At Detroit, the United States ends and Canada begins. The Detroit River makes the difference, and on its banks in the modern Cobo Hall Convention Arena the more than 6,300 ministers and lay persons attending the 115th assembly of the International Convention of Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) October 2–7 pondered the transforming journey of their brotherhood to what some saw as a foreign country. For these, the waters of transition were chilling. For most, buoyancy was the order of the day.

“Restructure of the Brotherhood” was the overshadowing issue of the sessions, even as it has become the dominant fact of the movement and doubtless will remain so for some years to come. Groundwork for a key alteration in church polity was laid at this assembly, which voted to receive a proposal to change from a “mass assembly” to a delegate body. No vote on the proposed amendment to the by-laws can be taken until the next assembly, to be held in 1966 in Dallas. (The restructure process has decreed twelve regional meetings next year in place of the usual annual convention.)

At present any Disciple who registers at the assembly may vote. Under the delegate plan he would lose this right, while retaining speaking privileges. “Voting representatives” would come from congregations, the convention’s committee on recommendations, and member agencies. Officers and staff members of the convention also could vote. Each congregation would be eligible to send three representatives plus one more for “each 500 or fraction thereof of participating members over 1,000.”

Someone wanted to know whether a new policy was being introduced into church history to join the existing ones: papal, episcopal, presbyterian, and congregational. A convention spokesman talked in terms of “the most responsible expression of congregationalism.” But some leaders speak privately of ultimate acceptance of a modified presbyterianism. They look upon congregationalism as springing less from the Scriptures than from the independent spirit of the American frontier whence the Disciple movement arose last century. Opponents of this view point out that presbyterianism also existed on the American frontier and that the Disciple fathers, Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone, came out of it.

The modern change of outlook was reflected in Detroit by one disciple who pointed to the United Presbyterian Church, U. S. A., as an example of a responsible delegate body. In early days, it is said, such a citation would often have proved enough to defeat a proposal. But many Disciple leaders now view congregational autonomy as an obstacle to full Disciple participation in the ecumenical movement and to the possibility of merger with other churches. The Detroit assembly voted to authorize the drafting of a plan of union with the United Church of Christ, a body formed by merger partly through polity compromise between a congregational group (Congregational Christian Churches) and a presbyterian body (Evangelical and Reformed Church). And a year ago, Disciples authorized representatives to participate in drafting possible union plans among the six communions participating in the Blake merger proposal (the others being the United Church of Christ and the Protestant Episcopal, Evangelical United Brethren, Methodist, and United Presbyterian churches).

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The Detroit assembly contributed further to the ecumenical movement by disapproving a resolution which asked that financial support for church councils be confined to gifts from individuals while at the same time approving another resolution that urged more generous support for councils.

Disciple elder statesman Winfred Ernest Garrison of the University of Houston told ministers at a breakfast meeting that their movement is approaching a “fork in the road.” “We will have to decide whether we want to be a more efficient denomination, perhaps part of a bigger and better denomination,” he said, “with such structural integration that we and the world may know exactly who we are, how many there are of us, and where we stand.” “Or,” he continued, “a less clearly defined movement, brotherhood or fellowship which is content to be a pilot project for the united church and therefore as loosely defined in polity and doctrine as the united church must be, yet bound together by a common loyalty, a common hope and a common commitment to the concept of a church which considers no Christian as alien to its communion.” Garrison concluded: “The two ways at the fork of the road can converge. We can organize and restructure for greater efficiencies so many of our churches and people as are willing to be so structured. We can refuse to allow our organization to become a boundary line or a wall of separation by which to determine who are and who are not Disciples of Christ.”

It was reported that some leaders were not entirely happy with Garrison’s inclusion of the second “way” along with the first. They have privately expressed their readiness to sacrifice the churches that are expected to leave the convention over the issue of restructure. They now look more to other denominations for fellowship and possible organizational unity than toward the theologically conservative Disciples who support the North American Christian Convention or toward the still more conservative Churches of Christ, which split from the Disciples early in this century (partly because of Disciple introduction of instrumental music in church services) and have now outgrown the parent body.

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In other actions the Detroit assembly:

• Approved, after lively debate and by a vote of 897 to 655, universal membership in the United Nations, with seating of Red China as soon as “practicable” and protection of the rights of Nationalist China.

• Rejected a resolution charging the Supreme Court with subverting the “historic religious allegiance of our government as subordinate to God,” and substituted for it a mild resolution suggesting “some church people are deeply disturbed by the trend of recent decisions” of the court in regard to church-state relations.

• Elected: as convention president, Dr. Stephen J. England, professor of New Testament at the Graduate Seminary of Phillips University, Enid, Oklahoma; as president-elect (a new office), Dr. Forest L. Richeson, minister of the First Christian Church in Minneapolis. He will succeed Dr. England at the close of the 1966 assembly.

A Call To Negroes

The president of the world’s largest Negro religious body called on his race to marshal their own economic resources for the improvement of their communities.

Dr. Joseph H. Jackson, delivering his presidential address before the annual meeting of the National Baptist Convention, U. S. A., Inc., in Detroit last month, criticized boycotts, picketing, and sit-ins as “negative actions,” and stressed that positive actions, like those he was urging, “would be far more rewarding to the cause.”

“Today I call for another type of direct action,” he told some 10,000 delegates and guests. “That is, direct action in the positive which is orientated towards the Negro’s ability, talent, genious, and capacity.

“Let us take our economic resources, however insignificant and small, and organize and harness them; not to stop the economic growth of others, but to develop our own and to help our own community.”

At the convention Jackson was re-elected to his twelfth consecutive one-year term as head of the 5,500,000-member denomination.

In a press interview prior to the meeting, Jackson said there was a “type of commercialization” of the civil rights cause because of the rise of too many Negro organizations in the movement.

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“These many organizations,” he declared, “frequently seem to have no central authority aside from the organizer and his close associates; hence, they have been able to launch campaigns in the name of civil rights without always having the support and approval of sound thinking, the best minds, and the more substantial citizens. We have been over-led, which is just as bad as being under-led.”

Asserting that “our best and most trusted leaders are still those in well-established and time-tested organizations,” Jackson urged Negroes to “recognize, appreciate and follow those trusted, dedicated and committed leaders who are wiser in counsel than some of our militants are in planning their community wars.”

He insisted that “athelets and comedians must not make the mistake of assuming the role of political, religious, and cultural leaders. We as a race must see to it that each man serves in his own field, and we must not allow the white community to pick our leaders or tell us what Negro we should follow.”

A resolution passed by the convention condemned violence, vandalism, and murder in the civil rights struggle and called for a crackdown on whites and Negroes who flout law and order. It said:

“The government does not serve the best interest of the Negro or of the nation when it allows any criminals, colored or white, to break the laws of the land with impunity and then fix the blame on the Negro race by saying: ‘Such actions among you people will hurt the Negroes’ cause.’ ”

Pentecostal Positions

Concern over broadcasting rights and privileges was a focal point of the twenty-fourth General Conference of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada held in Montreal last month.

Representatives of some 700 Pentecostal churches adopted a resolution that “deplores the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s failure to grant radio broadcasting time to the recognized French Protestant churches.”

As citizens of Canada, French-speaking Protestants should have equal access to CBC facilities, “just as other major denominations,” it said.

The CBC said recently that because French-speaking Protestants form such a small minority, it cannot feasibly provide them with facilities.

Also approved by the General Conference was a proposal to protest against the CBC for alleged discrimination in not making available television schedules of Sunday morning services and the “Heritage” drama series to the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.

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The General Conference commended the Canadian Board of Broadcast Governors for issuing a directive insisting that advertising of alcoholic beverages must not be aimed at youth nor presented in a way to glamorize the drinking habit.

In still another statement the conference endorsed the Board of Broadcast Governors’ regulatory relationship to both private and CBC (government-owned) radio and television outlets. The present arrangement was described as offering “the better promise of access to the airways to broadcast the Christian message.” The Pentecostal constituency was urged to “resist all moves that would abolish the BBG and return the regulation of private radio and television stations to the CBC.”

The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada point to a federal census that shows them to be the fastest-growing denomination in the nation. Present constituency is believed to number more than 150,000.

Evangelical Psychology

A select group of learned evangelicals in Argentina are breaking new ground in an effort to relate Christian faith to medicine and psychology. A meeting last month of sixty students in both fields, held in the city of Rosario and sponsored by the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, led to the formation of an Argentine Evangelical Association of Psychology.

Lecturers and students represented five university centers. A Paraguayan psychiatrist and philosophy professor lectured on psychoanalysis. An Argentine clinical psychologist contrasted the doctrines of several schools of psychology with the teachings of Scripture. An Argentine neurologist evaluated Pavlov’s theories from a Christian point of view.

‘Those We Call Americans’

“Some of the City of London incumbents come up from the suburbs every day just as if they were ordinary men.” With this ingenuous introduction a British weekly recently ran a feature article on the Rev. Chad Varah, rector of Walbrook’s beautiful Wren church of St. Stephen, and founder eleven years ago of the Samaritan movement in Britain.

Last month Varah talked to newsmen when 200 delegates from twenty countries met in Oxford for the third international Samaritan conference. Commenting that Britain’s fifty branches could always do with more workers and more money, he stressed nonetheless that the work was not being hindered by lack of either. His principle he expressed simply: “Do the job and sooner or later someone will give you the means.”

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The Samaritans advertise an emergency telephone number, so that immediate contact can be made with them at any hour of the day or night. Most “clients” (fewer than 1 in 250 of whom do commit suicide) trust the counselors implicitly, knowing that problems will be treated in the strictest confidence. Lay people from all walks of life gladly give their time, most of them having no qualifications save a genuine concern for other people and a talent for giving friendship to those in need of it.

Delegates from other countries with parallel organizations (“Samaritans is merely an international title of convenience) gave some interesting insights into the work in their countries. Answering a question whether religious ideologies constitute a barrier, a Czechoslovak doctor said the difficulties of establishing a center in Prague were unconnected with the nature of the regime—the authorities, indeed, had been most helpful. The Mexican representative said his country’s statistics showed the proportion of attempted suicides as three women to every man, that of successful suicides as three men to every woman. A Roman Catholic priest from Italy mentioned that many of the callers in Milan suffer from too much wealth—“those,” he added, “whom we call Americans.”

Although the majority of Samaritans belong to one of the major Christian denominations, others are of some other religious affiliation, or of none. As usual Chad Varah at Oxford reduced it to basic language: “We are committed to need before creed.”


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