The seeds of a new church fell on fertile ground last month as commissioners (delegates) to the 183rd General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., meeting in Rochester, New York, received for study a new plan of union and reaffirmed interest in an old one.

The new plan was a study draft to unite the northern church (UPCUSA) with the southern, the Presbyterian Church in the U. S.; the draft will be presented to the southern church next month. The old plan was the ten-year-old Consultation on Church Union, which is to be studied at the same time despite several sharp challenges. (A motion from the Presbytery of Pittsburgh “on discontinuing participation in the Consultation on Church Union” failed.)

The road to reunion is apparently a rocky one; even the more limited plan to unite the northern and southern churches met with opposition, led by the largely black Synod of Catawba. Several motions were made to delay by four years final presentation of the plan to the two Presbyterian churches. The result was a compromise: a one-year delay. This means the Committee of Twenty-four on reunion will present its final recommendations to the 1973, rather than 1972, General Assembly.

The assembly of the 3.1-million-member United Presbyterian Church also authorized conversations on the possibility of organic union with four largely black denominations: the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Second Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The first three already participate in the Consultation on Church Union.

As currently worded, the plan for reunion of the two Presbyterian bodies permits congregations to remain outside, retaining their property. It also exempts congregations and ministers deciding not to enter the new church from disciplinary action should they “seek to establish relations with others of like mind.”

In some ways this year at the General Assembly was the year of the underdogs—not blacks (they seem to have had their day) but young persons and women. Early in the week commissioners elected Mrs. Lois H. Stair as the first woman moderator in Presbyterian history. The Special Committee on Women later proposed that half the elected lay representation on church boards and agencies be women. After debate the assembly granted “fair representation” for women instead of the equal participation the committee had sought.

To many observers the highlight of the ten days of meetings came in the youth contribution, particularly that of the United Presbyterian Liberation Front. This is a group of “Jesus people” led by Dennis Rydberg, pastor to youth of the First Presbyterian Church of San Diego, California. The group gave old-fashioned testimonies—“I never heard the Gospel in my church; I only heard that Jesus was a great moral teacher, but Christ found me.… I am a new creature.… Jesus has made my hate disappear.… Social change is needed, but before you can get it you must be changed yourself”—and challenged the delegates to make new efforts toward “personal evangelism and leadership training.”

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As a final gesture the Liberation Front handed out pennies under the banner “Evangelism ’70—A Penny per Year per Member,” calling attention to the annual allocation to the denomination’s Committee on Evangelism. The young people wished to double the efforts for evangelism. The commissioners gave their presentation a standing ovation.

Many observers also felt a new wave of enthusiasm for evangelism at the assembly, prompted in part by the interest of the young in conversions and in part by the denomination’s declining membership (77,000 last year). At times this mood seemed to contrast sharply with the interests of the major mission agencies, whose efforts have been largely in the social arena in recent years.

During the week the 183rd General Assembly also:

• Voted to raise $70 million for the self-development of impoverished persons during the next nine years.

•Approved an extensive fund-raising plan that will attempt to persuade 500,000 families to pledge 5 per cent or more of their income “to God through the church.”

• Asked its Committee on Ministerial Relations to study the possibility of (1) having pastors serve churches for terms of a previously specified length and (2) requiring ministers to retire at age 65.

• Endorsed a proposal for extensive restructuring—the first since 1923—of the denomination’s national and international agencies.

• Requested a halt to all United States military involvement in Indochina no later than the end of 1971.

• Called for general and complete disarmament, repeal of the Selective Service Act, environmental renewal, and far-reaching innovations in the nation’s health-care system plus a single national health agency.

A normally routine motion to continue an Emergency Fund for Legal Aid to the poor, established by last year’s assembly, was severely contested because of a grant last year of $10,000 to the Angela Davis Defense Fund. The Fund for Legal Aid was continued at a suggested rate of $100,000 per year as in the past, though the commissioners adopted by majority vote a statement questioning “the propiety” of the Angela Davis grant.

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A preliminary enquiry into the activities of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, Incorporated, was dropped after the editor of the Presbyterian Layman acknowledged an error in judgment in publishing two articles highly critical of some aspects of the denomination’s work (see also editorial, page 21). In related action the assembly approved a set of principles for review of the Lay Committee and other organizations, noting that: (1) variety of opinion, expression, and activity is to be encouraged; (2) the right to dissent is inalienable; (3) judicatories do, however, have the right to insist that dissent and its method of expression be responsible; (4) responsible dissent does not include the right to attack the motives, character, or integrity of individuals or groups within the church; and (5) publications shall conform to the canons and ethics of responsible journalism.

The action to investigate the Lay Committee was initiated by the stated clerk of the denomination, William P. Thompson. In separate action Thompson was elected to serve a second five-year term in the church’s highest administrative office.

The War And The Kirk

“Why we get hoity-toity about Lieutenant Calley and My Lai I cannot conceive,” Lord George MacLeod told the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh last month. “At Holy Loch,” continued the militant pacifist spellbinder, “we are living beside missiles each of which can simultaneously destroy five towns of 500,000 people.” This reference to the American Polaris base in west Scotland (a favorite target of his) came when Lord MacLeod called for definition of the Church’s attitude toward the doctrine of the just war.

Just or not, there were more warlike mutterings when the assembly agreed by a narrow majority to send down to presbyteries a form of words that would demote the Westminster Confession from “subordinate standard” to mere “historic statement.” The theological right had feared that the kirk was disowning its heritage; the left wanted a completely new statement of faith; while four demonstrators in the public gallery rose at different times during the debate to testify that the pope was antichrist (for which enormity they were speedily consigned to the civil magistrate). Earlier in the week two others who penetrated the police cordon were arrested for expressing similar sentiments when the antichrist’s invited observer, Bishop James Monaghan, was welcomed by the new moderator, Dr. Andrew Herron.

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Another specter considered laid long since reappeared to depress protesters further when Professor J. K. S. Reid, leader of the kirk’s panel in discussions with the Episcopalians, said there was no reason why Anglican bishops should not take part in the assembly. The alarmed were hastily assured that nothing could happen behind the assembly’s back.

The establishment got a hefty kick in the teeth when the assembly overwhelmingly decided that its publicity and publications committee had no right last December to fire the Reverend Leonard Bell, editor of the kirk’s 200,000-circulation monthly Life and Work. He pleaded that as the assembly had given him his job only the assembly could take it away. Bell was reinstated; the committee’s convener resigned.

The assembly also: expressed readiness to reconsider union plans with Scottish Congregationalists rejected in 1969 … agreed that the kirk should act as the trade union for thousands of unemployed who had no voice and for old people hard pressed by the inflation currently hitting Britain … appointed the Reverend A. G. McGillivray, 47, as deputy clerk and successor to Dr. J. B. Longmuir, who resigns next year as assembly clerk … heard that kirk membership over the year had fallen by more than 24,000 and now stood at 1,154,211 … supported the WCC grants to anti-racist groups but refused to open a special account to further the program … warned the Heath government against entry into the European Common Market (which threatened “the biggest surrender of British sovereignty since Charles II”) in defiance of the wishes of the people … declined to dispose of kirk shareholdings in South Africa.

Meanwhile across the street was meeting the eighty-three-minister Free Church of Scotland, which has no diplomatic relations with its big sister. Its moderator, Professor G. N. M. Collins, said the Free Church took no pleasure in the fragmented condition of the Church of Scotland today with its preaching “pitifully inadequate and so destitute of the message of salvation as to be an affront to the Gospel and an insult to the intellect.” The ecumenical movement was also castigated, as “one of the most controversial and influential sideshows of the present time.”


Baptist Convention Opens Quietly

When the Southern Baptist Convention met in Denver last year, resolutions and motions were occasionally greeted by catcalls and boos from the floor. The most incandescent issue was the recalling of a Bible commentary on Genesis and Exodus prepared by the 11.6-million-member denomination’s Sunday School Board (see June 19, 1970, issue, page 32).

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There were no such acrimonious exchanges this year—at least not during the first half of the SBC’s 114th annual session, held June 1–3 in St. Louis. In fact, during discussion of a resolution praising the American Bible Society, SBC president Carl E. Bates, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Charlotte, North Carolina (he was re-elected for a second one-year term as expected), asked messenger (delegate) William Barner of Indiana, “Are you at the mike?” Barner, misunderstanding Bates, replied; “No, I’m not mad.” After sustained laughter quieted, the affable Bates quipped: “God bless you; may your tribe increase!” Such was the irenic spirit of the early hours of the convention, attended by more than 14,500 messengers and visitors.

At the half-way mark, the most enthusiastically received presentation was a twenty-minute Students Speak Up program by five Southern Baptist collegians and The Bridge, a folk-rock group from the University of Alabama.

“We believe in the Church and we want you to believe in us. Rather than talking to us, put us to work—please,” pleaded pretty Lois Weaver of Roanoke, Virginia. Against a multi-media backdrop, students testified to the power of the Jesus revolution now sweeping the world—in and out of the organized church. Scattered “amens” from approving adults coursed through the auditorium.

In early business sessions, the SBC completed a separation process started in 1970 that makes two formerly convention-related hospitals—one in Jacksonville, Florida, the other in New Orleans—private institutions, effective September 1. A $24.6 million Cooperative Program for the first nine months of 1972 was approved; it does not represent an increase in operating funds.

In related action, messengers accepted a goal of a dramatically expanded stewardship program that would channel a whopping billion dollars annually through their 34,500 local churches by 1975.

An important resolution on abortion, the first the SBC has taken at a national meeting, urged Baptists to work for legislation permitting abortion under certain conditions. These include: “rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” Attempts to amend the resolution by deleting the last clause failed.

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At the same time, the convention said that “society has the responsibility to affirm … a high view of the sanctity of human life, including fetal life, in order to protect those who cannot protect themselves.”

In the annual convention sermon, John R. Claypool, pastor of Crescent Hills Baptist Church in Louisville, urged Southern Baptists to steer a middle road between the extremes of right and left.

The United States, Claypool said, must be like the Prodigal Son, who in his progress from adolescence to maturity, recognized his limits as well as his power in responsible freedom. And the Christian community must “act out the role of the father in this parable and lead our nation in maturing.”

“It would be suicidal if we tried to ignore our limits and go on trying to police the whole world,” he continued. At the same time, it would be tragic indeed for us to retreat into a neo-isolationism and deprive the world of the role we have been gifted by God to play.”


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