Every two yearsCHRISTIANITY TODAYreports the religious aspects of the national elections and publishes a census showing the religious lineup of the new Congress. This year’s census (right) was compiled by news assistant Deborah Miller.

Last month’s Democratic landslide at the polls resulted in few notable shifts in congressional religious-affiliation listings, according to CHRISTIANITY TODAY’S findings. Roman Catholic representation in the new Congress increased by eight for a total of 123, the most in the nation’s history. Jewish members increased by ten and the Unitarians by four, but Presbyterian representation decreased by thirteen. (Records over the years indicate that Catholics and Jews benefit in a Democratic year while Presbyterians take it on the chin.)

Disciples of Christ members of Congress decreased by four. The other major groups fluctuated by no more than two (Baptists gained two; Episcopalians, Mormons, and Eastern Orthodox remained the same; Methodists and Christian Scientists lost one each; and the United Church of Christ, Lutherans, Quakers, and Churches of Christ lost two each).

Two more clergymen were elected to Congress.

In a surprise upset, United Methodist minister Robert W. Edgar, 31, won against a Republican district attorney in suburban Philadelphia. It was his first venture into politics. A graduate of Drew seminary in Madison, New Jersey, and formerly pastor of a Methodist church in East Falls, Pennsylvania, he is the Protestant chaplain at Drexel University. He says his pastoral experience taught him how to organize volunteers and carry out projects, and, he notes, political speeches aren’t far removed from sermons. He doesn’t want to be characterized as liberal or conservative.

Democrat Robert J. Cornell of De Pere, Wisconsin, became the second Catholic priest elected to Congress. (Jesuit Robert F. Drinan, one of the first to telephone congratulations to Cornell, won reelection in a close race in Massachusetts.) Cornell, 54, a member of the Norbertine Order and a teacher and administrator at St. Norbert College, defeated incumbent Harold V. Froelich, a Lutheran. His main campaign issue was the national economy. It was his third try for the seat.

Ordained congressmen who were reelected include Democrat Andrew Young of Georgia (United Church of Christ), Republican John Buchanan of Alabama (Southern Baptist), and Democrat Delegate Walter Fauntroy of Washington, D. C. (Progressive National Baptist). Swept out by the Democratic tide was one-termer William H. Hudnut, a United Presbyterian pastor in Indianapolis.

Article continues below

Among active evangelical laymen who weren’t returned to the House of Representatives were Republican Wilmer Mizell of North Carolina (Christian and Missionary Alliance) and Republican Edward Young, a Southern Baptist. Young commuted on weekends to his home in Florence, South Carolina, to teach an adult Sunday-school class and conduct a weekly Bible-study program on radio. Republican Earl Landgrebe of Indiana, a Lutheran layman who made headlines two years ago when he was expelled by the Soviet Union for distributing Bibles, lost to a Methodist, Floyd J. Fithian.

Baptist William Jennings Bryan Dorn gave up his seat to run for governor in South Carolina but lost that race. Another loser was Republican John Dellenback, a Presbyterian elder of Medford, Oregon, active in the prayer-cell movement on Capitol Hill. He went to Congress in 1966.

In North Carolina, Republican incumbent Earl Ruth, 58, a Presbyterian, lost to W. C. “Bill” Hefner, 44, a Baptist in rural Concord who owns a radio station and promotes gospel music.

Democrat Senator Harold Hughes of Iowa, a Methodist active in an independent charismatic church and one of the most vocal evangelical witnesses on Capitol Hill, is retiring from the Senate to head up a rescue mission of sorts for people in national leadership. His seat was won by Democrat John C. Culver, a United Presbyterian.

One of the big issues in church circles this year is the role of women, and it figured in the polls. None were elected to the Senate, but eighteen were elected to the House (fourteen Democrats and four Republicans), a gain of two over the current lineup. Women and blacks made big gains at the state level, with women winning 750 seats in state legislatures, an increase of 280. Theoretically, this will improve chances for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (thirty-three of thirty-eight states voting on it so far have favored it, but Nebraska and Tennessee legislatures voted to rescind approval in action that may end up in the courts).

New Jersey voters overwhelmingly—and surprisingly—defeated a proposal to allow casino gambling at seashore resorts. It was the first gambling proposition to be rejected in New Jersey in thirty-five years. Strong opposition came from a united front of Catholic and Protestant leaders. The religious coalition was co-chaired by Dr. Samuel Jeanes, pastor of an American Baptist church in Merchantville who heads up legislative affairs for the New Jersey Council of Churches, and Catholic Conference executive Edward J. Leadem of Trenton. The state’s Catholic bishops were among those denouncing the proposal.

Article continues below

Fifty-seven of Virginia’s 133 counties and cities voted on Sunday closing laws; twenty-nine voted to repeal them. Spokesman Ed Doerr of Americans United for Separation of Church and State commented afterward:

Defeats of Sunday closing laws are victories for religious freedom. The laws were clumsy and almost unenforceable and a source of irritation in many communities. They really didn’t do what the purpose of a Sunday closing law is anyway, which is to stimulate interest in Sunday as a day of worship and rest.

(Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of that state’s so-called blue laws; the justices said the citizens do indeed need a day of rest and these laws help them get it.)

Virginia voters also rejected a measure permitting the state to make scholarship grants to students attending private and church-related colleges. Americans United had emphatically denounced the proposal.

Maryland voters turned down an indirect parochaid measure that would have provided $9.7 million yearly in textbooks, supplies, and transportation to private schools. Opposition was led by PEARL (Public Education and Religious Liberty), a Washington, D. C.-based coalition that has Americans United and a number of church groups as members. A similar proposal was defeated in 1972.

Local churches also led the way in a Cocoa Beach, Florida, referendum outlawing topless bathing and in Rush Springs, Oklahoma (population, 1,381), where all dancing in public was outlawed.

Other names cropped up in election stories around the country. Sister Clare Dunn, 39, a high school teacher in Arizona, became the first Catholic nun to win a state legislature seat. Her campaign was handled by other sisters in the St. Joseph of Carondolet order. Admitted lesbian Elaine Noble of Boston won a seat in the state legislature on the Gay Liberation ticket. But out in Nevada, Beverly Harrel lost in a bid for a state seat. The operator of a legal brothel, she issued a campign vow: “I’ll show them how to run an orderly house.” Democrat Wilbur Mills, an Arkansas Methodist, won his race despite misgivings of a lot of church people (including his pastor) over a widely publicized drinking incident involving an exotic dancer.

In Pennsylvania, insurance broker Stephen DePue, 42, a graduate of Philadelphia College of Bible and of Baptist Bible Seminary, got only a handful of votes in his bid for governor on the Constitutionalist ticket.

Article continues below

The election underscored a modern trend in American politics: by and large, a candidate’s religion—or lack of it—is no longer a campaign issue. For example, New York elected Democrat Hugh L. Carey, the first Roman Catholic governor since the days of Al Smith. His opponent, incumbent Malcolm Wilson, who moved up when Nelson Rockefeller became Vice President-designate, and both running mates were Catholics.

Overall, it was a big day for Catholics, Jews, blacks, and women—especially if they happened to be Democrats.


A Winborne, England, judge fined Elijah Edwards $84 for carrying fourteen passengers in his car. Three of them rode on the roof. “I was on a camping holiday with fourteen youngsters from a church group,” explained Edwards. “One car broke down and the kids were hungry so I took them all in my car. I didn’t know it was an offense.”


Fertilizer isn’t the only thing that can help crops grow better in the fight against world hunger: prayer brings results too, according to communications teacher Gus Alexander of Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. Alexander says he conducted an experiment in which members of the spiritualist Church of the Golden Key in Dayton prayed for plots of soybeans. Soybeans in five of six experimental plots receiving the “prayer power” outweighed their counterparts in control plots, he claims. Pastor Noel Comely of Golden Key explains that the experiment “deals with the direct communication of energy, as a kind of nourishment.”

Other experimenters in recent years have reported similar findings. A Scottish group that grew enormous vegetables and flowers in rugged terrain attributed success to “communicating with the spirits that animate [the] plants.” Two Baltimore psychic healers reportedly increased the growth of some rye grass seedlings by 840 per cent when they began praying for the seedlings.

United Presbyterians: A Call For Overhaul

A generation ago the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. was the world’s largest missionary organization. No longer. In recent years its overseas missionary personnel have decreased from a high of nearly 2,000 to a mere 486. Concerned church officials are grasping about for solutions.

Will they choose an evangelical one? The hope that they might drew 120 evangelical ministers, missionary workers, and lay persons to Chicago last month to restate the evangelical view of evangelism and call upon the denomination’s missions council to restructure its missionary enterprise. The document, entitled, “A Declaration and a Call,” was signed by most of those present. It declares: “We require nothing less than a reformation of missions theology and a corresponding alteration of missionary structures within our denomination.” Alterations focus on carving out of the present structure a separate foreign-missions board with responsibility for selecting and training missionaries and with authority to implement the UPC role in world evangelization. It would have a separate budget and would be able to solicit funds. A separate mission “order” within the UPC is seen as an alternative to the separate, independent board that some conservatives advocated.

Article continues below

The declaration denies that social action, political liberation, or mere moral reform are evangelism, though it recognizes Christian responsibility in these areas. It joins with the signers of the Lausanne Covenant (1974) in defining evangelism as “the proclamation of the historical, biblical Christ as Savior and Lord, with a view to persuading people to come to him personally and so be reconciled to God.” The statement also affirms a high view of Scripture, the lostness of man apart from Christ, and faith in Christ as the sole channel of salvation.

The consultation was called by Presbyterians United for Biblical Concerns, an evangelical bloc within the three-million-member denomination.


Members of U. S. churches are giving more than ever to their churches but failing to keep pace with inflation, according to a National Council of Churches survey of forty-one Protestant bodies with 46 million members. Members of these churches contributed nearly $5 billion last year at a record-breaking per capita rate of $107.78 ($4.19 billion was for congregational expenses). While the giving rose by 7.7 per cent, however, the dollar declined 9.6 per cent in purchasing power.

Churches where tithing is stressed showed the highest rates of per capita giving. The Seventh-day Adventists led with $453.19.

In Canada, twenty-three denominations with 2.7 million members reported contributions of $196.7 million, about $150 million of it for congregational expenses, with a per capita rate of $71.70.

Bugging The Bishops

The Episcopal bishops have asked everybody to wait until the 1976 denominational convention before doing anything more about ordaining women to the Episcopal priesthood. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that the issue may have to be thrashed out before then.

Article continues below

Last month Deacon Alison Cheek of Annandale, Virginia, became the first known woman to celebrate holy communion in an Episcopal church in the United States. The event took place at the Church of St. Stephen and the Incarnation in Washington, D. C., a church known for its liberal and sometimes way-out ways. Father William Wendt, the pastor, noted in his sermon that he and his church were defying the orders of church authorities. He also read a letter from Washington bishop William F. Creighton. The bishop acknowledged the act of disobedience but said he would take no disciplinary action because to do so would not make “a positive contribution to the solution of the present dilemma.”

A member of the pastoral staff resigned in protest, and a fellow clergyman filed formal charges against Wendt for permitting “a person not lawfully authorized” to celebrate communion. A five-member board will study the charges to determine whether Creighton should proceed with a trial. Discipline can range from reprimand to defrocking.

Mrs. Cheek is one of eleven women deacons who were elevated to the priesthood in a rebel service conducted by four retired bishops in Philadelphia last summer. The action was later invalidated by the House of Bishops in an emergency meeting. Three more of the eleven say they will celebrate communion at Christ (Episcopal) Church in Oberlin, Ohio, this month.

In October Mrs. Cheek and two of the other women celebrated communion in an interdenominational service at the non-Episcopal Riverside Church in New York City. An offering of $672 received in the service was sent to Episcopal presiding bishop John M. Allin for the church’s hunger campaign but he returned it, citing reasons of conscience. An outcry ensued. Meanwhile, Allin transferred to the relief account $672 of funds available to him, and New York bishop Paul Moore quietly forwarded the original $672 to the hunger campaign, where it was accepted.

The United Church of Christ and other church bodies have indicated they accept the eleven ordinations as valid, straining ecumenical relations.

Diocesan standing committees in Ohio and Massachusetts each have approved a woman for ordination, which may lead to a showdown before 1976. One of the reasons the bishops gave for invalidating the Philadelphia consecration service was that diocesan standing committees were bypassed.

Baptists On The Issues

What issues are Southern Baptists talking about? A check of last month’s state meetings of Southern Baptist Convention churches showed that the charismatic movement, a proposed name change of the denomination, and the financial condition of SBC-related colleges rank among the most discussed. (The SBC’s 34,665 churches and 12.3 million members are divided into thirty-three state and regional conventions embracing all fifty states.)

Article continues below

Resolutions critical of the charismatic movement were adopted by messengers (delegates) in Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. SBC president Jaroy Weber himself spoke unfavorably of it at the Texas convention. Oklahoma messengers labeled it “a new extremism” that is “doctrinally dangerous.”

The Illinois and New York conventions called for a change in the SBC’s name to reflect a broader constituency (a denominational study committee is to report on the issue at the national convention), but Mississippi messengers went on record opposing any change.

Several state bodies noted the financial distress afflicting their colleges but voiced caution or outright disapproval in the matter of accepting federal aid.

Illinois and Missouri approved reform of financial procedures aimed at preventing repeats of financial scandals in which certain staff executives were accused of misappropriation of funds.

Oklahoma opposed the ordination of women and the showing of X-and R-rated movies on television, and Texas deplored widespread abortion—a de facto rebuke of SBC lobbyists who have spoken out in favor of liberal abortion policies.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.