“My God, this conference shows the sheer bankruptcy of the church,” declared sociologist and author Jeffrey Hadden (Gathering Storm in the Churches) last month at a Chicago conference of eighty representatives of America’s religious establishment. The conference, “Insearch—The Future of Religion in America,” sponsored by the George D. Dayton foundation of Minneapolis, centered on reports of dozens of “trend-setting” religious groups and interviews with 500 leaders. Hadden thought the future should have been plotted by historical and statistical studies rather than by “looking at fringe groups.” The conference showed, he charged, “the inability of the church to grapple with issues.”
National Council of Churches general secretary R. H. Edwin Espy, complaining that the studies hit only the periphery, added a similar note of caution: “There is a need for looking at the new, but you have to look at the institutions too, which represent 99 per cent of the church.” New experiments and new experiences in religious structures and rites should not be too readily accepted at the expense of proven traditional church rituals and organizations, he advised.
But many of the participants didn’t seem so institutionally inclined—or threatened. In small-group sessions, the participants discussed the decline of mainline churches in the face of phenomenal growth of Pentecostals and other conservative groups, alienation of youth from established churches, the multiplication of religious communes, the array of renewal forms in worship, and the widespread quest for personal spiritual experience. (That there is such a “search for personal meaning today” was underscored by Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, who called for a new emphasis on the needs of individuals instead of over-all social change or church-building materialism.)
If the church is to survive in the future, reported the small groups, there must be, among other things, a greater emphasis on community and intimacy, a more “visible” response to life both within and outside the religious community, a decision-making procedure sought through a consensus of all members of the community rather than imposed by arbitrary authority, and an established, recognized, and accepted guide for behavior fashioned upon the law of God’s love.
Blacks felt left out. “We’re not looking for a new life-style but the essential ingredients of life itself,” said Garrett seminary professor John Cartright. Others wanted more emphasis on social action.
Participants viewed a number of films on religion in America. Among the most discussed was a documentary on a Pentecostal church service in Riverside, California. Another featured a Christian commune in Northern California.
Participant Ron Juncal of the Body of Christ commune in Loleta, California, warned that the future held doom and destruction “as foretold by the prophets.” Theologian Harvey Cox of Harvard Divinity School said this was a misreading of Scripture, that doom would come unless the people changed their ways. (A computer printout said that the global catastrophe predicted for the early part of the next century might be postponed a decade or two, but that people who hadn’t died of starvation might succumb instead to pollution.) But people won’t change because someone scared “hell out of them,” counseled Cox; rather, the church must lead in a return to simplicity and away from an emphasis on accumulation of things. It was one of those rare times when the Jesus people of the Body of Christ commune could not agree more with a liberal theologian’s position.
For their part, many of the conferees seemed ready enough to change their institutional ways—and the direction of their churches and synagogues. Southern Baptist executive Porter Routh perhaps captured the attitudes and intent of most when he predicted that in the future “there will be a celebration of community in terms of persons instead of institutions.”
Marriage Rights By Mail
Eleven Universal Life Church (ULC) ministers ordained through Bishop Kirby Hensley’s mail order plan are in trouble with the law in Richmond, Virginia. But the men, after telephoning their leader in Modesto, California, last month, said they will appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court a ruling that prohibits them from performing marriages in the state. Judge Randolph Tucker, Jr., decided last month that the ULC is neither a religious denomination nor a religious society and therefore its ministers are not validly ordained to the gospel ministry. The judge upheld in what is believed to be its first court test a law empowering state courts to authorize clergymen to perform marriages.
Hensley, who claims he has ordained more than a million ministers (for a “free-will donation” of $1) since he founded the “church” ten years ago in his garage, hailed the court case as “a credentials test.” “I’m glad this has come up because it shows the public that people want to be free,” he told a reporter. “The Richmond judge wondered whether we have a doctrine, but we do. We believe in that which is right.” Speaking of the hearing, the semi-literate Hensley drawled: “Everything was going all right until some hippie-types, I guess, got our minister’s license, and I suppose that shook ’em up.”
Similar rulings have been overturned in New Mexico, Hawaii, and other states, Hensley claims. In California, the ULC can again grant “honorary” doctor of divinity degrees now that a three-year injunction has expired (see September 15, 1972, issue, page 56), and its ministers can perform marriages because the church has a valid state charter.
E. RUSSELL CHANDLER
A three-year church-sponsored study of Catholics in Toronto reported to Archbishop Philip Pocock that a “disturbing” number of Catholics consider the church irrelevant in setting the moral and social tone for modern living. The report revealed that many Catholics live with conflicts between the church’s teachings and what they believe God wants. Sixty per cent of practicing Catholics interviewed, for instance, would advise abortion if a mother feared a deformed child. And a majority placed little stock in papal infallibility.
The commission found that priests felt discrepancies between their value system and what they believe to be the church’s values. The discontent of these priests, said the report, “should add to the concern that the church as an institution could be in serious difficulty.”
LESLIE K. TARR
Hanging In There
At last the count is in. The 100-year-old Prohibition party, which still fields a candidate every four years, received 13,444 votes for Dr. H. Earl Munn of Hillsdale College in Michigan, repeat candidate for President in the 1972 election. The party secured a place on the ballot in only five states. Drawing nearly all its support from the ranks of the theologically conservative Free Methodist Church, it finished behind Congressman John G. Schmitz, who polled 1,080,000 for the American Independent party, Dr. Benjamin Spock, who received 78,801 on the People’s party ticket, and the three Marxist parties, with 29-year-old Linda Jeness receiving 65,290 for the Socialist Workers, Louis Fisher 53,614 for Socialist Labor, and Gus Hall 25,222 for the Communist Party.
Munn did finish above John Hospers, who got only 2,691 votes in California for the anarchist Liberation party. But Hospers received one electoral vote when a Virginia delegate pledged to President Nixon demonstrated that the electoral college, and not the voters, could someday decide an election.
Religion In Transit
Taking a leaf from Jesus’ parable about the man given a talent, the Aldersgate United Methodist Church of Wilmington, Delaware, recently mailed a $1 bill to each of its 1,129 members and asked them to multiply it for the church’s benefit. One man bet on a horse race—and handed in $110 from his winnings. The highest amount turned in was $373, from a woman who made more than eighty dolls. In all, more than $6,000 was raised.
A federal court instructed the Veterans Administration to keep sending benefits to eligible students at Bob Jones University until a decision in the school’s suit against the VA is reached. The VA, which gave nearly $400,000 in educational benefits to about 225 BJU students in the last school year, had revoked BJU’s approved status because of segregationist admission policies.
THE ODD COUPLE
Common perils often make for strange bedfellows. They won’t announce it publicly, but evangelist Billy James Hargis and National Council of Churches leaders—old enemies—are consorting together in a sort of common-law hassle with the Internal Revenue Service.
It all started in 1966 when the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of Hargis’s Christian Echoes ministry because it attempted to exert political influence. A federal court in Tulsa finally overruled the IRS in 1971, saying Christian Echoes was a church and therefore entitled to the exemption, and ordered a refund to Hargis of $103.000. But last month a circuit court in Denver reversed the Tulsa ruling, in effect outlawing “direct and indirect appeals” by non-profit organizations “to legislators and the public in general” in efforts to influence legislation.
The NCC and other church groups, some with lobby offices in Washington, engage in more such legislative activities—and more blatantly—than Hargis. The restriction, say NCC leaders, is unconstitutional, hence the decision to move in with Hargis now in order to protect future interests.
Shocked friends of the two parties need not worry: there’s no love-making. It’s simply a case where it may be more expedient to file a joint return than to file separately, even if it means holding hands all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court, where Hargis and the NCC are now headed. It should prove to be a landmark decision.
Meanwhile, in an action some might construe as pouring salt in the wound, the IRS recognized witchcraft as a religion and granted tax exemption to the Church and School of Wicca (seekers of wisdom). Last month, under a full moon over Minneapolis, two witches—Carl Weschcke, 42, and Sandra Heggum, 32, publishers of occult books—were wed in a Wiccan rite. It is said to be the first public witch wedding in modern history.
Latest findings in the National Fertility Study show that two-thirds of the nation’s Catholic wives between 18 and 39 are using contraceptive methods disapproved by the Church.
The Roman Catholic Church’s antipoverty unit awarded nearly $1 million in thirty-four grants to self-help projects.
The Anglican Church of Canada House of Bishops has decided to review the denomination’s membership in the Canadian Council of Churches. There is resentment over the council’s alleged tendency to “railroad” items through without referral to member denominations. Meanwhile, the bishops issued a statement welcoming baptized members of other denominations to receive communion in Anglican churches, a move similar to that taken by Church of England bishops last year.
Nearly half of the 163,273 Boy Scout troops in the United States are sponsored by churches and other religious bodies, according to statistics from the National Boy Scouts of America headquarters. United Methodists top the list with 15,571 units; Catholics are second with 12,861.
Busing to reduce or eliminate racial segregation was approved by a study conference on education sponsored by Detroit’s Central City Conference of Evangelicals. The group is a two-year-old organization of black and white evangelicals seeking to initiate urban ministries. Strong opposition to busing exists in the Detroit area.
Pastor Robert J. Lamont of the First Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, has resigned to assume the presidency of the Presbyterian Ministers Fund insurance company.
Lutheran Church in America secretary George F. Harkins was elected chairman of the new Lutheran Consultation on Union, the unity-exploration group of the three major Lutheran bodies.
The new president of the Evangelical Theological Society is Arthur Lewis, Old Testament professor at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Frederic A. Tatford has retired after thirty-nine years as editor of The Harvester, a monthly Brethren magazine in Northern Ireland.
Vice-president Spiro T. Agnew’s son, James Rand Agnew, will become a member of the Greek Orthodox church before his marriage in May. The vicepresident and his wife are Episcopalians.
Dr. Kenneth L. Teegarden, 50, is the official nominee to succeed Dr. A. Dale Fiers, who will retire this year as general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Teegarden heads the denomination’s Texas region.
Mrs. Emma Richards, who serves with her husband as co-pastor of the Mennonite Church in Lombard, Illinois, is the first licensed woman minister among North American Mennonites.
OSWALD T. ALLIS, 92, retired professor of Old Testament and a founder of Westminster Seminary; in Wayne, Pennsylvania.
RAYMOND S. HAUPERT, 70, retired president of Moravian College; in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, after a stroke.
ALBERT E. MILLNER, 75, former president of a number of Seventh-day Adventist conferences in North America; in Oshawa, Ontario.
CLARA WARD, 48, noted gospel singer and recording artist; in Los Angeles, of a stroke.
President Cordas C. Burnett resigned the presidency of Bethany Bible College in Santa Cruz, California, to become executive vice-president of the Assemblies of God Graduate School of Theology to be opened at Springfield, Missouri, this year.
Milton Ferguson, 44, formerly a teacher at the 2,000-student Southwestern Baptist Seminary, was elected president of the 287-student Midwestern Baptist Seminary in Kansas City, the youngest of the six Southern Baptist seminaries.
The World Council of Churches has sent fourteen tons of medicines and surgical supplies to North Viet Nam to assist war victims. Funds for the supplies were drawn from more than $30,000 raised by European churches.
A Key 73-type of evangelism project in northern England is meeting with increasing success, according to the archbishop of York, Donal Coggan. The year-long drive, launched as Call to the North last Easter, winds up with a big evangelistic splash this Easter.
Churches in Ireland are distributing more than one million copies of “Good News For Ireland, Told by Luke,” a modern-English gospel portion, throughout Eire and Ulster.
Dialogue between Marxists and Christians in Czechoslovakia came to an abrupt end, apparently because of government pressure. Radio stations and newspapers have been urging Czechs to reject religious views. Interestingly, a Czech journal found in a survey that the majority of adults in Slovakia are Christian believers and only 14 per cent are atheists.
A Czechoslovakian court sentenced Jaroslav Studeny, a Roman Catholic priest, to more than four years in prison for illegal production and sale of religious textbooks. The priest, a Christian art expert, was reported to have received $4,000 for the books.
The Seventh-day Adventist Welfare Service will build low-cost housing for nearly 4,000 persons in Bangladesh with a $100,000 grant from the U. S. State Department’s Agency for International Development.
Scores of Sudan Interior Mission and Mennonite medical personnel are being withdrawn from the Somalian Republic in keeping with that country’s nationalization of all foreign-run schools, hospitals, and social institutions. The predominantly Islamic nation in East Africa was declared a socialist state in 1970 by its ruler, General Mohammed Siad Bare.
As the outcome of a Scripture distribution effort begun four years ago by the Bible Society in Costa Rica and Panama, 300 of the 400 prisoners at Panama’s maximum security prison on the island of Coiba are now believers in Christ, according to a report in The Pentecostal Evangel. “I no longer have a difficult job to do,” the prison’s director is quoted as saying.
President H. Kamuzu Banda of Malawi, a Presbyterian elder, denies that Jehovah’s Witnesses in his country have been persecuted, despite reports in Awake, the sect’s magazine, and in the secular press.
At the request of the All Africa Conference of Churches, the World Council of Churches has launched an appeal for $250,000 to help the churches of Burundi minister to the nation’s needs following the bloodbath there last year. The violence interrupted a revival; hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young converts were slain.
Church of Christ officials say that contact has been made with a hitherto unknown group of 8,000 believers in Mozambique who call themselves the Church of Christ, believed to be an outgrowth of a mission work in Malawi.
Cardinal Joseph Parecattil of India appealed to Indian Christians to become “Hindu Christians,” just as the early believers were both Jews and Christians at the same time.
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