Forty-five Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish leaders lent their names last month to the government’s war on poverty by announcing formation of an amorphous Inter-Religious Committee Against Poverty (IRCAP).

Many politicians think clergy support made the difference in putting across civil rights reforms and are anxious to rally religious backing for the poverty program. Vice-President Humphrey attended IRCAP’s birth and enthused, “The spiritual and material resources you can bring to this effort are crucial in … any ultimate victory.” Prompt praise also came from Vatican Radio.

Humphrey said IRCAP was “a manifestation of the most fundamental beliefs of our three faiths.” He quoted from Ezekiel and the Epistle of James and said “the preface of the Economic Opportunity Act was written many hundreds and thousands of years ago.”

The IRCAP opening statement said that “the persistence of involuntary poverty in a society possessing the resources and the technological capacity to eradicate it is both economically and politically indefensible and morally intolerable.…”

Churchmen and politicians of all varieties are against poverty, but there’s a lot of disagreement when it comes to specifics. The poverty war is still a hot partisan issue, with Republicans charging millions of dollars are wasted in bureaucracy and never reach the poor. Humphrey used the IRCAP platform to call that claim “hogwash.”

A key IRCAP spokesman was the Rev. Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, leader of the United Presbyterian Church and apparent front-runner to be new chief of the World Council of Churches (see page 54). Asked if IRCAP expects clergymen to back the poverty war from the pulpit, Blake replied: “I expect them to preach the faith they profess to hold. It includes this commitment.”

Church groups are already involved in poverty programs to the tune of millions. IRCAP, which received impetus from the National Council of Churches’ board last June, plans to amalgamate religious force and advise the government on how it thinks things should be done.

This has already happened locally. In many slum neighborhoods, churches have joined the political infighting to get laymen on poverty steering committees and see that the poor are properly represented in policy-making. The issue has been hotly debated in recent months, since city Democratic machines would like to dispense the millions. It was rumored the machines were out to get R. Sargent Shriver, head of the Office of Economic Opportunity, but Shriver has dropped his Peace Corps responsibilities and stayed with OEO.

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IRCAP intertwines with the earlier Citizens Crusade Against Poverty, a front for 125 interest groups pushing private agency involvement in OEO programs. The head of the crusade, auto union President Walter Reuther, is also on the IRCAP committee. IRCAP’s Blake also heads the crusade’s community action commission.

At the recent AFL-CIO convention Shriver declared that although several years ago it was “practically impossible for a federal agency to give a direct grant to a religious group, today we have given hundreds without violating the principle of separation of church and state.”

One Washington religious lobbyist who favors a more traditional separation grumbled, “It’s bad enough to do it without bragging about it.”

Second Front In Smut War

Federal prosecutors won a key conviction last month that opened a second front in their war on smut. Rather than hitting a California publisher at the point of origin, they indicted him in Sioux City, Iowa, where his stuff had been shipped.

A jury convicted Milton Luros, his wife, and seven employees under a 1958 amendment to U. S. anti-obscenity laws that permits prosecution at delivery points. Luros’s lurid literature included L Is for Lesbian, Lesbian Interlude, Lesbian Alley, Lesbians in White, Lesbian Sin Song, Two Women in Love, The Three-Way Apartment, Popular Nudism, Nudist Week, Urban Nudist, and Teenage Nudist.

A special panel of the U. S. Court of Appeals in Washington is to decide whether the 1958 amendment is constitutional and whether it was applied fairly in the Iowa trial. Defense attorneys said the government purposely picked a rural district in order to win conviction.

The U. S. Supreme Court is currently pondering the merits of several big obscenity cases. Its previous rulings have confused jurists, and enforcement varies widely across the country.

Sick Transit

New York City clergymen, often outspoken on current issues, said little in their sermons when a transit crisis hit home. Religious News Service, based in the city that was paralyzed thirteen days by a transport workers’ strike, said preachers were “helpless and baffled.” Even those often sympathetic to organized labor were among the hesitant, perhaps reflecting the public’s general disenchantment with the union.

The union tried to get a department of the Protestant Council of New York to urge that union President Michael Quill be released from jail, where he had been sent for disobeying a no-strike injunction. But council chief Dan Potter said, “This is a power struggle in which the churches are not in a position to be of help.”

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Later, Potter joined Catholic and Jewish leaders to front a 200-member committee that backed Mayor John Lindsay’s three points for settlement. They held a press conference and special prayer services.

As in last fall’s power blackout, people pitched in. Ministers dipped into welfare funds to help members unable to work. Harlem churchmen organized car pools to get people to jobs. The Salvation Army ran round-the-clock transportation for hospital workers and served 240,000 cups of coffee and snacks to people waiting in impossibly long lines for commuter trains.

Church attendance was down all over the city, particularly at big downtown churches that draw from outside Manhattan.

Some reporters consider the Roman Catholic archdiocese an integral part of the establishment Lindsay hopes to unseat. In this vein, the Washington Post’s Flora Lewis wrote that in the strike Lindsay was “the general on one side. The general on the other side has never appeared, and probably does not exist, except as ‘the way tilings have been done around here’ and the lawyers, businessmen, union leaders, politicians and churchmen who have been doing them.”

Youth For Christ At 21

Youth for Christ is now 21 years old; its adolescence is over and its voice has changed. At a convention last month in Seattle, evangelists to teen-agers talked about racial integration, the inner city, and internationalism.

The Rev. Sam Wolgemuth, 51-year-old former Brethren in Christ bishop now entering his second year as YFC president, told local reporters: “Before Youth for Christ becomes any larger, or gets any busier, we feel a sense of responsibility … to look at our adult selves, to evaluate our motives and purposes, to deepen our spiritual resources.”

YFC began with one full-time staff member—Billy Graham—and now has 359 in fifty-one nations (half of these are ordained). Counting the semi-autonomous local “rally” units, it spends more than $3 million a year.

Wolgemuth admits, “We haven’t done very much significant work in the inner city,” but hopes this will change. The YFC stronghold in the New York City area, for example, has been middle-classy Long Island, but an invasion of Manhattan is in the works. Another teen evangelistic group, Young Life Crusade, has undertaken a similar migration.

When you talk about inner city you’re talking about Negroes. YFC has looked in the mirror and seen a white face staring back. So last September it hired the Rev. William Panell, its first Negro staffer (see “Negroes as Neighbors,” page 38, January 21 issue). Another sign of the times: last month’s big rally in Birmingham, Alabama, which drew 6,000 young people, was integrated. Of integration, Wolgemuth said, “We are committed, no matter what it costs us. It is the Lord’s will.”

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Some observers sense a toning-down of YFC’s exuberant, rah-rah atmosphere and note that its magazine and clubs now carry the post-teen label “campus” even though it’s a high school movement. But the light touch is still an important ingredient in meetings designed to draw in the apathetic or unchurched teen-ager.

Next fall, some two dozen married couples will inaugurate the new Y-2 program, an evangelistic Peace Corps in which college graduates will spend two years working with YFC’s native staffers overeas. Its director is Dr. David H. Paynter, California school administrator credited with starting the conservation centers under the U. S. Office of Economic Opportunity.

On Washington’s Birthday the Lifeline Department, which works with delinquents, will dedicate its newly built boys’ home in Fredericksburg, Virginia, on farmland where the first president lived as a youth.

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