A Christian student group at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, used to hold its Saturday night meetings in a campus-owned building. Members of Cornerstone often attracted more than 100 students to the Haig Hall Annex for an informal time of Bible study, prayer, singing, and testimony.
But last December Cornerstone was refused the use of campus facilities, even though it is an officially recognized student group at the university. U.S. District Court Judge William R. Collinson ruled the Cornerstone meetings violated a school policy that prohibits the use of campus facilities for purposes of “religious worship or religious teaching” (Chess v. Widmark). The group now meets in a private house, which, complains one student, is less accessible—being off campus—and in which less than half the attenders can see the speaker.
More is at stake here than the inconvenience of meeting off campus, say Christian legal experts monitoring the case. They see the Chess decision, and a subsequent one involving Christian student groups at Western Washington University in Bellingham as posing serious threats to college campus and high school ministries throughout the United States. “These decisions,” noted the Christian Legal Society (CLS) publication, The Advocate, “have the effect of making Christian student groups second-class citizens with restricted rights to speak and assemble.”
Both decisions are under appeal. Christian student organizations fear the decisions—if allowed to stand—would set unfavorable precedents. Some observers, for instance, blame the Chess ruling for setting a precedent that led to the decision restricting Christian student groups at Western Washington University.
In March, a U.S. District Court in Seattle rejected a suit, filed by students representing several Christian student groups, which challenged Western Washington rules restricting their use of campus meeting rooms. Judge Donald Voorhees ruled that public colleges and universities may not permit “regular use” of campus buildings and facilities for religious purposes; such use would be an “advancement of religion” in violation of constitutional provisions requiring separation of church and state (Dittman v. Western Washington University).
Representatives of the interdenominational Campus Christian Fellowship, and chapters of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship and Campus Crusade for Christ, have appealed the ruling. But presently they are abiding by university rules that limit student groups to no more than two religious meetings in campus facilities per academic quarter. The groups also must pay a fee for such use of campus facilities. (Student groups submit proposals for their programs in advance, so school officials can determine whether these are “religious.”)
(Kansas City lawyer and CLS member James M. Smart, Jr., is handling the appeal of the Chess decision; he expected oral arguments to be docketed late last month in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He noted the appeal will be important in setting a precedent since “there is no case on record involving a federal appeals court that deals precisely with this issue.” Seattle lawyers Robert L. Gunter and William “Skeeter” Ellis, also CLS members, are chief counsel for the appeal of the Western Washington decision.)
Christian groups are protesting a growing number of instances of alleged violations of constitutional rights:
• The Inter-Varsity chapter at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater cannot hold meetings in the student center unless it pays rent, whereas groups such as the Muslim Student Association and a transcendental meditation group escape those restrictions.
• An Albany, New York, case involves the alleged denial of the right of certain Christian students to meet in a high school classroom during their free time for Bible club.
• An Illinois case involves Christian students at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, who say they are being denied the right to live in a Christian house similar to fraternity and sorority houses.
In some cases, students themselves have placed restrictions on Christian groups. The Western Washington student government would have removed the on-campus presence of Christian groups entirely, said Brady Bobbink of the Campus Christian Fellowship, had it not been for lobbying and legal action by Christian students at the school over the last two years. Now, at least, the groups are allowed lounge meetings and small group Bible studies in the dormitories, he said.
The Advocate reported that a student court at the University of Nebraska recently placed on a year’s probation the Baptist Student Union, and IVCF, Campus Crusade, and Navigators chapters, for violating a Board of Regents’ policy prohibiting “testimony in any of its forms.” The groups had cosponsored a campus lecture by apologetics author Josh McDowell, who spoke on factual evidence for Christ’s resurrection. The court defined testimony as “an open public declaration of a personal, religious, or spiritual revelation.”
Trinity Western College: A Matter Of Degrees
Do evangelical colleges deserve academic respectability? British Columbian educators weren’t so sure.
Trinity Western College officials spent much of last summer seeking degree-granting status from the provincial legislature. This recognition was opposed by the province’s Universities Council, by left-leaning spokesmen in the legislature, and by British Columbia’s two largest newspapers.
Universities Council members were concerned over whether a spirit of inquiry could survive in a school whose faculty are required to sign a statement of faith identical to that adopted by the Evangelical Free Church, the denomination that established the college 18 years ago. Other opponents questioned the need for a private liberal arts college and suggested there is insufficient control in British Columbia over the quality of degrees granted by its colleges and universities.
Then education minister Pat McGeer, a de facto member of the province’s academic establishment by virtue of his tenure as a professor and brain researcher at the University of British Columbia Medical School, gave cautious support to Trinity’s quest. The best test of any school’s degree quality is the academic marketplace, he said. McGeer, who obtained one of his two doctorates from privately endowed Princeton University, pointed to the contribution made by private colleges and universities to the American education system.
Eventually the 600-student school, located in Langley, about 20 miles east of Vancouver, won its degree-granting status. The granting of the first baccalaureate degrees—16 bachelors of arts—came in an April 27 ceremony featuring Wheaton (Illinois) Graduate School dean H. Wilbert Norton as commencement speaker.
Trinity officials have obtained a quiet agreement from the province’s two largest universities to recognize Trinity B.A. degrees as their own in teacher-training programs. It is too early to tell how quickly secular graduate schools will accept the new crop of Trinity graduates.
Evangelical liberal arts colleges are rare in the Canadian educational system, which, in recent years, has given obvious preference to publicly supported universities. Toronto’s Richmond College has struggled for years to establish itself, and still has a student body of less than 200. The former Waterloo (Ontario) Lutheran University, renamed Wilfred Laurier and headed until recently by Mennonite Brethren luminary Frank C. Peters, was taken over several years ago by the Ontario provincial government.
Trinity is located in the Fraser Valley, recognized as a Canadian “Bible belt.” That, along with considerable help during the early years from the Free Church’s American constituency, helped to establish Trinity’s independence on the Canadian scene.
President Neil Snider hopes the number of Trinity students will increase to 1,400 within 10 years, with strong business administration, arts and sciences, and, possibly, communications programs. Applications for fall enrollment are double what they were last year at this time.
Some Christian spokesmen blame their on-campus difficulties on opposition from liberals and “secular humanists.” In many instances, however, the schools have acted only to protect themselves from lawsuits from civil liberties groups accusing them of endorsing a certain religious persuasion or of allowing the proselytism of a captive student audience, by allowing the on-campus presence of Christian groups.
Legal questions have focused upon the “free exercise” and “establishment” clauses of the First Amendment, which reads in part: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”
School officials at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, say their ban on religious activities in campus-owned facilities is required by the establishment clause. Judge Collinson upheld that opinion, ruling such use would, in fact, be an unconstitutional establishment of religion. He also rejected the Christian students’ claims that the school policy violated their free exercise of religion. To invoke the free exercise clause, he ruled, the infringed practice must be “one of deep religious conviction, shared by an organized group, and intimately related to daily living.… The facts before this court simply do not establish that the practice of holding religious services in a university-owned building is a matter of deep religious conviction.”
The judge did hold open the possibility that group prayer or Bible study could be conducted by Christians on university sidewalks, streets, or grounds. He partly explained the restrictions on religious groups, saying, “Speech with religious content cannot be treated the same as any other form of speech.…”
A nagging question has been, What exactly constitutes a “religious” program or speech?
When Inter-Varsity students, in cooperation with the Campus Christian Fellowship and Campus Crusade, showed Francis Schaeffer’s five-part film series Whatever Happened to the Human Race? in the university building, school officials determined the first three segments were nonreligious, and the final two religious. The effect was that IVCF used up its allowed two-per-quarter religious programs in campus facilities. It paid a building rental fee just for the last two showings.
The National Council of Churches
Searching for Balance on the Arab-Israeli Question
Major Jewish organizations criticize the National Council of Churches for an alleged “anti-Israel” bias. American Palestinians argue the contrary: that the council has been so sensitive to Jewish lobbyists that it has not explicitly urged diplomatic recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization and has not condemned more strenuously alleged Israeli violations of Palestinians’ human rights. Even NCC member denominations can’t agree on how the NCC should approach the Middle East crisis.
In something of a nonwin situation, the NCC has pushed ahead anyway with a new policy statement on the Middle East. Its carefully selected Middle East Policy Task Force—which includes representatives of both the NCC committees on Christian-Muslim and Christian-Jewish relations—spent two years gathering information. The resulting 26-page policy statement, which is intended to guide the 32 NCC member Protestant and Orthodox bodies “in their relationships with the Middle East,” reflects a consciously balanced approach and is perhaps an indication that NCC officials would prefer not having their valued ecumenical and interfaith relationships parted like the Red Sea by a divisive Middle East debate.
At their spring meeting last month in Indianapolis, not far from the west bank—of the White River—NCC governing board members completed a first reading of the policy statement. The statement speaks broadly to Middle East issues, including U.S. churches’ responsibilities toward Middle East Christians, and toward better relationships between Christians, Jews, and Muslims.
Its section on the Palestine-Israel conflict lists-among prerequisites for resolving the conflict:
• A cessation of violence on both sides.
• The Arab states’ and Palestinian Arabs’ recognition of Israel as a Jewish state with secure, defined, and recognized borders.
• Israel’s recognition of the Palestinian Arabs’ rights to self-determination, election of their own representatives, and establishment of a sovereign state.
The task force will receive suggested changes in the policy statement until September, when it will polish the statement for final board action in the fall. Some board members indicated a desire for more specific references to West Bank and Palestinian issues, such as those embodied in a top-level, fact-finding panel’s report, which the board voted to refer to NCC member bodies for use as a study document.
The panel, which included NCC president William Howard, general secretary Claire Randall, and 18 other NCC staff and denominational leaders, studied only the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Several NCC officials said privately that the fact-finding panel was created so that top-level NCC officials could have a balanced, first-hand understanding of Middle East issues so as to prevent special interest groups and factions from controlling the NCC’s Middle East debate.) The panel met with more than 50 religious and political leaders during a two-week, five-country, Middle East tour, and then met with American Jewish and Palestinian groups prior to drafting its final report.
The report called for the U.S. to engage in “open dialogue” with the PLO—“the only organized voice for the Palestinian people.” (The panel studiously avoided explicit support of U.S. diplomatic recognition of the PLO. The panel also opposed further Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza as an “obstacle to peace,” and supported a continued physically unified Jerusalem, but not necessarily under the “unilateral actions of the occupying power [Israel]”
These portions of the report pleased pro-Palestinian groups; the most outspoken within the NCC was the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese delegation. Because the statement showed “progress,” the delegation tabled for the time being its resolution protesting Israel’s alleged violations of Palestinians’ human rights. The 152,000-member Antiochian church is under the umbrella of Greek Orthodoxy, and a majority of its members are of Arabic descent.
Antiochian delegate Frank Maria of Warner, New Hampshire, opposed policy statement references to Israel as a “Jewish state”—saying this implies a rejection of the rights and existence of Christian and Muslim minorities there. In an interview he said, “The tragedy of Israel is that European refugees [in their objective of founding a Jewish state] found refuge in Palestine by violently displacing Christians and Muslims.”
Rabbi James Rudin, an American Jewish Committee observer since 1971, at governing board meetings commended the panel’s call for the PLO to cease its acts of violence and to reverse its stated opposition to Israeli’s rights to exist and to self-determination as a Jewish state. However, he termed “regrettable” the call for U.S. dialogue with the PLO.
Rudin’s AJC has been more cooperative with the NCC than other Jewish bodies, some of which boycotted the fact-finding panel’s hearings. He said charges of an NCC “anti-Israel bias” derive mainly from a 1978 NCC resolution, which condemned Israel’s armed forays into Lebanon, while not mentioning the PLO terrorist attack that prompted them; and a 1973 resolution calling for a halt to U.S. arms shipments to Israel during the Yom Kippur War.
While the board tackled Middle East issues, it backed off on the Iranian crisis. Mostly because it could not decide how much blame to assess the U.S. for its support of the deposed shah, the board scrubbed all but the last paragraph of a U.S.-Iranian resolution. It decided to create a committee that will explore “possible new initiatives for the churches in this U.S.-Iranian crisis.”
Functioning like a council of diplomats, the board also condemned human rights violations in Guatemala and El Salvador. (General secretary Randall said the meeting’s international focus was a coincidence of the agenda, and not a new NCC foreign affairs thrust.) The board also allowed time for some domestic politicking: it sent a message to the Illinois legislature asking that it adopt the Equal Rights Amendment and urged, among other things, an extension of federal funding for the food stamp program.
If the local news media short-changed the NCC in its coverage, it may have been due to religious news exhaustion. The city had just played host for two weeks to the United Methodist quadrennial conference. Two days prior to the NCC board meeting, TV preacher Jerry Falwell had gathered from two to five thousand followers on the mall of the State Office Building for one of his Moral Majority’s “I Love America” rallies. Evangelist Billy Graham’s 10-day Central Indiana Crusade was in full swing at Market Square Arena.
Falwell scored no points with the NCC by describing it as “more Marxist than Christian” to a local reporter. But Graham, in brief fraternal greetings to the board, won friends and loud applause by praising the NCC’s support for nuclear disarmament. “1 hope we can get to SALT 10, when we can sit down and say let’s destroy all nuclear weapons.” (He told a reporter afterwards that he opposed unilateral disarmament by the U.S.) The evangelist, who had breakfast in Indianapolis with visiting Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, also said he would like to visit NCC headquarters in New York City to talk more about disarmament.
The evangelist reminded the NCC that its founders were evangelists, and that while evangelism is a “small part” of overall church mission, it is an important part. He hoped the NCC would speak to the issue in some way during its three-day session.
PTL and the FCC: They’re Still Sparring
Christian talk show host Jim Bakker may feel like renaming his PTL Club “Pay the Lawyer,” considering an ongoing legal dispute involving his Charlotte, North Carolina—based organization.
For more than a year, the Federal Communications Commission has been investigating reports that Bakker’s PTL Christian Television Network solicited contributions over the air for specific overseas missionary projects, but then used the money to pay bills and to finance other domestic projects. The Charlotte Observer originally published the reports, and PTL since has publicly responded that its missions obligations have been met.
Answering a subpoena, Bakker testified last November for nine days in Washington, D. C., before the FCC administrative law judge. (Earlier PTL complied with a previous subpoena to supply books, records, videotapes, and other papers.) While he was on the witness stand, the judge served him with yet another subpoena to testify and to supply more financial records. But this time, Bakker and his attorneys refused to comply. The Justice Department then brought suit to force Bakker to comply with the subpoena, and Bakker’s attorneys filed a counter suit asking that the Washington litigation be transferred to Charlotte, if not dropped.
In April, the FCC-PTL deadlock broke when PTL agreed to turn over the requested documents in exchange for an agreement whereby Bakker would not be compromising his constitutional rights in doing so. PTL attorney John Midlen, Jr., said the agreement means that PTL “can go back into court and assert that this information is protected by the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion if we think the commission goes too far.” (Bakker was scheduled to testify in Washington May 20.)
New York City lawyer Lawrence Bernstein, representing the FCC, said in a telephone interview, however, that the FCC “never suggested” PTL would waive any of its constitutional rights by supplying the documents, and that the FCC should have been given the documents—without all the legal jostling—as long ago as January.
The First Amendment issue is one of several separating the FCC and PTL. Though PTL has supplied the documents, spokesperson Emily Walker said, “We still believe it to be an unconstitutional investigation—that it violates our First Amendment rights.”
PTL officials regard their television program as part of church ministry, and, as Walker stated in an interview, “We don’t think the federal government has any right interfering in the affairs of the church.”
In fact, PTL is incorporated as the Heritage Village Church and Missionary Fellowship, with Bakker as president and board chairman of the Charlotte-based corporation. Walker said the PTL Club is the “evangelism outreach” of Heritage Village Church, which is located on the organization’s 25-acre Heritage Village in Charlotte.
Walker said the organization functions in almost every respect as a church, even though it lacks a traditional congregation—having, among other things, a doctrinal statement, a board of elders, and two daily Bible teaching seminars and a Sunday afternoon worship service.
PTL would be setting a bad precedent that would open up other churches to FCC harassment, if it did not take steps to protect its First Amendment rights, said Walker. She said the FCC has never filed formal charges against PTL, and that its continuing investigation constitutes “harassment.”
FCC attorney Bernstein’s position is that “nothing in this inquiry gets in the way of religious belief. But actions of a religious organization, if they are fraudulent or otherwise illegal, are perfectly appropriate for government scrutiny.”
Some have questioned whether the FCC has the legal right to investigate. PTL attorney Midlen believes the FCC has no expressed policy against a broadcaster raising funds for one purpose and using them for another. Bernstein called that interpretation “arguable.” He said the FCC does have a public interest policy in which “there would be a very strong question as to whether a station licensee was operating in the public interest by raising money for one purpose and spending it for another.”
Bernstein noted that PTL might be completely exonerated in the investigation. But other FCC options include issuing a written reprimand, recommending a license renewal hearing for the only PTL-owned television station, WJAN-TV in Canton, Ohio. (Any FCC fines, damages, or license suspensions issued can be levied only against stations—thus WJAN-TV has been specifically named in the FCC investigation.) If the FCC finds evidence of fraud, it could press criminal charges, resulting in fines or imprisonment.
Several former PTL officials told the Wall Street Journal that PTL only appeared to use missions funds to pay internal debts. They said the organization kept only a single checking account in order to keep enough money in one place to cover its checks for payments.
Many of PTL’s financial difficulties came with construction of an unfinished $100 million headquarters and educational complex, the Total Living Center, across the state line from Charlotte in York County, South Carolina. Construction on the 1,400 acres progresses whenever funds are available.
The investigation reportedly has spawned thousands of protest letters to the FCC. Walker had issued a public statement that the network spent more than $4 million on foreign missions projects since 1977.
But regardless of the outcome, PTL officials worry the inquiry will damage the network’s already shaky public image. Some PTL officials have expressed concern about possible cancellations of the PTL Club by the 200 television stations now carrying the program.
Churches Help Absorb New Wave of Refugees
Cuban refugees are flooding south Florida at the rate of 2,000 a day and Haitians are sailing for the same haven at half that rate, fleeing economic and political oppression.
In some ways it has been easy for the churches of the area to gear up to make short-term provision for food, clothing, and shelter for the newcomers. After all, the 135 Catholic parishes and 2,500 Protestant congregations in eight counties have been taking care of waves of refugees from the Caribbean ever since the mass Cuban exodus began in 1960.
Donald Hohl, representative of the U.S. Catholic Conference’s Immigration and Refugee Service, said that in the last 20 years his agency, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Church World Service (CWS), and the Hebrew International Aid Society (HIAS) alone have resettled 600,000 Cubans.
He said the USCC is prepared to resettle 500 Cuban refugees a day at each of the centers in which they now are being held: Miami; Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Waldon Beach, Florida; and Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.
About 65 percent of all the most recent Cuban refugees—expected to number 60,000 by the end of May and eventually as many as 250,000—are being handled by the Catholic agency. More than 80 percent of all Cubans are at least nominally Catholic. Refugees choose the agency with which they want to work.
Another 20 percent of the refugees are resettled by the IRC and most of the others are cared for by CWS. When HIAS dropped out of the process, the Lutheran Immigration and Relief Service stepped in to fill the vacancy.
Protestant churches, though, have been the most involved in helping the Cubans get out of their Communist-controlled homeland. The Episcopal Church, through its Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief, spent $44,500 to finance seven flights, used to airlift some 800 former political prisoners.
The Florida conference of the United Methodist Church spent $13,000 for two flights, which brought in 229 Cuban refugees, and the United Methodist Church contributed $30,000 toward six more flights sponsored through Church World Service.
The 38 Latin Baptist churches in Dade and Broward counties collected a special offering of $15,000 to pay for two flights, which brought 230 former political prisoners out of Cuba. The Miami Baptist Association also offered the use of its Cool Pines Camp to house and feed refugees.
The Protestant churches have organized a refugee task force through the Christian Community Service Agency to work on long-term resettlement aid for the refugees.
It is the CCSA, Church Women United, and Church World Service that have cared for the Haitians—not accorded the same refugee status as the Cubans by the U.S. government. The Haitians cannot be settled anywhere outside the Miami area until their status is clarified. The National Council of Churches has filed a suit, seeking to force the government—which maintains the Haitians are not political refugees—to give the black Haitians equality with the Cubans, most of whom are white.
New Life, U.S.A.
One Church’s Contribution to Refugee Resettlement
About 30 Laotian Hmong refugees arrived in March at a “boot camp” in the wheatfields of central Oregon. They came knowing nothing about survival in American society; they expect to leave after three to six months with a working knowledge of English, and with a sponsoring family, job, and some furniture, clothing, and savings to help them get started.
The unique resettlement project, billed appropriately “New Life, U.S.A.,” resulted from the efforts of a single, local church congregation: Easthill Church in the suburban Portland city of Gresham. This Foursquare church hopes by next fall to bring 200 to 300 more Hmong into the project—which may make it the largest of its kind in the country.
The refugees’ temporary home is an abandoned Air Force radar station, located some five miles north of Condon, Oregon (about 150 miles southeast of Portland). Owner Paul Vaden of Arlington reportedly had considered selling the 68-acre property to Hare Krishna or Unification Church groups. But after Christians in Condon protested such a sale, Vaden reconsidered and, according to Bud Buse, an assistant administrator for the project, decided instead to sell the $1 million property to Easthill Church.
The church then had to come up with a $10,000 down payment. “We didn’t have the $10,000 when we first started.” said Buse. “Jerry Cook [Easthill’s pastor] announced one Sunday we were buying the camp, and $10,000 was collected right there.”
As the project became better known, financial and material assistance poured in from churches across Oregon and other parts of the country. Some congregations “sponsored” a house: there were 27 at the base to paint, refurbish, and outfit with household goods. A Roseburg rancher donated 15 to 20 head of cattle. A wholesaler of frozen chickens donated over a ton of frozen chicken and turkey rolls.
“The Lord always provides,” said Buse. “It sometimes brings tears to men’s eyes to see how he does it.”
Vaden chopped $ 150,000 off his $1 million asking price as his contribution to the project. The church still is paying off the $850,000 balance, and its operating expenses are $15,000 monthly ($300 per person). New Life’s 14 American staff members are mostly Easthill members who gave up better-paying jobs and careers to move to Condon and to earn $600 per month salaries.
Don Jones, a former junior high school principal in Portland, supervises a base school, where “survival level” English classes are offered to everyone. The refugees also learn math and elementary but essential things like learning to tell time, use money, and give basic greetings. “Some have no education,” Jones explained. “You have to start from scratch. One 33-year-old man never held a pencil before.”
Military and recreational facilities at the base are being converted to other uses. A former fallout shelter is being transformed into a profit-making mushroom factory; the proceeds will go into a general savings account for the refugees. A chicken house also is planned.
Existing buildings have been converted to carpentry and automotive shops where refugees are being taught marketable skills. Tektronix, a large Portland-area electronics firm, and a number of local wheat farmers have promised to employ some of the New Life “graduates.”
The refugees seem to feel at ease with their American hosts. The Laotians often troop into the Buse home to borrow the telephone, and Buse and his wife Margaret play with the Hmong youngsters as they would their own grandchildren. The refugees seem to have adapted to the central Oregon climate—which can become quite cold in winter.
The resettlement venture is not untypical of Easthill. The church grew from 23 members in 1965 into one of the largest in the state, averaging 5,500 Sunday worshipers. Jerry Cook, 41, a Fuller Seminary graduate whose first and only pastorate has been Easthill, heads a pastoral staff of 14.
While the church spent close to $900,000 last year to build a new sanctuary, it also has invested time and money in Portland-area ministries, including counseling in prisons and juvenile detention centers, evangelistic street teams, and daily radio programs.
Despite the church’s size and seeming wealth, officials say the refugee project has depended on faith and financial help from outside their church. “Our needs are met on a daily basis here,” said Buse. “The money doesn’t come from an Easthill bank account—just from the hearts of God’s people.”
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