six-way plan. Your commission wrestled with this problem and decided that we were not ready to ask this General Conference for such an order because there were too many unsolved problems. It left the commission with three alternatives: the first was to accept the proposition and bring to you a request for an order to draft a six-way plan. Secondly, to say it was premature and withdraw from the consultation. But your commission took a middle ground, and said we would recommend continuing our consultation, but that we thought we should make known to our fellow participants certain concerns which we felt.”

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The race question was again introduced during a discussion of Christian social concerns. The debate in this case turned on whether “civil disobedience” is ever justifiable. Delegates finally approved a statement which noted that “in rare instances, where legal recourse is unavailable or inadequate for redress of grievances from laws or their application that, on their face, are unjust or immoral, the Christian conscience will obey God rather than man.”

The church-wide fund to assist Methodist ministers and laymen under duress in racial issues was established by the conference. An attempt to name the fund the “Civil Disobedience Relief Fund” and to set aside a specific Sunday for an offering was defeated. The fund will be maintained by voluntary contributions from churches and individuals.

Support for the Negroes’ voting rights and their access to public accommodations was voiced by delegates. Reports asserting that all persons regardless of race may attend or join Methodist churches anywhere were approved without debate. The reports gave no alternative for churches that fail to honor the principle.

The General Conference reaffirmed the historic Methodist position against the use of alcoholic beverages with scarcely a skirmish. An amendment to modify the stand by affirming “that sincere Christians differ” on drinking was soundly defeated. Methodists expect all church members to abstain, and “those accepting nomination or appointment for any official leadership in the church are expected to set a worthy example by refraining from all use of intoxicating beverages.”

Methodists also oppose smoking, but an expected move to enforce the church’s position in light of recently published studies linking cigarettes and disease failed to materialize. Many Methodists, even paid employees of official church agencies, ignore their church’s stand on drinking as well as smoking.

Action by the delegates will provide Methodists with their first new hymnal in twenty-five years. Selections of a special hymnal committee were overwhelmingly endorsed by the General Conference. Hymns that will be making their debut in Methodist churches include “How Great Thou Art.” Among those that appeared in the old hymnal but are being dropped is “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains.” A motion to delete “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” because of its association with the Civil War died for lack of a second. The new hymnal will not appear before the end of 1965. It will cost about $3.00 per copy.

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Also approved by delegates was a revised and enlarged Book of Worship which leaders called the most comprehensive book of its kind to be published in the United States. The revision was geared toward a more contemporary approach to most of the services, rights, and sacraments of the church. The Book of Worship is recommended for Methodist churches, but its use is not mandatory.

Other action by the conference: establishment of a maximum retirement age for bishops of 72 instead of 74 (a move to reduce the mandatory retirement age for ministers from 72 to 70 was defeated); an almost unanimous vote of continued support of and participation in the National and World Councils of Churches despite numerous rank-and-file protests; anti approval of a budget of $18 million for the worldwide work of thirteen national and international Methodist agencies for each of the next four years, a 20 per cent increase over the past quadrennium.

An unexpected guest at the conference whose appearance was announced only a few hours in advance was Roman Catholic Bishop John J. Wright of Pittsburgh, a leading voice for the liberals at the Second Vatican Council. Wright’s presence marked the first time a Roman Catholic bishop had ever spoken to a Methodist General Conference.

“We welcome one another as Christians and the first business of Christians is to give thanks, so let me come today to say a few thank-yous,” he said, whereupon he expressed gratitude for the nice things Methodists have said about Popes Pius, Paul, and John. He also cited Bishop Fred P. Corson, president of the World Methodist Council, and Dr. Albert C. Outler, of Perkins School of Theology, for their perceptiveness as observers at recent Vatican Council sessions in Rome.

“There are many and deep and basic differences between us,” Bishop Wright said. But he declared that “precisely as Christians we share a difference. We share a radical difference also involving everything that is important in time and eternity, a difference from the world and the spirit of the world that must keep and bring us ever closer together as the spirit of the world becomes more and more secularist, inspired by a certain atheism frequently practical and often ductile, a secularism, a scientism, an atheistic humanism that constitutes the grounds of a difference between the world and us as Christians, whatever difference is among us, which is total.”

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Religion At The Fair

Spokesmen for religious pavilions at the New York World’s Fair say they are encouraged and gratified at the interest their exhibits have generated among fairgoers. A total of 300,000 leaflets were distributed at the Vatican Pavilion in less than two weeks. At the Billy Graham Pavilion and the Protestant and Orthodox Center, visitors are streaming through at a rate of 15,000 or more a day.

The Graham building features hourly showings of Man in the Fifth Dimension, a 28-minute Todd-AO color evangelistic film. Graham narrates the film, which includes testimonies from Dr. Elmer W. Engstrom, RCA president, Dean Calvin Linton of George Washington University, and a Harvard University psychiatrist. The film is climaxed by an appeal for commitment to Christ. Inquirers are invited to meet with specially trained counsellors who are on hand at all times.

Excerpts From The Episcopal Address

Here are excerpts from the Episcopal Address delivered by Bishop Gerald Kennedy at the Methodist General Conference:

While our fathers were good organizers, they regarded organization as a means to fulfill the evangelistic purpose. Their success was a testimony to the power of witnessing to Christian experience and another example of how the preaching of the Word of God saves men by faith.

In our fascination with subjective analyzing we have reduced the awful catastrophe of sin to a disease, and man’s moral betrayals become mere sickness.

We believe in spiritual and physical discipline and we do not believe there is anything pious about inefficiency. But it is our opinion that we spend too much time at the General Conference tinkering with our machinery. The president of the Carnegie Foundation has reminded us that almost always the last act of a dying corporation is to issue a new and enlarged edition of the rule book. An excessive attention to rules and laws may be … a sign of sickness.

We stand for the truth that nothing is any good for any people unless it brings them closer to God and makes them more aware of the spiritual foundations of their being.

We believe that this General Conference should insist upon the removal from its structure of any mark of racial segregation and we should do it without wasting time.

We rejoice in the growth of the ecumenical movement and in the development of the ecumenical spirit.… But we are not sure that God wills the churches of the Reformation to become one organic union. We believe that our pluralism has produced much good fruit, not the least of which has been freedom. We doubt seriously that eliminating our denominations would solve all our problems. We have no intention of apologizing for our own heritage or slowing down our evangelistic efforts until some proposed merger has been accomplished. The final goal for any Church is not necessarily merger but how to use its resources to serve Christ better.

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The connection between cigarette smoking and disease is now so clear that no Church can be neutral regarding this habit.

We do not share the current pessimism which speaks of a “post-Protestant era.” … Let The Methodist Church proclaim that so far as it is concerned, we are not post-anything, and the best is yet to be.

The coming of the Holy Spirit in power demands human preparation.… The time has come for us to ask ourselves what precisely we believe.… The spirit of expectancy must possess us anew.

The biggest religious attraction at the fair is Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” on display in a dramatic setting at the Vatican Pavilion. The pavilion itself surprises many Protestants with its profuse display of Scripture. Immediately inside the main entrance is a ten-foot square mosaic with the inscription: “God sent his son into the world that the world may be saved through him. John 3:17.” Outside, in gold letters, are the words of Pope Paul: “Let the world know this church looks at the world with profound understanding, with sincere admiration and with a sincere attention not of conquering it but of serving it, not of despising it but of appreciating it, not of condemning it, but of strengthening and saving it.”

The Protestant and Orthodox Center is getting a late start. Its chapel, its theater, and a number of its exhibits were not ready on opening day. The showing of the controversial film Parable was therefore delayed for several weeks. Among unfinished exhibits were those planned by the governments of Israel (an aquarium with fish front the Sea of Galilee) and Jordan (olive wood and mother-of-pearl carvings).

In a pavilion operated by the government of Sudan is displayed a recently discovered fresco of the Madonna and Child painted between 1,000 and 1,200 years ago.

The large Mormon Pavilion features a fourteen-minute color film purporting to answer such questions as “where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going.” One scene shifts to a hospital delivery room and shows a newborn infant. Other scenes attempt to depict souls in pre-creation existence and in the hereafter (bleached blondes with flip hairstyles predominate in both).

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A Menacing Backwash

The Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate at Istanbul has been threatened repeatedly in a backwash of the Cyprus crisis. Hostile moves against the patriarchate by authorities in traditionally Muslim Turkey have been denounced in Christian circles throughout the world.

There has been much talk of the possibility of ousting the patriachate from its ancient seat in Istanbul, formerly Constantinople. This is a long-standing threat, dating from the time several years ago when Turkish newspapers first began accusing the patriarchate of political agitation in favor of the Greek attitude on Cyprus.

Religious News Service quoted Athens Radio as saying that the Ankara government is planning to raze the patriarchate on the pretext that this is necessary for city planning and improvement.

The report was confirmed in London by Metropolitan Athenagoras, the Ecumenical Patriarch’s representative in Britain. He said the government also ordered two senior members of the Istanbul hierarchy to leave the country, forced the patriarchate to cease printing its official publication, and banned a film showing the meeting between Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI that took place during the Pontiff’s Holy Land pilgrimage in January.

At Buck Hill Falls, Pennsylvania, Dr. O. Frederick Nolde told the U. S. Conference of the World Council of Churches that he had received assurance from the foreign minister of Turkey that both the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and “the person of the Patriarch will remain inviolate.”

The foreign minister also said, “I hope that you have also drawn the attention of Archbishop Makarios, who is the president of Cyprus as well as being a man of the doth, in connection with the planned massacre of defenseless Turks—including women, children, and old people in Cyprus since Christmas of 1963.”

The World Council has not made public any communications with Archbishop Makarios.

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