“Who shall be next?” asked horrified Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle, referring to the sweeping Supreme Court decision that allows a woman in consultation with her doctor to opt for abortion within the first three months of pregnancy (see lead editorial, page 32). If we can “sacrifice innocent human life” through abortion, O’Boyle and other critics reasoned, it will be just a short step to sacrificing the elderly and infirm. (The Supreme Court decision overturned restrictive abortion laws in thirty-one states, as well as “liberalized” laws in fifteen other states.)
The Supreme Court’s decision brought, as expected, immediate response from the nation’s Roman Catholic leaders. Cardinal John Krol, president of the United States Catholic bishops’ conference, condemned the ruling as “bad logic and bad law,” adding that it “drastically diminishes the Constitutional guarantee of right to life and in doing so sets in motion developments which are terrifying to contemplate.” New York’s Cardinal Terence Cooke also voiced his protest: “Whatever their legal rationale, seven men have made a tragic utilitarian judgment regarding who shall live and who shall die.”
Catholic hospitals across the country are gearing up for a fight against what they consider “abortion on demand.” In some rural areas, such as Billings, Montana, the only hospital in the vicinity with maternity facilities is Catholic. Other hospitals, however, are preparing to perform abortions; some estimate the figure will be as high as 1.6 million annually.
Congressional response also came quickly. Representative Lawrence J. Hogan, a Roman Catholic, introduced a resolution proposing a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to life. Section two of the proposed article would also prevent euthanasia from becoming law.
Hogan in a press conference acknowledged that chances for passage of his resolution are “pretty slim.” But “there is no more important issue” around today, insisted the congressman. When asked if the press had unfairly represented the abortion opposition as solely Catholic, Hogan said that much anti-abortion activity comes from Protestant ranks. In Maryland, he said, a Baptist minister is heading the fight, and in Minnesota the anti-abortion leaders are Lutheran. He added that Orthodox Jews are also strongly against abortion. Reform Jews, however, seem to favor abortion. A spokesman for the commission on Interfaith Activities, Rabbi Balfour Brickner, has criticized the Catholic Church and other critics of abortion.
Protestant leaders seem divided on the issue. While the Baptist minister in Maryland opposes abortion, W. A. Criswell, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, seemed satisfied with the high court’s ruling. “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”
THE RIGHT TO DIE
As the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling boiled into national debate last month, an issue concerning the other end of life began to simmer on the back burner. It all began when the American Hospital Association sent a “patient’s bill of rights” to its 7,000 member hospitals. The rights included the opportunity to choose death by rejecting treatment.
A few days later, the New York Medical Society released a statement affirming a patient’s “right to die” with dignity—at the discretion of relatives and with the doctor’s approval—when death is biologically inevitable. Then Vatican Radio issued a blistering denunciation of the NYMS statement, using such terminology as “strange … absurd … cold … the right to murder.”
Another Southern Baptist, attorney Linda N. Coffee, who represented the plaintiff in the Texas case that resulted in the high court’s decision, said; “The Supreme Court decision does not absolve anyone of individual moral or religious responsibility.” Legally, she said, she agrees with the ruling. However, “from my personal perspective as a Christian, it would tear me up to have to make a decision on abortion except in the early stages. And I would have to have a compelling reason even then.” She emphasized that the court judgment does not require a doctor to perform an abortion when asked. The 30-year-old member of Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas believes that “legal personhood is separate entirely from a moral or religious view of personhood.”
Two Protestant theologians, Albert C. Outler of Southern Methodist University and J. Robert Nelson of Boston University School of Theology, disapprove of the decision. The two men, both Methodists, disagree with their denomination’s official position, which is strongly pro-abortion.
John C. Bennett, president-emeritus of Union Seminary in New York, applauded the judgment as “a landmark in relation to women’s rights.” Agreeing with him, Howard Moody, pastor of New York’s Judson Memorial Church, added: “The Supreme Court may have saved the ecumenical movement, avoiding an all-out conflict between Catholics and Protestants on abortion.” Moody may be right in a sense: the ruling may promote cooperation to fight abortion.
E. Stanley Jones
E. Stanley Jones, Methodism’s best-known missionary and evangelist, died last month in India, the country to which he had devoted his life. He was 89.
Jones had suffered a stroke a little more than a year ago but was making a remarkable comeback (see January 19 issue, page 40). He died at the Clara Swain Hospital in Bareilly.
After graduating from Asbury College, Jones began his ministry as a thorough-going evangelical, as evidenced by his classic volume The Christ of the Indian Road. He subsequently shifted ground but never to the extent that he was at home or in agreement with the radically liberal theology that characterized so many in his denomination. He was noted for his establishment of Christian ashrams (religious retreats) in India, and the movement even spread to the United States.
Jones turned down opportunities to become a bishop and in 1928 actually refused the office after being elected. He wrote twenty-nine books, the last of which is yet to be published.
For several years Jones stumped America on behalf of a plan for church union he originated, patterning it after the U. S. federal and state governments. It envisioned a single church body with local self-government. The idea never materialized.
Just before World War II Jones served as an informal intermediary in an effort to head off war between the United States and Japan. Jones felt that a cable he urged Roosevelt to send to the Japanese emperor might have averted the conflict had it been delivered on time.
The Evangelical Connection?
Federal agents ignored labels warning that four film cannisters contained unexposed film and should not be opened, and opened them anyway. Inside was forty-four pounds of semi-processed opium (street value when refined into heroin: $2.5 million). The film cans arrived in New York last month from Thailand by surface mail bearing mailing labels of The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM) of Carol Stream, Illinois. They were addressed to Chicago film editor Ted Norcutt, 34, who does work for TEAM and a number of other evangelical organizations.
Norcutt was arrested, pleaded not guilty, and is free on $20,000 bail. A hearing is scheduled this month, at which time charges may be dropped (if the government fails to get more than circumstantial evidence connecting Norcutt to the dope) or he will be bound over to a grand jury for possible indictment. Norcutt insists he is innocent and wonders if someone in Southeast Asia is trying to discredit evangelical enterprises.
TEAM officials are at a loss to know how anyone in Thailand got their mailing labels (TEAM has no work there), an outdated version at that. Investigators questioned several missionaries and film producers who were in Thailand about the time the opium was mailed. One couple was working on a movie for Compassion, the Chicago-based child-care organization. The pair had worked on earlier TEAM assignments. Mission leaders, however, say they are confident none of their people are involved, but nevertheless are doing some checking of their own.
The question remains: Who put the drug shipment in the film cans and why?
Sweden: Religion And Rights
Over three years ago the Swedish government’s ministry of education took over religious instruction in all Swedish schools. The old curriculum, drawn up by the state Church of Sweden to present its own doctrine, was replaced with “objective teaching about religion,” which many parents felt to be indoctrination in agnosticism. Protestants were not allowed to withdraw their children from the obligatory instruction under any circumstances, and Roman Catholics and Jews, who were theoretically permitted to do so, found it impossible in practice, because the state had created a new “integrated” curriculum in which religion was no longer taught separately but became part of history, geography, and the like.
For three and a half years an independent Evangelical Lutheran congregation, St. Martins (Stockholm), has been fighting for the right of parents to keep their children out of the “objective” classes. When all else failed, the dissenters brought their case before the Commission on Human Rights of the Council of Europe. In an apparent effort to forestall an embarrassing condemnation by the commission, the Swedish government has now conceded that children belonging to the (non-state) Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden will no longer be obliged to attend the “objective” classes in religion.
The government’s ruling states that whenever parents demand it, the “integrated” teaching must be disentangled, and the teaching on religion made into a separate subject, so that dissenting children may skip it and attend voluntary religion classes taught by non-government teachers. The ruling again makes it possible for Roman Catholics and Jews to evade the state-imposed instruction.
Although not directly affected by the ruling, members of the state church (90 per cent of the population) benefit indirectly: the government has been forced to concede that it cannot use its own standards of “objectivity” as an excuse for imposing its own religious teachings on children whose parents object to it.
Because the case was already under consideration before the European commission, the concessions made by Sweden will be registered by the commission and become part of the European standards of human rights, and therefore in theory be applicable in all member states. This is a setback for radical education officials in West Germany’s Social Democratic government, who wanted to impose mandatory “objective” teaching on religion—Swedish style—in that country too.
SHUT UP FOR JESUS
A furor is raging at the University of Nebraska. Officials there forbade a Campus Crusade wrestling team from giving testimonies during an appearance. Many students, professors, and even a few newspapers asked why other groups were free to promote homosexuality, radical politics, and the like while Christians were muzzled. The Omaha World-Herald lampooned the school’s action in an editorial entitled “Sit Down, Shut Up For Jesus.”
The school is now forging a policy regarding religious activities on campus.
Spanish Bishops Call For Reform
The Roman Catholic bishops in Spain are now on record as favoring a significant new measure of religious liberty. Last month the eighty-three churchmen voted approval by a large majority of a forty-eight-page policy statement that advocates the loosening of centuries-old ties between church and state. They were quoted as saying that “the important thing is to guarantee effectively to all citizens religious liberty in their personal, family, and social lives.”
What practical effect the document will have and how much time will elapse before there is any implementation is not at all clear. The text was not immediately made public, though a number of copies leaked out. Official publication, it was explained, has been held up so that the document could first be presented to the Vatican and to “high authorities of the state.”
Evangelicals are hoping that the rhetoric will soon be translated into a firm policy that will ease restrictions against evangelism. A CHRISTIANITY TODAY correspondent in Spain reported that among incidents in recent weeks were these:
In Malaga a Protestant soldier was put in jail for not attending Catholic mass. In Cartagena some duly authorized meetings could not be advertised. Various publications were suppressed because censors thought they represented opposition to Catholic doctrines. In Huelva a permit for building an evangelical residence was denied. In Madrid Catholic squads wrote insults on the walls of Protestant churches. In Barcelona a Protestant magazine and other publications were penalized and forbidden. Radio programs have been canceled. The Ministry of Justice exercised “administrative silence” in response to applications by Protestant churches for legal recognition.
The document adopted by the bishops (after months of controversy) calls for revision of the 1953 concordat that regulates relations between the Vatican and the Spanish government. Specifically, it calls for an end to the right of the government to share in the process of naming bishops to Spanish sees, the withdrawal of members of the hierarchy from government posts, and an end to special legal privileges enjoyed by priests. It approves the right of “prophetic denunciation” of social, political, and economic wrongs. But it asks that the state continue financial aid for schools, hospitals, and other social-service institutions operated by the church.
The vote on the document showed fifty-nine bishops in favor of it, twenty against, and four abstentions. The balloting was conducted by mail.
Political and religious conservatives in Spain had spoken vehemently against the policy statement. One prominent official lamented that some bishops had “forgotten” what the Franco government had done for Catholicism in Spain. He recalled that during the Spanish Republic, which Franco overthrew in the 1936–39 civil war, the Communists murdered thirteen bishops and nearly 8,000 priests, monks, and nuns, and razed countless monasteries, convents, and churches. Franco, he added, had saved Spain from atheistic Communism and had “served God by serving his church” in subsequent years—that is, by spending the equivalent of $4.7 billion on church buildings and schools.
An “ecumenical edition” of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible was published in Britain last month and will make its debut in the United States April 2. The cover bears the title “Common Bible.” Inside are the RSV Old Testament, the apocrypha-deuterocanonical books, and an altered RSV New Testament. And thanks to Wycliffe Bible Translators and the American Bible Society, the 6,000 members of the Hopi Indian tribe now have the complete New Testament in their own language. The first copies were delivered at a dedication service last month in Polacca, Arizona.
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