The soft-spoken, scholarly clergyman Victory Maxime Rafransoa of Madagascar will replace the flamboyant and controversial Liberian Anglican priest Canon Burgess Carr this month as the general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC). Carr’s departure marks an end to the leadership crisis that has threatened the very life of an organization that claims to speak for more than 50 million African Christians. The crisis came to a head in November 1977, when Canon Carr—who for several years had been on a collision course with his largely evangelical, church-growth-oriented constituency—was forced to take a three-year leave of absence.

Carr claimed he had so fallen out with the Kenya government that it was no longer possible for him to operate effectively from Nairobi, where the AACC’S headquarters are located. Clearly Carr’s radical, wide-ranging, left-leaning, and well-publicized political pronouncements were out of tune with moderate, pro-Western policies of the Kenyatta administration.

But disagreements with the Kenya government were only a minor headache for Canon Carr. He also had disagreements with AACC senior staff members, who accused him of being intolerant of those holding different viewpoints, and with donor agencies, which cut off much-needed funds. Carr’s most serious problem was his failure to establish working relationships with grassroots leaders of the African church, most of whom felt Carr’s agenda was drawn up by militant political groups in New York, Paris, and London. They believed he had strained relations between African and overseas churches by taking radical positions on issues extraneous to the life, growth, and basic mission of the church in Africa.

For this reason the change of leadership at AACC may go beyond the usual difference in personal style and vocabulary and mark a significant new change of direction for the ecumenical movement in Africa.

As soon as he arrived at AACC headquarters in Nairobi in March 1971, Canon Carr, then only 37 years old, quickly became the unchallenged spokesman for Africa’s mainstream Protestant Christianity. In many ways he also became one of the most significant critics (certainly the most vocal and eloquent) of Africa’s many political failings and a disturbing voice of conscience for the continent. He took the Kenyan capital by storm with his charisma, oratory, and clear vision of a peaceful, prosperous, and powerful political kingdom of Africa just around the corner.

Carr’s personal faith in, and commitment to, this new kingdom seemed remarkable. During the Katanga war in the early sixties, he cut short his doctoral studies (in theology) at Harvard to join the Africa desk at the World Council of Churches in the hope that he might be of “some help in resolving the conflict.”

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As soon as he arrived in Geneva, the civil war in Nigeria also broke out and Carr was assigned the task of organizing relief supplies for the victims of the conflict. But relief was not enough, Carr felt; he wanted peace. Working behind the scenes in conjunction with the late president of Liberia, William Tolbert, then president of the Baptist World Assembly; the former chairman of the Anglican Consultative Committee, Luis Mbanefo of Nigeria; and the current chairman of the AACC, John Gatu, of Kenya; Carr helped devise the peace formula and initiate the moves that eventually led to the peaceful settlement of the conflict. This effort brought Carr to the attention of African leaders and paved his way to the AACC’s top post.

Within a year of his arrival in Nairobi, Carr became cochairman (with the late Haile Selassie of Ethiopia) of the conference in Addis Ababa that led to the peaceful settlement of the Anyanya rebellion in the Sudan. This brought the country’s Arab Muslim north and black Christian south into one government under General Ga’afar Nimeiri. It was a master stroke, which brought to one conference table monarchists, guerrillas, generals, Marxists, conservative Muslims, Christian clergy, devout capitalists, and others to work out a constitution for this country of diverse interests and peoples. Also that year the AACC was accorded observer status in the Organization of African Unity and a top leadership role on its refugee subcommittee. The AACC had received extremely high visibility in Africa’s political circles.

A similar visibility on the worldwide ecumenical stage started in Bangkok, Thailand, at the WCC Commission on World Mission and Evangelism’s Conference on Salvation Today in December 1972. Third World issues dominated that conference, with Latin Americans introducing their liberation theology and Asians their concern for dialogue with people of other faiths and ideologies. But the related and sensational issues of racism, identity, and selfhood of the church, and the moratorium on foreign missionaries and funds, were brought out dramatically and argued most forcefully by African delegates led by Carr.

Thirty-six months later, in 1975, the World Council of Churches’ Fifth Assembly, originally scheduled for Djakarta, Indonesia, took place in Nairobi, a block away from AACC headquarters. The change of venue from Djakarta was a matter of delicate international negotiation, but the choice of Nairobi was a foregone conclusion—Africa, the AACC, and Burgess Carr, had moved to center stage of the ecumenical movement. Carr mounted a spirited but unsuccessful campaign to have the assembly symbol “Africanized.”

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Yet Carr’s performance at the WCC’S Nairobi Assembly was less than impressive. Fifteen months earlier he made a serious mistake. Against advice, and in his anxiety to promote one of the WCC’S most controversial programs—the Program to Combat Racism—Carr decided to stage the Third AACC Assembly in Lusaka. Zambia. He meant to call into dramatic relief the southern African issues. It was courageous, but perhaps an uncharacteristically undiplomatic move by Carr. Without realizing it, he overconfidently became the lonely crusader—admired but unsupported.

And so in Nairobi, instead of being regarded as the host and natural leader of the Fifth Assembly, Carr became the respected leader of a small minority faction. He was politely applauded, and quickly ignored, committed to long-term goals but unable to build a bridge between the present and the future, a leader without a following.

Before Lusaka, Carr had built an image of the assembly as the supreme ruling body for the AACC and the voice of the African church. Afterward, back at AACC headquarters. Carr began to scale down the significance of AACC assemblies. They do not legislate, but only have the “moral force of consensus,” he grudgingly admitted. The most startling discovery at Lusaka about African churches, Carr said, “was the awareness of their own need for liberation.”

Not everyone agreed. Many leaders began to question the trend of identifying the AACC’s purposes, activities, and life with purely secular ends.

On at least two issues. Carr came out in open conflict with the Lusaka assembly: the missionary moratorium and use of violence. Embarrassed by publicity given to isolated calls for “a moratorium on foreign funds and personnel,” African church leaders sought to have the issue explained. They wanted to clear the air and reestablish appropriate relations with partners overseas.

The assembly did reaffirm the call for a moratorium, but explained that it was not a general call for every church and every situation. It was intended to enable the churches to discover an authentic form of African Christianity, and to encourage African churches away from dependent attitudes. The call also was meant to help African churches establish their own priorities, to become themselves missionary churches, and to enable traditionally missionary-sending churches in other countries to reexamine their future partnership with other churches.

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But for Carr the moratorium meant a lot more. Early in 1976, expanding on the moratorium theme, he called for “an African Jesus.” “We have had a British Jesus on our backs for so long that it is only within this context of the search for our [African] Jesus that personnel and finances from overseas churches come under scrutiny.”

The second contentious issue was the legitimacy of the church’s support for using violence to settle human conflicts. African church leaders who related the issue directly to the armed struggle in southern Africa against armed and violently oppressive racism found it agonizing. But the churches wanted to see beyond the conflict and suggested a conference the following year on “liberation and reconciliation” in Botswana. The Christian Council of Tanzania later that year declared that the churches’ role in human conflicts was to work for reconciliation and peace. For Carr, however, the southern African situation called for “passing on the aid to the fighting boys.” The Botswana meeting was postponed twice and then called off.

Carr’s ruthless eloquence and powerful arguments could not be contradicted with similar style and in similar forums. Foreign churches were cowed into worried silence, while the local churches were cornered into self-defense. But silence did not mean consent. Carr had ambitious and expensive programs and projects to finance, including a headquarters building in Nairobi. He needed the support of everyone. Without foreign support, money soon ran out for Carr, and without local support, he lost his base of authority. Carr was unable to manage the organization he so carefully built in his own image. He had lost his backing.

New general secretary “Max” Rafransoa. 46, is unlikely to fall into the same trap, if only because he knows it’s there. He is a more seasoned administrator who has held responsible posts at grassroots and international levels. He did not go to Geneva straight from school; he presided over his local synod for three years, then moved to the National Christian Council of Madagascar as director of lay training programs. From 1970–73 he taught sociology and social economics at the University of Madagascar. For another three years he was Africa regional consultant for the Food and Agricultural Organization. In that role and as Africa secretary of the WCC Commission on Inter-Church Aid, Refugee and World Service, he traveled widely throughout black Africa.

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Rafransoa’s impressive educational background includes doctorates in the social sciences as well as in theology from the University of Geneva. In his native Madagascar Protestants constitute a small, struggling, but highly visible minority.

Rafransoa also has the time to shape the agenda for the next AACC assembly in Nairobi late this year at a time when the AACC headquarters building—whose construction has been stopped for lack of funds—should have been completed.

The Nairobi assembly may mark the rebirth of the AACC. The assembly preparatory committee, formed two years ago, is headed by Bolaji Idowu, patriarch of the Methodist Church of Nigeria.

South Africa
Buti Abandons The Council Of Churches Chair

Sam Buti has resigned as president of the South African Council of Churches (SACC). Buti, a well-known black community leader, said he has too many other commitments. Minister of a congregation with more than 600 members, Buti is also chairman of the Alexandra Liaison Committee, involved with renovating and modernizing the Johannesburg township of that name.

Buti remains a member of the SACC executive committee, and continues as scribe (secretary) of the black Dutch Reformed Church in Africa, which has approximtely one million members. During the past few years Buti played an important role in attempts to bring about greater unity between the white Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) and its so-called daughter churches—black, colored (mixed race), and Indian. Being also an executive member of the Broederkring, a fraternity of mainly black and brown DRC ministers, Buti tried to bring about change in the DRC structures.

After his resignation as SACC president, Buti denied press speculation that he had resigned because of his disillusionment with the dialogue between the SACC and the South African government. A few months ago Buti led an SACC delegation in a meeting with Prime Minister Pieter Botha. A second round of talks on the government’s internal policies was supposed to occur before the end of 1980.


The Soviet Union
Clerical Training Leash Is Loosened Ever So Slightly

Last fall’s opening of academic classes in Soviet theological schools merited attention from TASS, the official Soviet news agency. In an interview with a TASS correspondent. Metropolitan Aleksii of Tallinn and Estonia announced an increase in the number of students at the Russian Orthodox Church’s three seminaries in Zagorsk (a Moscow suburb). Leningrad, and Odessa. He said the first-year course was so full that two parallel classes were established.

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TASS stated that the two Roman Catholic seminaries in the Baltic increased their student numbers, too. It also mentioned the Bible course of the Evangelical Christians and Baptists and the Imam al Buhari Higher Islamic Institute in Tashkent.

The TASS report indicated that all churches and religious organizations in the USSR have theological schools. That statement concealed wide differences in the nature of the courses and the adequacy of facilities to provide sufficient new clergy.

Not all religious bodies are able to provide full-time residential training; generally, this is not because they lack the desire to do so. In particular, the Evangelical Christians and Baptists have pressed for establishment of a Bible school in Moscow to replace or augment their existing Bible correspondence course. The Baptist World Alliance has offered financial assistance, and the project is spoken of by Soviet Baptist leaders as though it is about to begin, but there are no tangible signs of progress.

Meanwhile, the correspondence course is being changed from a two-year to a three-year program. Students now are inducted every year, instead of every other year. The maximum number of students is 200. These courses are the only ones available for all Protestant Christians, and some of the students accepted have come from churches not affiliated with the official All-Union Council: autonomous Pentecostal, Mennonite, and independent Baptist churches. Estonian Methodists also made inquiry.

The Russian Orthodox Church offers the largest number of courses. In addition to the three seminaries, there are also theological academies at Leningrad and Zagorsk. These institutions have more than 800 full-time students in three-year courses. There is also a four-year correspondence course with another 800 students enrolled. These students are largely priests and deacons who were ordained in the past, without any formal theological training, to compensate for the shortage of graduates from the seminaries.

The present output of the seminaries should suffice eventually to maintain the Russian Orthodox priesthood at its present level, but, since the age structure of the priesthood has been distorted by past limits on the seminaries, the number of active priests may continue to decline for some time.

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The Georgian and Armenian churches both have small seminaries that seem adequate to fill vacancies in the limited number of parishes.

The Catholic Church’s situation is more critical. Seminaries in Kaunas, Lithuania, and Riga, Latvia, are limited to a few dozen students each. The church in Lithuania has about 700 priests, a very high proportion of them elderly; each year more priests die than are consecrated. Recently a number of priests who had not graduated from seminary were consecrated unofficially. The Riga seminary is better able to meet the needs of the Latvian Catholic parishes, but must also try to provide priests for the diaspora Catholic community in the rest of the Soviet Union.


Sexuality Controversies
British Council Report Appears To ‘Update’ Bible

A report described as one of the most radical on the subject of sexuality has been welcomed by the British Council of Churches. Produced by a 15-member working group under chairman Basil Moss, provost of Birmingham Cathedral, God’s Yes to Sexuality is offered as a “document for discussion.” Aiming to be positive and relevant, the report also leads to reservations about the Bible because it contains negative features and reflects attitudes of a bygone age. In the expression of human sexuality, according to the report, heterosexual and homosexual relationships are dealt with on the same footing.

One section of the report says: “Today wives or husbands can feel themselves seriously threatened in their selfhood and their mutuality by their partner’s devotion to work and career, or to an all-consuming passion for sport or hobby; by their intense involvement with the rest of the family or in friendships in which the partner is excluded, even by their absorption in work for the Church. By comparison their partner’s involvement in brief sexual relationships with someone else may be felt to strike less deeply at their marriage commitment.”

There was evidently some disagreement within the group. When the matter was discussed at the BCC assembly, moreover, the archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, did not take part in the discussion. He had been expected to write the preface to the published report, but this did not appear.

Just as curious was the absence of any evangelicals on the task force. Provost Moss explained that none had been appointed by member churches. “When we came together we discovered there were no evangelicals included. But no one on the working group was concerned, or felt the need for a member of that group to be there. So we went ahead.”

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The Redemption Council Emits Bellicose Sounds

Liberia’s vice—head of state and cochairman of the ruling People’s Redemption Council, Major General Thomas Weh Syen, recently accused the churches of Liberia of not playing their full role in the Liberian revolution. He said clergymen were trying to keep the masses from crying for better living conditions.

Speaking at the annual commencement program of the Monrovia Bible Institute, Weh Syen admonished the churches to help build a society that will close the gap between the haves and the have nots; a society in which discipline and fair play will be the order of the day.

“Churches have done much over the years, but they should not befriend the oppressors and suppressors of our land,” Weh Syen declared. He said that acts contrary to the revolution will not be permitted from the church.

These remarks followed a national television report of a Weh Syen message to missionaries:

“Based on what he called reports of missionaries’ efforts to sabotage the Liberian Revolution through all sorts of maneuverings, the general warned those involved to halt the staging of secret meetings or face the full penalty of the law. Speaking in a news interview … the vice—`head of state stated that despite Liberia’s long history as a Christian country, its people had suffered because of the sins of those who should have served as Christian examples. He also said that although the PRC government had continued to uphold the rights of people to profess their beliefs, the government would not sit idle while its positive intentions are tarnished by those he called foreign missionaries who collaborated with the former administration. He then noted, however, that the PRC government will continue to ask God to guide this country and its people.”

The particular missionary group that had been holding “secret meetings” in order “to sabotage the Liberian revolution” was not named. However, the late William R. Tolbert was not only head of state, but also president of the Liberia Baptist Convention, and since it was Tolbert who earlier had invited Southern Baptist missionaries into Liberia, some observers conjectured they (Baptists) were the group suspected of maneuvering to tarnish Samuel Doe’s regime.

According to Southern Baptist Mission representatives in Monrovia, the mission executive committee had met the day prior to Weh Syen’s news release. A spokesman for the mission said that nothing subversive—only routine business—was discussed at the meeting.

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World Scene

French scientists are beginning to question evolution. Two books just published in Paris by Robert Clarke and Pierre Grasse ask basic questions. Clarke’s Naissance de l’Homme (“The Birth of Man”) asks how a series of unpredictable mutations could by lucky chance produce the complex universe. In L’Homme an Accusation (“Man on Trial”), zoologist Grasse asserts that present theories of evolution lack substantiation. Previously a neo-Darwinian, Grasse concluded that there was no bridge between the “naked ape” and man, and branded mere theory what he said facts refuse to support. He bluntly stated that researchers really know nothing yet.

The Church of England has appointed an advocate of homosexual equality to a key post on its board of education. Board members first learned about the board chairman’s appointment of Kennedy Thom, 51, through a magazine report. Clergyman Thom is a member of the Gay Christian Movement, and was at one time its secretary. He becomes the church’s chaplaincies officer, and has said he will not publicly push his controversial views.

Scottish Episcopalians followed the precedent of the U.S. Episcopal church in voting to permit remarriage in church of divorced persons. Anglicans elsewhere in Great Britain prohibit remarriage in the church.

France is opening another drive on its entrenched alcoholism problem. Last month the government announced a 10-year plan to combat it. The wide-ranging program will use hefty increases in wine and liquor taxes to raise the price of drinking and to finance an education campaign on the dangers of excessive drinking. The powerful lobby behind France’s government-subsidized vineyard growers can be expected to exert enormous pressure against any contemplated legislation. French per capita consumption is twice as high as in the U.S., and authorities estimate that of France’s 53.6 million people, 2 million are alcoholics, and another 3 million are hard drinkers.

Soviet press denunciations of Gleb Yakunin, an imprisoned Orthodox priest and founder of the Christian Committee for the Defense of Believers in the USSR, produced an unintended effect. Patricia Blake reports in Time magazine that some 250 people from all over the Soviet Union applied for membership in the committee.

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A Bible-translating group just finished a New Testament in the language of the Soviet Union’s 3.5 million Georgians. The Stockholm, Sweden—based Institute for Bible Translation published the first translation for the Soviet Republic of Georgia since the eleventh-century Georgian Orthodox translation. The IBS is focusing its efforts on an immense task: translating and printing Scriptures for non-Slavic peoples in the Soviet Union. No part of the Bible has been translated into 90 (all non-Slavic) of the 127 main languages in the Soviet Union. Slavic peoples (Russians, White Russians, and Ukrainians) comprise about three-fourths of the population, while the remaining 73 million Soviet citizens are divided among the many minority groups, whose members often are Muslim and don’t speak Russian.

Nepal’s largest-ever church crowd gathered last October to boost the Bible. More than 1,000—believers from six churches plus curious non-Christians—met for a joint worship service at the Kathmandu Rotary Club. Afterward, $475 was raised for the Bible society at a fair, through games and the sale of donated food and clothing. Literacy—especially for women—is still low in Nepal, and there are only two Christian bookstores in the country, whose estimated population is 14 million.

Hong Kong Anglicans will soon have their first Chinese bishop. The synod elected Canon Peter K. K. Kwong last month to succeed Bishop Gilbert Baker, who will retire this year at the age of 70.

The first new translation of the Bible into Chinese in 60 years was completed recently by the United Bible Societies. The “common language” Today’s Chinese Version was an eight-year translation project. Linguist Moses Hsu reported that “A dedication service for the new Bible in Taiwan resulted in a complete sell-out of the 700 Bibles on hand in 10 minutes. Some 40,000 Bibles printed in Singapore have been shipped to different areas of the world.”

The Jesus Korea Holiness Church has become officially related to the Christian and Missionary Alliance. The South Korean denomination has 78 congregations and its own seminary. Alliance Theological Seminary director Wendell Price reported after a visit to the churches that the leadership is spiritually mature, the membership is zealous and untiring. He viewed the new relationship with “nothing but positive expectation.”

Adherents of Soka Gokkai in Japan are dwindling. This offshoot of Buddhism grew from a tiny following after World War II to 6 million in the early 1970s. But now, in the aftermath of the airing of dirty linen of the group—which, ironically, had established its own political party under the name, Komei (“Clean Government”) Party—membership has plummeted to about 3.5 million. Charges being aired, and denied, by Soka Gokkai, or “Value-Creating Society,” include stealing voter registration forms to increase ballots cast for Komei candidates, misappropriation of funds, and sexual misconduct by leader Daisaku Ikeda, 52, president of the lay sect from 1960 until his ouster in 1979. The Soka Gakkai executive board has admitted paying one former official $1.4 million in extortion money.

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Fundamentalist Preacher And Editor John R. Rice Dies

John R. Rice, one of the better-known, old-time fundamentalist evangelists, and editor of the weekly newspaper, Sword of the Lord, died December 29 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He had suffered a brain hemorrhage 12 days before and had been in a coma since.

Rice, 85, had slowed considerably after a heart attack in 1978, and he had been concentrating on two goals: finishing a study Bible and raising the circulation of his newspaper to a half-million. He accomplished the first goal; the Rice Study Bible was to be published this month by Thomas Nelson. The second goal he did not; the newspaper, which he started in 1934, has a circulation of 150,000.

Rice was known as an evangelist with a keen hunger for saving souls and preaching the gospel. He was never shy about branding apostasy wherever he thought he found it, and often he believed that was among many who were leaving the right-wing fundamentalism of his day. His well-known “Sword Conferences,” held around the country, emphasized revival and soul winning; some of them drew as many as 5,000 attenders. In 1959 he began the “Voice of Revival,” a radio program heard weekly on 69 stations in 29 states, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.

The tributes to him were many. “I think that Dr. Rice has been the titular head of fundamentalism, and with his passing we have the end of an era,” said evangelist Jerry Falwell in an interview. “I remember when very few churches were baptizing as many as 200 people annually. He set that goal before us some years ago and now the number of churches baptizing 200 a year are beyond computation.”

Falwell recalled that 20 years ago as a young pastor in Lynchburg, Virginia, he attended a Sunday afternoon service Rice was conducting in central Virginia on the subject of soul winning. “God spoke to my heart at this meeting,” he said. “Although we were already a fundamental, evangelistic church, my whole ministry was revolutionized during the service. He spoke on Luke 19:10, ‘For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost,’ and he pointed out that this was the primary ministry of the local church. He spoke in such a way that my attention was committed to soul winning in a way that it had never been before.”

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Falwell said that apart from the Bible, Rice’s numerous books and pamphlets have been the writings most influential on his life.

Cliff Barrows, of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, said, “We are grateful for the heritage and the legacy of John R. Rice. With his passion for souls, his emphasis on prayer, and his evangelism, he has been a great encouragement to us, and these areas are still our main emphases.” In past years, Graham has felt Rice’s wrath for association during his crusades with those of less than pure fundamentalist doctrine. Barrows remembered Rice warmly, however, for his cooperation during a Graham crusade in Scotland in 1955, when Rice came as an observer and lent the weight of his reputation to the fledgling Graham organization at a time when it was being criticized on several fronts. Barrows said, “He observed, he prayed with us, he spoke at our ministers’ meeting, and the very fact that he would come, representing the older school of evangelism, was a great encouragement to us. In his personal relationships with us he was always a man of gentle heart and nature, and through the years we have esteemed him highly.” Graham learned of Rice’s illness just before leaving for Europe, and he telephoned the family.

Church historian Earl Cairns said Rice was extremely earnest in his evangelism. “A lot of people thought he was a crusty old customer and was ’way out in left field, but he raised one of the finest families in this whole area,” he said. Cairns lives in Wheaton, where Rice lived from 1943 until he moved to Murfreesboro in 1960. Cairns said, “I had several of his children in class [at Wheaton College]. They were extremely bright and able, and yet they were completely true to what they thought was the right thing.” Cairns said Rice was an evangelist who felt free to blast whatever he felt wasn’t biblically sound, but he also said Rice’s criticisms didn’t have much impact outside his own fundamentalist constituency.

“He was a watchdog,” recalled Samuel J. Schultz, a retired professor at Wheaton College. “He came from the school of evangelism as it was practiced in the ’30s and ’40s, but he had too many legalisms, such as bobbed hair. To him, bobbed hair was a sign of worldliness.” Schultz also singled out Rice’s children as among the brightest of his students at Wheaton College. He recalled that none of the girls had bobbed hair.

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Rice is survived by his wife, 6 daughters, 28 grandchildren, and 8 great grandchildren.

During his last few years Rice developed conferences for women, called Ladies’ Jubilees, during which most or all of his daughters would speak. He believed that ministries to women were lacking in many churches.

He graduated from Baylor University and taught and coached football at Wayland Baptist College in Texas, before doing graduate work at Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth and the University of Chicago. His degrees include honorary doctorates from Los Angeles Baptist Theological Seminary and Bob Jones University. Rice pastored Baptist churches in Shamrock, Texas, and in Dallas before he entered full-time evangelism in 1940.

A funeral service was held December 31 at the Franklin Road Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, during which numerous fundamentalist leaders paid tribute, including Falwell and Jack Hyles, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana.


North America Scene

Prominent Plymouth Brethren leaders called for renewal in their movement in a recent issue of the Brethren-related magazine, Interest. Fourteen lay and clergy leaders cited serious membership declines (now about 80,000 members nationwide), and complained of a lack of spiritual commitment and strong leadership in the lay movement (without clergy). Plymouth Brethren historically have played a leading role in missions and evangelical endeavors.

A book questioning the basis of evangelicals’ view of scriptural inerrancy placed first in Eternity magazine’s annual Book of the Year poll. Coauthors Jack Rogers and Donald McKim, in their book The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible (Harper & Row), argue that today’s proinerrancy position is not the historical one of the church. Interestingly, the poll’s fourth-place winner, J. I. Packer’s God Has Spoken (InterVarsity), supports inerrancy. The 200 or so reviewers vote on books they deem “most significant” for the magazine’s readers.

A highlight for 1980 was seeing a vision of a 900-foot Jesus, said evangelist Oral Roberts in his year-end radio broadcast. Roberts said Christ stood half again as tall as his 600-foot City of Faith and assured him the half-finished hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, would be completed. Roberts was criticized earlier last year when it was revealed he had described the vision to supporters in a May 25 fund-raising letter for the hospital. Fundamentalist preacher Carl McIntire said Jesus doesn’t make such appearances, and called Roberts a “fraud and a fake.”

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A giant brokerage house invested in the Christmas spirit this year. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner, and Smith opened the phone lines in its Manhattan offices to about 200 elderly persons, who made free Christmas Day telephone calls to family or friends in the U.S. and around the world. Many were bused to the phones from church and community centers. Another gift item: 52 King James Bibles, pledged as gifts from viewers during a telethon, were sent by Chicago Christian television station WCFC-TV to the American hostages in Iran.

United Methodist bishops are pushing Bible study in their local churches. The UMC council of bishops has developed two studies—a six-month and a six-year Bible overview—to be used with adult Sunday school classes. Bishop Joel McDavid of Atlanta, chairman of the bishop’s committee for the project, said it comes in answer to a growing awareness of “basic illiteracy regarding the content of the Bible” among many United Methodists.

A December 12 fire claimed the main building on the Asheville, North Carolina, campus of Ben Lippen School. Operated as a loose subsidiary of Columbia Bible College, the secondary boarding school is attended by ma[y children of missionaries. The school lost its freshman girls’ dormitory, dining facility, music department, and other facilities when the 47-year-old, three-story building burned. The school established a building fund to make up the estimated $2 million needed above insurance coverage to recoup the losses.


Both Richard Schweiker, the new secretary of health and human services, and Andrew Lewis, Jr., the secretary of transportation, are members of the tiny, evangelical Schwenkfelder Church. It was 2,250 members in five congregations, all of them within 50 miles of Philadelphia. The church was founded by Silesian nobleman Caspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig (1498–1561), a leader in the Protestant Reformation, who fell into disagreement with Luther over the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.

Joni Eareckson, whose emotional adjustment to a crippling diving accident was portrayed in two books and two movies, will begin two new ministries designed to help the handicapped. “People Plus” will train church members to help with the routine chores so frustrating to those confined to beds or wheelchairs. This kind of attendant care is the most pressing need of handicapped people, Eareckson believes. The program will be introduced in March at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and then be made available nationwide. The “Joy of Caring” seminar is a two-day series addressing these subjects: the Sovereignty of God, the Goodness of God and the Problem of Pain, Healing and Miracles, and Overcoming Limitations. The seminars, featuring Eareckson and others, will be held in 1981 in Seattle, Portland, San Diego, and Phoenix.

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Jameson Jones, president of the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, has been named dean of Duke University Divinity School in Durham. North Carolina. Both schools are United Methodist.

Too many Catholic priests find themselves coping with boredom, says Henri Nouwen, a Catholic theologian, psychologist, and popular author. Speaking during a retreat in Baltimore, he said, “By boredom I do not mean that they have nothing to do with their time. Boredom in this case means a sense of questioning whether what they are doing in their ministry is worth doing at all.” They become caught up in the system, “doing things without their hearts really being in them.” One solution, he said, is to get back in touch with God, “our first love,” by creating an inner space for him.


Noted surgeon C. Everett Koop coauthored with Francis Schaeffer the book Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, not the one mentioned in a January 2 news article. The book discusses many of the prolife issues espoused by Koop.

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