In our era, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action.
A cloud of ecclesiastical dust rose from Dallas this month as leaders of America’s newest denomination clashed over how to resolve social ills.
Alluding to urban unrest, Bishop Wilbur K. Smith of Brazil declared, “You are only beginning to experience some of the tensions which arise in societies where there is too great a disparity in economic and social conditions.”
The old Methodist Church and, to a lesser extent, the Evangelical United Brethren were verbally committed to the social-activist emphasis. But in the new church, born out of a two-week Uniting Conference in Dallas (see May 10 issue), a militant element was seizing the initiative, demanding deeds along with words. The conflict came when their proposals met the restraining influences of the moderates and conservatives among the 1,255 delegates.
The militants won conference endorsement of non-violent civil disobedience “in extreme cases” but lost a bid for recognition of selective conscientious objection, in which would-be draftees could decide which wars are morally acceptable. President Johnson was commended for peace initiatives but chided for failing to keep his word to start talks anywhere, any time.
As part of a campaign for social reform through economic boycott, the conference rebuffed one of its own elder statesmen, Dr. Charles C. Parlin, a New York lawyer who is co-president of the World Council of Churches. Much to Parlin’s distaste, a report supporting the Methodist Board of Missions’ removal of a $10 million portfolio from the First National City Bank of New York won conference concurrence by a decisive show of hands. The board’s action was designed to protest bank policy in participating in a renewed line of credit to the apartheid government of South Africa.
Parlin, who has been a director and legal adviser of the bank, said he knew of nothing the bank had ever done of which he would be ashamed. He declared: “I have fought this principle of economic pressure to bring about your point of view consistently throughout my church life. This does violence to the principle. I have toured the South on numerous occasions, speaking to groups of laymen, pleading with them to continue their contributions, although they disagreed with some of the principles involved in the Board of Missions, the World Council, and the National Council of Churches. I feel that this action by the Board of Missions pulls the rug out from under me in the cause which I have espoused.” Parlin later predicted that “laymen will withhold contributions as protest, and this could be disastrous to the church and councils of churches.”
The conference also endorsed Project Equality, an ecumenical program that seeks to persuade religious agencies to do business only with firms that vow fair-employment practices. The Nashville-based Methodist Publishing House came under fire for allegedly discriminating against Negroes and labor unions and for paying excessive salaries to top executives. Publisher Lovick Pierce disclosed he earned $55,000 annually, more than twice the wage of Methodist bishops. A committee was formed to investigate.
Delegates approved creation of a Commission on Religion and Race, but a clause stipulating multi-racial composition was struck out by the Judicial Council. The commission’s powers were somewhat uncertain. The new denomination retains ten racially segregated annual conferences, and conference delegates beat down all legislation to dissolve them. A Fund for Reconciliation was launched with a goal of $20,000,000. Again, the conference did not say clearly how the money would be raised and where it would be used on racial and poverty problems.
To the grass roots, the most startling development in the Uniting Conference was deletion of a requirement that ministers abstain from tobacco and alcohol. The principle had been widely violated and seldom if ever enforced. But many Methodists still consider smoking and drinking questionable behavior. Delegates adopted a “resolution of interpretation” which says that the changes call for “higher standards of self-discipline.”
The most eloquent defense of abstinence came from Dr. Roy Nichols, pastor of Salem Methodist Church in Harlem, whose speech was promptly repudiated by a black-power lobby. The most frequent argument against the abstinence requirement was that it alienated young seminarians. One observer put it candidly: “Too many refrigerators of the seminary students won’t stand inspection.”
Delegates voted to retain a requirement that only “the pure, unfermented juice of the grape” be used in communion. Supporters of a proposal to relax the measure complained that it cramped their ecumenical style by keeping them out of communion services in which wine is used.
Ecumenicity is indeed a growing issue for Methodists. Of particular significance in the days ahead is what the denomination will do about the Consultation on Church Union. Delegates voiced support of Methodist participation in COCU’s creation of a plan of union for nine denominations, but the move was perfunctory, with little debate. More definite action is expected at the 1970 conference, the Methodists’ fourth “quadrennial” in six years, in Baltimore. One consolation for Methodists if they decide to enter COCU is that they will dominate it numerically. The new denomination now boasts more than 11 million members.
The Uniting Conference voted unanimously to instruct its Commission on Ecumenical Affairs to extend a “warm welcome” to union talks with the three Negro Methodist denominations in COCU, which claim a membership of more than 2,500,000. The action, however, was less than an all-out effort. Little progress can be expected as long as the United Methodist Church is unable to rid itself of present racial structures.
Methodists also have to cope with substantial disenchantment from former EUB churches. The EUB Pacific Northwest Conference had asked for authorization for local churches to withdraw. The Montana Conference had requested permission for withdrawal of the entire conference. In the Erie conference, at least thirteen local congregations have petitioned to leave. Church officials have denied all such requests, and the Dallas delegates tabled a resolution that encouraged interdenominational union on the local level, fearing it might provide a convenient exit for dissident EUB congregations. Legal challenges are already under way.
The EUB Church approved the merger by a narrow margin. Nearly a third of the old denomination was strongly against union with the Methodists, mainly on the grounds that the Methodists were much too liberal theologically.
Some of the EUB churches that are swallowing hard and staying in will find welcome fellowship in a growing group of evangelically orthodox Methodists headed by the Rev. Charles Keysor of Elgin, Illinois. Keysor, former managing editor of the big Methodist family magazine Together, now puts out a quarterly aimed at consolidating evangelical concerns in Methodism. But he takes pains to keep the group from becoming a divisive element and thus exerts minimal influence upon the establishment.
The really influential lobbies in Dallas were the Black Methodists for Church Renewal, a new group, and the four-year-old Methodists for Church Renewal. The latter has often been described as adhering to the philosophy of Joseph Mathews’s controversial Ecumenical Institute of Chicago. The “renewal” groups met regularly in caucuses to plan strategy. Their achievements in the conference were limited, but their influence is expected to continue and increase. Their approach, siphoning off Methodist resources into militant social action, may be largely propagandized in a successor publication to Concern, an official monthly of the old Methodist Board of Christian Social Concerns that had been suspended.
From the evangelical standpoint, the saddest aspect of the Dallas conference was that radical activists were confronted merely in pragmatic dimensions, either through emotional appeal or by parliamentary maneuver. “What will they think back home?” was a frequent but ineffective rebuttal. Virtually no one challenged liberal presuppositions at the idea level, much less on biblical ground. If theologically orthodox Methodists are to become a more significant force, they will need to counter the drift of their new church with more viable and rational alternatives.
A 40-year-old former Presbyterian next week becomes general secretary of the United Methodist Board of Evangelism. The Rev. Joseph H. Yeakel previously headed the evangelism board of the EUB Church. The Rev. Kermit Long, who held the similar post in the premerger Methodist Church, will be associate general secretary.
Yeakel joined the United Brethren while attending their Lebanon Valley College. He and his wife and five children will move to Nashville this summer.
As to his theological commitment, Yeakel says, “I find myself with integrity in both camps.” He believes that in evangelism “the church must put its resources at the point of pain.”
Other key selections:
• As dean of the embattled seminary at Drew University: Dr. James M. Ault, professor of practical theology and director of field education at Union Theological Seminary, New York (after a shakeup of Drew trustees).
• As president-designate of the United Methodist Council of Bishops: former EUB Bishop Reuben H. Mueller.
• As the last new bishop of the EUB Church: the Rev. Paul A. Washburn, who served as chief EUB apologist for the Methodist-EUB merger.
RACIAL AGENDA FOR CATHOLICS
The U. S. Roman Catholic bishops issued a major statement on the racial problem at their meeting last month in St. Louis and set up an ecumenical action agency to do something about it. A unanimous statement, strengthened by floor amendments, said “it would be futile to deny” the Kerner Commission assertion that white racism is largely responsible for the present crisis.
Smarting, perhaps, from complaints of church racism at a Detroit caucus of Negro priests, the bishops said the first task for Catholicism is “total eradication of any elements of discrimination in our parishes, schools, hospitals, homes for the aged and similar institutions.” Second was a duty to give generously to urgent needs of the poor, though religious funds alone “cannot possibly meet the complex needs.”
The Pope’S ‘Little Portion’
The week before the United States and North Viet Nam met in Paris, Pope Paul revealed that he had offered Lateran Palace or the Vatican as a site for the negotiations.
“Our little portion of territorial independence” was offered officially “so that, if other choices were lacking, the first meetings could be held here without any interference from us,” he said.
Religious News Service said the proposal was probably made April 29 or 30 through U. S. Apostolic Delegate Luigi Raimondi, and to Hanoi through the Vatican embassy in Paris.
The Pope hailed the decision to open talks on the Viet Nam war, but admitted his hope for peace is “not unmixed with fears.”
The Pope also disclosed he will fly to Colombia in late August to address the world eucharistic congress and the Latin American bishops’ meeting.
The bishops said that if private industry can’t provide work for unemployed Negroes, “then it becomes the duty of government to intervene.” They also advocated strict enforcement of the new national open-housing law.
The bishops voted $25,000 to set up an “urban task force” which will work with the National Council of Churches and the Synagogue Council to aid such racial programs as Project Equality and Operation Connection. Most Catholic help will come from voluntary efforts in local dioceses, but Pittsburgh’s Bishop John Wright estimated church aid would be “in the millions.”
The U. S. urban office is part of a major reshuffling of the Washington, D. C.-based Catholic secretariat. The new organization, which will begin functioning July 1, results from a $90,000, ten-month study. Directing the tightening-up will be new General Secretary Joseph L. Bernardin, 40, who succeeds Bishop Paul Tanner, recently reassigned to St. Augustine, Florida.
Another new office will be a personnel secretariat, designed to cope with the increasing shortage of priests. The number of U. S. priests dropped last year for the first time in decades, mostly because of net loss of 671 priests in religious orders. The bishops also discussed guidelines for the 143 local clergy senates and forty independent clergy associations that have sprung up in the post-conciliar church. The local groups decided earlier this year to form a national organization.
A major sign of ecumenical links was the revelation that bishops’ representatives huddled privately with NCC leaders in Detroit three months ago and that both sides agreed to keep hands off the current U. S. Supreme Court suit on the New York law that requires loan of public textbooks to parochial-school students.
From the closed-door meetings, the U.S. bishops issued a general statement supporting President Johnson’s Viet Nam bombing pause. But major treatment of war and peace will wait half a year, when the bishops will issue a “church in the modern world” pastoral letter.
MAY DAY VICTORY
The Christian Labor Association of Canada hailed a May 1 judicial decision in its battle against secular unions. CLAC, a recognized bargaining agent for 3,300 workers in seventy-six locals, had taken to court AFL-CIO unions that claimed exclusive rights to deal with employers.
The case grew out of a walkout at a Chatham, Ontario, construction site three years ago. The AFL-CIO strike forced a supplier to cancel his contract with a firm employing CLAC-represented workers. Final outcome was an injunction issued by the chief justice of the Ontario Supreme Court forbidding the AFL-CIO from interfering with CLAC.
CLAC is led by young, Dutch-born Gerald Vandezande, who feels Christian social responsibility should motivate orthodox believers to join in biblically-based power blocs. Among his evangelical supporters is Toronto’s Dr. William Fitch, who plans to raise the issue at next month’s Presbyterian Church assembly.
West Ellesmere Church in suburban Toronto decided this month to appeal to the August national meeting of the United Church of Canada for the right to call the minister of its choice.
In an unusual move, the local presbytery had refused approval of the call to the Rev. J. Berkley Reynolds, a conservative in theology, fearing the choice might split the 1,000-member congregation (see March 29 issue, page 40). The action was later upheld by the executive group of the Conference (regional) Settlement Committee. The congregation’s board then overwhelmingly voted for a national appeal. One member called the committee’s verdict “a total disregard of the congregation.” Conference committee Chairman Norman Pick, one of the few officials outside the congregation who would talk, said the congregation could not appeal the latest ruling.
At a three-hour conference committee hearing, two pro-Reynolds laymen told the committee the division in the congregation is healing and some of the anti-Reynolds minority faction would now support the call.
Reynolds will go along with the congregation in making the appeal, which he views as a test case. He says that if it fails, he will probably just leave without a fuss. He has been interim preacher at the church this year while completing a doctorate.
VIET CONG SOUVENIRS
Peanut brittle and hot tea graced the menu. Soldiers brought gifts, including a comb made from a napalm canister. The occasion was a farewell party in the camp commander’s bomb shelter for Dr. Marjorie Nelson and Miss Sandra Johnson, who were being released last month after fifty-two days in National Liberation Front prisons.
The Viet Cong cared well for them, reported Dr. Nelson, who had worked with an American Friends rehabilitation program in South Viet Nam. They provided the doctor and the International Voluntary Service teacher ample amounts of rice. “Before I left,” Dr. Nelson said, “I was eating twelve bowls a day.” Their shoes, inadequate for mountain hiking, were replaced with boots.
Dr. Nelson was “impressed by the caliber” of the medical care she received when she became ill with dysentery. Her major frustration was Viet Cong refusal to allow her to work. “They said it wasn’t necessary. They are very proud and determined to be self-sufficient.”
She was interrogated only once, though her captors initiated many political discussions. The soldiers wanted to hear about life in the United States, which they hoped to visit after the war. “When they asked me if I wanted to go home, I said, ‘Not yet.’ Then I explained that I was opposed to the war and wanted to help the Vietnamese.”
“I am very grateful that this happened to me,” said the Quaker doctor. “Throughout the whole experience I felt the presence of God. I feel this experience was a demonstration of what love can do.”
Her purse and its contents, including her money, camera and film, and passport, were returned when the women left the camp. Soldiers escorted them to a Vietnamese home where they caught a bus for Hue.
Back in the United States, Dr. Nelson visited her father; her mother had died shortly before news of Dr. Nelson’s impending release became public. Her only brother was aboard the ketch “Phoenix,” which had delivered medical supplies to North Viet Nam.
The Friends’ Quang Ngai rehabilitation program for civilian victims of the war will be reopened next month. The work was suspended during the Tet offensive last February when Dr. Nelson and Miss Johnson were captured.
“I am about to depart the scene with a bad reputation,” predicts 81-year-old Karl Barth. He expects “ecclesiastical-theological isolation” to follow the view of baptism expressed in his “last larger work,” volume IV/4 of Church Dogmatics.
A quarter-century ago, Barth questioned the “habit, or bad habit,” of infant baptism. Now the Reformed theologian also rejects a “sacramental or sacramentalistic” view of baptism as a human attempt to “manipulate” God. Baptism with the Holy Spirit brings the repentance and renewal, he holds. Water baptism is man’s liturgical response to the change already brought by God. Thus a free faith decision is needed before baptism.
Can the Church become a mature missionary force if it continues “to dispense the baptismal water with the same disrespectful prodigality it has demonstrated” for two millennia?, he asks.
CHISEL NO MORE
The church should be a “happening,” said a National Council of Churches staffer this month. He was speaking to architects and churchmen about the form of the building, not the content of the message or the order of worship.
Dr. Roger Ortmayer said churches should be designed so they are “amenable to the new sculptor’s art which uses electric circuits and amplifiers instead of hammer and chisel.” Churches will have to incorporate “the wonder of moving light” that “will be as integral to the rituals now being developed as were wall mosaics to the Byzantines or colored glass to the thirteenth-century pilgrims.”
Religious architecture is one way to tell the world that “God is alive!” said Robert L. Durham, and it can be “a tool for better communities” in a day when “man is awakening to the need for better environment.”
Part of that better environment, according to Durham, president of the American Institute of Architects, is churches and synagogues whose buildings “make possible a more meaningful expression of society’s religious conviction.” Those buildings should be works of art, he said, and can be in this affluent society where “for the price of one martini per person any American city could afford a major piece of art in its public square every night in the week.”
At least two speakers at the Miami Beach conference pointed out hindrances to achieving works of art in religious architecture.
The effort to avoid congregational conflicts is self-defeating, according to Dr. Arthur M. Cohen, director of communication and a group-processes laboratory at Georgia State College. He warned that buildings become the permanent results of the poor decisions that result from uncreative use of conflict.
Without interpersonal encounters, the degree to which architecture reflects the aesthetic whims and preferences of an age and of a congregation cannot be evaluated. He urged church members to be less passive and to study group dynamics in order to learn the process of reaching decisions that will recognize religious man’s unfinished state and need of continuous evaluation.
The Guild of Religious Architecture presented its honor award for the monastery renovation of the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. The new design, said the citation, “follows the tradition of style change and happily transforms the original space into a superlatively simple interior fitting for its contemplative role.”
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