This inscription is found on a Civil War monument that stands besides Iowa’s Capitol building overlooking Des Moines, site of last month’s two-day meeting of the policymaking General Board of the National Council of Churches. Footprints in the snow around the monument were few, suggesting that the twenty-degree weather had not encouraged sightseeing expeditions among board members. If any read the inscription, a wistful sigh might well have been the response. For though the NCC wholeheartedly seeks church unity, the affections of many both inside and outside the churches (low not toward the council. Indeed, one board member spoke of the “rising tide” of criticism of the NCC, and the chief concern of this board meeting was confrontation of that criticism in an effort to repair the NCC image, which has suffered badly in many quarters. In centering its attention on public relations the meeting was reminiscent of that of just five years ago in Detroit, when the council struggled in the aftermath of the Cleveland study conference which had urged U.S. recognition of Red China.

At a Des Moines Kiwanis luncheon on the eve of the board meeting, NCC President Reuben H. Mueller, senior bishop of the Evangelical United Brethren Church, denounced as “absolutely unfounded” accusations that the council has Communist leanings. Next day at the President’s Luncheon of the General Board he excoriated some of NCC’s critics as “men and organizations whose religion is pugnacious and narrow, and whose patriotism is measured by the dollars that gullible people send them to fatten their bank accounts.” “This kind,” he continued, “not only makes the National Council of Churches its favorite whipping boy, but practices Hitler’s theory of the big lie: If you tell it often enough and loud enough the common people will begin to believe it! This is how Nazi Germany was born. And this is how religious Fascism is at work in the United States today. Everywhere I go in this country I find people saying: ‘These accusations must be so, for no one representing the council gives answer to those criticisms and charges.’ ” Bishop Mueller added that he was “not nearly concerned so much with the professional religious baiter” as with the “good, sincere people who have been led to become critical of the social application of the Gospel through definite efforts of the churches.”

The council’s general secretary, Dr. R. H. Edwin Espy, in his report to the board also spoke at length about current attacks on the NCC, which he saw basically directed toward “the present religious establishment as represented in the mainline Protestant and Orthodox communions which comprise the council. It is the ecumenical orientation of these communions, with all that ecumenicity carries with it, that the attackers seek to destroy.” He pointed to “increasing evidence” of a profound “polarization … between clergy and laity.” He also reported that contributions to the NCC from donors (individuals, corporations, and foundations) are “falling short of a reasonable anticipation of 10 per cent of income from this source.”

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Dr. Samuel D. Proctor, an American Baptist Negro minister and former associate director of the Peace Corps, was approved as the new general director of public interpretation. The General Public Interpretation Committee voiced its conviction that the “time has come for greater efforts at defending the council, as strategically as possible, against false charges.” This stimulated a lengthy floor discussion on how best to implement this. One result may be production of a compendium of past political pronouncements for the purpose of studying the theological bases given in conjunction with them, though one speaker confessed the wide theological “discrepancy” among the member denominations.

Such critics of the NCC as Billy James Hargis and Gerald L. K. Smith were mentioned, but highly respected Eugene Smith, executive secretary for the U. S. Conference of the World Council of Churches, rose to assert that there is much criticism of the NCC from “fair people,” many of whom “believe our concept of mission is imperialism.” He spoke of “church renewal” as a point of contact with such persons. Dr. Edward Grant, former moderator of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. (Southern), followed him to warn that it “is easy to overstate the case for the NCC” and be “cut down” in the process. He also spoke of “ill-advised” criticisms of the churches by members of the NCC staff. But University of Oregon President Arthur Flemming, an NCC vice-president and former Eisenhower cabinet member, countered with a defense of the right of staff members to become involved in the issues of the day.

Dr. Grant had earlier conveyed to the board the gist of a 1964 resolution of his church’s General Assembly, which criticized the NCC Commission on Religion and Race for some of its activities and asked that it “work more closely” with local churchmen and church councils.

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Extensive debate accompanied approval of comprehensive guidelines for a broad anti-poverty strategy for church groups from the denominational to congregational level. The proposals laid stress upon helping those in need improve their own living standards. Church groups were called on, among other things, to: seek a more adequate federal housing bill in 1965; support preventive social, psychiatric, health, and rehabilitation services; work for increases both in state unemployment compensation and in minimum-wage-law rates; and organize more church-related credit unions.

Upon conclusion of the reading of the proposed “action objectives.” Henry M. Bulloch, editor of church school publications for the Methodist Publishing House, urged that the paper be sent back to committee for complete reworking inasmuch as it reflected a philosophy for which the NCC “is under fire,” namely, that “we think in terms of big government—the church does not do the job itself but gets someone else to do it.” A move for recommittal was later defeated, but not before the board amended its approval of the “action objectives” by asking the Division of Christian Life and Work to edit them to reflect contributions from industrial and labor leaders by means of consultations. In proposing the amendment. Dr. Dow Kirkpatrick, pastor of the First Methodist Church of Evanston, Illinois, said that referral back to committee would mean reconsideration “by folk with the same bias as reflected in the report—turn first to government.” With some three-fifths of the 250-member board present in Des Moines, the vote for amendment was about as close as it could get—53 to 52.

In other action, the board approved continuation of overseas distribution of U. S. government surplus commodities by the NCC’s central department of Church World Service. Use of government food resources by the churches, said the board, “does not jeopardize the historic position of the American churches concerning separation of Church and State, when accompanied by appropriate safeguards.” The past decade Church World Service has shipped foodstuffs weighing two and a half billion pounds valued at $250 million.

The board heard detailed plans for a previously announced long-range mission of relief and education in Mississippi—called the Delta Ministry. Also, a companion program in the north was announced for the first time and approved: “Metropolitan Chicago as a focal point of world mission.” It will seek support from churches the world over through the World Council of Churches. The basic purpose is “to assist the churches in metropolitan Chicago to contribute to the development of an open society in which civil rights and the resources to utilize them are extended to all persons in the metropolis and to further explorations in the ministry of the laity in the metropolitan setting.”

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Who’S Doing What?

A series of regional meetings is the next step planned by a coterie of churchmen who are spearheading an ecumenical drive for equal-opportunity programs in the United States.

Most of the initiative for the drive comes from the National Council of Churches’ Commission on Religion and Race. Formal sponsorship is shared with representatives of the National Catholic Welfare Conference and the Synagogue Council of America.

Churchmen associated with the effort are largely those who led the religious lobby in behalf of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Their first meeting since passage of the bill took place in November at a conference center in Warrenton. Virginia.

According to the Rev. Bruce Hanson of the NCC commission, the main purpose of the four-day closed-door session was to receive a government briefing on ways to implement the civil rights law, the federal anti-poverty program, and other public-assistance measures. A secondary purpose, said Hanson, was to discuss the proposed regional meetings.

Several government officials addressed the Warrenton meeting, including Le Roy Collins, director of the Community Relations Service created by the Civil Rights Act, and Burke Marshall, assistant attorney general for civil rights.

Hanson says the federal government has a problem of coordinating its plethora of programs, particularly in letting the public know who’s doing what.

Anna Hedgeman, an official of the NCC commission, was quoted as saying that the churchmen at Warrenton were remarkably enthusiastic. “The meeting gave them a new appreciation of government people. They were very much impressed.”

Pulpit Exchange

Churches of the six communions participating in the Consultation on Church Union will take part in a pulpit exchange on Sunday, January 17, the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Announcement of the observance, which was proposed at the consultation’s meeting last April, was made by Episcopal Bishop Robert F. Gibson, Jr., chairman of the consultation.

Local congregations of the Methodist, Protestant Episcopal. United Presbyterian, and Evangelical United Brethren churches, the United Church of Christ, and the Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) will take part.

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Arrangements for the exchanges will be made locally, but denominational leaders are encouraging the project as a means of stimulating discussion and helping participating communions to become better acquainted.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, January 18–25, is promoted internationally by the World Council of Churches and sponsored in the United States by the National Council of Churches. It coincides with the Roman Catholic Chair of Unity Octave.

Gibson said the January 17 date for the pulpit exchange was chosen because “people of many communions throughout the world will be thinking earnestly about the unity of the Church this week.”

The Consultation on Church Union will hold its fourth session in Lexington, Kentucky, April 5–8.

Togetherness At The Altar

A Roman Catholic priest and a Dutch Reformed pastor officiated at a mixed marriage in the chapel of the Catholic University of Nijmegen, Holland. Protestant and Catholic guests joined in singing nuptial hymns.

The couple exchanging vows were Herman Hebinck, 21, a Roman Catholic medical student at the university, and Elleke Tenhoopen, a 20-year-old Protestant, enrolled in a social science course.

Father H. Vanwaesberghe, S. J., who is taking a graduate course at the university, conducted the wedding ritual and blessed the rings. Reformed Pastor N. Hefting delivered a sermon during the ceremony.

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