Mission must come before unity, according to a decision made last month by the National Council of Churches’ General Board.
No attempt was made to define the mission. But whatever it might be, churches want its primacy assured in the organization planned to supplant the NCC. That’s the way the board’s special task force on ecumenical options saw things, and the board, after something of a skirmish, went along—at least for now.
The fifteen-member task force, reporting to a two-day meeting of the board in Phoenix, said it “observes a profound change in the role of the basic motivating objectives of mission and unity in the ecumenical movement. Historically, as in the preamble of the NCC constitution, we have been committed to keeping unity and mission in tension, each as primary motivating objectives. The data convinces us that the churches have established the fact that mission has an indisputably basic claim upon our common life and that at the very least mission is first among equals and therefore must be given the primary position.”
The report also argued that one main reason for envisaging a new ecumenical structure was “the difficulty experienced by the churches and agencies in seeking to achieve their mission aims within the (present) council.”
One of the report’s basic assumptions was challenged from the floor at this point by Dr. Eugene L. Smith, North American secretary for the World Council of Churches. Smith said:
“I do not think it is either scripturally accurate or spiritually true that unity and mission exist in tension. I think this is a serious distortion of the nature of Christian unity, and a serious distortion of the nature of the Christian mission.”
Smith conceded, however, that unity is not an end in itself but “only for the sake of mission.” The mission, he suggested, is that the world might believe.
The task force agreed to tack on a paragraph drafted by Smith tempering the assertion that mission and unity have been in tension in the present conciliar structure. The amended report is to be circulated and debated, with feedback directed to the task force. The task force won authorization from the board to “design a tentative model” for a new ecumenical organization based upon the response “and their own thinking at the time.”
The task force had sought authority to design the model by the end of this year. Some board members thought that might be hurrying things, so the approved motion merely asks for a task force progress report to the board in January.
The Reverend Arie R. Brouwer, the young chairman of the task force, said he will try nonetheless to stick to the original timetable.
The idea of a “new model” for American ecumenism seems appropriate enough, since the concept had its origin in Detroit, the automobile capital, during the NCC General Assembly there last December. Dr. R. H. Edwin Espy, NCC general secretary, made the initial suggestion; implementation has been going on ever since. The Phoenix meeting was the milestone at which “probable trends” regarding the new ecumenical agency were to be isolated.
One “trend” to surface was the primacy of mission. Another principle (it was fully expected) was that the new organization should embrace more than the thirty-three churches that presently comprise the NCC. The task force report said “both Roman Catholic and conservative evangelical groups should be added.” An amendment from the floor substituted “other Christian churches” for “conservative evangelical groups.”
The inclination apparently is to carry forward exactly the same doctrinal base from the NCC to its successor group. The task force recommended that voting membership in the general assembly of the new group “be restricted to delegates of churches or communions which accept the statement contained in the preamble to the present constitution of the NCC or one similar to it.” The present statement limits membership to communions, “which confess Jesus Christ as Divine Lord and Savior.”
The new agency is to be decentralized, but not uncoordinated. It is to be flexible; programs “should be chiefly, if not exclusively, catalytic and experimental in nature, with primary focus on national and international concerns” (presumably as opposed to regional, local, and personal), and these programs are to be “spun off” as soon as possible into independence. Selective participation is recognized as a “practical necessity,” and “the general style of operation of the national ecumenical agency would be participatory rather than bureaucratic or authoritarian.”
Initially the NCC had talked about calling a national ecumenical congress before the end of 1970 that would have brought together representatives of the present NCC constituency as well as prospects from non-member communions. A major shift in strategy has taken place, however. NCC president Dr. Cynthia Wedel said preliminary, private talks with non-member churchmen revealed that a behind-the-scenes approach was preferable. She said non-members will call a public consultation on their own initiative if they think it wise.
Meanwhile, a small, secret meeting (“very informal”) was held in June at an undisclosed location, followed by a larger meeting on August 10 in Washington, D. C. Both the NCC leaders and the non-member church representatives insisted on keeping the talks secret. “Chief officers” of non-member communions were said to have attended, but neither the people nor the denominations were identified. One source said involved churchmen “did not even tell their wives where they were going or why.”
The task-force report also precluded further consideration of four options it set forth earlier this year (see July 17 issue, page 37), saying that continuing discussion of the options “no longer seems to be the most useful way to approach the problem.”
A Military-Ecclesiastical Complex
Carl McIntire said last month he expected at least 500,000 persons to attend his Viet Nam victory rally in Washington, D. C., October 3. He churned up a mass of advance publicity by inviting Nguyen Cao Ky, the Buddhist vice-president of Viet Nam, to address the rally.
“We’re going to have a great rallying of the hawks,” McIntire declared in a Washington press conference, “and take out after the doves.”
Did he think there might be a counter-march Alluding to the coming elections, he replied:
“If we have demonstrations, November 3 will be open season on doves and there will be no hunting license required.” He declared, however, that when he set October 3 as the date for the rally he hadn’t remembered that the elections would then be exactly a month away.
McIntire got a tongue-in-cheek welcome into the activist arena from an official of the United Presbyterian Church, to which McIntire once belonged. Dr. Kenneth G. Neigh, general secretary of the denomination’s Board of National Missions, said it was “wonderfully curious” that McIntire, who has criticized the National Council of Churches for involvement in politics, “has now himself moved on the political scene.” Said Neigh, who is an NCC vice-president: “I welcome Dr. McIntire to the rest of us activists.”
McIntire’s invitation to Ky seemed to indicate another shift in strategy. Heretofore McIntire has said it is unscriptural to share a platform with non-fundamentalists.
Dr. John E. Millheim, general secretary of the American Council of Christian Churches, said McIntire is guilty of “compromise of the clear commands of biblical separation from apostasy.” Millheim asked: “If fundamentalists are in control of the program and platform, how can the chairman of the march justify on a biblical basis inviting a Buddhist as key speaker and Catholics and Jews to stand with him?” The ACCC, once dominated by McIntire, dropped him from its executive committee last year.
Neigh’s attack on McIntire was the most open by a top American churchman in nearly twenty years. He said the invitation to Ky “clearly identifies the Saigon regime with radical right-wing groups in the United States.” He added that “the time has come for clarifying relationships and challenging those who, like McIntire, have a ministry of dissension when the church and the world desperately need reconciliation and unity.” Neigh identified McIntire as “a deposed minister of my church. His ministerial credentials were withdrawn thirty-five years ago for sowing dissension within the church.”
Neigh lamented that McIntire has raised funds for his divisive campaigns “from many well-meaning, sincerely concerned church people by falsehoods and by maligning the integrity of the churches and their leaders. His theme for thirty-five years has been that these legally constituted, official church organizations have been ‘Communist-inspired,’ a charge refuted by every investigating group which pursued these claims.”
Neigh said churches under attack from McIntire have “falsely and wrongly” ignored him. McIntire responded by saying he was happy to hear the challenge from Neigh “because it brought things into the open.”
Neigh, speaking at a news conference during the NCC’s General Board meeting in Phoenix, disclosed that three years ago his board had unknowingly employed two FBI agents. They worked for about six months in the accounting department before being discovered, he said, whereupon the FBI called them back, described the whole episode as a mistake, and apologized. Neigh, asked whether the surveillance might have been inspired by pro-Communist charges such as those made by McIntire, said: “I can think of no other reason.”
Grants For Guerrillas Generate Grumbles
The World Council of Churches will not back down on its decision last month to allocate $200,000 to anti-racist groups, including African guerrilla fighters, even if South Africa churches pull out of the council.
A Geneva spokesman for the ecumenical organization said the storm of controversy raised by the decision to aid black guerrillas and others would not affect the grants, which will aid nineteen organizations in various countries. Nine agencies are militantly—and in some cases violently—opposing racial injustice and white supremacy in southern Africa.
Following the WCC’s action (the decision to contribute funds to fight racism was made in August, 1969, by the WCC Central Committee), South African prime minister John Vorster urged South African churches to reconsider their membership in the WCC, and Anglican archbishop Robert Selby-Taylor said South African churches were “almost certain” to withdraw over the issue. However, the Presbyterians voted in their General Assembly to stay in the council.
In Britain, the conservative Sunday Telegram editorially termed the decision to give the $200,000 “holy terror.” Protests poured in from other countries. Some churchmen, both Protestant and Catholic, who oppose the South African government’s racial policies nevertheless joined in the criticism. But Dr. Donald Coggan, the archbishop of York, said that the allocation was justified because “racism is one of the major evils of the twentieth century.”
Portugal expressed concern over funds given to the Dutch-based Angola Committee, and to two other nationalist groups in the West African colony. About half of the $200,000 went to these three groups, it was reported. Dr. John Coventry Smith, United Presbyterian official and WCC Executive Committee member, was quoted as saying that the $200,000 came from, among other sources, a $100,000 contribution recently made to the WCC by the United Methodist Church.
Though the grants were made without strings, the WCC said it had been assured the money would not be used for military purposes. Conservative critics observed that the WCC has not moved to administer funds to combat oppression or discrimination in the Middle East or in the Soviet Union.
Doubling In Jeopardy
Growth in adversity has been a hallmark of Christianity, but the Korean church has outdone itself.
Despite two great persecutions (Japanese and Communist), two wars, and the crippling tragedies of church schisms not yet healed, the Protestant community has almost doubled its total membership every decade for the past thirty years. From 327,000 in 1940, it has grown to about 2,250,000 today, an increase of almost 10 per cent a year compared with only 2.2 per cent annual population increase. Two-thirds of the Protestants are Presbyterian.
There is still much to do: 90 per cent of the people have not been reached. Of the South Korean population of 31 million there are about 3 million Christians—Protestant and Catholic. In addition, there are about a million members of marginal sects such as the faith-healing Olive Tree Church and the bizarre Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, whose leader claims to be a Korean Jesus.
Dropping The Guard
Up in arms over a salary dispute early last month, the Vatican’s Pontifical Gendarmes refused to collect September’s wages. A few days later they learned there would be no more wages to garner: Pope Paul had disbanded all armed and uniformed Vatican organizations except the colorful Swiss Guards.
The blue-uniformed gendarmes staged a four-day protest, refusing to pick up their pay checks because the Vatican didn’t make a recent pay raise retroactive to July, 1969, as it had for other Vatican state employees. Prices in Vatican commissaries, meanwhile, they noted, have risen (meat is up 25 per cent and liquor 30 per cent).
In addition to the gendarmes, the reduction cut from the military squad the Guard of Honor and the Palatine Guard. In all, about 700 persons were affected. Pope Paul said the decision was inspired by his desire to emphasize “the essentially spiritual nature of the mission of the Holy See.”
The dissolution came 100 years after papal troops last went into action to defend the Vatican states against the Northern Italian kingdom of Piedmont. The troops captured Rome in September, 1870, without a battle, and made it the capital of a united Italy.
The 140 gendarmes were promised other jobs in the church.
Shrinking Sunday Canadian Sunset?
Sunday schools were started last century for children who couldn’t read and so had no Bible knowledge. The problem now—in Canada at least—isn’t illiteracy so much as it seems to be apathy, and new methods of giving young people a knowledge of the Word of God must be devised.
Few Sunday schools in the United Church of Canada, the country’s largest denomination, will survive another five years if a survey made by the influential United Church Observer is correct. Attendance is now dropping at the rate of 12 per cent a year; the biggest losses are in the nursery and kindergarten departments.
Other major denominations in Canada are also recording declines. A notable exception to the trend, the People’s Church in Toronto, has more than 1,500 in its classes and a year-round average of 1,376.
Parents are blamed for the lack of interest, and changing living patterns have caused families to jaunt away on weekend holidays and conferences as well as longer summer vacations. The 1964 new curriculum also appears to have alienated many dedicated teachers.
S*E*X In The Army
When women flex their muscles, Congress and the Salvation Army may now be among the first to duck. The two women exercising their legendary power are Representative Martha W. Griffiths and former Salvation Army lieutenant Billie B. McClure.
Roman Hat Dance
Two Jesuits danced around their birettas after balloting in six states concluded last month. Each had tossed his hat in the political ring, and each won his party’s nomination.
The Reverend Robert S. Drinan, 49, on leave as dean of the Boston College Law School and an outspoken liberal, rolled to the upset surprise of the primary elections when he defeated veteran House Democrat Philip J. Philbin of Massachusetts. And the Reverend John McLaughlin, 43, unopposed Rhode Island GOP nominee, will face incumbent Democratic senator John O. Pastore, a Roman Catholic who in the September 15 voting breezed past his first primary challenge in twenty years.
A third priest-politician, the Reverend Robert J. Cornell, a Norbertine priest, earlier won the Wisconsin Democratic nomination to oppose Representative John W. Byrnes next month.
Although ninety clergymen have served in Congress since 1789, no Roman Catholic priest has yet had a vote on Capitol Hill. If Drinan’s confident bouyancy has any effect, the priestly image won’t chill the voters at November’s congressional elections. A homemade sign at his Watertown, Massachusetts, campaign office proclaims: “Father Knows Best.”
Martha Griffiths of Michigan led the final battle last August in a House of Representatives struggle lasting nearly fifty years to win (350–15) an equal-rights-for-women amendment to the Constitution. If the Senate approves it (and that is not so certain as it once seemed), the only remaining hurdle will be ratification by at least thirty-eight state legislatures—a hurdle proponents estimate will be leaped in four years.
Opponents fear the amendment will deprive women of protective labor laws; that it will probably subject women to military conscription tends to support that fear. But the amendment will be legally binding on state and federal laws, not on private enterprise.
Still, private organizations—including religious ones—can hardly help being affected by such civil-rights legislation; precisely how may be coming into focus on the Salvation Army. Last May, Billie McClure filed a complaint with the Atlanta, Georgia, office of U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charging that the Army had discriminated against her because of her sex. Although at the time Mrs. McClure was doing—and being paid for—stenographic work, her position as a commissioned officer gave her the status—and, she believed, the right to salary and benefits—of an ordained (male) minister. Later the 39-year-old divorcee complained again to the EEOC that the Army was firing her because her original complaint had been published in Atlanta newspapers.
In August the EEOC, citing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, requested a federal court to order the Salvation Army to reinstate Mrs. McClure and to refrain from retaliating against employees who complain about discrimination. Because it is a religious organization, the Army responded, it is not subject to job discrimination provisions of the Civil Rights Act.
One Salvation Army officer told an EEOC attorney that he felt Mrs. McClure was being “disloyal” to question Army pay rates, although he, too, considered them discriminatory. He advised her to take a leave of absence until she could pay her son’s medical bills and see that her three boys got a formal education. Six other Army officers refused to talk with the EEOC attorney.
“The Army’s consistent response” to Mrs. McClure’s complaint, stated the EEOC, “has been the alternative that she accept the disparity [in women’s benefits] or that she resign.” This response, the statement continued, is “prompted neither by animus or evil intent. Far from it. The Army is simply a paternalistic organization, which is rarely questioned by its members who accept its rule docilely and are expected to do so.
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