To Archbishop Jean Jadot, official delegate of Pope Paul VI to the U.S. Catholic Church, the International Eucharistic Congress held in Philadelphia in August and the U. S. bishops’ “Call to Action” conference held in Detroit last month were twin events that should be evaluated in light of each other. The congress, he explained, centered on the faith aspect of the Christian life, while the three-day Detroit meeting focused “more strongly on the social dimension of our religion.” Many Catholics who were interested in one of the meetings, however, cared little about what happened at the other.
The sponsoring National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) charged the 1,340 Detroit delegates (including 100 bishops) with developing recommendations for a five-year social-action plan for the U. S. church. The delegates, chosen by their bishops and representing 152 dioceses, adopted thirty resolutions, contained in eight documents totaling 110 pages. Many of the recommendations bluntly challenged traditional Catholic positions.
It was an awesome range of issues to be covered in a single national church gathering. But, an observer noted, since this was the first time the Catholic hierarchy had given lay people a major role in decision-making, delegates had to catch up in a hurry with resolutions adopted by most mainline Protestant denominations over the past fifteen years.
Probably the most controversial of the Detroit resolutions asked the bishops to prod Rome to permit ordination of women as priests and deacons in the Western Rite of the church. A related measure asked the bishops to make a way for women to preach at masses. The delegates also went on record favoring:
• the opening of the priesthood to married persons.
• repeal of the automatic penalty of excommunication for Catholics who remarry after divorce.
• a more “pastoral” approach to birth control, giving married people the right to choose for themselves which kind of family planning is “morally appropriate.”
• elimination of sexist language and imagery from church documents, liturgies, and hymnals.
• protection of the rights of homosexuals.
• repeal of right-to-work laws in states where they exist.
• nearly unilateral disarmament.
• unconditional amnesty to Viet Nam war resisters.
• legislation banning abortion.
• a national review board to implement due process in church disputes.
• full financial disclosure and accountability by church authorities at all levels.
The bishops had designed the Call to Action conference as the crowning point of their two-year Bicentennial program known as “Liberty and Justice for All.” The program, intended to discover the concerns of church members, featured hearings in six major cities and a “consultation” process that drew some 850,000 responses to questionnaires. Cardinal John Dearden of Detroit, who chaired the NCCB Bicentennial committee, heralded the entire process as an effort to put into practice the Vatican II emphasis that all Catholics, not just the priests, bishops, and religious (members of monastic orders, such as nuns), constitute the “people of God.”
As the Detroit conference progressed, the question of how well the “people of God” were represented was repeatedly raised. Conservatives with the Catholics United for the Faith organization said the conference would merely widen an already existing rift in the church. After delegates adopted the resolution pressing for the right of priests to marry, one woman rushed up to a priest-delegate and asked with deep emotion: “Where is the Catholic Church I know?” Another delegate was dragged from the hall by security guards after shouting “Judas traitors” against priests who renounce their vows in order to marry.
Prayer Of Champions
A grace proposed by Canada’s United Church Observer:
Oh Lord, make us not like the porridge, dull and stodgy.
Make us like the cornflakes, crisp and snappy, and ready to serve.
Dearden, in a conference address, said he felt the delegates were “fairly representative” of the 49 million American Catholics, an opinion shared by NCCB general secretary James S. Rausch. Delegations were chosen in accord with guidelines that took into account ethnic, age, sexual, and special-interest-group considerations. But, suggested one bishop, in the attempt to ensure adequate representation by blacks, women, Poles, Hispanic-Americans (who complained they were under-represented despite indications to the contrary), and the like, the church’s mainstream may have been for-gotten. The delegates, 39 per cent of them women, were nearly equally divided among clergy, laity, and religious.
“I feel a little uneasy that some aren’t going to feel this [conference] is representative,” cautioned Bishop George Higgins, director of research for the bishops. He said delegates displayed an insensitive “reluctance to accept any nuances that would represent Middle America.” For example, in one resolution the delegates stated that while “respecting” the rights of those who choose to serve in the military, they “support” those who on grounds of conscience refuse to serve in war. A delegate’s suggestion that “supporting” be substituted for “respecting” the rights of those who serve in the military was resoundingly defeated.
Shortly after the conference ended, Archbishop Joseph Bernardin, president of the NCCB, declared flatly that the meeting was not representative of the U. S. church. His criticisms: too much was attempted too hurriedly, there was inadequate consideration of different points of views, special-interest groups seemed to play a disproportionate role, and not enough attention was paid to other “legitimate interests and concerns.” He nevertheless pledged that the conference recommendations “will not be taken lightly.” The some 150 proposals are to be taken up at the NCCB meeting in Chicago in May.
Looking forward to the May meeting and beyond, one bishop said he feared the conference proceedings may raise the expectations of groups within the church to a level at which the bishops cannot deliver. Still, the process of grass-roots involvement begun in Detroit is not likely to be reversed. As laywoman Natalie Reese of Des Moines put it, if lay participation in church affairs does not increase, “the bishops will be in trouble.”
Overcoming Problems In Pontiac
Long before the ten-day Billy Graham Southeastern Michigan Crusade opened in mid-October, the campaign staff knew it was in for some rough going.
One problem was the sheer size of the 83,000-seat domed Pontiac Metropolitan Stadium, crusade site and home of the Detroit Lions football team. Another was its thirty-mile distance from downtown Detroit, where crowds might have been larger and the racial mix better. Other headaches included the disunity of Detroit-area churches, a strike by Ford Motor Company employees, political campaigns and debates, baseball’s World Series, and little coverage before or during the crusade by Detroit’s newspapers.
Also, the crusade generated a lot of hostility, the most crusade director John Corts said he had ever seen. Much of it came from separatist-fundamentalist churches, some from liberal ones. Printed materials opposing the crusade were distributed door to door and by mail, and a number of preachers criticized it from their pulpits. During the crusade, pickets appeared at the stadium, and some scuffles were reported.
In trying to account for the antagonism, Corts and others spoke of the sharp polarization that characterizes southeastern Michigan’s religious scene. The extremes—fundamentalists on the right and liberal Protestants on the left—appear to be more numerous proportionately than in most areas, they said. And denominational groups here appear less willing to work with other groups than has been the case in recent crusade cities.
Nevertheless, more than 1,500 churches did participate, and some pastors associated with groups largely opposed to the crusade (for example, the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches) took part.
To cope with some of the stadium-related problems, a large video screen over Graham’s head and a special sound system were used. Seventeen regional offices were established, a daily radio program was broadcast, and full-page ads were placed in newspapers. The crusade budget was increased from $496,000 to $640,000. As in other crusades, prayer groups (some 4,000) were organized, and Operation Andrew, a program in which church members invite neighbors to attend the crusade with them (often on chartered buses), was promoted.
The 24,500 who showed up for opening night seemed somewhat lost in the vast stadium, but by the time the crusade closed both attendance and the number of inquirers (14,000-plus) were greater than at any other American crusade since 1972 except the Seattle crusade last May (see June 4 issue, page 41). Overall attendance averaged 36,000 per rally, with large numbers of first-timers at each meeting. The final session brought out 70,000 persons on a cold, drizzly afternoon, some of them mainly to hear Johnny Cash and June Carter. At the conclusion of Graham’s sermon, nearly 3,000 walked onto the football field to profess their belief in Christ.
Throughout the crusade, said observers, an unusual number of inquirers were middle-aged men, heads of families. Equally impressive, they added, was the number of entire families accepting Graham’s invitation to follow Christ.
Also present on the closing day was Senator Robert Dole, Republican vice-presidential contender. Before he introduced Dole and his wife, the evangelist pointed out that he was not endorsing any candidate. Dole did not speak.
Others who took part during the week included former White House aide Charles Colson (Born Again), paralyzed artist Joni Eareckson, singer-composer Andrae Crouch, Norma Zimmer of the Lawrence Welk TV show, rival football players from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, and Detroit Lions quarterback Joe Reed, who both sang and testified.
The “most meaningful and lasting thing” about the crusade was “the new life brought to the churches,” summarized Harold C. MacDonald, chairman of the crusade executive committee and a vice-president of the Ford company. Pastors of some of the area’s largest churches concurred. “A new thrust for Christianity” in the Detroit area may be the result, said pastor William K. Quick of Metropolitan United Methodist Church, Michigan’s largest Methodist congregation.
As for Graham, he expressed hope that he could return and hold another crusade. “I believe we are seeing more people respond [proportionately] than anywhere in the United States,” he asserted at the conclusion of the meetings. “It has been a history-making week.”
Pressuring A Prelate
Continuing pressure from inside and outside the National Council of Churches has forced its executive committee to issue an unprecedented request to a denomination. Three weeks after a Jewish youth group disrupted an NCC governing board session (see November 5 issue, page 58), an emergency meeting of the executive committee was convened to consider the sticky issue of Orthodox Church in America (OCA) archbishop Valerian D. Trifa. The prelate is accused of complicity in World War II Romanian atrocities and of lying to United States immigration authorities about his wartime activities. In an extraordinary Saturday meeting in Chicago last month the executive committee asked the OCA to consider requesting Trifa “to refrain from executing his duties” as a member of the NCC governing board until his case has been cleared up in court.
In taking the action the committee noted that it was without authority to remove a governing board member. Only the member denominations have this power under the NCC constitution. There was no official response from the OCA to the request, but NCC authorities were in daily contact with leaders of its several Eastern Orthodox communions. The day after the Chicago meeting a group of Orthodox representatives met at the NCC’s invitation with a group of Jewish organizatioon executives.
Trifa, meanwhile, reportedly told a broadcast interviewer that he would not voluntarily step aside.
Among the pressures from within the NCC was a statement by the Christian-unity committee of the Reformed Church in America. Issued before the Chicago gathering, the document from the RCA panel criticized the action of the governing board (declaring that it could not remove a member) as “spiritually and morally untenable.” The statement pointed out that the NCC does not “hesitate to address others with the moral claim of the Gospel” and therefore “should not remain silent when our fellow member churches are involved.” The RCA group called for development of a method by which appointments could be challenged. At the Chicago meeting the executive committee authorized appointment of a group to study possible amendments to the NCC constitution and bylaws to make this possible.
Isaac C. Rottenberg, a Reformed Church executive and also chairman of the NCC’s committee on Jewish relations, noted in a letter to the New York Times that the council on numerous occasions “has gathered and evaluated evidence dealing with violations of human rights and torture.” He asked, “Why is that suddenly such an impossible thing to do when a member of our own ecclesiastical community is involved?”
Avraham Weiss, the young New York rabbi who led the protestors into the governing board meeting and later into offices of the NCC, called the Chicago decision “totally” unsatisfactory.
From the NCC side, General Secretary Claire Randall termed relationships with Weiss something less than satisfactory. He had denounced the choice of a Saturday, the Jewish sabbath, as the time for the Chicago meeting. The NCC official wrote to him, “I consider your communication, which reached me yesterday afternoon (October 27), to be a total betrayal of the trust which we made with you during your visit with our staff cabinet on October 20.” She said pains had been taken to arrange for him to travel to the meeting site before the sabbath. The day was selected, she explained, since it was the earliest one for which a large number of executive-comitteee members could clear their calendars.
Weiss also took a group of protestors to the OCA’s Holy Synod meeting. The OCA appointed a committee of three to probe the charges against Trifa.
Religion in Transit
At the request of the Vatican Secretariat for Christian Unity and the Episcopal Church, the American Bible Society is translating the Apocrypha into modern English. Funds from Catholic and other sources have provided underwriting for the project, according to an ABS spokesman. It will follow the pattern of the popular Good News Bible (Today’s English Version). The Apocrypha is a group of books considered part of the Old Testament canon by Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. Anglicans and Lutherans have traditionally accorded them a high position but lower than Scripture.
Because of the objection of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and others, the U. S. Census Bureau will not include a religious-affiliation question in the 1977 Current Population Survey—or at any time “in the foreseeable future,” according to government sources.
President Waldemar Meyer of the four-state Colorado District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod resigned on Reformation Day, becoming the fifth district president to resign since spring in the continuing Missouri Synod controversy over doctrine and policy (see November 5 issue, page 8). He says conservatives “have imputed that I have a liberal doctrine, which I never held or taught.”
A number of religious organizations have been pressuring President Ford and Congress to allow Viet Nam to become a member of the United Nations. The United States served notice it would veto admission, but the vote in the Security Council scheduled in September was postponed until after the U.S. presidential election. In addition to lobbying at home, the religious coalition has been sending food and other goods to Indochina.
Pointing to the observance of National Bible Week (November 21–28), Bishop James S. Rausch, general secretary of the U. S. Catholic bishops’ conference, urged parishes to use bulletins, sermons, and general intercessions at mass to encourage Catholics to read the Scriptures frequently and prayerfully. Ever since Vatican II, there has been heavy emphasis on personal Bible reading among Catholics, a trend that is still on the upswing.
In a survey of more than 100 Christian leaders, Born Again by former White House aide Charles W. Colson placed highest in Eternity magazine’s annual most-significant-evangelical-book poll (it got the largest number of votes of any book in the poll’s eighteen-year history). Republican Senator Mark Hatfield’s Between a Rock and a Hard Place placed second in the list of twenty-five titles, and The Battle for the Bible by CHRISTIANITY TODAY editor Harold Lindsell came in third.
Presbyterian pastor Jerry Kirk, a former University of Washington basketball player, addressed chapel meetings of both the Cincinnati Reds and the New York Yankees just prior to the Sunday-night World Series game in Cincinnati. Twenty-one Yankees and eighteen Reds attended, bringing cumulative chapel attendance in both leagues for the season to 7,678, an increase of 20 per cent over last year.
Joan LaRocca, 35, a tenured high-school art teacher in Rye, New York, vows she will “fight to the highest courts” her dismissal on charges of trying to convert students to her belief that a Connecticut preacher known as “Brother Julius” is “Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Second Coming.” She said her classroom is a place where any topic can be discussed openly, but she denied that anyone had been proselytized. Some former Rye students, including several seniors from last year, have joined the Julius movement.
John Singleton Copley’s “Nativity” provided the design for this year’s “religious” Christmas postage stamp, which was issued by the U. S. Postal Service late last month.
Veteran religion journalist Erik W. Modean, 65, has retired after serving as news director of the Lutheran Council in the U.S.A. for ten years (he had held a similar post for twenty-one years with the council’s predecessor agency). He helped to found the secular Religion News writers Association in 1948.
Remember David Nelson, the elder son on the old “Ozzie and Harriet” TV series? He’s embarked on a new career as a film director—with God at his side, according to a Hollywood news story. Nelson says he accepted Christ as Saviour four years ago, a decision that colors much of what he does.
The entire community of 280 adults plus children on Getemay Island in Ethiopia’s Lake Margherita has professed Christ, according to a report in Africa Now, published by Sudan Interior Mission. SIM is resettling the community on the shore because the island is incapable of adequate agricultural development.
Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish leaders in Australia joined in issuing a Call to the Nation that exhorts people to apply spiritual values and high moral standards in all that they do. The call was released during an outdoor rally in Sydney attended by 35,000. Sponsored by the Australian Festival of Light movement, the rally featured a well-received keynote address by British philosopher-social critic Malcolm Muggeridge. Earlier, 30,000 attended a similar Festival of Light rally in Trafalgar Square in London. They pledged to work for a better society under God.
At its recent assembly the Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa voted to allow divorced men who evidence the “fruits of repentance” to be clergy. The church also elected to remain in the World Council of Churches but to withhold financial support.
More than 1,000 lay leaders of the 250,000-member Church of Christ in Nigeria are enrolled in theological education by extension (TEE) courses. They meet fortnightly at eighty-eight centers under the guidance of sixty-nine Nigerian teachers and supervision of five foreign workers with Sudan United Mission.
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