When Dr. Arthur S. Flemming was a member of the Eisenhower cabinet his title was secretary of health, education and welfare. Now he is president of the University of Oregon, and also first vice-president of the National Council of Churches.

Portland, Oregon, was the scene of the council’s first General Board meeting under its new constitution.

Health, education, and welfare were high on the agenda of the meeting in Dr. Flemming’s state. So was the problem of “interpreting” the NCC’s actions in these fields.

While the weather was clear and spring-like for the first three days of the gathering, the board met under a cloud. It showed that it was conscious of—but not responsive to—increasing criticism of its actions.

Board members heard that NCC headquarters got some 10,000 critical letters last year—with only a few described as “hate” mail. They spent the first morning hearing how the staff is answering this correspondence and how those responsible are “interpreting” the work.

On the fourth day of the board sessions the rains came—outside literally, and figuratively inside as well. Methodist Bishop John Wesley Lord, chairman of the General Constituent Membership Committee, reported that for the first time in its fifteen-year history the NCC was faced with the withdrawal of one of its member denominations.

Although the 6,000-member Unity of the Brethren took the action some ten months ago, its decision was reported to the board for the first time at Portland. Bishop Lord said “responsible leaders” of the Texas-based church were disappointed with the decision, for which “vocal laymen” were responsible. Unity of the Brethren President John Baletka explained in a letter which was partially included in the committee report that the denomination withdrew “because of some of the trends indicated in some of the actions of the National Council of Churches and because it feels that this decision to withdraw is in the best interests of this denomination at this time.”

Evangelical United Brethren Bishop Reuben H. Mueller, NCC president, told the board that loss of the member had cost him one of his principal talking points. He said he had been telling audiences around the nation that the council has never lost a member. He had made the point in a speech to a group of leaders from the Northwest only the night before.

Despite one plea for postponement, the board accepted “with regret” the Unity of the Brethren decision and expressed the hope that the separation would be brief.

The cloud of criticism did not keep NCC policy-makers from concentrating on health, education, and welfare at the meeting, however. Nor did it keep them from passing resolutions urging negotiation in Viet Nam and a new U. S. immigration policy.

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One “policy statement” (the new name for “pronouncement”) came out of the Portland sessions, and it combined interests in health, welfare, and possibly education. Entitled “Drug Abuse,” the document asks treatment of narcotics addicts as sick people rather than as criminals. It urges increased public rehabilitative services; legislation permitting courts more discretion in handling drug-law violators; and transfer of regulatory and investigatory powers from the federal Treasury Department to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and to the Justice Department.

Of the 250 board members, 96 voted for the policy statement. No negative votes and no abstentions were recorded. It was the only counted vote of the meeting. At times fewer than 100 members attended the sessions.

Vice-president Flemming, a Methodist layman, was in the limelight as the board discussed a resolution favoring federal aid to education. He had earlier testified before congressional committees as an NCC spokesman. In that testimony he backed the “shared-time” provisions of the administration’s school bill.

The resolution approved at the February board meeting underscored the board’s approval, last June, of shared time (or “dual school enrollment”) and added a warning that certain safeguards should be included to assure that children, and not parochial schools which they attend, get the benefits.

Board members heard that these safeguards, which are already written into the House bill, are known to Capitol Hill staffers as “the Flemming amendments” because of the NCC vice-president’s testimony. The shared-time approach, including the “child-benefit” theory, was hailed as a formula that has broken the “logjam” of Roman Catholic opposition to federal elementary and secondary school assistance. Quiet work by NCC leaders for a number of years was credited with getting Catholic backing for the current administration bill.

Welfare came into the meeting in the form of a report on NCC anti-poverty projects. The board elected a United Church of Christ minister, the Rev. Shirley E. Green, as associate director of its Commission on the Church and Economic Life, to coordinate the council’s anti-poverty work. Dr. Cameron P. Hall, director of the Commission on the Church and Economic Life, described the administration’s school-aid bill as “of primary importance to the elimination of poverty.”

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On another legislative front, the board went on record as being in general agreement with major provisions of President Johnson’s proposed immigration legislation. In addition, the resolution calls for a program of refugee admission; provision of “more equitable and just methods in deportation proceedings”; and “provision for naturalized citizens to receive equal treatment in every respect with natural-born citizens.”

Local politics will be an increasing interest of the Commission on Religion and Race, that unit reported. Its director, Dr. Robert Spike, said more work is planned in Northern cities, with emphasis on preparing Negroes for political activity there. He invited students, “who have made such a heroic witness in the South,” to sign up for work in the North.

Foreign policy did not escape the board’s notice, either. The NCC leaders, in a resolution, urged the U. S. government to negotiate a Viet Nam ceasefire; to utilize United Nations assistance in settling the dispute there; and to lead in an “international development program for the Mekong Region.”

Bringing the Oregon meeting to a close and looking forward to the council’s future was a symposium that included representatives of each major NCC division. They reviewed points made in speeches earlier in the week by Germany’s Dr. Martin Niemöller (on the World Council of Churches); by NCC staffer Colin Williams (on evangelism); and by Methodist Bishop Gerald Kennedy (on ecumenicity). And they suggested that more stormy weather may be ahead as the council seeks to “cooperate with Christ” in a variety of secular ventures.

Protestant Panorama

A procession of about 1,000 elders, clergymen, and choir members from 29 congregations marked an inter-Presbyterian vesper service in New York last month. Officials of the two largest Presbyterian denominations and the Reformed Church in America participated in the service. It was sponsored by the Presbytery of New York City.

The demand for Christian education directors runs ahead of employment applications by a five to one ratio in the placement information service of the Methodist Board of Education. A spokesman for the board in Nashville says the ratio remains rather constant despite a considerable increase in the number of persons who are training to become Christian education directors.

The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod is asking the U. S. Defense Department for permission to minister to members at military installations through its own pastors at synod expense. WELS President Oscar J. Naumann says the present chaplaincy program is not in accord with the constitutional guarantee for “a healthy separation of church and state.”

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Police in Belfast quelled disturbances that followed a protest march by Free Presbyterians against recent meetings of the Irish prime ministers. The marchers expressed fears that the talks might culminate in a reunification of the predominantly Roman Catholic Republic of Ireland and smaller, strongly Protestant Northern Ireland.

The U. S. Supreme Court ruled this month that any person whose beliefs cause him to oppose war can qualify as a conscientious objector. The court thus struck down a law which limited qualification to those who profess belief in a Supreme Being.

Republican Congressman Joel T. Broyhill of Virginia is circulating a discharge petition among members of the House to force a floor vote on a bill that would permit prayer and Bible reading in public schools. A similar petition circulated last year by Congressman Frank Becker, now retired, fell 50 signatures short of the required 218.

Abilene (Texas) Christian College is launching a long-range $25.7 million expansion and endowment program. The college, associated with the Churches of Christ, hopes to raise at least $10.4 million of the amount within the next three years.

A $100,000 gift of stock to Conwell School of Theology will be used to erect or purchase a new building to honor Dr. Russell H. Conwell. The gift, advanced by Miss Blanche G. Whitecar, Philadelphia philanthropist, represents the first major contribution to the seminary, which was incorporated in 1960 as the successor to the Temple University School of Theology.


Dr. Norman Vincent Peale was elected president of the Protestant Council of the City of New York after a flurry of controversy over his nomination. Peale offered to withdraw his name when he learned that a petition was being circulated which charged that he had been silent in the racial crisis.

Cliff Barrows, director of music for Billy Graham, was named president of World Wide Pictures, the firm which produces and distributes the evangelist’s films. Barrows succeeds Dick Ross, who resigned to become an independent producer.

Dr. Vance H. Webster, pastor of First Baptist Church, Eugene, Oregon, was elected acting president of Western Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary of Portland, Oregon.

The Rt. Rev. Louis Nagy of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, was elected to a three-year term as bishop of the Hungarian Reformed Church in America.

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