Evangelical eyes are opening toward America’s inner cities.
Stirred by the 1966 Berlin and Wheaton congresses, struck in the solar plexus by galling ghetto cries of physical and spiritual want, some Christians are seeing human needs in America in a startling new light.
As the blinders fall off, like the veil that drops from the spiritual eyes of the new believer, these Christians are asking themselves and others painful questions about their racial attitudes, and looking for new ways to evangelize and minister to inner-city residents in the face of the churches’ flight to the suburbs.
A good indicator of the new concern is Eternity magazine’s naming of Dr. Sherwood E. Wirt’s The Social Conscience of the Evangelical as most significant book of the year for laymen. The choice was based on a poll of writers and reviewers. Last year not one book on social concern made the top twenty-five.
Last month the National Association of Evangelicals held a seminar on problems and programs in the inner city—its first ever. NAE recognition of the need for such a meeting was more significant than what was said during the three days of speeches and workshops in a Chicago suburb. NAE social-concerns chairman Peter Pascoe expressed “utter amazement that in NAE we’ve reached this place of dialogue,” though some representatives of inner-city ministries said the sessions were on a “third-grade Sunday-school level.” Chicago religion-and-race director Monroe E. Sullivan said participants represented a group fifty years late in relating to inner-city needs.
But Professor Glen Barker of Gordon Divinity School said “the majority of delegates wanted to think in new ways. They will not be as indifferent to the inner city as previously. And if we are able to follow through as we hope, the black Christian will be able to recognize that the evangelical really does care for more than his soul.”
Most of the 140 delegates from sixty-three denominations and organizations recommended meetings between the NAE and the National Negro Evangelical Association to discuss cooperation in inner-city ministries. The NNEA has already discussed strategy for its Operation Outreach—an evangelism/social concern thrust in ten major cities this year—with Campus Crusade for Christ.
Cooperation in evangelism will be the meeting ground for concerned conservatives in the immediate future, city Southern Baptist pastor John Stuckey told the Washington Post in a recent article, “Evangelicals Studying Shifts to Social Action.” Other leaders saw a new search to relate evangelical faith to human need, while holding that individual conversions underlie social reform.
And at a December executive meeting planning next September’s U. S. Congress on Evangelism, several of the nation’s leading evangelicals urged that the social concern expressed in the “Statement of Purpose” for the congress be implemented in its program.
But others are directly challenging evangelicals to scrutinize their own racial attitudes as an imperative prelude to both evangelism and social action. One topic discussed in the NNEA-Campus Crusade meetings was “pervasive racism,” not only in American society but also “in evangelism.”
Young Life devoted the entire July issue of its magazine Focus on Youth to a no-holds-barred discussion of race prejudice and the Christian. With such articles as “The Nature of Prejudice,” “Bitter About the System,” “Guilt Is Not Enough,” and “Racism and the Renewed Life,” the magazine starts on a rough, angry note, moves to more thoughtful discussions of black power and black beauty, then ends with a Scripture-woven call to Christians to overcome racism in their own lives through faith and the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit.
Another evangelical magazine, the independent, bimonthly Freedom Now, has in recent issues hit hard at white racism, “hypocritical” use of “law and order,” the charge that Communists are behind racial disorders, and police behavior.
During the barrage of words, however, a number of church groups have quietly inaugurated new approaches to the problem. Most striking, the United Presbyterians in June brought sixty-seven missionaries back from the foreign field for six months to help relieve racial tensions here. Church officials felt the missionaries could better “endure the isolation facing persons who work in the no-man’s-land of interracial relationships” because they’ve been away from current tensions but have often experienced racial rejection on the mission field.
Presbyterian officials feared American churchmen would reject aid from the missionaries they paid to save persons overseas. But little adverse reaction developed, though the missionaries worked in ghettos and suburbs interpreting racism, establishing community projects, and helping in police-community relations. Some missionaries said they’d felt guilty about being away from the United States in time of crisis and appreciated the chance to use their experience at home.
The American Sunday School Union, which pioneered in setting up Sunday schools throughout the American frontier, is now blazing trails in the inner city.
Philadelphia black pastor Ben Johnson joined ASSU in May to start its work in major U. S. cities. ASSU has already established a multi-racial board of suburbanites and city-dwellers and an afternoon Sunday-school program in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Johnson is developing the program now in Washington, D. C., where the response of suburbanites has been “overwhelming.”
“We don’t make a big thing of race,” says Johnson, “but we encourage integration of teaching staffs.”
On the old frontier Sunday schools often grew into churches. ASSU Sunday schools begun in frequently declining ghetto churches often regenerate them, Johnson says.
Efforts by other groups here and there reflect the new mood that is seeping slowly through evangelicalism. A Southern Baptist vacation Bible school this summer in the Watts section of Los Angeles drew more than 7,000 children. Baptist students from area universities taught them in garages, livingrooms, parks and churches, resulting in 564 professions of faith and improved relations between black and white Baptists.
Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary and College, Philadelphia, have set up a commission to look for ways to help more black youths and pastors obtain higher education.
Even the American Tract Society is holding a “Black Christians Literature Conference” April 28–30 to discuss the most effective means of communicating to black people through the written word.
OLD TESTAMENT EVIDENCE
Findings by the British School of Archeology, reported in the journal Iraq last month, include the earliest references to the capital city of Samaria and to King Jehoash outside of the Old Testament. The inscription on a stone slab (stela) found at a late Assyrian temple site near Mosul, Iraq, also corroborate other scriptural names and events. In fact, this happens so frequently that such finds now tend to go unnoticed.
The stela, about four feet high, is engraved with the figure of Assyrian King Adad-nirari III (810–782 B.C.), with twenty lines of text across the royal skirt.
It is hoped that the discovery of more than 200 letters from the Old Babylonian level at the same site will yield useful information on the patriarchal period.
D. J. WISEMAN
New Idea In Overseas Witness
Evangelicals’ new heart for human need is taking innovative forms abroad as well as at home.
Newest is “Help for a Hungry World,” a Washington, D. C.-based organization launched this fall by the Rev. Paris Reidhead, NAE’s Clyde W. Taylor, and Dr. Horace Fenton of the Latin America Mission.
It seeks to interest and assist Christian businessmen in starting profit-making enterprises near foreign missions, which would (1) provide jobs for national believers now economically dependent on missionaries, (2) free missionaries for more evangelistic work, (3) boost economic development in the host country, (4) witness to business and government people in the host country, and (5) provide technically trained young American Christians with a chance to combine work and witness overseas.
The fledgling project is seeking church support for the first three years, then hopes to live off fees from businessmen it assists. Reidhead says government and other investment capital is plentiful.
One interested businessman-turned-pastor in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Clifford Chew, says he believes Christian businesses will open alien doors for Christ as medical missionaries did fifty years ago. “This may avalanche in the next ten years.”
RELIGION AND THE CABINET
Religious affiliations of the new Cabinet members announced by President-elect Richard M. Nixon are as follows:
Presbyterian: Secretary of State William P. Rogers, Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird, Attorney General John N. Mitchell, Postmaster General Winton M. Blount. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Robert H. Finch.
Roman Catholic: Secretary of Commerce Maurice H. Stans, Secretary of the Interior Walter J. Hickel, Secretary of Transportation John A. Volpe.
Latter-day Saints: Secretary of the Treasury David M. Kennedy, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development George W. Romney.
Episcopal: Secretary of Labor George P. Shultz.
United Church of Christ: Secretary of Agriculture Clifford M. Hardin.
The U. S. Supreme Court ruled last month that draft director Lewis Hershey’s work to reclassify seminary students who protest the Viet Nam war was “blatantly lawless.” The court said clergy and seminarians have a draft exemption beyond the reach of the draft system. The case involved James Oestereich, 24, a student at Andover Newton Theological School (American Baptist-United Church of Christ). The court upheld the 1967 draft law and the draft system’s power to reclassify most registrants without review until the draftee is inducted or refuses induction.
And a federal district judge in Baltimore ruled Michael Shacter, 21, eligible for reclassification as a conscientious objector—the first avowed atheist known to be granted such exemption because of moral objections to war. A 1965 Supreme Court ruling said a person need not belong to a pacifist denomination to qualify as a CO, but it did not determine whether an irreligious person can be a CO. In 1967, Congress eliminated the rule that CO’s must believe in a “Supreme Being.”
New Wrinkle On Property
Forty-six former Evangelical United Brethren churches in Oregon and Washington, now the heart of the new Evangelical Church of North America, have reached a property settlement with the United Methodist Church. They will pay $690,266 to keep their property—$25,000 of it last month, and the rest within ninety days. The property is worth nearly $4 million, but some congregations owe money on their buildings and must pay this off as well. This amounts to about $85 per member to keep the property. To raise the money, some are mortgaging the property, borrowing from members, or putting on special fund campaigns. It is believed to be the first time such an arrangement has been made under the connectional Methodist polity.
Landmark Property Hearing
Two ex-Presbyterian churches in Savannah worth $170,000 may seem like a picayune matter to stir the hearts of U. S. denominational leaders, but it could be that millions of dollars in property hangs on their legal fate.
If the local churches win their case, heard by the U. S. Supreme Court December 9 and 10, untold other congregations may begin lining up to withdraw from connectional denominations. Things would come to a head when the vast Consultation on Church Union merger is voted on several years from now. Thus the Savannah case is easily the twentieth century’s most important church lawsuit.
The Southern Presbyterian Church seeks to overrule the Georgia Supreme Court and hold onto the breakaway congregations’ property, and more than one denomination is interested. Friend-of-court briefs were filed by the chief executives of the Episcopal Church, the United Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Church in America (en route to merger with the Southern Presbyterians), and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
But then, the opposition also has an interdenominational flavor. A Seattle congregation that is trying to disengage itself from the post-’67 Confession United Presbyterian Church filed a brief, and the Savannah attorney was sent forty pages of legal background by the American Church Union, the high-church group in the Episcopal Church that is already keeping a close watch on what will happen after COCU.
The Savannah churches argue that their denomination broke the terms of original affiliation by “intermeddling” in the secular issue of Viet Nam, and backing some types of civil disobedience, against the dictates of the Westminster Confession. They also oppose ordination of women, and the end to the requirement that Presbyterians believe certain persons are predestined to hell before birth.
At the U. S. Supreme Court hearing, Savannah attorney Owen Page’s skillful case sidestepped another of the congregations’ complaints: that the denomination hadn’t worked against the Supreme Court school prayer and Bible rulings.
The denomination’s lawyer, Charles Gowen of Atlanta, argued that the court would violate church-state separation by judging such a matter as whether the denomination is straying from its original beliefs. Several questions, particularly from Justice Hugo Black (a Baptist from Alabama), probed whether the case is simply one of deciding church law on who owns the property.
On that score, Gowen had to admit that “nothing in church law deals directly with the disposition of property.”The church constitution does give property to the presbytery in case a church disbands, and in denominational eyes that’s what happened in Savannah. But Page rebuts by saying that the congregations are alive and well. While the local churches hold title, the denomination argues that an “implied trust” exists and that the congregations joined it voluntarily. Gowen’s case draws heavily on the high court’s ruling in favor of the Presbyterian denomination in the 1871 property suit Watson v. Jones.
His brief says the Georgia ruling is a “threat to the continued existence of hierarchical or connectional churches,” since any dissatisfied congregation could withdraw. Also, he argues, “churches are not dead or stagnant bodies but are continually growing and changing.” Without a reversal, “churches will be effectively prevented from speaking out or taking a stand on pressing issues.…”
Episcopal Presiding Bishop John Hines’s brief says support of the Georgia ruling “would vest in contumacious congregations the right of secession from the national church.…”
Page argues that a denomination may be “representational” in its spiritual life but “congregational” on property ownership.
Page’s own congregation, St. John’s Church of Savannah, withdrew from the Episcopal Church in 1965. Bishop Albert Stuart explained last month that no legal action has been taken because the diocese hopes to get the church back eventually without such rancor. He also noted that St. John’s has an 1830 charter granted by the state legislature, giving it more legal independence than most Episcopal parishes.
Fordham: Eyeing Aid
Fordham University, faced with a growing financial crisis and its first full-scale student protest, is taking tentative steps in a secularization program that could lead to a challenge of the school’s 127-year history of Jesuit control.
First the university, in response to a study aimed at making the school eligible for New York State aid, announced it would expand its all-Jesuit board from nine to thirty-one to make room for a lay majority. To qualify for assistance that could reach $1 million annually, the study said, the university would have to assure the state it was “free of denominational control.”
Then early in December students formed a broad-based coalition of campus groups (which included none of the Jesuit faculty and only five lay instructors) and presented to the administration a list of demands calling for increased participation of students and faculty in policy-making, including board seats. The petition was signed by about 20 per cent of the 6,000 students on the coed campus.
Students backed up demands with a sleep-in protest and leaflets. Father Leo McLaughlin responded with a faculty-student advisory group; days later he was replaced as president by fellow Jesuit Michael P. Walsh, former head of Boston College.
Meanwhile, however, the trustees have reaffirmed that whatever happens, the university will remain “Catholic and Jesuit.” In addition, to cut back university expenditures, which now reach $17 million annually, the board also announced a freeze on faculty hiring plus a tuition increase. Christmas may be merry, but almost nobody at Fordham is saying anything about the new year.
WILLIAM D. FREELAND
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