“Our kids done good,” wrote Tulsa Tribune entertainment columnist Bill Donaldson. As critic he doesn’t pass out kudos indiscriminately in a city that, for its size, has a lot going for it culturally. “Our kids” are the World Action Singers of Oral Roberts University. The talented dozen’s Hollywood debut on the “Joey Bishop Show” was good enough to “make the home folks proud,” Donaldson said.

Early this month the Roberts group was back in Hollywood, taping hour-long TV specials certain to prompt some secular rave notices, along with some frowns from members of the evangelical old guard who might view it all as a bit too avant-garde, too hip. But so smart is the execution of the programs—amid much mediocrity in religious broadcasting—that they can’t help receiving notice in this month’s primetime premieres on 115 stations.

Wedding Hollywood techniques and a palpable presentation of a faith-healing ministry is no small feat. But with the distinctive lilt of the Ralph Carmichael Orchestra and the strictly mod style of the swinging World Action troupe, even those thinking it would be a mismatch came away believing the marriage would last. Producer Dick Ross of Billy Graham fame has let out the stops for his new client.

Roberts, hearing rehearsal accolades from numerous “studio bums” who while away many hours following the stars, insists “we’re not in show business—we’re only using the equipment.” But more than one hearer readily acknowledged that Roberts’s soloist son Richard, boosted into the limelight overnight, outcrooned special guest Pat Boone. And in their choreography ORU students slithered across the stage at a pace somewhere between Lawrence Welk and the cavorting on the Smothers Brothers program. The “Dean Martin Show” and “Laugh-In” are produced in the same studio as Roberts’s “Contact.”

Most of the appeal is to the younger generation, though Roberts’s combination salvation-healing appeal closes the generation gap: those failing to get the point through modern song and dance will be drawn in by the programs’ close.

Guest stars besides Boone (who testified that “God always does things first class; why shouldn’t we?”) were Dale Evans (belting out “I know It’s Real” to a swinging arrangement by Carmichael, who wrote and arranged most of the music) and Mahalia Jackson (with “Precious Lord” in her best Negro soul style). The hour with Miss Jackson was scheduled for March 16 and after, with Boone in June.

The music isn’t for highbrows, and thought quality varies. Dale’s version of the school of life for a Christian is, “There you can’t cut a class, but you’re sure to pass.” And young Roberts’s pitch for personal experience minimizes the ontological argument through song.

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The elder Roberts doesn’t believe in going second-class. In Tulsa, his ultramodern university is the best electronically equipped school in the state and boasts a library increasing in volume faster than Harvard’s. The school, which has yet to graduate its first class and is thus unaccredited, has nearly 1,400 on-and off-campus students. Better than half the full-time staff have earned doctorates, though Roberts himself is a college dropout. He is president but seldom intervenes in academic aspects.

Among the most avid local supporters of the university are members of the city’s Jewish community. Before the World Action team led by Presbyterian minister Charles Farah went to Israel last year, Jewish leaders eagerly groomed the team in Jewish niceties. Some of Roberts’s financial support comes from the same people.

The school also works well with the business community in a program partially underwritten by the U. S. government. Students and black leaders work in the city’s north end teaching people the fine points of holding a job, helping them form the habit of getting up at a certain time in the morning, teaching them how to dress and talk.

Roberts, 51, who nearly died of tuberculosis as a youth, preaches a “Gospel for the whole man” and stresses education with the same emphasis.

Despite the sophistication of the campus, Roberts still preaches to thousands under a tent, with the healing line his hallmark.

Since he left the Pentecostal Holiness Church last year to become ordained as a Methodist, there has been a noticeable shift in the makeup of the student body. Before the shift, nearly 40 per cent of the students came from Pentecostal backgrounds. Now that rate is down, and Baptist, Presbyterian, and holiness students are taking up the slack. Since Pentecostals were not heavy per-capita givers to his ministry, the change has not cut seriously into his financial operations. The seminary is closing, but because of insufficient enrollment, not money. The university hopes soon to reach its goal of 2,500 students, however. It is one of the few schools that are overbuilt.

The TV drive, underwritten by more than 350,000 “partners,” as is the university, will cost more than $1 million this year. Besides the specials, a series of forty half-hour, campus-staged shows will be placed on more than 120 major stations on Sundays to boost the university. As the aggressive public-relations-ministry approach begins projecting Roberts both as the old and as the new this month, chances are the TV ratings won’t be the only ones to go up.

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Advance Look At Cocu

The man who heads writing of the “Plan of Union” for a giant Protestant church predicts the merger will occur “within five years”—but will not include all nine denominations presently involved in the Consultation on Church Union.

The Rev. William A. Benfield, Jr., a West Virginia Southern Presbyterian, told a Louisville audience shortly before COCU’s March 17–20 meeting that COCU will produce a “new united church” rather than a mere merger of existing denominations. It will be attuned to social problems, yet attentive to grassroots voices—even though its potential constituency is 25 million.

“People who think the church should be concerned with ‘soul’ and not the whole man will have no place in the united church,” he said, referring to those who oppose church social action. The church will express the “historic Trinitarian faith,” but creeds and confessions “will be used persuasively, not coercively,” he said, quoting from a resolution at the 1968 COCU talks.

Benfield indicated that unlike many previous Protestant mergers, COCU will permit individual congregations to stay outside the union, yet keep ownership of their property.

The provisional Plan of Union slated for discussion at this month’s meeting calls for communities to be divided into parishes composed of one or more congregations. The parish, not the congregation, would determine church government and program.

Parishes would be organized into districts headed by an elected bishop who would be an administrator and a “pastor of pastors” without having as much judicial authority as bishops do in some present denominations.

Benfield also said the new church will seek a “dialogue” with government agencies and civic groups on current problems.



After 4 Years, A Launch

Suddenly this month the four-year-old Evangelical Fellowship of Canada came on strong and left no doubt in many Canadian minds that the evangelical constituency (estimated at one million) is beginning to rear a prominent head in national affairs.

Previous conventions drew as few as sixty delegates (Winnipeg 1968). This year nearly 800 clergy and laity from British Columbia to Nova Scotia registered—only Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland weren’t represented.

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The successful launch was attributed by some delegates to increasing awareness of the nation’s need for a united evangelical voice. But most believed the greatest factor behind the success was Dr. William Fitch of Toronto’s Knox Presbyterian Church, elected EFC president last year.

Fitch’s opening address told members from eighteen denominations that evangelicals could not continue following hard-core doctrinaire patterns without relevancy to the social scene. Reacting to government overtures in recognizing Red China, he asked, “Are we prepared to turn our backs on our friends in Formosa?” He also lashed out against Blake-Pike-type organic merger as “a be-all and end-all of everything where the church was prepared to reduce statements of faith to the lowest common denominator.”

The two-day convention’s theme was “Reality and Relevancy.” For the first time on a national, interdenominational basis, evangelicals dealt with contemporary society, counseling, modern evangelism, relevancy and youth, and communications. But several attempts to place resolutions on the floor failed. There was general agreement that EFC structure is only at the fellowship stage, not sufficiently mature to adopt resolutions which, right now, could split the body wide open.

Mennonite psychologist Frank Peters, the president of Waterloo Lutheran University, hailed the convention as a demonstration of “a feeling of trust among evangelicals, giving a presage of what is to come.” He warned, “We must recapture social concern if we are to recapture the attention of youth.” Though no significant role was played by anyone under 25, youth were strongly represented at the meetings.

Half the delegates were laymen, and about two-thirds came from the larger denominations (Anglican, United Church, Presbyterian, Baptist). Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor Kenn Opperman was elected second in command to Fitch, while Ross Bailey became secretary—the first United Church pastor on EFC’s executive. Regional vice-presidents across the nation will be appointed, and Anglican evangelist Marney Patterson will coordinate next year’s meeting.

Police Chief James Mackey told EFC that Toronto marijuana charges had risen from seven in 1964 to 569 in 1968. He thinks the sharp decline in Sunday-school attendance has a lot to do with the rapid increase of teens in court.

After Joel Nederhood’s closing address, Fitch told the audience (many watching on closed-circuit TV) that “God is moving in our presence in a unique way that our fathers have not seen.” And as choir and congregation sang “O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,” it was evident that the EFC was off the ground and on its way into orbit.

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Graham: ‘Just Be Yourself’

Despite an anonymous phone call about a bomb planted around the platform area, the last meeting of the Billy Graham Crusade in Auckland went on this month according to schedule. The 42,000 who streamed into Western Springs Stadium on a summer Sunday afternoon included a 106-year-old woman who one observer said was the oldest woman in New Zealand. Total attendance over the four days was 128,000. Almost that many followed the services at eighty-two landline relay centers throughout the country, which is about the size of Colorado. Nearly 6,000 went forward at the stadium, and more than 1,500 were counseled at the relay centers.

Interviewed by the assistant editor of an Auckland evening paper (“I’m here representing the skeptics”), Graham was asked if “this image of a 50-year-old square in a well-cut suit who looks like a well-dressed parent” handicapped his communication with youth. He replied that Senator McCarthy’s gray hair and grandfatherly status did not hinder his appeal to the American young in the last election. He added: “They just want you to be yourself.”

Asked if his approach, which “might be very suitable to the Bible Belt of the Deep South,” might be unacceptable in New Zealand and could even antagonize, the evangelist said: “It antagonizes people there.” He had preached the same Gospel in Africa, India, Japan, Cambridge, and Harvard, he said. The message was the same, the reaction the same. Some accept it; some reject it.

A television interview proved rougher. It had the same ingredients as the notorious BBC inquisition in London three summers ago: A harmless-sounding invitation to appear to answer some questions; three hostile interviewers (in this case including Auckland’s leading criminal lawyer); a campaign planned by the trio in advance; a dredging up of all the durable old fallacies that Graham and his men have encountered down the years.

But something went wrong with the conspiracy. Graham was his usual cool, gracious, and preaching self; the trio overreached themselves; the lawyer was dealt a deadly blow on a vulnerable spot in his own personal circumstances; and the morning paper was swamped with letters condemning the ugly tactics employed. Only 3 per cent of the writers thought the proceedings fair; the rest, many of whom said they were not supporters of the crusade, condemned bad manners and loaded, unconstructive questions.

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At Dunedin, Graham packed a hall at Knox College, scene of recent theological controversy over liberal views of its principal. There he gave 250 students and clergy an hour-long talk on communicating the gospel and called for young men to evangelize the nation.

In addition to Auckland, Dunedin, and Christchurch, the Graham team was involved during February and March in crusades centered on Bundaberg, Queensland; Launceston, Tasmania; Melbourne, Victoria; and Darwin, Northern Territory. With last year’s meetings, every Australian state has been reached in the past fourteen months.


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