The National Council of Churches’ policymaking General Board, meeting in San Diego February 20–22, shifted into high gear to drive conciliar churches into deeper participation in political, social, and economic affairs. Occupying the NCC presidential driver’s seat, former HEW secretary Arthur S. Flemming called for “a crash program” of involvement in the racial crisis. “The Church should become more and more involved in political action,” he said. “We’re going to push hard on this one.”
The meetings were highlighted by passage of an unprecedented, sweeping executive order to implement immediate church action in the racial conflict and a host of liberal resolutions on international and economic matters. All this gave further evidence of the NCC’s intention to view the mission of the Church as political in character.
The board gave “highest priority” to an action program devoted to “the crucial struggle for justice in the nation.” It called for churches to work with the council in: development of a communications network to respond to the outbreak of racial conflict, replacement of regular adult Christian education curriculum materials with NCC materials on racial issues for the April–June quarter, increased support of poverty/rights action groups by Church Women United, and financial backing and involvement by churches in the National Urban Coalition.
Local churches were called upon to provide “funds for local black groups to strategize for the summer,” to support “inclusion of black-power and black-nationalist organizations in local task groups seeking action and solution to problems,” and “to develop strategies to counter white racism, backlash, and repressiveness” (including observation of police behavior and reporting of any improper or brutal activity). They were further urged to work for needed civil-rights legislation, to support “churchmen who take risks to remedy crisis situations and who are consequently misunderstood, criticized and ostracized,” and to form action task groups to move on basic issues in cooperation with the ghetto community rather than through “white paternalism” programs.
The board’s special order gave President Flemming and General Secretary R. H. Edwin Espy virtually a blank check for dispersing funds and deploying manpower to implement the policies. It marked the NCC’s first attempt to prescribe curriculum materials to replace those used by the various communions. It placed the NCC squarely behind many who threaten to resort to violence to bring about social change. And it called for greater participation by churches than any previous NCC action program.
In the international realm, the NCC board called for drastic alterations in U. S. foreign policy. It overwhelmingly passed a resolution asking immediate cessation of U. S. bombing of North Viet Nam to facilitate peace negotiations with all major elements of the Vietnamese population, including the National Liberation Front. It also adopted, 100 to 14, a 5,000-word report on “Imperatives of Peace and Responsibilities of Power,” presented by Methodist mission executive Tracey K. Jones, Jr. The report appealed for: (1) avoidance of provocative military action against Red China, along with reduction of U. S. military forces in the Asian area; (2) admission of Red China to the U. N. and development of travel, trade, and cultural exchanges with Peking; (3) recognition of the government of Cuba; (4) acceptance of the existence of the (East) German Democratic Republic; (5) removal of restrictions on imports from all Communist countries and encouragement of American trade and investment in Eastern Europe and the U. S. S. R.; (6) removal of travel restrictions on Soviet visitors and of limitations on cultural exchanges “so that Soviet visitors will not be limited by Soviet willingness to accept United States visitors”; and (7) cooperation with the U. S. S. R. in scientific projects, especially the space program.
On economic matters, representatives of the thirty-four denomination NCC:
• Affirmed support for the principle of guaranteed annual income “as a matter of right.” No particular implementation was recommended.
• Commended church groups that use “their economic power for goals of justice” through selective purchasing, as in Project Equality, which promotes businesses on such criteria as employment practices.
• Urged churches to expand their international program to combat world hunger. The board called for legislation to increase American grant and loan funds for agricultural and economic development (to at least 1 per cent of the gross national product annually). It said the United States should make food aid “available to needy people through governmental, inter-governmental, and voluntary agencies without discrimination because of ideological or cold war considerations.”
• Backed an investment program for ghetto community development. A spokesman reported that a “pump-priming” $180,331 had already been made available from NCC unrestricted general capital funds, and that “tentative commitments totaling several million dollars” had been received.
• Called for the United States to increase its attack on world poverty by encouraging indigenous economic power in less developed countries without imposing “our ideology upon different cultures.” Measures cited as essential included congressional authorization of long-term assistance (up to five years), progressive removal of “buy American” purchase restrictions, and programs for family planning and literacy. The board said development assistance—aid or trade—should, “to the maximum degree possible, be provided through international channels and institutions.”
• Opposed restrictions on American travel abroad instituted by the government to reduce the outflow of U. S. dollars.
• Voted support of Cesar Chavez, union organizer of Delano, California, grape-pickers, “in his non-violent struggle for social justice.”
In other actions, the board received and submitted to Flemming for study and recommendation a report on last October’s explosive Detroit Conference on Church and Society. It also passed a resolution protesting the conviction of thirty South-West Africans on charges of terrorist activities, and called upon the Republic of South Africa “to undo this monstrous travesty on justice.”
Espy asserted the NCC’s desire to “expose the facts” on suppression of religious freedom in the U. S. S. R. and other Communist countries. The board later approved a petition from the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church protesting harassment of dissident Baptists and Jews in the Soviet Union.
Floor debates throughout the conference were marked by the virtual absence of conservative viewpoints in opposition to the raft of liberal pronouncements. A rare exception was provided by United Presbyterian Stated Clerk William P. Thompson in his well-reasoned opposition to church support of civil disobedience by conscientious objectors to the draft. He was responding to a vigorous appeal by guest speaker Richard Neuhaus, a Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor who is a leader of Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam.
The San Diego sessions signaled a full-speed-ahead socio-politico-economic drive by the General Board that may lead many churchmen to re-evaluate their support of the National Council of Churches.
Militant American churchmen now meet secretly in efforts to involve the religious establishment at more radical levels of social action. Their first big conclave was held last month in the Washington, D. C. suburb of Chevy Chase. About two hundred persons were on hand, from all over the Eastern half of the nation. They apparently came on a by-invitation-only basis. Reporters were barred.
“There is nothing subversive about it,” said the Rev. Richard F. McFarland of Dumbarton Avenue Methodist Church in Washington. “These are establishment people.” McFarland, understood to be local arrangements chairman, politely refused to divulge any details.
The three-day meeting was chaired by the Rev. Howard Moody, who carries on an avant-garde type of ministry in New York’s Greenwich Village. A number of social-action staff members of denominations and councils of churches were also said to have been present.
Speakers included the Rev. Albert Cleage, black-power advocate from Detroit, and the Rev. Willis Elliott of New York, an outspoken foe of orthodoxy who is employed by the United Church of Christ.
Several representatives of the National Council of Churches were on hand, too. But the temper of the group is obviously to the left even of the socially preoccupied National Council.
William R. MacKaye of the Washington Post reported that “the effort to develop an interchurch coalition for social action independent of the National Council appeared to supply additional confirmation to hints in recent months of growing council reluctance to give any open support to the kind of militant intervention in the political and economic scene now sought by some churchmen.”
The “intervention” contemplated so far has been mostly in the area of economic boycotts. The National Council has been reliably warned that to engage in such activities would invite prosecution under federal anti-trust laws that forbid combinations in restraint of trade.
MacKaye said the new church group calls itself the “Communications Network of the Inter-Area Committee for Action and Renewal.”
OPENING SHOTS ON 1968
“With the New Hampshire primary almost upon us and the nominating convention only months away, with Reagan in decline and with most commentators agreed that Nixon will swamp Romney, the central issue for the delegates becomes clear: Does the GOP want to lose with Nixon or win with Rockefeller or some other serious peace candidate? Or, to put it another way, is the GOP still plagued by the same death urge that drove the party to destruction with Barry Goldwater in 1964?”
Sounds like a Washington political columnist—except for the erroneous labeling of Rocky as a “peace candidate.” But it came from Commonweal, the lay Catholic weekly.
The early weeks of 1968 gave a foretaste of the coming political rhetoric in the religious press. The Methodist student magazine motive sees Bobby Kennedy as the only hope for “new leadership” in American politics and says it is “imperative” for him to run this year.
Christianity and Crisis, voice of the Niebuhr-Union Seminary group, says this will be the “most significant” presidential election since FDR trampled Hoover, and two members of the Editorial Board offer their advice.
Robert McAfee Brown puts “top priority” on getting rid of Johnson and Humphrey and takes “very seriously” the Democrats’ peace candidate, Senator Eugene McCarthy. But if it’s Johnson vs. Reagan or Nixon, Brown doesn’t know what to do. Stephen C. Rose offers a “devout prayer” that either Bobby or Rocky will be the next president. But he thinks even Nixon would be better than Johnson.
More enthusiasm for Nixon has been engendered by Harry Flemming, son of President Arthur Flemming of the National Council of Churches who last month became Nixon’s Virginia co-chairman.
The Methodist Christian Advocate, a magazine for ministers, devoted a recent issue to church political action, including doorbell-ringing for good candidates. Editor James Wall deplores the TV reruns of the movie A Man Called Peter because the late Peter Marshall’s individualized approach to political ethics is out of date in this “crucial political year of 1968.”
And Church of God Bishop Homer Tomlinson’s Theocratic Party, whose Pentecostal presidential nominee has returned to evangelism, plans to nominate Lyndon Baines Johnson for president because he “has led America halfway into the Kingdom of God, by his help for the poor, the sick and afflicted, the children and the aged in the greatest manifestation of Christian love this world has ever known.”
United Presbyterian Stated Clerk William P. Thompson, something of a lone wolf, said the Church “must not” support particular candidates for office, either directly or by implication. “Neither the pulpit nor classes and forums of the church school should be used as a sounding board for partisan interests. Neither a particular congregation or judicatory should give the impression that it speaks for the whole church. Certainly no church official dare do so.” But he said the Church should help members evaluate such moral issues in the coming election as Viet Nam, poverty, and the urban crisis.
CANADA: IMMORAL TV?
Canada’s three largest church bodies asked in February that educational TV be provided for home reception under the government’s new Broadcast Act, which passed the Senate late last month. A similar appeal from the Parent-Teacher Federation said such programs “will do much to offer an alternative to the banalities, the insults to intelligence, the stress on crime, brutality, vulgarity and sex which permeate much of commercial TV.”
The Anglican, United, and Roman Catholic Churches made their joint presentation as part of the first overhaul in broadcast legislation since 1958. The bill would create a powerful Canadian Radio-Television Commission, with authority to set conditions for licensing and imposing penalties.
In the debate on the bill, Senator Gunnar Thorvaldson of Manitoba violently attacked the government-controlled Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, saying it is in the hands of a few persons who, by filling living rooms “with the stench of demoralizing filth,” aim to mold Canadians in their own “hippy drug-addicted image.”
In the Commons debate, Presbyterian Ralph Cowan, a maverick government member, did his best to scuttle the act as part of his continuing fight with the CBC. He won support from the Social Credit Party’s Robert Thompson, who charged the CBC with deliberately encouraging young people to use drugs. Thompson—a graduate of Bob Jones University and onetime missionary in Ethiopia from a pietistic evangelical Free Lutheran background—claimed a Sunday night program, “The Way It Is,” was in effect “a clever and subtle job of selling drugs as part of the new morality.” He called for an investigation to see whether the program was financed by the Mafia.
Thompson’s proposed amendment to outlaw any CBC broadcast that “could be considered as encouraging to criminal activity” was defeated.
Although other members of Commons showed little interest in Thompson’s complaints and proposals, one churchman, the Rev. W. Gordon Brown, dean of Central Baptist Seminary in Toronto, agreed that the CBC needed more moral control. He cited a western Canada Baptist pastor’s public meeting protesting a “very salacious” drama, “Waiting for Caroline.”
“There isn’t any subject about which you can’t do a broadcast—sex, violence, drugs,” said the Rev. Richard Berryman, supervisor of mass media in the Division of Communications for the Anglican Church of Canada. “You can show anything on TV. It’s how you handle it.”
Speaking in defense of the CBC, Bonnie Brennan, executive director of the National Catholic Communications Centre, said the trouble is not with broadcasting but with audiences. The CBC, Miss Brennan said, is in the unfortunate position of having to cater to the lowest denominator of mentality. It could, presumably, attempt to raise the cultural level. “But how do you do this when most of the country watches hockey or football?”
A Seattle Superior Court trial involving a congregation that withdrew from the United Presbyterian Church over its new confession has been extended to May 21. The idea is to seek an out-of-court settlement.
The hearing—originally slated to end February 20—is one of the most important of several disputes involving United Presbyterian churches that want to withdraw and retain their buildings.
The Laurelhurst Church congregation and its pastor, the Rev. James L. Rohrbaugh, voted 183 to 11 last October to withdraw. The church has about 650 members. In the civil suit, the presbytery seeks to gain possession of the property and church records in trust for the denomination, those members who did not attend the October meeting, and the eleven who voted against withdrawal.
Presbytery attorney Robert A. Yothers told the court that under the denominational constitution an entire congregation cannot withdraw as a body. He said the presbytery had attempted to work out an orderly withdrawal for dissenters but was “completely rebuffed.”
Representing the congregation, Alfred Schweppe argued that the legal title is with the individual church, and spoke of a deep-seated conviction to stay with the Presbyterian doctrines as known over the past 300 years.
Following this line in his testimony, Rohrbaugh said, “After I read the new confession of faith once, I knew I couldn’t go along with it.” He called the doctrinal changes a “catastrophe” and read from a letter he mailed to his members last June, referring to the confession’s position on the Bible, to political action, and to the denomination’s involvement in the National and World Councils of Churches.
The presbytery held a judicial hearing on schism charges the day the civil court recessed. Rohrbaugh, who was not present, was represented for the first time by defense counsel: former Seattle Mayor William Devin and Professor Talmage Wilson of Seattle Pacific College.
EPISCOPAL BISHOP ON TRIAL
The Episcopal Church announced last month it is going to try one of its bishops, the Right Reverend Joseph S. Minnis of Colorado. Specific charges were not immediately made public.
“The presentment cites alleged breach of his ordination vows,” said the Episcopal Church announcement. Other sources cited “personal conduct in violation of the canons.”
Unlike accusations against Bishop James Pike, the charges leveled at Bishop Minnis reportedly do not touch upon theological matters. Pike, a bestselling author of books that take issue with key Christian doctrines, came close to being the object of a heresy trial before he resigned as head of the Episcopal Diocese of California. That the Minnis case should come to trial is a surprise, since top Episcopal churchmen exerted special effort to avoid a big showdown in the obviously more crucial Pike case.
Minnis, 61, has been Bishop of Colorado since 1955. He lives with his wife in Denver. The couple has two sons in the Episcopal ministry, both of whom serve in the Colorado diocese.
No date has been set for the trial, but according to canon law the court must be convened between April 20 and August 20.
ABILENE: SHIFTING TO NEUTRAL
Country-style preaching by Nashville’s “Fiery” Ira North and songleading by crooner Pat Boone drew a record 13,500 members of the Churches of Christ to the fiftieth anniversary of the Abilene Christian College Lectureship—this despite high winds, muddy snow, and below-freezing temperatures.
Breaking from the recent tradition of exploring church trends and new ideas, the 1968 lectureship focused on less than best-known speakers, for the most part, and concentrated on preaching. Many saw it as a kind of recession from recent years (see March 17, 1967, issue, page 44), resulting from quite a bit of vocal opposition from conservatives, and as a typical lectureship pattern this year at all Churches of Christ colleges.
“Actually, it was intended to emphasize ordinary preaching rather than what you might call high intellectual comment,” explained lectureship director J. D. Thomas, an ACC Bible professor. “We like to scale the lectureship every year to the greatest appeal. This lectureship was probably as popular as any we have ever had.”
Lectureships are the nearest thing to a convention in the 2,350,000-member Churches of Christ but are designed for teaching and fellowship only. Since the 18,500 congregations are autonomous, no proposals or resolutions are ever passed. But the lectureships are considered a barometer of the state of the movement.
FINE POINTS ON MERGER
Voting procedures, seminaries, and elders were major considerations of the Joint Committee of Twenty-four, meeting last month to finish drafting the plan of union of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. (Southern) and the Reformed Church in America.
On constitutional amendments or merger with other church bodies, presbyteries of the Presbyterian Reformed Church in America (proposed name of the new church) will have one vote “unit” for each 1,000 members rather than the former one vote for each presbytery regardless of size.
Also affecting voting is the provision for the General Assembly of the new denomination to realign synod and presbytery boundaries once during the church’s first three years.
Another major change in the plan of union concerns the “approved theological seminary.” In earlier drafts an “approved seminary” was one controlled by its supporting synods and by the Assembly. The revision leaves seminary control to “their respective boards” and provides for a permanent committee on seminaries to recommend “a strategy and program of theological education.” (RCA seminaries now are governed by the denomination’s top court; PCUS seminaries are independent.)
Other revisions state elders must be “sound in faith, men of wisdom and discretion,” although they are no longer required to be “blameless in life.” Their election “from the membership” of the local congregation opens the door for women to serve as elders (which they now may not do in the RCA). The office of deacon has been eliminated from the final draft; congregations may reordain deacons to the eldership.
The final version of the plan of union will be submitted to the PCUS General Assembly and the RCA General Synod at their June 6–12 meetings in Montreat, North Carolina, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, respectively.
LAITY CAUTIONS ON UNION
The Anglican-Methodist union proposals in England suffered a setback at February’s meeting of the House of Laity. Anglo-Catholics and evangelicals combined (in a rare unanimity that both somewhat self-consciously acknowledged) to urge that more time and thought be given before the final decision. Under the present timetable, the deadline is the summer of 1970.
It all began with an innocent-looking motion by G. E. Duffield of Oxford, giving general approval to the official timetable, “provided that more time can be made available, should it be widely felt that this timetable does not provide adequate time for discussion.…” In a lucid and convincing speech, Duffield pleaded for rejection of “ecclesiastical joinery,” quoted an eminent Methodist who admitted there is considerable opposition to the union proposals, then added: “It is no good just uniting churches at the top.”
Both evangelical and high-church publications have criticized the Service of Reconciliation, and the Methodist Conference has passed a resolution stating that at “Stage II” Methodists must retain intercommunion with non-episcopal churches.
Professor J. N. D. Anderson was less than happy with the ambiguity in the Service. The attitude of “reverent agnosticism” is not always reverent, he observed, and here it is “objectionable.” He would “infinitely prefer some such scheme as that of South India.” Jack Wallace of London said many in both churches had “vested interests in the denominational machinery” and the danger exists of forgetting that the object of unity is “that the world might believe.” Since we already enjoy the unity of the Spirit, he suggested, the Service might well be pointless.
After Duffield’s motion carried by a large majority, he succeeded with a second one also, saying the laity would “welcome the earliest possible opportunity to debate the final Anglican/Methodist union report.” An informal discussion was then announced for June 24.
J. D. DOUGLAS
METHODISTS MAY EASE ALCOHOL CURBS
The Methodist social-concerns board is asking next month’s General Conference to scratch the requirement that clergy abstain from alcohol and tobacco and that lay officials also be teetotalers. Alcohol problems director Thomas Price said the move does not mean approval of smoking or drinking, but a feeling that “complete dedication of oneself to the ministry is sufficient restraint.” The official Methodist ministers’ magazine contends that the new study Alcohol Problems: A Report to the Nation “conclusively demonstrates” that Methodist abstinence is “out of date.”
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more
More from this Issue
Read These Next
- TrendingRussell Moore: I Already Miss Tim Keller’s Wise VoiceThe late pastor theologian gave strong counsel to me and so many others in ministry.
- From the MagazineEve’s Legacy Is Both Sin and RedemptionThe first woman tried to get free of God. But when she aligned herself with God’s purposes, she became the ‘Mother of All the Living.’
- Editor's PickBecome a Shadow of Your Future SelfManifesting isn’t the answer. Consenting to holiness is.