It has been nearly four years since the 1974 “Friday morning massacre” that sent James MacCracken and five other veteran National Council of Churches executives packing. MacCracken’s departure was the most dramatic because the agency he headed—Church World Service (CWS)—brought more money than any other to the NCC and also because he was fired in a clear policy disagreement. The Presbyterian layman believed in sending relief goods to the needy without regard to politics, and those who discharged him believed that CWS grants could be used as a lever to help change political situations they did not like. MacCracken said then, “I don’t think a church relief organization, mandated and supported by the people in the pews to feed the hungry, has changing hostile social systems as an integral part of its marching orders.”

CWS has announced no change of policy under its new executive director, Paul F. McCleary, but a highly publicized grain shipment to Viet Nam this month suggested a slackening of zeal for changing political situations—at least in some cases. A ship of Greek registry named the Antiochia sailed from Houston with 10,000 metric tons of wheat that will be distributed by the Marxist government of Viet Nam. The cargo will be accepted officially at the port by the government-sanctioned Committee for Friendship and Solidarity with American People (VIETMY), but the grain will be doled out at the direction of the regime in Hanoi. “Our recent experiences with shipments to Viet Nam show the government is conscientious in handling our foodstuffs,” said a CWS brochure about the project.

Eugene L. Stockwell, the NCC’s associate general secretary for overseas ministries, defended the relief program. He said CWS provides assistance ...

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