An unseasonably warm sun parted rain clouds over Memphis one day in January as America’s ecumenical elite marched to the Lorraine Motel to pay tribute to the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Weathermen had announced a 70 per cent chance of showers, but the rain never came. It was a bit of good fortune in an otherwise melancholy four-day meeting of the National Council of Churches’ General Board.

“The honeymoon is over for the ecumenical movement,” the board was told by a Roman Catholic priest, and most members seemed to feel it. The issues of black power, violence, Biafra, and the Middle East pressed in upon the meeting, but the board had not a prophetic word about any of these. There simply was no consensus.

One resolution adopted by the 250-member board reaffirmed an earlier statement condemning Soviet-led intervention in Czechoslovakia. The reaffirmation was introduced by United Presbyterian Stated Clerk William Thompson after the board’s executive committee sought to derail consideration of the Czech question on grounds that NCC specialists had not given the matter enough study. The new statement tempers the previous one by “acknowledging that our country itself has been guilty of oppression.” A five-man delegation from the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow witnessed adoption of the resolution.

Other guests at the meeting included a denim-clad black-militant group known as “The Invaders,” who sought to capitalize upon the opportunity by demanding $51,000 for a program among local poor people. When no immediate promises of the money were made, an Invader leader took the floor to hurl obscene epithets at churches in general and the NCC in particular.

Traditionally the NCC has sought to be in the vanguard of social movements, ...

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