Eugene Carson Blake flew back to his native St. Louis last month carrying all the prestige that goes with having just been elected potentate of a Protestant-Orthodox global coalition. But for the next three days, at a meeting of the National Council of Churches’ General Board, of which he has been a vocal member, the burly Presbyterian churchman was publicly overshadowed. The board looked instead to a lay member, scholarly, diplomatic Dr. Arthur S. Flemming, to propel it through a plethora of selected social issues.
The 60-year-old Flemming applied all the political savvy learned in thirty months as an Eisenhower Cabinet member to implement findings of last October’s peace-seeking Sixth World Order Study Conference. Peace can best be assured, he persuaded the General Board, by playing up to Red China and disowning South Africa. A pair of major policy statements were adopted to that effect.
At least a few board members sensed a problem. “These approaches appear to be contradictory,” said the Rev. L. Doward McBain, pastor of First Baptist Church in Phoenix. “People will say we promote one tyranny while decrying another.”
Flemming countered that “we don’t live in the kind of world where a method that is effective in one area can be expected to work in another.” McBain, despite his observations, agreed with Flemming and voted for both statements. The Baptist clergyman observed that “the one sin we just can’t forgive anyone for is racial prejudice.”
In a separate context, Dr. Benjamin F. Payton, the NCC’s new expert on racial affairs, issued an attack on allegedly inconsistent foreign policy methods of the U. S. government. Payton asserted that most nations in the so-called third world seem to believe that “America would not be using napalm, toxic chemicals, and noxious gases in an indiscriminate slaughter of peasant women and children if Viet Nam were a white nation. Few of them have forgotten our quick military action in the Congo, the Dominican Republic and Viet Nam, in contrast to our patience in dealing with the Russians during the Berlin blockade and the Hungarian revolution.”
Payton, a Baptist who as executive director of the Commission on Religion and Race is the only Negro to hold a major NCC post, promises to be something of an iconoclast. He suggested abolition of Brotherhood Weeks and Race Relations Sundays “and all of the other little aspirins by which we salve our consciences” in favor of “a drama which celebrates our life together in metropolis.”
Payton’s bent for controversy contrasted with Flemming’s conciliatory spirit. It was no accident that the rarely ruffled former welfare secretary under Eisenhower was given such touchy tasks as heading the NCC’s World Order Study Conference and an ad hoc committee on Viet Nam. He is comfortably confident but unpretentious, and his tall, dignified frame commanded respect from board members. Flemming, a Methodist who is now president of the University of Oregon, has been serving also as an NCC vice-president.
As it turned out, only the Viet Nam question produced any stir in an otherwise dull board meeting. The board followed up a December policy statement on Viet Nam with a special resolution “in light of recent developments.” Stressing a collective rather than unilateral approach, it was couched in considerably milder and more general terms than a statement on Viet Nam adopted by the World Council of Churches’ Central Committee in Geneva the week before. The Associated Press reported that “top sources” in the NCC had said Presidential Press Secretary Bill D. Moyers succeeded in toning down a draft of the statement before it was proposed to the board. Moyers, Flemming, and Blake all denied the report.
One board member was able to add a passage urging prayer and sympathy for victims of the Vietnamese conflict, but two phrases, “with our President” and “in the cause of freedom,” were deleted. Although the amendment was proposed as a response to a Presidential appeal for prayer, specific reference to the President was voted down.
Out of the 250 members of the General Board, hardly more than 100 showed up for the meeting, a typical turnout. Some of these came late and left early.
The NCC’s Division of Overseas Ministries called the board’s attention to the prospect of five to ten million persons’ facing starvation in India this year unless massive remedial measures are undertaken. The board members responded by adopting a brief statement. They urged NCC member communions “to express their identification with the people of India by fasting, prayers of intercession and sacrificial giving for the needs of the famine victims during periods of special devotion such as Good Friday.” Special offerings for India were suggested for such appeals as the “One Great Hour of Sharing” March 20. (Protestants now spend only about half a cent per dollar of benevolence funds to combat world hunger.)
While contemplating famine, board members were advised of the NCC’s next General Assembly, to be held in December at two of Miami Beach’s plushiest hotels. Mrs. Norman Vincent Peale brought the report. She noted without comment that evangelist Billy Graham had accepted an invitation to be a luncheon speaker. This will be the first time the nation’s most widely known and respected churchman has been an NCC program participant.
Mrs. Peale was visibly nettled by a pacifist board member’s qualms that the program did not reflect much of a priority on peace. She said that though not labeled as such, peace was indeed on the agenda. To ease anxiety, she proposed to marshal a corps of volunteers to rubber-stamp “Peace” at appropriate places on the 75,000 programs already printed.
The National Council has had “priority” peace programs off and on for a number of years. The latest such venture calls for an expenditure of §200,000 annually, some §25,000 of which is to be paid in salary to a soon-to-be-named peace czar of ecclesiastical renown. He will succeed NCC international affairs chief Kenneth Maxwell, who resigned rather abruptly last month; the new office, however, will be higher on the NCC chain of command. A foundation grant of §150,000 has been promised for the peace program, but it will be spread over four years. NCC leaders expect to be hard pressed to raise the remainder.
Biggest drain on NCC financial reserves has been the controversial Delta Ministry, described by proponents as an exemplary gesture of compassion and by critics as a pilot project in socialism. A special committee is currently investigating the merits of the Mississippi ministry. The plight of the underprivileged was dramatized for the board by the appearance of a special delegation, mostly Negroes, representing various grass-roots efforts to combat poverty. Their criticism of federal poverty programs as inadequate and badly handled was especially telling in regard to St. Louis. There the National Park Service is investing approximately §30,000,000 on the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, whose nearly completed 630-foot Gateway Arch casts a shadow over the adjacent Mississippi River.
NCC leaders are also involved in combating poverty at the inter-faith level. After more than six months of spadework initiated by the General Board and General Secretary R. H. Edwin Espy, the Inter-Religious Committee Against Poverty was officially inauguarted in January. IRCAP is designed not only to support governmental and private programs for helping the poor, as emphasized in early reports, but to exercise responsible criticism of such programs.
At its St. Louis meeting, the General Board approved five policy statements (see box), plus a “statement of concern” about alleged pressures on the Orthodox Patriarchate at Constantinople. Consideration of a special report on the NCC’s use of government resources was put off until June.
How Did Blake Win?
Election of Dr. Eugene Carson Blake as general secretary of the World Council of Churches (see Mar. 4 issue, p. 45) has probably brought to an end an era of internal turbulence among the ecumenical elite. Blake will doubtless bring with him a generous measure of solidarity when he assumes his new post December 1.
Tension in WCC ranks began building up more than two years ago when Dr. W. A. Visser ’t Hooft initiated plans to retire from the office he has held since its inception. Many of the 100 members of the World Council Central Committee felt that a special committee should be formed to nominate a successor. But a British member, protesting the cost of an extra procedure, persuaded fellow churchmen to turn over the screening process to the fourteen members of the WCC Executive Committee as a matter to be considered in their regular order of business.
The first man approached for the job of general secretary was Dr. Lukas Vischer, who had joined the WCC in 1961 as research secretary of the Department of Faith and Order. But Vischer would not allow his name to stand, insisting that he preferred work of a scholarly nature. Young Vischer is a native of Basel, Switzerland, and an ordained minister of the Swiss Reformed Church. Largely on the basis of his highly touted reports as an observer at the Vatican Council, he was chosen last month to be director of the Department of Faith and Order.
When Vischer turned down the nomination, the Executive Committee decided upon the Rev. Patrick C. Rodger, then head of the department, and made public its choice in a way that provoked heated controversy. Although the nomination had to be put to a vote of the full Central Committee, many felt that pressures had been created to make it appear that Rodger’s nomination was tantamount to election. Many who might otherwise have voted for Rodger balked. Others voiced outright opposition to him because he was an unknown. The upshot was that the Central Committee refused to act on the nomination and chose instead to name a special committee to begin screening all over.
The special committee, composed of eighteen members, tapped Blake as its first choice. Dr. D. T. Niles of Ceylon, general secretary of the East Asia Christian Conference, was understood to have been the committee’s second choice. But in a secret session the Central Committee voted in Blake, apparently without any great measure of disagreement. Because of the secrecy at this highest level of inter-church politics, however, speculation will continue on what really happened and why.
What The Ncc Is Saying
Here are salient excerpts from the five policy statements of the National Council of Churches’ General Board, along with a tally of the votes by which each was approved last month:
On China (90 yes, 3 no, 1 abstention)—“… Even while recognizing the increasing belligerence of the mainland China government, we … recommend … That the United States, without prejudice to its own policy concerning diplomatic recognition, and under conditions which take into account the welfare, security and political status of Taiwan, including membership in the United Nations, develop a new policy of support to the seating of the People’s Republic of China in the United Nations; That careful study be given by the United States to regularizing diplomatic communication with the People’s Republic of China and to the conditions under which diplomatic recognition may appropriately be extended.…”
On Southern Africa (94 yes, 4 no, 2 abstentions)—“The General Board … urges the Government of the United States to apply a firmness toward South Africa corresponding to that which it has indicated it would apply to Southern Rhodesia, and to that end to explore and exercise such political and economic pressures as may lead to the effective dissociation of the United States … from implicit support of South Africa’s denial of rights to nonwhites.”
On dissent (92 yes)—“The right of dissent is a part of our nation’s legal and cultural heritage.… The presence of persons of questionable character or motivation in gatherings and demonstrations is often unavoidable and … the witness of the group as a whole should not be invalidated solely on that ground.”
On unemployment insurance (65 yes, 5 no, 2 abstentions)—“Payment of unemployment insurance benefits should be adequate in amount to sustain human dignity, while preserving incentives to seek further employment.”
On economic life (64 yes, 4 no, 4 abstentions)—“Exercise of the traditional right of private property must be conditioned by the right of all mankind including future generations to enjoy the resources and fruits of the earth. Legal ownership of resources does not confer unlimited right of use or misuse. Biblical teachings about the hazards of great wealth and the necessity of regarding all private possession as a divine ‘trust’ were never more timely than today.”
Blake Sees Baptist ‘Wisdom’
Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, initiator of the Consultation on Church Union, apparently doesn’t feel too badly that American Baptists are avoiding the proposed superchurch. In fact, Blake complimented their decision last month (see February 18 issue, p. 42).
“I agree with the wisdom of the American Baptist Convention in this decision,” said Blake. “It would put undue strains upon the denomination if it were in the negotiations.”
He declared that because of their ecclesiology, American Baptists will have to decide “church by church” if they want to join the COCU communion.
After Blake Who?
Who will succeed Eugene Carson Blake as stated clerk of the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A.?
Among those most often mentioned are Dr. John Coventry Smith, Dr. William Phelps Thompson, Dr. Theophilus M. Taylor, and Dr. Kenneth G. Neigh.
A speculative story in the New York Times said that Ontario-born Smith and Thompson, a 47-year-old lawyer from Wichita currently the denominational moderator, are “leading the field.” Smith, 63, is general secretary of the United Presbyterian Commission on Ecumenical Mission and Relations. Thompson apparently is the only layman being given serious consideration.
Other potential candidates, in addition to Taylor, who is secretary of the denomination’s General Council, and Neigh, who serves as general secretary of the Board of National Missions, are:
Dr. James McCord, president of Princeton Theological Seminary, Dr. Robert McAfee Brown, professor of religion at Stanford University, and Dr. H. Ganse Little, minister of the Pasadena church where Blake served before becoming stated clerk.
25 Years Of ‘Crisis’
The arguments among the Protestant intelligentsia in those awkward months before Pearl Harbor make weird reading from a distance of twenty-five years. The debate was recalled last month in the wave of nostalgia at the twenty-fifth anniversary of the magazine Christianity and Crisis.
The magazine was born in the split on the Protestant left between the optimistic neo-pacifism of the Christian Century, then the only well-known independent Protestant journal, and the “realism” of Reinhold Niebuhr and his colleagues at Union Theological Seminary.
In pre-war years, the Century fought Franklin D. Roosevelt’s foreign policies, hoped for peace, and saw the silver lining in the Hitler cloud hovering over Europe.
Incredibly, it was unconcerned about the fall of Poland because of its “record of persecuting its minorities.” When France fell to the Nazis, the Century said that “in a united Europe governed from the German center, with a unified planned economy covering the continent, France will be able to find compensations in terms of human values.”
The month that Crisis first appeared, the Century was troubled by the “master race” problem but hoped that a Nazi victory would establish a form of socialism by breaking the power of the capitalist class and the international bankers.
Niebuhr lashed out at such myopia about nationalism, “maniacal fury” toward Jews, and the belief that “the peace of such a tyranny is morally more tolerable than war.” Months after he had helped found Crisis, Pearl Harbor removed the ambiguities of the international struggle.
Twenty-five years later, ambiguity is again part of the international scene, and Crisis and Century have evolved into a unison chorus in opposing the Johnson Administration’s Viet Nam policy.
A day-long anniversary colloquium rumbled with dissent on Viet Nam, but the main speaker was ardent Administration supporter Hubert Humphrey. The Vice President, who the day before had returned from an Asian tour, declared:
A Scholarship In Religious News
The first fellowship program announced by the new Washington Journalism Center is in religious news. The fellowship, which includes an internship with CHRISTIANITY TODAY, is one of several the center will offer in specialized reporting fields when it opens next fall in the nation’s capital.
Under a one-semester, $2,000 grant, the fellow will work twenty hours per week at the magazine and participate in seminars and research as one of the center’s select students.
Applications for the first semester of 1966–67 are due April 15. The student must have a bachelor’s degree, and if the degree is not in journalism he should have some practical experience in the field.
Preference will be given to students enrolled in graduate journalism schools, but the center plans to allow considerable latitude. The student selected could be a working newsman, a minister, a recent college or seminary graduate, a missionary on furlough, or anyone who needs to know religious journalism to do his job.
From its inception, the center has considered religion one of the special areas the fellowships should encompass. Center director Ray E. Hiebert, presently journalism chairman at American University, calls Washington, D. C., a “laboratory” that is “perfect for high-level journalism study.”
“We reaffirm our intention to sustain the struggle against the forces of Communist expansion—against the forces of poverty, illiteracy, famine, and disease—for as long as the cause of freedom and human decency requires it. We reaffirm our intention of using military power of almost limitless quantities in measured, limited degree.”
Besides Viet Nam, the two liberal independent journals have come much closer together on Roman Catholicism, with the Century sharing Crisis’s mild-mannered ecumenical perspective. But Crisis Managing Editor Wayne Cowan, highest ranking of four full-time staff members, still sees a distinct role for each publication. Crisis is read more by laymen and the unchurched, he said, and “I could frankly say that we are closer to Commonweal [a liberal Catholic weekly] on many issues than to any Protestant journal.”
Besides, the Century “just doesn’t have a John Bennett,” he said, referring to Union’s president who has shared the editorial chairmanship with Niebuhr and whose views, according to Newsweek, “permeate the magazine.”
Crisis now circulates 17,500, compared to the Century’s current report of 42,000. It is slim (usually twelve pages), comes out fortnightly, and operates on less than $100,000 a year. The format is spare, although changes are in the works this year.
Until two years ago, Crisis paid paid 500 for articles, but now it offers as much as $50. The for articles, but now it offers as much as $50. The magazine survives by individual gifts, the biggest recent one ($5,000) from Walter Lippmann, dean of America’s political columnists.
Niebuhr, now 73, is in failing health and was unable to attend the magazine’s twenty-fifth anniversary gala because he is still recuperating from an operation in early February. Before entering the hospital, he wrote an essay for the special anniversary issue contending that the magazine’s title isn’t out of date.
“The social life of mankind is in a perpetual crisis of community and conflict on various levels,” he said. One crisis is “in the church’s relation to the political and international order” and the absence of responsibility in meeting such events as “the fantastic nuclear dilemma.” Though America is cured of “irresponsible neutralism,” it is “tempted to self-righteousness.”
In the twenty-five years, the heaviest reprint requests came, not for Niebuhr’s or Bennett’s rarefied commentary, but for an article on obscenity last year by the Rev. Howard Moody of Greenwich Village, in which he declared that “the word ‘nigger’ from the sneering lips of a Bull Connor” is the dirtiest word in the English language.
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