Anyone who expects all of America’s evangelical Christians to vote the same way in the 1976 presidential election will probably be surprised when the votes are counted. As the campaign heated up during its last month it was increasingly evident that neither Gerald Ford nor Jimmy Carter could count on the highly touted “evangelical bloc.”

Issues connected with religion kept popping up as election day neared, and they were alternately helping and hurting first one candidate, then the other. Abortion, the hottest religion-related subject in the early days of the presidential race, had to share attention in the final weeks with other concerns. Taxes, foreign policy, and the use of earthy language were among the topics claiming the attention of the campaigners and those who will vote for them.

Shortly after Carter drew a barrage of criticism for his income-tax proposals, attention was directed to a statement he made on curtailing church property-tax exemptions. In an interview in the September–October issue of Liberty, a Seventh-day Adventist magazine on church-state issues, the Democratic candidate said he favored “the taxation of church properties other than the church building itself.” He was interviewed by a Liberty writer during the Ohio primary campaign last June.

After the Carter call for church property taxation appeared, he was attacked by Republican vice-presidential nominee Robert Dole. Declared Dole: “I find it incredible that Mr. Carter wants to impose taxes on church-owned hospitals, schools, senior-citizen homes, and orphanages. Is this really what he favors? Or is this just another case where Governor Carter has said something and may have to apologize later?”

Carter promptly issued a statement saying he never advocated taxing churches and as governor of Georgia tried to amend the state constitution so that sales taxes would not hit hospitals, nursing homes, and other church-affiliated organizations. He also pledged to try to protect the interests of charitable institutions in the tax-reform package he would propose as president.

At a White House meeting of his campaign committee on ethnic affairs, President Ford spoke to the issue: “Nothing could be worse for church-operated schools, hospitals, and orphanages, many of which face constant financial struggles to make ends meet. I can tell you unequivocally, emphatically, that this administration has neither plans nor supports any effort to tax churches beyond the present scope of federal taxation.”

Foreign affairs took up much of the time when a group of thirty-four evangelical broadcasters discussed issues with Ford just a week before his second televised debate with Carter. He said there was “only a 60–40 per cent chance of success” for Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s peace mission in southern Africa. He indicated it was worth the risk, saying, “If nothing were done by the United States it was likely that civil and international war would have erupted, with widespread bloodshed.”

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Endorsing the President’s diplomatic initiatives in southern Africa during the White House meeting was Howard O. Jones, the senior black on the Billy Graham team and speaker on the “Hour of Freedom” radio program. Jones had returned to the United States the day before from three weeks in southern Africa, where he preached in Swaziland, an independent territory bordering on South Africa. “I told the President,” the evangelist said after the meeting, “that thousands and thousands of Christians in Swaziland were praying his plan would work.”

Carter meanwhile released the text of a cable of support that he dispatched to Donal F. Lamont, the Irish missionary bishop of Umtali, Rhodesia. The Roman Catholic prelate was convicted of aiding terrorists after failing to report the whereabouts of guerrillas who had demanded medicine at a church mission, and he was sentenced to a ten-year jail term.

Both major candidates continued to assure Jewish leaders of their interest in helping the state of Israel, but they also spoke of their support for the Jewish nation before evangelical audiences. Ford told the broadcasters that Kissinger’s efforts in the Middle East “have borne fruit and the tensions have been substantially diffused.”

(In the Liberty interview Carter said “a basic cornerstone of our foreign policy should be preservation of the nation of Israel, its right to exist, and its right to exist in a state of peace.” He added that he thought its establishment as a modern state was a “fulfillment of Bible prophecy.”)

The visiting broadcasters also heard a Ford pledge to maintain American troops in Korea at present levels. The President added that his administration would stand by America’s treaty obligations with the Nationalist Chinese government.

Members of the executive committee of National Religious Broadcasters formed the core of the group that met Ford in the White House Cabinet Room. Other station operators and producers of religious programs were added to that group to provide geographical and denominational balance, according to Ben Armstrong, NRB’s executive secretary.

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Among the prominent broadcasters who came to Washington for the meeting was W. A. Criswell, whose weekly services are telecast from First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. Criswell, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, had earlier been quoted as a critic of Carter’s Playboy interview. The President was scheduled to attend a Sunday service at Criswell’s church ten days after his White House session with the pastor. Criswell and other clergy among the broadcasters recounted details of their visit with Ford to their congregations.

The Playboy issue came up at the meeting with the president. Ford told his visitors that he had turned down an invitation to be interviewed by the magazine, which features a Carter interview in its November issue. Ford also denied any wrongdoing in the use of campaign funds while he was a congressman.

The broadcasters met with the President only a few hours before he learned of the obscene racial slur credited to Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz. While they were waiting to see Ford, Butz and other ranking administration officials talked with them. Ford later reprimanded Butz and subsequently accepted his resignation. He also sent an apology to the broadcasters for having Butz at their meeting.

When Butz entered the Cabinet Room he asked Armstrong to tell him who was sitting in the chair he usually occupied during Cabinet meetings. Armstrong told him it was Jones, who had just returned from Africa. The then-secretary of agriculture is reported to have said, “Dr. Jones, you’re sitting in my chair, and you grace it very well.” None of the visitors knew at the time of the remark that was to force his resignation four days later.

The White House staffer who escorted the broadcasters to the Cabinet Room and arranged other meetings with religious leaders for Ford was Richard Brannon, an ordained Southern Baptist minister who recently moved from the White House’s office of presidential personnel into the communications office. Brannon is also credited with preparations for the President’s appearances earlier this year at the Southern Baptist Convention and the joint convention of the National Association of Evangelicals and National Religious Broadcasters.

While paying some attention to the nation’s evangelicals, both candidates have continued to court the Catholic vote. On his way to the second debate Carter stopped in Denver for a speech at a Catholic Charities meeting. During Louisiana campaigning, Ford attended a service in the New Orleans cathedral.

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Jeff Carter, the Democratic candidate’s youngest son, got his father in hot water when he brought up the name of evangelist Billy Graham during an Oklahoma campaign appearance. A Tulsa radio station recorded the remarks, in which the 24-year-old suggested that Graham had bought a mail-order doctorate for $5. In a later comment in Kansas City his wife, Annette, added fuel to the fire by criticizing Graham’s advice to voters to choose the best qualified candidate, whether he is a Christian or not. She said that was not “fair.”

Within a week another Carter son, Chip, dissociated himself from the Tulsa remarks of his brother. He told a South Carolina audience that his father had apologized to Graham. Actually, Mrs. Carter called; forgivingly, Graham said he was unoffended.

Meanwhile Christian voters across the country were getting advice from various sources on how to make up their minds. C. Welton Gaddy, a staff member of the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission, wrote a series of articles for use in the Baptist press. One of his suggestions was expected to gain wide acceptance: “Southern Baptists must neither support nor oppose Jimmy Carter simply because he is a fellow Southern Baptist. Episcopalians should neither support nor oppose Gerald Ford because he is an Episcopalian.”

Hard Times In Hardenburgh

More and more religious, educational, community, and other non-profit organizations are buying up property in rural resort areas for camp sites, conference centers, and the like. Such property is removed from the tax rolls, and this increases the tax burden on private property-owners. The tax hikes can be stiff—and sometimes just too much to bear.

One example involves the 236 residents of Hardenburgh, New York. Their plight was detailed in widely published press accounts last month. The town is nestled on 54,000 acres of woodland, streams, and farmland in the Catskill mountains. The Boy Scouts, Zen Buddhists, Tibetan monks, and a conservation center own large chunks of the land. Of the $21 million assessed value of Hardenburgh, $5 million is tax exempt. Taxes paid to the school district where most of the tax-exempt property is located now equal more than $5,000 for each of the twenty-five students who live there.

One resident whose 192 acres of woods and fields have been in his family for three generations had school taxes of $450 in 1970 and town and county taxes of $350. This year his bill for school taxes is $2,000, and the other taxes are nearly that much. The stories are similar all over town. Breadwinners average between $6,000 and $7,000 income annually, and they are at the breaking point. Meetings with lawyers, local government officials, and legislators have brought no relief.

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Hardenburgh has no business section, no stores, and no churches. A few residents attend church services in neighboring communities. More than half of the townspeople, however, are now ordained ministers. It all started when some people read about California entrepreneur Kirby J. Hensley and his Universal Life Church, which sells ordination certificates and honorary divinity degrees by mail. It looked like a way to get some tax breaks. For example, New York allows a reduction of $1,500 on the assessed valuation of homes owned by ordained clergy. (In practice, however, most local jurisdictions interpret the exemption narrowly, and property is totally exempt only if owned by a recognized religious group and used exclusively for religious purposes.)

There was discussion. “The question came up as to the ethics of doing it,” ranger Cal Crary told reporters. “But I question the ethics, for instance, of the conservation center that’s taken all that land.”

Plumber George McClain down the road in Liberty had become a “bishop” in Hensley’s “church” a year ago (by taking a mail-order course), so he conducted the mass ordination ceremony. About 300 persons, 150 of them from Hardenburgh, were ordained in the town’s community hall. Another batch was ordained later in a diner outside town. The only principle of the church, explained McClain, is that the rights of other persons are not to be violated.

“Hello, reverend,” the people in Hardenburgh greet one another lightly these days. “Have you seen the light?” they jest.

Thus religion has come to the Catskills at last. Relief from taxes may be another matter. If somebody organizes a “church,” he or she might try to exclude housing and utilities allowances from taxable income (as most bona fide active clergy do), but there are bound to be hassles with the tax people over it and perhaps expensive court battles (Hensley has won a key one in California). Commenting on the ordinations, New York tax official Thomas McGrath says, “Any person who thinks he can obtain a tax exemption through such a device is sadly mistaken.” The action, however, has served to call attention to the situation, say other tax authorities, and that may lead to the salvation of people like the Hardenburghers.

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The Bell-Ringer Of Flat Rock

Norton Hawkins, 67, has been the bell-ringer at First Baptist Church of Flat Rock, Illinois, since 1939, and he rang the Methodist bell for fifteen years before that. In fact, he claims he’s been in church every Sunday since his birth in March, 1909, more than 3,500 Sundays ago. Once he landed in the hospital with a broken leg after being struck by a car, but with special transportation and crutches he was able to attend church two days later. Moreover, all his churchgoing has been in Flat Rock: he’s never been out of town on vacation.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1970 that tax exemptions for religious organizations are neither required nor prohibited by the First Amendment but are a matter of social policy to be determined by citizens and their elected lawmakers. An increasing number of voices are calling for the elimination of such exemptions in the face of tightened budgets and service cutbacks confronting local government bodies. Many church budgets, though, are in similar straits and cannot absorb big tax bills.

A better idea would be to expand taxing jurisdictions rather than eliminate all church exemptions, suggests Dean Kelley, religious-liberties expert on the National Council of Churches staff.

Abuses of tax privileges by religious organizations could bring on a full-scale tax revolt and the collapse of existing tax-exemption policies, warns executive director Andrew Gunn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The Catskill ordinations, he asserts, “could be a shot heard around the world.”

Broadcasting The Good News

In 1972, a Japanese newsman was arrested for obtaining secret diplomatic cables that revealed among other things a special plea by then U. S. ambassador Armin Meyer to Japanese officials to allow Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC), a missionary enterprise, to remain on Okinawa after the island returned to Japanese control. Under Japanese law, foreign-owned broadcasting is not permitted.

Stories at the time mistakenly attributed Meyer’s plea to the fact that FEBC was “owned” by a “relative” of then President Nixon. As a non-profit organization, FEBC is not privately owned, but one of Richard Nixon’s uncles, Cliff Marshburn, was an FEBC board member.

The Japanese reporter, Takichi Nishiyama, was found guilty in July of this year of violating a law that prohibits disclosure of government secrets. The ruling overturned a lower-court decision. An appeal to the Japanese Supreme Court is planned in the case, which has become a major freedom-of-the-press issue in Japan. The reporter was given a four-month suspended sentence.

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FEBC was permitted to continue to operate its radio station after Okinawa reverted to Japan, but the FEBC people “worked out their own arrangement with the Japanese government,” says Meyer, who is now a Georgetown University professor and is the son of a Lutheran minister. Meyer explains that his appeal was a private one based on his interest in Christian work rather than an official request of the American government.

FEBC operates some thirty radio stations worldwide, beaming evangelical programs into China and the Soviet Union as well as into a number of other Asian, African, and South American countries.

It is not the first time that FEBC’s Okinawa operation has made the newspapers in other-than-routine coverage. Much earlier, a local paper told how some of FEBC’s programming on station JOTF originated with the U. S. Army’s Seventh Psychological Operations Group, located next door to the station.

A former Specialist-5 clerk who with other enlisted personnel in his unit helped to prepare daily Japanese-language newscasts last month confirmed the story. In an interview, Robert C. Ashby, now an attorney with the Department of Transportation in Washington, said he and others culled out wire-service stories for use by translators. Newscasts were produced under the direction of Alex Yorichi for broadcast to Okinawans. Ashby and his friends also delivered copies of two ten-minute newscasts daily to the FEBC station. The program source was not identified on the air, he said.

Ashby characterized the broadcasts as “good news.” Although the news was taken from straight wire-service reports, said he, “selection was used in what news items were included.” Items that reflected unfavorably on the United States or on U. S. relations with Okinawa and Japan were eliminated.” The subject matter “dealt with both international and domestic [Japanese and Okinawan] matters.”

Ashby said the delivery of the daily newscasts was “an ongoing thing” when he arrived in Okinawa in November, 1968, and continued until he left in May, 1970. The army unit was headquartered on Okinawa from 1965 until June, 1974, when it was deactivated.

Eugene Bertermann, director of Asian operations for FEBC, could neither confirm nor deny the existence of a relationship with the psychological-warfare unit. “I don’t have any information on that,” he said. Possibly the only one with answers was FEBC’s former chief of Okinawa operations, stated Bertermann, and he is dead. Army officials likewise said they know nothing of the matter.

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Although some Washington sleuths tend to see the hand of the Central Intelligence Agency in the relationship, Ashby and other observers surmise it all may have begun as a favor between friends.

Bertermann says it is against FEBC policy to be linked with government agencies. He and other mission broadcasters do see a place for government, though. At a meeting of evangelical broadcasters with President Ford last month, Bertermann discussed with Ford the need for a U. S. foreign policy to protect overseas religious broadcasting facilities.

FEBC, headquartered in Whittier, California, was founded in 1945 by ex-serviceman John C. Broger, religious broadcaster Robert H. Bowman, and Los Angeles pastor William J. Roberts. Broger, FEBC’s first president, is now the Pentagon-based civilian director of information for the Armed Forces, and Bowman is FEBC’s executive head.



Bishop Lucius S. Cartwright, 35, of St. Philip’s Pentecostal Church in Washington, D.C., and Albert Rufus Hamrick, 40, the church’s pastor, were sentenced to six months in jail each and fined a total of $7,000 following their plea of guilty to charges of defrauding the government of $262,775 in federal food-stamp funds. Cartwright will serve his term first, then Hamrick, so that the church will not be without leadership. Their full sentences had been for four years and two years respectively, with all but six months suspended.

The clergymen went into the food-stamp dispensing business on behalf of the church in 1972. Prosecutors say they delayed for months depositing receipts in federal accounts. During the four years, more than $5.5 million in food-stamp money was handled; the pair could therefore have gleaned considerable interest by delaying transfer of the funds. Also, say prosecutors, the pair diverted funds to pay for a lavish home, an ice-cream parlor, trips, a van, and even a former bank building that now houses their church.

Defense attorneys argued that there should have been more restrictive regulations to govern the situation. Cartwright’s lawyer said his client was “untrained, unskilled in handling this amount of money.” But, said the bishop to the judge, “I cannot justify my wrongdoing.”

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A Mediator For Good Shepherd

The Vatican has ordered members of the progressive Good Shepherd parish of Mt. Vernon, Virginia, and conservative bishop Thomas J. Welsh of Arlington to submit to arbitration their two-year-old dispute over who should control local church affairs. The decision, believed to be the first of its kind in the history of American Catholicism, was issued in response to a petition sent to the Pope by a faction of the congregation last March (see May 21 issue, page 38). Signed by 704 of the parish’s some 1,400 adult members, the petition asked the Pope to appoint as mediator Archbishop William Borders of Baltimore, but the Vatican instead selected Bishop Joseph Hodges of the Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, diocese. He is considered more conservative than Borders.

Still, Good Shepherd’s people can claim a victory of sorts. Hitherto, a bishop has been seen as sovereign in his diocese. The arbitration order can be interpreted as denying that kind of ultimate authority to Welsh. If so, then notice has been served on all bishops that times have changed.

Disunited Presbyterians

United Presbyterians are proud of their Confession of 1967 and its principal theme, reconciliation. In the presbytery of Albany, New York, however, they are having to go to court to reconcile some evangelical congregations that are less than enthusiastic about the denomination’s doctrinal directions.

Seven churches in the upstate New York presbytery have been trying to leave the denomination, but the regional unit so far has shown no inclination to let them join a more conservative fellowship.

There is action in both the civil and ecclesiastical courts, and the issue is far from settled. A judicial commission of the Synod of the Northeast was scheduled to meet at the end of this month to hear one complaint against the presbytery’s handling of a dismissal request. Whichever way the decision goes, it is likely to be appealed to the denomination’s highest court, the General Assembly, which meets next May.

Thus far in New York litigation the decisions of church courts have been all-important in civil-court property cases. The first of the cases in the current Albany Presbytery controversy to reach the appellate level takes a new tack, however. The Kingsborough congregation of Gloversville is contesting a 1954 revision of state law that allows a presbytery to take over property of an “extinct” church. The congregation considers itself alive and well even though the presbytery has dissolved it officially and declared it “extinct.” Kingsborough has joined a presbytery of the small Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. It did not seek Albany Presbytery’s permission to leave after the regional unit had voted to remove its pastor. Two other ministers involved in the attempted transfers have also lost their United Presbyterian ministerial credentials.

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Not in court yet is the largest and most influential of the seven churches that are trying to leave the United Presbyterian fold, the 428-member First Presbyterian Church of Schenectady. At a presbytery meeting late last month an administrative commission reported that it had found no interest in reconciliation at First Church. The body that had been appointed to “take oversight” of the congregation did not propose any immediate legal action, however.

The presbytery has also dissolved and claimed the property of another Schenectady congregation, the Carman Church.

In two of the churches, Christ’s Church of Catskill and the Valatie Church, the congregations have not been unanimous. A substantial minority at Catskill wanted to retain ties with the United Presbyterian denomination, so the board of elders decided not to pursue the dismissal matter with the presbytery. The pastor has left the denomination. At Valatie a majority withdrew with the pastor and formed a new congregation.

One of the aspects of the controversy, which has lasted over a year, is that the churches seeking connection with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC) requested transfers. Presbyterian law generally does not recognize the right of a congregation to declare itself independent, but transfers are often granted from one Presbyterian denomination to another. The issue in Albany is particularly sensitive since the United Presbyterian General Assembly has fraternal relations with the ARPC’s top governing body. It does not have such relations with the four-year-old Presbyterian Church in America, to which some observers thought the seven congregations might go. If all the petitions for transfer to the ARPC are denied, the action could be interpreted as a United Presbyterian determination that the ARPC is not a proper body for the reception of United Presbyterians. More reconciliation might then be in order.

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