It was nearly three years ago to the day that 33 American scientists unpacked 72 crates of highly technical laboratory equipment and hauled it into the ornate reception room of the Palace of Savoy in Turin, Italy. They would spend the next five days performing every nondestructive test they could think of to try and determine once and for all the source of the most unusual relic in Christendom, the Shroud of Turin.

The scientists, from many prestigious laboratories across the country, spent the ensuing three years analyzing their findings, working mostly on their own time. They gathered again amid the autumn leaves of New London, Connecticut, early last month, and the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP), as they call themselves, reported their findings to the world.

Much of what they said had dribbled out months ahead of schedule as individuals on the team reported in professional journals the results of their own particular tests. The significance of their findings was underscored anew in New London when the dozens of reporters on hand pressed them to the hilt to explain themselves in plain terms. And here are those plain terms: the shroud—the 14-foot long linen strip containing the ghostly image, front and back, of a body bearing the same marks described in the Gospels of the crucified Christ—is not a forgery.

Not only is it not a forgery, something else became clear during the two-day scientific symposium at which the scientists discussed their work. Try as they might, they have been unable to reproduce the kind of image displayed on the shroud, although they brought to bear the collective abilities of specialists in a variety of disciplines, including physics, chemistry, photomicrography, pathology, and computerized photo enhancement. That last field is so new it was described during the symposium as not yet a science, still an art.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of the testing was done by John Jackson of the University of Colorado, whose specialty is theoretical physics. He became interested in the shroud while studying pictures of it during off hours, when he was an officer assigned to the Air Force Weapons Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Jackson applied to the pictures a device, called a VP-8 image analyzer, that is normally used to provide computer-enhanced photos of planets. The mechanism transforms the intensity of an image into vertical relief, thus producing on a television-type screen what looks to be a three-dimensional image. When used on the facial protion of shroud, the resultant image was that of a man’s head standing out in stark relief. Thus there seemed to be some unique three-dimensional characteristic encoded into the shroud image, unlike anything ever seen in artwork.

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Jackson asked several artists to try to recreate the ghostly image of the man’s head. To the naked eye, their handiwork closely matched the original, but when the image analyzer was turned on, each recreation clearly failed to produce an image in proper three-dimensional relief.

It was Jackson’s work with the image analyzer in 1977 that pricked the interests of the scientists who joined the team. This inability to reproduce the image is what has them baffled. After all, the shroud is known to be at least 600 years old, placing it in an era when technical skills were primitive by comparison. Yet the technique used in making the image cannot be explained, even with the immeasurable present-day advancements in technical skills and knowledge.

One of the prominent theories is that the image was lightly scorched onto the cloth, for the actual image markings are made by dehydrated cellulose fibers in the material—just what would be expected of a scorch. But the scorch, if that is what it is, lies only on the surface of the fibers, and every time Jackson tried to reproduce even a light scorch on linen, the burn affected much more of the fiber than did the image on the shroud. Besides that, the scientists could not reproduce the precise three-dimensional effect on the cloth, even by scorching it with a three-dimensional object.

If the shroud appears to bear the markings of the crucified Christ, and the scientific team concludes it is not a forgery, does that mean it is the genuine burial shroud of Christ? Pressed for an answer to that question during a press conference prior to the symposium, none of the scientists would go that far. “Scientists haven’t the techniques to answer if it is the shroud of Jesus Christ,” said John Heller, a biophysicist from the New England Institute.

Publicly, as scientists, none of the team members would even speculate that the shroud was the genuine article. But privately, and speaking “religiously,” some of them now do believe that, including Jackson, the scientist who organized the team. Jackson cautions that his view is still tentative, pending the outcome of the one test that could establish the age of the cloth. That test has not been done because it would destroy a small portion of the shroud. It apparently will be done at an unspecified time, however, using a new procedure that would consume an even smaller sample of the cloth.

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The shroud’s existence can be traced historically to around 1357, and records from the era indicate that many thought it a fake. Today, in the “scientific” age, fewer, ironically, are so willing to dismiss it, including those who know most about it, the scientists of the shroud project. Interest in the artifact is growing beyond the bounds of Roman Catholicism, which has traditionally revered it, although Rome has not taken an official position on its authenticity.

Donald Lynn, a Caltech scientist and team member, said he has given about 75 talks on the shroud during the last three years, before audiences of from 30 to 3,000.

At one location where he was to speak, the 250-seat auditorium was packed 15 minutes before his scheduled 10 A.M. start. He was asked to repeat his lecture at 2 P.M., which he did, but again the auditorium was packed. Asked to give a third talk at 4 P.M., he declined, fatigued. The location was neither a church nor a religious institution, but the Washington D.C., staff headquarters of NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Scuffling over a Shroud Book

Almost visibly, the scientists of the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) recoiled from publicly answering the only question on the minds of most people who attended their weekend symposium last month. “Is it real or isn’t it,” the scientists were asked time and again. Their response was that since they have no scientific explanation, they have no explanation at all.

Some members of the team were upset by the appearance of a book, Verdict on the Shroud, published by Servant Publications in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Advertised as based on evidence from the shroud team, it concludes, in carefully measured words, that the shroud is probably Christ’s. The book was written by Kenneth Stevenson, an air force engineer now with IBM, the official spokesman for the team, and Gary Habermas, an associate professor of apologetics at Liberty Baptist College and a specialist in evidences for the resurrection. He was peripherally associated with STURP.

The scientific team disclaimed any connection with the book and sued, so far unsuccessfully, to stop its publication, lest the public think the book represents the team’s findings.

Although the conclusions of authenticity are clearly those of the authors, and their research includes historical matters outside the bounds of the STURP team, the fact is the book does seem to report reliably the work of the team.

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Lawrence Schwalbe, a team member and physicist at the Los Alamos National Scientific Laboratory, wrote the official summary of the team’s work for presentation to the owner of the shroud, Umberto II, the exiled king of Italy (he lives in Portugal). Schwalbe collaborated with the book’s authors in the chapter in which they summarized the team’s findings. In a foreword to the book, Schwalbe wrote: “Stevenson and Habermas have presented the technical results … as objectively as possible” in lay terms. He vouched for the reliability of their reporting of his specialty, the physics and chemistry tests of the shroud.

Another team member wrote an afterword for the book. Robert Bucklin, a physician and deputy medical examiner for Los Angeles County, wrote: “Habermas and Stevenson have faced this issue (of authenticity) squarely and have carefully presented all possible positions. While a majority of the scientists have been reluctant to take a stand on this matter, a few of us have openly expressed our opinions that there is support for the resurrection in the things we see on the Shroud of Turin.”

With statements like these from team members, pressures have been enormous from other members who are not so convinced, for reputations of professional objectivity are at stake.

During a press conference prior to the press conference, Schwalbe seemed to recant his statements in the book, saying he had not read the manuscript carefully enough. Another of the scientists stood up to say Bucklin was not actually a member of the team. Later, still another scientist rebutted that, saying Bucklin was indeed a team member. (Bucklin participated in the symposium.)

One of the scientists, Joan Janney, said Stevenson was official spokesman only during the direct examination of the shroud in 1978 (although as late as last April Stevenson handled press relations for an exhibit of shroud photography). Janney said the team never heard of Habermas at all, although the book lists him as a “research consultant” to the team. The publisher countered that Habermas signed a document on August 17, 1980, giving him that status, under a procedure approved by the team’s board of directors.

The publisher, Bert Ghezzi, emphasizes that the book does not purport to be the official conclusion of the team, and he volunteered in court to send disclaimers to booksellers for insertion in unsold copies. He agreed to eliminate acknowledgments to team members when the book is reprinted, as well as delete references to the team when the dust jacket is reprinted. There apparently are no plans, however, to eliminate the contributions by Schwalbe and Bucklin.

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With all the ruckus, Habermas and Stevenson have been beseiged by radio, television, and press people from around the country, and the book is selling well. But none of that impresses Habermas. “I’d trade it all for the blessings of the team,” he said.

From the team statement:

“For an adequate explanation for the image of the shroud, one must have an explanation which is scientifically sound. At present, this type of solution does not appear to be obtainable …

“We can conclude for now that the shroud image is that of a real human form of a crucified man. It is not the product of an artist. The blood stains are composed of hemoglobin and give also a positive test for serum albumin. The image is an ongoing mystery and until further chemical studies are made, perhaps by this group of scientists, or perhaps by some scientists in the future, the problem remains unsolved.”

Religious Centrists Line Up Against Moral Majority

“We, the members of many religious communities, describe ourselves differently from our fellow believers who have described themselves publicly with such terms as the ‘Moral Majority’ and ‘Christian Voice.’ ”

These are the opening words in a hard-hitting attack on the growing influence of the New Christian Right. Entitled the “Chicago Statement,” it was drafted by a group of 40 theologians, pastors, and lay people last month in Chicago.

These people are alarmed by the way the New Right is capturing news media attention, and concerned that this is misleading the general public into perceiving Moral Majority as the authentic Christian expression in the sociopolitical realm. As a result, the group decided last February to form the Chicagoland Committee on Fair Play in order to counter the Right influence in the churches.

The loosely knit organization attracted adherents from four major traditions: “mainline” Protestant denominations, independent evangelicalism, the historic peace churches, and Roman Catholicism. The sparkplug was Jack W. Lundin, pastor of a Lutheran Church in America congregation in suburban Lombard. The other leaders were three noted theologians and authors: John T. Pawlikowski of Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union; Robert Webber, Wheaton College; and Dale Brown, Bethany Theological Seminary.

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The writers of the “Chicago Statement” intended it to be a declaration on religious and national matters that would be more than just a knee-jerk reaction to the New Right. Rather, as Lundin said, it would “provide for breathing room on the crucial issues causing confusion and consternation on the part of millions of Christians and others.”

This stance was reinforced in the document’s preamble, which asserted, “Although the statement is occasioned by the wide dissemination of the views of such groups, it is not simply a rejoinder but an appeal for a deeper understanding of Scripture and Christian tradition.” The signatories call upon believers in Jesus Christ “to exert prophetic responsibility and constructive engagement in the political process.”

It noted that God works through the various Christian communities regardless of whether they are on the political Right or Left, yet they, like “all orders of society are permeable to evil.” Thus they share in such vices as violence, poverty, discrimination, militarism, greed, materialism, hedonism, and sexism. Because of this, the call to responsible kingdom life cannot be reduced to an agenda of moral legislation and political power. At the same time, the writers insisted that they did not wish to impose their convictions on public institutions or “censor” those who disagreed with them. Instead, they called upon Christians “to acknowledge the mixed character of the human situation and the ambiguity inherent in all human choices.”

The document steered a middle course through the rocky waters of public issues that have been the source of such deep divisions among contemporary Christians. It addressed the topics of human life, justice, the environment, public morality, the nation, the family, human rights, and peace. It affirmed the “sanctity of all human life” without taking an absolutist stance on the abortion issue. It endorsed justice for all people regardless of their status and urged political leaders to meet the needs of all disadvantaged people. Christians should care for the natural environment and respond to the “critical loss of personal and public moral standards” as evidenced by pornography, exploitation of sex in television programming and advertising, and the diminution of honesty and integrity. They were cautioned against materialism and blind trust in nationalism, urged to work for peace and human rights, and invited to reaffirm the family as a gift from God.

Speaking directly to the approach of Moral Majority as they perceived it, the authors of the statement called upon the church and all believers “to speak and act with courage where Christian convictions are clear, with humility in areas of permissible disagreement, and with love and compassion in all matters.”

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Although the give-and-take discussion grew heated at times, the sharpest disagreements arose over the profamily and “prohuman” issues. In fact, some stayed away from the meeting because of dissatisfaction with the preliminary working draft, which did not take a firm “prochoice” stance on the abortion issue, while others feared that even mentioning the question would stir up smouldering controversies that were tearing their churches apart.

There was a humorous note as well. The Chicago Sun-Times, which last month scooped the rival Chicago Tribune with an exposé of Catholic Archbishop John Cardinal Cody’s questionable financial dealings, tried to get the jump again by publishing on the morning of the meeting lengthy excerpts from the manifesto. These were taken from the first draft, however, which was so extensively rewritten that the final version bore little resemblance to the text found in the Sun-Times.


North American Scene

Evangelical apologist Francis Schaeffer and D. James Kennedy, pastor of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, were speakers at the first general assembly of the fledgling Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). The new denomination, which organized last spring (CT, April 24), includes breakaway congregations mainly from the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. It includes an estimated 20,000 members. Kennedy observed that divisions in Protestantism are no longer between denominations, but between evangelicals and liberals. Schaeffer cautioned the EPC, which leaves open the question of women’s ordination, to make sure it was doing so on biblical grounds and not out of “sociological convenience.”

“Oh, we’re the Moral Majority, we’re holier than thou; / By God, we’re here to tell you what we will and won’t allow. / We’re out to purge the nation of its humanistic bent; / A separate church and state we’ve simply given up for Lent!” Jerry Falwell may not be humming the tune, but it is making amateur songwriter Doug Mayfield of Deerwood, Minnesota, happy. Mayfield, an English teacher, wrote and recorded the song as a novelty. It apparently touched a responsive chord: sales of 6 million records are projected. Mayfield notes the song “seems to polarize people.” A fight broke out in a Duluth bar when someone cued the song on the jukebox.

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Are legal curbs on abortion causing poor women to turn to sterilization as a means of birth control? The Illinois Public Aid Department (IPAD) reported a record number (6,219) of state-financed sterilizations in 1980. At the same time, state-financed abortions have dropped sharply. Stricter restrictions on Medicaid payments for abortions became effective in October 1980. An IPAD spokesman acknowledges an increase in the number of sterilizations in the general population, not just among the poor.

Southern Baptist pastor W.A. Criswell challenged his First Baptist Church of Dallas to pledge $1 million for the coming year to Southern Baptist mission work. The church, with 22,000 members, is the largest Southern Baptist congregation in America; its mission giving had been $200,000 annually. But Criswell said the Holy Spirit’s command was clear in a dream he had: “Your assignment is making the church known through $1 million to missions.”

Gordon R. Werkema has been named the ninth president of Malone College, Canton, Ohio. Werkema will leave the post of executive vice-president of Gordon College (Mass.). He has also served as executive vice-president of Seattle Pacific University.

Roman Catholic theologian Hans Küng, speaking in a Detroit church, said the Vatican applies a double standard when it demands human rights in Poland but denies them in the Catholic Church. In Küng’s view, he lost his license to teach Catholic theology not primarily because of “all my heresies,” but because of church politics. His Christology, he said, was not so much the issue as his demands that bishops be elected by a representative body and that celibacy be abolished. Küng has reportedly been offered a teaching position at the University of Michigan, though a university spokesman said no decision has been made.

The Mormon Church is a legitimate Christian denomination, asserted Mormon leader Bruce M. McConkie recently, despite “fashionable” remarks to the contrary. Speaking at the one hundred fifty-first Mormon Conference, McConkie said Mormons are Christians if “being a Christian means believing in Christ and accepting him as the Son of God in the full and complete sense, and loving our fellow men.” McConkie, a member of the church’s Quorum of Twelve Apostles, admitted Mormons honor Joseph Smith, a founder. “It is true that his place in the heavenly hierarchy makes him a prophet of prophets and a seer of seers. He ranks with Enoch and Abraham and Moses. But salvation is in Christ, not in Abraham, not in Moses, not in Joseph Smith,” he said.

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Eight staff members ofSojournersmagazine, including editor Jim Wallis, were arrested protesting an Air Force Association “arms bazaar” in Washington, D.C. The journalists, and at least 43 other protesters, were blocking the driveway at the motel hosting the bazaar. The presiding judge said prison sentences (of up to 30 days) were imposed on the eight because all had been part of civil-disobedience protests previously and had “flouted the law.”

World Scene

The Moonies have turned their attention in Europe from Britain to West Germany. In September, the Unification Church announced it will be concentrate its “missionary work” in the Federal Republic. Following major court reversals in Britain, the sect has withdrawn 300 workers there and is redeploying them in German cities.

For the tenth year, evangelical young people from all over Yugoslavia met in an all-day-Sunday “September Gathering.” Some 500 youths converged on Novi Sad for messages, singing, a panel discussion, and getting acquainted in the local Baptist church.

The Anglican Church of South Africa deliberately avoided inviting government officials when it installed its new archbishop. For the first time in South Africa, the church refused to invite the president, prime minister, or even top province officials to the September 30 ceremony in Saint George’s Cathedral in Capetown at which Bishop Philip Russell of Natal was installed. The dean of the cathedral said, “The move is a sad one, really, because it shows the growing polarization in this country.”

FEBA’s new 100-kilowatt, radio transmitter in the Seychelle Islands off the horn of Africa is now on the air in daily use. The transmitter was financed by the Lutheran World Federation, whose Radio Voice of the Gospel studio and transmitter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, were nationalized in 1977. In return, the LWF receives religious broadcasting air time.

Zealous literature distribution in Nepal by foreign workers has again provoked a crackdown. A Way of Life Literature worker was apprehended by police in a Kathmandu suburb in August for violating a 24-hour curfew against gatherings of more than four people. More than that number had clustered around him to see the Bibles he was selling. Police traced the Bibles to the Bible Society in Nepal, imprisoned the Bible Society national representative, and confiscated his stock of Scriptures. Local believers fear that bookshops permitted to operate in three towns and other discreet distribution may be curtailed.

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The Bible Society of India has a different sort of problem, according to a correspondent there. Its board chairman has asked for and received the resignations of the general secretary and four other top directors. It is believed that the shakeup resulted from a confidential report submitted by a special commission that delved into the operation of the society.

Complaints by China’s Communist regime about a resurgence of superstition have some basis in fact, even among Christians. Recent visitors to the People’s Republic report heavy emphasis on physical healing in some areas, resulting in superstitious practices, such as attributing magical powers to a Bible on the body of a sick person.

Malpractice Suit Against Macarthur Is Dismissed

An unprecedented “clergy malpractice” suit against the large Grace Community Church of the Valley in Panorama City and four of its ministers was dismissed last month in a California Superior Court. The suit involved the church’s prominent senior minister, John F. MacArthur, Jr.

Judge Thomas C. Murphy issued a summary judgment dismissing all charges in the suit filed last year by the parents of a young man who was counseled by the church and eventually committed suicide.

Though malpractice suits against doctors and lawyers are common, attorneys for both the defendants and plaintiffs could find no similar suit ever filed against a clergyman. Some insurance companies later expanded coverage to include clergy malpractice amid wider public attention to the potential problem.

“This ruling removed a veiled threat that was hanging over clergy and churches and their right to counsel,” said Samuel Ericsson, the church’s attorney. “A lot of insurance was sold just because this case was filed,” said Ericsson, who is also special counsel for the Christian Legal Society based near Chicago.

Edward Barker, an attorney for plaintiffs Marie and Walter J. Nally of Tujunga, California, said right after the judge’s ruling that he expects the couple will file an appeal.

The suit had alleged that MacArthur was aware over a long period of the “depressive state and suicidal tendencies” of Kenneth Nally, 24, a seminary student who attended the church and worked part-time there. He shot himself April 2, 1979.

The suit also said young Nally was “dissuaded and discouraged” from seeking professional care. Instead, the suit alleged, he was told to consult counselors at the church, pray, read the Bible, and listen to tape recordings of MacArthur’s sermons.

Attorneys for the conservative Protestant church, which attracts more than 10,000 worshipers each Sunday, questioned in court documents whether “a pastor has a ‘duty to refer’ the most difficult spiritual and emotional problems to so-called professionals, that is, psychiatrists and psychologists.” The defense also questioned whether a court is competent to decide whether prayer is not the proper counsel in a given situation.


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