It appears that the 400-member St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Denver is the first congregational casualty since the September vote of the triennial convention of the Episcopal Church to approve women’s ordination. St. Mary’s voted 197 to 79 last month to secede from the denomination. Declared rector James O. Mote who led the action: “I’m not leaving my church; it is leaving me.” Mote was suspended from his priestly functions by Bishop William Frey (who voted against women’s ordination at the convention), but the priest indicated earlier he no longer considers himself under Frey’s jurisdiction.

Frey, who was barred from the closed congregational meeting and had to listen to proceedings on a public-address system in the basement, said that St. Mary’s would continue as an Episcopal parish in his diocese. The Episcopal Church does not have congregational polity, he stated, so the status of a parish is not something only its members can decide.

A struggle was under way this month to settle the matter, but it appears to be headed for the courts.

More turmoil is ahead. Members of the Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen, a coalition of sixteen conservative organizations and magazines in Canada and the United States, in a meeting last month in Nashville called for a congress to present “spiritual principles and ecclesial structure of the continuing Episcopal Church.” Set for St. Louis next September, it is for “all faithful Episcopalians” and members of other Anglican communions opposed to liberal trends who wish “to unite themselves with this continuing church.”

Presiding bishop John M. Allin, another opponent to women’s ordination, said he will urge dissidents not to attend the congress. The coming year “will be a distressing time,” Allin acknowledged at the recent Episcopal Conference on Church Renewal, “but we have to show there is room for diversity.” He said also he forsees no major split in the denomination.

Another group, the Coalition for the Apostolic Ministry, called a meeting in Chicago this month for those who wish to remain in the denomination but who do not accept its decision to ordain female priests. One possibility for discussion: the establishment of an extra-geographical province that would observe traditional Episcopal teachings and policies.

Women’s ordination becomes effective January 1, and a number of women are expected to be ordained to the priesthood in the weeks just afterward. Among them will be deacons Elizabeth Wiesner and Carol Ann Crumley of Washington, D.C. (Six women were ordained to the priesthood of the Anglican Church of Canada last month in four Canadian cities, the first female priests of that denomination.)

A “celebration” to “complete” the ordination of Betty Bone Schiess will be held by Bishop Ned Cole in Syracuse, New York. She was one of fifteen women invalidly ordained in 1974. The bishops in September set up several ways by which the ordinations of these women could be “completed” or recognized. (Ms. Schiess announced she was dropping her lawsuit against Bishop Cole; she had charged him with discrimination for refusing to license her as a priest and thus depriving her of employment. Cole likewise dropped counter-charges against her.)

Alison Palmer, another of the fifteen “ordained” earlier, last month carried the women’s cause to England. She announced she would be the first woman to celebrate Anglican communion in Britain. No Anglican church opened its doors to her, however, and she instead led the communion service for 100 persons in a small Unitarian church on a Friday night. Ms. Palmer is a foreign service officer in the U. S. State Department.

Four of the fifteen women were “ordained” at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Church in Washington, D.C. Its rector, William A. Wendt, was subsequently rebuked in an ecclesiastical trial for permitting a woman to function as a priest in his church. Wendt landed in hot water again last month when newspapers announced he planned to join two homosexual members of the Church, Wayne Schwandt, 27, and John Fortunato, 29, in marriage. Bishop William F. Creighton threatened to cut off the diocese’s $7,000 subsidy to the church and to take other measures if the plans were carried out. Wendt backed off, and the two men exchanged vows in a service sponsored by the Metropolitan Community Church, a gay congregation that meets in the First Congregational Church in Washington.

Article continues below

Wendt argued that differences existed in the interpretation of the resolution on homosexuals adopted at the September convention. It said that homosexuals as well as heterosexuals are “children of God,” deserving the “love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the church.” Wendt insisted that the resolution could be interpreted to authorize marriage or “holy union” by gays.

One of the concerns in the homosexual community, said Wendt, is for the possibility of long-standing relationships, without promiscuity. He indicated that this is also a pastoral concern.

Schwandt, a graduate of Wesley Seminary, would like to be ordained an Episcopal priest. If a push is made in that direction there will be more uproar among Episcopalians.

Meanwhile, defections of another sort have occurred because of the women’s issue. The 35,000-member Polish National Catholic Church announced it was severing its 30-year-old eucharistic relationship with the Episcopal Church, and Greek Orthodox leaders hinted that there isn’t much use to continue official dialogue with them.

As Bishop Allin has said, the new year promises to be a distressing one for Episcopalians.

Honored

Dean Francis B. Sayre, Jr., of the Washington Cathedral (Episcopal) in the nation’s capital was named Clergyman of the Year in the annual national awards program of the Religious Heritage of America organization. General Secretary Claire Randall of the National Council of Churches was selected as Church-woman of the Year, and Democratic senator Jennings Randolph of West Virginia, a Seventh Day Baptist, was named Churchman of the Year. He has been active in church-and-state issues.

A celebration in honor of these and other awardees was held in Washington, D.C., this month. It had been delayed because of recent RHA financial difficulties. The organization, headed by financier W. Clement Stone, is renewing its efforts to preserve and promote America’s religious and ethical values. A fifteen-year project, “Rediscover America,” was launched at the Washington meeting.

It Is Written

There is much clamor for change these days in the Roman Catholic Church. Those voices came through loud and clear at the recent Call to Action conference in Detroit (see November 19 issue, page 57). Delegates at the conference, sponsored by the nation’s Catholic bishops and intended to give the faithful a say in the church’s social-action agenda, went on record favoring among other things a more open position on divorce and remarriage, artificial birth control, and attitudes toward homosexuals.

Within weeks the bishops convened their fall meeting in Washington, D.C., and adopted a thirty-six-page pastoral letter on morality that strongly reaffirms the church’s traditional teachings on sexual ethics. The letter—echoing views set forth in the Vatican’s “Declaration on Sexual Ethics” earlier this year—condemns sex outside of marriage, forbids artificial contraception, criticizes married couples who decide never to have children, rejects abortion, and condemns homosexual practice (it points out that homosexual orientation itself is not sinful, though).

Article continues below

Some bishops objected to the tone of the document, arguing that it lacked the spirit of compassion toward those who have difficulty living up to the letter of the law. A number wanted to postpone action on it until the Detroit proposals could be considered (the bishops are scheduled to discuss them at their May meeting). The vote to postpone failed 162 to 65. After a number of minor amendments were made, the bishops voted 172 to 24 to approve the letter.

Spokesmen for the bishops emphasized that their letter was not a response to the Detroit proposals (it was drafted over a two-year period). But it is safe to say that it is the handwriting on the wall against which the majority of bishops will model part of their reply.

Resigned, But Still Committed

Gregory Baum, Canada’s best-known Roman Catholic theologian, has resigned from the active priesthood and petitioned Pope Paul for laicization.

The 53-year-old professor at Toronto’s St. Michael’s College cited unresolved differences with his Augustinian order and failure to secure status as a secular priest.

The author of a dozen books and one of the experts chosen to prepare documents for the Second Vatican Council, he has been active in pressing for change in the church’s position on birth control, ordination of women, clerical celibacy, and political involvement.

In his letter of resignation, Baum expressed his total commitment to “Catholic theology and Catholic renewal.”

LESLIE K. TARR

Conflict in Poland

A few months ago, Polish Communist leader Edward Gierek during a move to unify the country after food riots told a workers’ rally, “There are no conflicts between church and state.” But last month Poland’s Roman Catholic bishops disputed that claim. In a pastoral letter read in all of Poland’s Catholic churches, the bishops listed areas of conflict between church and state. They charged that Catholic students are threatened and blackmailed under what they said is an official conspiracy to undermine faith and enforce atheism.

A large majority of Poles are believers, reminded the bishops, and when the state attacks religion it attacks them. “The Church is under attack,” the bishops warned the faithful. “Be sober, alert, vigilant.”

Brazil: The Bishops Attack

Brazil’s military government, installed nearly thirteen years ago with broad popular support, has come under unprecedented attack from the nation’s Roman Catholic hierarchy.

The National Conference of Brazilian Bishops last month published a seventeen-page letter attacking what the clerics called the “climate of fear and violence.” Numerous cases of “torture, violence, and oppression” were cited in the document, and the church officials charged the government with “reducing the people to silence.” Individual liberties, freedom of thought, and freedom of the press have been suppressed in the interest of state security, the bishops alleged.

Issuance of the letter marked an end to a sort of détente that had existed between the Catholic hierarchy and the military government. It came as a surprise to some leaders in the country since many of the bishops personally admire and trust President Ernesto Geisel. In office since 1974, he is considered more moderate than his predecessor, Emilio G. Medici. He is a Lutheran and the first Protestant president of Brazil. Medici had little use for church-state dialogue, but Geisel had tried to reopen talks.

The military took over during a 1964 counterrevolution that was backed by Catholics and Protestants who feared a Marxist takeover of the government. From time to time individual Catholic priests and bishops have been critical of the national leadership and of various local officials, but the November letter is the first strong criticism from the conference of bishops.

Article continues below

There was some speculation that the bishops were moved to action by a September incident in which one of their own, Bishop Adriano Hipolito of suburban Rio de Janeiro, was mistreated. He had spoken out repeatedly against “death squad” murders by suspected members of the police, and then he was kidnapped, beaten, stripped, and painted red. The gang that blew up his car and left him naked on a roadside said they were punishing him for his leftist leanings. No arrests have been made.

The bishops complained of the slayings of two priests this year, too. Their sweeping condemnation of the military government also touched on such matters as land reform, censorship, and treatment of Indians.

No official government response to the letter has been announced. Geisel, meanwhile, has continued his efforts to keep in touch with the Catholics. He recently made a surprise visit to Archbishop Geraldo de Morais Penido. They talked about human rights during their long conversation, and the archbishop raised the issue of torture. The president replied that he had given explicit orders to the armed forces to stop torturing political prisoners, but he added that there are still local policemen who resort to unnecessary violence. He paid them no compliment when he told the prelate that officers who use such tactics “act like stupid jackasses.”

Angola: Regulating Religion

The following update on the religious situation in Angola is based on reports filed by aCHRISTIANITY TODAYcorrespondent in Africa. Earlier coverage appeared in the November 7, 1975, issue, page 57, and the March 26, 1976, issue, page 39. Last month it became the 146th member of the United Nations.

Under the new Marxist-Leninist government of Angola, “religious phenomena” are recognized “as an objective reality in society.” Therefore, even though religion has no place in classic Communism, certain church and mission activities are being tolerated in the year-old regime of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).

When the MPLA central committee met just before the first anniversary of independence from Portugal, one of its first acts was approval of a “resolution regulating religion.” That document was the first of the committee’s decisions communicated to “the people.”

The preamble rules out any church activity that might be interpreted as “opposition to national transformation,” “lack of respect for the State and its symbols,” “ideological subversion,” or “opposition to socialism.” A section of the resolution specifies that all Angolan citizens “enjoy liberty of conscience, with the option to profess, or not to profess, any religion.” That profession, of course, must be “within the law.”

Under “the law,” as it is now being administered, some of the missionaries who left in 1975 are returning. One mission, the Swiss-based Evangelical Missionary Alliance, managed to keep its force on the field during the war between the three “liberation” parties contending for leadership, and it is now adding new recruits. Despite red tape and other obstacles, personnel of such evangelical groups as Christian Missions in Many Lands (Plymouth Brethren) and Africa Evangelical Fellowship are returning. Southern Baptist missionaries formerly assigned to Angola have been unable to reestablish their residences but have made short visits, according to mission sources.

Even though some foreign advocates of religion have been allowed to work in the West African nation, one group without foreign connections has been condemned by President Agostinho Neto. Tokoists, the followers of fifty-five-year-old prophet Simao Toko, an ex-Baptist, enjoyed a new era of popularity after the 1974 Portuguese revolution eased religious restrictions in Portugal’s African colonies. The group, known as The Church of Jesus Christ in the World (it has been described as a syncretistic people’s movement), has been declared obedient to one of the defeated political movements and thus disloyal to the MPLA. A government women’s organization asked that the estimated 30,000 Tokoists be sent to work camps for “political reeducation.” After the prime minister responded with a verbal warning that the Tokoists “do, in fact, pose a threat to the revolutionary process,” many of them went into hiding. Also condemned were the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Article continues below

While some observers were surprised that the government came down so hard on Tokoism, others theorized that the indigenous group may pose the greatest ideological threat to Communist rule of Angola. At any given time all other churches could be closed because of their alleged foreign “imperialist” connections, they reasoned, but no such excuse could be cited in the case of the Tokoists. A simpler explanation was that Tokoism is strong in the BaKongo tribal area, while President Neto and his closest associates are from a rival tribe.

For the religious groups that are functioning openly, freedom is a sometime thing. Roman Catholics have been trying to work out an accommodation with the new rulers, most of whom come from Protestant backgrounds. During August the Angolan foreign minister visited Italy and was granted an audience with Pope Paul, but a Catholic radio station in Luanda, the capital city, was confiscated by the government.

Some educational and health-care institutions remain in the hands of religious groups, but others have been taken over by government personnel. A measure of the government’s control was seen when “organs of popular power” were elected last June. In Luanda, church services were delayed or postponed until after the polls were closed. While there was only the MPLA slate, everyone was expected to vote, and the decree went out, “No religious, social, cultural, recreational, or business activity will be permitted until after the electoral act.” The Methodists, whose Bishop Emilio de Carvalho is a friend of President Neto, dutifully announced that on that Sunday their services would be held at 2:30 P.M. instead of in the morning.

Italy: Loosening The Tie That Binds

In 1931, 99.6 per cent of the Italian population claimed to be Roman Catholic. Mussolini’s concordat with the Vatican, designating Catholicism the state religion, was just two years old.

That concordat is still in effect, but its days are numbered. The growing recognition that the church has little influence on many Italians led to the creation of a six-member commission that is proposing a streamlined new treaty. The document, which has just been sent to Italy’s Parliament, does not name Catholicism as the state religion.

Terms of the new treaty were hammered out over months of meetings. Three members of the commission represented the Vatican and three the Italian government. Their proposal reduces the number of provisions in the concordat from forty-five to fourteen. It may still be amended by Parliament, but the commission’s work has been hailed by church and state authorities.

In addition to abolishing the state-religion designation, the draft concordat eliminates the Italian recognition of Rome as a “sacred” city. It treats marriage differently, no longer calling it a sacrament. Even though the 1929 document prohibited divorce, Italian law now authorizes it. In other changes, religion would no longer be a required course in schools, and priests would not be forbidden to hold public office.

The new concordat was drafted against the backdrop of declining support for the church-backed Christian Democratic party. Socialist-Communist governments now run all of Italy’s major cities, and the leftists picked up seats in Parliament in national elections last June. If the Christian Democrats fail to get the streamlined concordat through Parliament soon, there may not be enough of them left after the next elections to get any concordat approved.

Article continues below
Colson: ‘Not Drunk’

Former White House aide Charles Colson, author of the bestseller Born Again, is getting a lot of flak over a reference to him in the November 28 issue of Parade, a national Sunday newspaper supplement. In an article on Watergate figure John Dean, Parade writer Lloyd Shearer told of a visit the Colsons paid to the Deans while Colson was in Los Angeles promoting his book and speaking at Christian gatherings. The account is based on what Taylor Branch, 29, Washington columnist for Esquire and collaborator-editor of Dean’s book Blind Ambition, allegedly told a friend. Shearer quotes Branch as saying the Colsons came to Dean’s house for dinner one night while Branch was there, “and Colson got very drunk.”

After the article appeared, Colson denied the allegation privately to friends. Moreover, Branch himself told CHRISTIANITY TODAY that he does not recall making the statement and that he was “mortified” by the reference. “Chuck was not drunk,” he asserted. He said he thinks Colson may have had a drink before dinner, however. Colson led in prayer before the meal, and late in the evening he conversed “with me about some religious problems I had as a young person,” said Branch.

Parade did not immediately reply to inquiries by CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

Colson is of Episcopal extraction, and Episcopalians have traditionally not held the tee-totaler position of most evangelicals, in whose circles he is working. But, said he, from now on he is swearing off even occasional social drinks.

EDWARD E. PLOWMAN

Religion in Transit

Entertainer Pat Boone’s Christian radio program, “The Light and Power Hour,” is being offered through February as one of the in-flight entertainment selections on American Airlines flights that have stereo-headset programming. The program features contemporary Christian music and interviews with the artists. It is also being made available by the Mutual Broadcasting System to its 800 affiliates.

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that non-sectarian, non-profit hospitals may not refuse on moral or conscience grounds to allow abortions in their facilities. The ruling affects about eighty hospitals but not religious-affiliated ones.

Jewish leaders in New York charge that professional gamblers, possibly with ties to organized crime, have been pressuring synagogues to allow them to operate—and take most of the profit from—“Las Vegas Night” charity programs. Major Jewish organizations, like many churches, opposed the charity gambling proposal okayed by New York voters last month. It will take effect February 1.

The controversial hymn “It Was On a Friday Morning” will not be included in any future editions of the new U.S. military forces’ hymnal, according to a statement released jointly by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the chiefs of chaplains. The hymn has generated thousands of letters of protests.

Crowds ranging from 5,000 to 9,800 attended the four-day Leighton Ford “Reachout” evangelistic crusade in Vancouver, British Columbia. The crusade, which climaxed a two-year effort involving 200 churches in self-study and preparatory programs, emphasized Christian social concerns, and hundreds of persons volunteered to serve in social ministries (such as: meals for the elderly, hospital visitation, prison work). Ford appeared on several radio and TV call-in shows during the crusade.

The U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court’s ruling that called for continued Medicaid payments for voluntary abortions despite a congressional ban on them under the Hyde Amendment (see November 19 issue, page 54). The court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the amendment (it was declared unconstitutional by the lower court).

Article continues below

Of the nearly 10,000 children born in Washington, D.C., last year, more than half were born out of wedlock, according to city officials. It is the first major American city where this has happened. Nationwide, about 13 per cent of all children are born to unmarried women, a proportion increasing steadily since 1960. The latest statistics indicate that among blacks, 47.1 per cent of all children were born out of wedlock, while for whites the figure is 6.5 per cent. About 85 per cent of the Washington abortions were paid for by the government, say officials.

Police arrested Episcopal priest Claudius Ira (Bud) Vermilye, 47, of Winchester, Tennessee, charging that he used boys at his rehabilitation home known as Boys Farm in the production of obscene films. The films have been traced to at least three states, say police, and some of the home’s several hundred sponsors are “not legitimate.”

Fundamentalist minister Marvin Horan, convicted by a federal jury of conspiring to bomb two public schools during the West Virginia textbook controversy in 1974, lost an appeal and entered prison last month to begin a three-year sentence.

The average U. S. church member gave $137.09 last year, a slight increase over 1974 but not enough to keep pace with inflation, according to a survey of forty-two denominations by the National Council of Churches. The survey covered about 40 per cent of the giving to U.S. churches. Total giving to the groups surveyed amounted to $5.35 billion, and about eighty cents of each dollar stayed with the local congregation. Twenty-five Canadian denominations reported 1975 contributions of $255 million, an average of $118.68 per member.

The U. S. Supreme Court declined to review the case of New Jersey music teacher Paula (Paul) Grossman, who was dismissed after a sex-change operation in which Paul (father of three) became Paula. In explaining their action, school authorities cited the possible psychologically damaging effect on school children.

Some 16,000 persons are expected to attend Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship’s missions convention at Urbana, Illinois, after Christmas. Students will be able to earn academic credit in connection with the event, according to director David M. Howard.

World Scene

Memo to missionaries: The rush to the cities is likely to continue unabated in developing countries throughout the world, according to a recent Gallup survey of seventy nations. The migration is causing enormous problems, says Gallup, because the countries are “wholly unprepared” for the shift. Missions may also be unprepared. Generally, evangelical missionaries in the past have gone to the rural, the poor, the semi-literates. Comparitively few have gone to the urban dwellers, the middle and upper classes, the university campuses. That pattern, warn mission strategists, must change—and quickly.

The establishment of some 200 new local churches and a 60,000-member increase within a one-year period was reported at the recent sixty-first general assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Korea.

The All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists in the Soviet Union has received permission to receive 20,000 hymnals of the 1968 Moscow edition in the Russian language, according to the European Baptist Federation, which will underwrite costs. The Soviet Baptists report opening forty-four new churches, baptizing 6,200 persons, and welcoming 14,589 members of the unregistered Baptist groups (the so-called “underground believers”) back to the fold last year.

Permission has been given to the Federation of Evangelical Churches (including Lutheran and Reformed bodies) in East Germany to build forty new churches, according to the Britain-based Keston College research center for the study of religion and Communism. No reason is given for the relaxation of policy by the government. It may involve image factors or hopes of gaining foreign currency (West German Christians will probably fund the costs of the new buildings).

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.

Tags:
Issue: