Catholic bishops across the United States will take a page from the revivalist’s book next month, and in the process they may learn just how big an issue abortion will be for Catholic voters in November. Every parishioner at mass October 3 (just a month before the presidential election) will be asked to sign a decision card renewing his commitment to the sanctity of life. The cards will be collected at the exits, and diocesan pro-life coordinators will then tally the results and report them to the bishops’ Washington headquarters.
The unprecedented decision-card procedure, officially called a “bicentennial reaffirmation,” is just one indicator of the role being played by religion in this year’s presidential politics. Abortion is only one of the “religious issues” in the campaign, and Jews, liberal Protestants, and evangelicals are just as involved as the Catholics, but so far, it has been the issue receiving the most attention. Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter has been working since his party’s convention to try to undo the damage his platform writers did when they inserted a plank opposing an anti-abortion constitutional amendment.
The former Georgia governor sought a conference with Catholic hierarchy leaders, and the bishops finally granted a meeting with their executive committee on August 31. Among those present was New York’s Cardinal Terence Cook, chairman of national pro-life activities. After the one-hour session in Washington, Archbishop Joseph L. Bernardin of Cincinnati, president of the bishops’ conference, announced, “[Carter] did not change his position. At this time he will not commit himself to supporting an amendment. We therefore continue to be disappointed with the governor’s position.”
There was no photograph of the candidate and the bishops in a happy meeting. The pictures in the papers the next day were of Carter and one of the nation’s most popular Catholic politicians, Senator Edward Kennedy, who had just promised to campaign for the former governor. Before the day was over, Carter was telling reporters in New York, “I’ve never said I would actively oppose every possible constitutional amendment that was proposed on the subject of abortion.”
President Gerald Ford, the Republican nominee, meanwhile was trying to conserve any support generated by his party’s platform plank favoring an anti-abortion amendment. He invited the same group of bishops to meet with him at the White House ten days after their meeting with his opponent. They accepted, but their agenda was sure to include discussion of current government procedures (which they believe encourage abortions) as well as other issues.
While Catholic leaders were in the spotlight on the abortion question, evangelicals who share their concerns were watching from the sidelines. Even though the media have been full of speculation about the political power of evangelicals (estimated to number upward from 40 million), neither candidate is known to have sought an audience with any group of evangelical leaders on moral issues. The anti-abortion Christian Action Council sought conferences with both candidates, but as of early this month the only commitment was for a meeting with a Ford aide.
Pro-abortion forces were heard from immediately, however, when Carter sounded as if he was softening his position. The Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, representing twenty-four Protestant, Jewish, and unofficial ad hoc Catholic organizations, asked the Democrat for a meeting on the issue.
Rabbi Richard Sternberger, chairman of RCAR, declared, “Any kind of amendment is unacceptable to those of us in the religious community who support the law of the land [a reference to the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion]. No constitutional amendment can avoid causing injustices, no matter how framed and with how many exceptions. Any amendment would violate constitutional rights to exercise one’s freedom of religion and rights of privacy.”
Also raising questions about Carter’s stand on a moral issue was Guy Charles, the Arlington, Virginia, ex-gay director of Liberation, a Christian ministry to homosexuals. Gay activists have claimed that Carter agreed to sign an executive order assuring homosexuals of equal-rights protection and also to favor criminal-code amendments. Charles said repeated attempts to get a statement from the governor have been fruitless.
Carter was also dogged by the discovery of a preface he wrote for a 1972 book, Women in Need. In his page and a half he does not actually state a position on abortion, but he lists it as one of the methods of birth control deserving consideration by lawmakers and other community leaders.
Also discovered by campaign-year sleuths was a 1973 proclamation in which Carter, as governor of Georgia, hailed the Reverend Sun Myung Moon as one who “has dedicated his life to increasing worldwide understanding of hope and unity under God.” At the time, Moon was relatively unknown in the American press. A Carter campaign spokesman had no immediate comment about either the Charles or Moon issues.
In other developments:
• James Wall, editor of the Christian Century and a Carter campaign worker for months, announced he was taking a two-month leave of absence until election time to remove “any questions as to a threat to the [Century] foundation’s tax-exempt status.”
• Terry Sunday, for the past five years an administrative assistant to the general secretary of the Catholic bishops’ conference, joined the Carter campaign staff as deputy campaign director for Catholic affairs. A nun was also recruited for the “ethnic desk.”
THROUGH A GLASS
There are some predictions that followers of American astrologer Jeane Dixon would like to forget. Back in March the seer told the National Enquirer that Ronald Reagan would be the presidential nominee of the Republican party. She also said that President Ford would be wounded “slightly” in an assassination attempt “probably in July” in “a northern city,” and that he would resign shortly before the Republican nominating convention because of a health crisis.
She did predict Carter would be the Democratic nominee—but only after a battle between him and Hubert Humphrey at the convention. She saw Carter and Reagan in a down-to-the-wire fight for the Presidency, with Carter’s “vibrations” indicating that he would win.
Exit John Conlan
In a bitterly contested Republican primary bid for a U.S. Senate seat, Arizona congressman John Conlan was defeated 102,506 to 92,812 by fellow five-term congressman Sam Steiger. Conlan, a member of the 700-constituent Scottsdale (Arizona) Bible Church, is well known in conservative evangelical circles. His voice on capitol hill will be missed by some in those circles when the new Congress convenes in January. The two-term legislator has spoken out in the House against a proposed camp safety act that could force a number of Christian camps to shut down, a proposed child care program designed to help low-income families, certain educational materials developed by the National Science Foundation, and “secular humanism.”
The primary campaign had religious overtones, some of them ugly. There was little for Conlan, 45, and Steiger, 47, to disagree over politically, so the battle tended to degenerate into personality clashes and mudslinging. Conlan, a suave Harvard graduate, said he’s tried to keep a clean record in Congress, and he pitted his “integrity” against the “too many skeletons in Sam’s closet.” Steiger, a rancher and non-practicing Jew, saw something sinister in Conlan’s alliance with many conservative Christians, and he suggested that they were behind an alleged anti-semitic campaign against him. Conlan hotly denied the charge, citing his pro-Israel stance. He accused Steiger of lying, and suggested the anti-semitism issue was a Steiger ploy to gain sympathy votes. The only legitimate religious issue, counter-attacked Conlan, were attempts by critics “to get me to renounce my faith in Jesus Christ.”
Unpersuaded, Senator Barry Goldwater, a half-Jew with Episcopal ties, denounced Conlan for failing to stop the alleged anti-semitism of his aides, and he publicly endorsed Steiger (as did the state’s Republican establishment and major newspapers). Goldwater also accused Colan of dishonesty in politics.
Next, rabbi C. Joseph Teichman of the Har-Zion Congregation of Scottsdale called a press conference to defend Conlan against the anti-semitism stigma. Teichman was flanked by Southern Baptist pastor Richard Jackson of the 6,500-member North Phoenix Baptist Church, pastor Joseph Smith of Camelback Christian Church, a Catholic priest, and Conlan’s pastor, Don Sunukjian, 35.
Less than a week before the primary, a letter was sent by two millionaire friends of Conlan to 800 Arizona ministers. In it, the pair—Tempe builder Elmer Bradley and Phoenix contractor Ralph Eaton—certified Conlan as a “keen Christian with a clear testimony and high personal and public ethics who has not succumbed to back-room politics.” Because of his faith “and his refusal to drink and carouse” with the political crowd, he had great odds against him, the letter asserted. It went on: “We most sincerely urge you to urge every registered Republican you know—your friends, family, members of your congregation, and others—to please turn out and vote for John Conlan.”
Eaton and Bradley signed the letter (sent in Conlan’s official-business envelopes with postage stamps affixed), identifying themselves as the respective chairmen of the 1964 and 1974 Billy Graham crusades in Arizona.
A howl went up from some clergymen over the letter, and the clamor spilled over into the press. Eaton and Bradley explained it was their intent to ask clergymen to solicit support for Conlan from their parishioners privately, not from the pulpit. Some pastors said they saw nothing wrong with the letter.
Conlan filled a number of speaking engagements in churches during the primary campaign. He spoke on the value of a Christian witness in Washington, and he warned his listeners to be on guard against certain legislation and programs that could hurt both the Church and the nation. He made no attempt to enlist congregations to support him, said Sunukjian. If people wanted to help him, they did it on their own, the pastor explained. As for Scottsdale Bible Church, “we stayed out of the campaign,” he added, “and I didn’t tell my congregation who I was voting for.”
EDWARD E. PLOWMAN
Graham: Bright Future
An article in Newsweek this month brought to the surface some long-simmering differences between evangelist Billy Graham and founder-president Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ. The article retraces ground covered earlier by the young-evangelical magazine Sojourners in showing the mutual interest of long-time friends Bright and conservative Republican politician John Conlan (see preceding story) in getting Christians involved in conservative politics (see May 7 issue, page 37).
The article, by Newsweek religion writer Kenneth L. Woodward, goes on to quote Graham as being concerned by “the political direction [Bright] seems to be taking.” It reveals that Graham not only turned down Bright’s invitation to become chairman of the Christian Embassy, a Campus Crusade-related outreach center in Washington, D.C., but also declined to preside over the embassy’s dedication service. The evangelist is quoted, too, as having reservations about Crusade’s “Here’s Life, America” effort to evangelize, the United States this year. Graham indicated he has a stake in what Bright is doing because Crusade “has been using me and my name for twenty years.”
In interviews and on an “Hour of Decision” broadcast, Graham acknowledged that he had been quoted accurately in the article, though “out of context” and with misleading implications. He acknowledged that differences of viewpoint on evangelistic strategy and political involvement indeed do exist but that he and Bright remain close friends.
Months ago, Graham wrote a letter to Bright outlining his concerns and reservations. He sent a copy of the letter to Woodward for private backgrounding. The writer subsequently interviewed Graham and Bright at length. Graham answered questions openly, says Woodward, but Bright denied that any trouble existed beween him and the evangelist.
In the week following publication of the article, Bright spoke at length with Graham. On the broadcast, Graham said no split had occurred between them. He reaffirmed confidence in Crusade’s leadership (a point Bright is trying to communicate to his constituency). “Bill Bright and I are determined not to allow the devil to sow dissension and division among us,” Graham declared. “We believe great victories for Christ will result from our discussions during the past week. We both are still being taught valuable lessons by the Lord.”
FROM HAIR TO ETERNITY
At Bennett’s barber shop in San Bernardino, California, getting a haircut also means hearing some Bible reading, a hymn, or a prayer from the pastor-barbers. “We feel we have a unique and very important ministry here,” says the shop’s operator, pastor Cyrus Alvah Bennett of the Church of the Gospel Ministry. “Many of our customers never darken the doors of a church. We are able to bring the Lord to them as we cut their hair.”
At its 117th annual meeting, the independent Minnesota Baptist Association warned its members against “being deceived” by religious descriptions of political candidates. Candidates’ platforms and lives ought to be examined closely and in the light of Scripture, said the resolution. “Some candidates are using terms such as ‘conservative,’ ‘fundamental,’ and ‘new birth experience,’ ” it stated, but these terms are “used by liberals with a completely different meaning as used by true biblicists in their true historical origin and sense.”
In other actions, the association said women and girls should be encouraged to wear modest dresses rather than pantsuits at all church services, men and boys should be advised that “long hair is an offense to the teaching of God’s Word,” and the charismatic movement, the World Council of Churches, and new versions of the Bible should be opposed.
Church Of God: Growing
More than 15,000 delegates from across the nation and fifty-five foreign countries attended the biennial general assembly of the rapidly growing ninety-year-old Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) in Dallas recently. The church has some 750,000 members (plus a million other adherents) and 11,000 ministers, divided about evenly between North America and overseas. Only the ministers can vote. In business sessions they chose denominational executive Cecil B. Knight to be general overseer, the church’s highest elective post. A strong anti-abortion position was adopted.
Moderator Pieter Swanepoel of the Church of God in South Africa reported that the Angolan civil war generated a religious revival, with more than 3,000 church members meeting for worship in southern Angola. Overseer Ricardo Ramirez of the Church of God in Chile said 80 per cent of recent membership gains there were young people. Churches of 1,500 and 2,000 members respectively were recently established in Valparaiso and Santiago, he reported.
Tiffany of Fifth Avenue in New York a year ago came out with a “limited” edition in jewelry—a “Try God” pin or pendant in silver ($10) or vermeil ($12) “limited to people who believe in God.” The entire proceeds, said the company, would be donated to the Walter Hoving Home in Garrison, New York. The home is described as a non-profit, non-sectarian center for troubled and dope-addicted girls, a place where “after a year’s treatment over 90 per cent are permanently cured by accepting God into their lives.” Forty-two girls can be accommodated at a time.
Walter Hoving, 78, the chairman of Tiffany’s, reports that more than $220,000 has been given to the home so far from retail sales of nearly 30,000 pins and pendants (manufacture and advertising costs are deducted from income). The home gets about $8.50 per sale, estimates Hoving, who attends St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue.
Tiffany’s has also sold 500,000 pieces of the jewelry at cost to other religious groups.
Pruning The Pews
In a rare version of democratic procedures, the 1,500-member Lakeshore Baptist Church of Shreveport, Louisiana, voted to oust from its membership a group allegedly involved in the “shepherding” (or discipleship and submission) movement—and to remove from the rolls anyone voting against the ouster motion. In all, twenty-three were expelled, including six who “voted themselves out of the membership” by voting against the motion to oust the seventeen persons in eight families named, according to Pastor Houston D. Smith. In a letter to members, he threatened to resign if the expulsion action were not taken. He told Shreveport Journal reporter Ed Pettis he had been at the church for three years but “could not pastor a divided church.”
Among those expelled was Morris Smith, “elder” of the group. He was removed as a deacon in January, and he and his wife—members of Lakeshore for fifteen years—were also removed as teachers of a young-adult class. The Smiths say they and others in the church began meeting on Friday nights, first at church, then in homes, for Bible study and prayer because “we were hungry for God’s Word.”
Pastor Smith says that when a group within the church rallies around an elder, a leadership problem is caused, with some following one leader and others following the pastor. A shaky relationship with the group members came apart last year, he said, after he was unable to attend a charismatic shepherding conference with them in Kansas City. “When they returned their attitude was different,” he declared. “They were right and everyone else was wrong.” (Although some in the group practice speaking in tongues, both sides say this was not an issue.)
Mrs. Morris Smith insisted to Baptist Press that no one had ever come to them and told them they had done anything unscriptural.
In a letter to the expelled members following the vote. Pastor Smith explained the action and said “there seemed no other way the harmony could be restored to the fellowship.” He concluded: “We wish you well wherever you may go and do not expect you to return to the Lakeshore Baptist Church.
How To Submit
Several position papers were presented at the recent annual meeting of the General Presbytery of the Assemblies of God, the policy-making body of the almost-six-million-member denomination. Transcendental Meditation was labeled “a treacherous substitute for biblically based experiences in the Holy Spirit.
Approval of a paper on the “discipleship and submission movement” was postponed until October to allow for minor revisions. The paper warns against attaching “unwarranted authority” to the “contemporary spoken word, the rhema,” and giving it equality with the written Word, the logos. A warning was also issued against over-reliance on “undershepherds” and corresponding lack of personal development. The paper sees a lack of democracy and variety and an overemphasis on authority in the movement’s approach to church life. There is too much allegorizing or spiritualizing of Scripture by the movement to support its views of submission to shepherds, the paper alleges.
The statement acknowledges, however, that the movement grew out of real needs for small-group Bible study and fellowship on the part of new believers—needs too often unmet by churches.
Holding Up The Sunday Service
Burglaries of churches and synagogues are on the increase across the nation. Thieves are making off with everything from the contents of poor boxes and literature racks to super-valuable icons and even bronze doors. Since normally there is little cash around churches on week days, some robbers are showing up on Sundays—during the morning service. The thieves hide until everyone leaves, hoping that church officials have left behind the morning offering in a “safe” place. To counter such tactics, a few urban churches post guards, make security checks, and keep doors locked after all the parishioners are in, and many churches insist that the offering be counted and taken to a bank’s after-hours depository immediately after the service.
In a few cases, robbers have come in with the morning-worship crowd, then held up the place, collecting not only the offering but also the wallets and pocket-books of the worshipers.
Such goings on are enough to make any self-respecting, God-fearing clergyman or deacon downright angry. And that’s what happened last month at the Twenty-Fifth Street Church of God in Detroit. A gunman and three accomplices interrupted the sermon of Pastor Stanley Pickard, and they ordered the some sixty parishioners to place their valuables in plastic bags. But Pickard, 40, and several deacons jumped the holdup leader as he approached the pulpit and took away his gun. The 25-year-old robber was so severely beaten by the angry churchmen that the police had to take him to a hospital before booking him. The accomplices, a woman and two youths, escaped with about $385.
After the police took the gunman away Pickard resumed his sermon.
Korea: Cracking Down
Eighteen prominent South Korean religious and political leaders, all Christians, were given stiff prison sentences after being convicted last month of violating a decree banning criticism of President Park Chung Hee and the country’s constitution, revised in 1972 to allow him to be president for life. Thirteen of the eighteen had signed a declaration that was read at a special ecumenical prayer service in Seoul’s Myongdong Catholic cathedral on March 1. It called for the restoration of democracy and for Park’s resignation.
Those jailed included: Presbyterian Yun Po Sun, 79-year-old former president of Korea (eight years in prison); Catholic Kim Dae Jung, 51, opposition leader who narrowly lost to Park in 1972 (eight years); Ham Suk Han, 75, Quaker leader (eight years); clergyman Moon Ik-whan, former professor at Hankuk seminary (eight years); Presbyterian Lee Oo-chung, president of Korean Church Women United (five years); Methodists Lee Tae-yong, the country’s first woman lawyer, and her husband, Chung Il-hyung, 72, a former foreign minister (five years each). Among the others were Catholic priests, former Presbyterian seminary professors, and Protestant pastors. They have been held in solitary confinement since spring, and relatives allege that some have been tortured.
The verdict is “a tragedy, not only for the people involved but for the whole country,” commented Cardinal Stephen Sou Hwan Kim, archbishop of Seoul.
General Secretary Philip A. Potter of the World Council of Churches cabled Park urging him to grant amnesty to the group.
In June, a dozen Christian workers (including several prominent pastors) associated with a Christian self-help organization working in Seoul’s slums were detained in jail, then allegedly beaten before their release a week or so later.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more