Unprecedented televsion coverage for a religious figure.

As elsewhere in Eastern Europe, evangelist Billy Graham last month preached to overflow crowds, this time in churches in Czechoslovakia’s three largest cities: Prague, Brno, and Bratislava. But in a sense, he was able to reach the entire nation, and that is what has stirred the country’s Protestant church leaders above all else.

It happened in connection with the extensive coverage of Graham’s visit by the Czech press, described privately by church leaders as “unprecedented” for a preacher from the West. On his next-to-last day in Czechoslovakia, the evangelist was interviewed on camera in Prague by one of the nation’s best-known television news commentators. During the interview, Graham told of his impressions regarding Czechoslovakia’s churches. The church is strong, the gospel is being preached, and lives are being changed, he explained.

The interview was aired in its entirety throughout the nation that night on the prime-time evening TV news show with voice-over translation into Czech. It was also broadcast on Czech radio and carried by newspapers.

It is the first time that the church has ever gained such “official” visibility on national television, declared the church leaders. They said they feel that this kind of “recognition” of Protestant churches and the gospel message may signal better days ahead in the sometimes strained relationships with government authorities.

Just prior to the television interview, Graham conferred for more than an hour with Czech deputy prime minister Matej Lucan. Among other things, the evangelist spoke candidly of the “problems” that have disturbed relationships between the government and the churches. Later, at a Prague press conference, he told more than 100 reporters of his talks with government officials. He had pointed out to the officials, he said, that the problems in church-and-state relationships have not helped Czechoslovakia’s image in other parts of the world. He voiced hope for better understanding and mutual respect.

(Among the “problems”: the government’s continuing crackdown on the Charter 77 human rights movement, whose religious-community members come mostly from Roman Catholic and Evangelical Czech Brethren churches; government licensing of the clergy, which has resulted in a number of restrictions and clashes over government intervention in church affairs; government limitations on Christian literature and harsh penalties against those found possessing “unauthorized” literature printed in the West; scattered cases of alleged discrimination against believers in education and job placement.)

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Despite Graham’s frankness in conversations, the officials displayed warmth toward him and indicated their door would remain open to him. Indeed, before the evangelist left Prague, there were unofficial talks about the possibility of a return preaching visit within a year or two, possibly in larger meeting places.

Graham told the reporters he had been able to proclaim the gospel freely, to have “wonderful fellowship” with Czech believers, and to learn about the church situation in Czechoslovakia. He also expressed hope that he had made a contribution to world peace. In his sermons and talks, he had called attention to the moral and spiritual implications of the arms race. True and lasting peace, he said repeatedly, can be achieved only as nations and leaders turn to God.

Graham was in Czechoslovakia at the official invitation of the Baptists, who arranged all the preaching services, and with the endorsement of members of the nine-denomination Ecumenical Council of Churches in Czechoslovakia.

Baptist Union general secretary Stanislaw Svec served as Graham’s interpreter, and Baptist Union president Pavel Titera and Bratislava Baptist pastor Jan Kriska hosted him throughout his visit.

Because of limited seating capacities, the Baptists issued tickets to the services, but hundreds showed up without them and managed somehow to squeeze into the main auditoriums or overflow areas. Few were turned away.

In all, Graham preached to more than 1,200 at the main Baptist church in Prague on a Sunday morning, to about 2,000 that night at an Evangelical Czech Brethren church in Prague, to more than 1,500 at a Czech Hussite church in Brno (with sound carried to 350 jammed into a small Baptist church down the street, which the evangelist also visited), and to more than 1,200 in a Brethren church in Bratislava, where many stood in aisles or viewed the service on closed-circuit TV in overflow rooms.

In each service, Graham preached on familiar Bible passages and urged his listeners to receive Christ. Many raised their hands, indicating their response to his invitation. Afterward, trained workers counseled them in inquiry rooms.

Graham’s associate, Cliff Barrows, spoke at several meetings, and soprano Myrtle Hall sang.

The evangelist also addressed gatherings of leaders of the Ecumenical Council, the Christian Peace Council, and other groups. He met informally with top leaders of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. (About half of the nation’s 15 million people are nominally Roman Catholic, and an estimated 1.3 million are Protestant. Catholic churches currently are witnessing a large influx of young people, and several spiritual renewal movements are at work within the churches.)

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In reviewing the immediate impact of Graham’s visit, Baptist president Titera, who is also the current president of the European Baptist Federation, said that it was a source of “great encouragement” to the Baptist and other churches and had gained greater public recognition for the relatively small Baptist denomination (29 churches, 100 preaching stations, and 4,000 baptized members plus children and other adherents).

Titera also said that Graham’s “personal example as a Christian” affected pastors and “secular leaders” alike. “He was sincere, he was serious about serious issues, and he showed how to give a simple, clear presentation of the gospel,” explained Titera.

Before departing, Graham admonished the churches to take advantage of the opportunities available to them to proclaim the gospel and to serve the needs of the people in the name of Christ.

Hopeful Signs For The Church In East Germany

Secularization, not Marxism, may be the church’s biggest challenge in the German Democratic Republic, say church leaders in the land of Bach, Handel, and Luther. Of the country’s 17 million people, 8 million are claimed by the main Lutheran body there, the Federation of Evangelical [or Protestant] Churches, but church attendance has nose-dived over the past few years. Evangelist Billy Graham preached in the country prior to his Czechoslovakian tour last month.

Yet there are encouraging signs, say these same leaders. A charismatic renewal movement has taken root among the Lutherans, they point out, and 400 pastors—nearly 10 percent of the clergy—are involved. Several thousand home Bible study and prayer groups meet weekly throughout the GDR, and a network of neighborhood “revival cells” to reach non-Christians is expanding rapidly.

Large numbers of young people seem to be turning to the church in search of answers. For example, on the first Sunday night of each month, between 5,000 and 10,000 youths flock to a church in Karl Marxstadt to hear Lutheran pastor Theo Lehmann preach. The services were launched in February; now two are necessary to accommodate the crowds. Likewise, the vast majority of those who attended the recent Billy Graham meetings in the GDR were young people.

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First-time visitors from the West usually are surprised at the scope of the Lutheran presence in East Germany. The federation, which has about 7,500 parishes, is the product of a union in 1969 of eight predominantly Lutheran provinces. Each is still headed by a bishop and retains a measure of autonomy. More than 50 full-time evangelists serve the church. They are led by Fritz Hoffman of Magdeburg, one of the best-known and -liked evangelicals in the country.

Extensive social work is carried out by the church: 15,000 vocational social workers serve 48 hospitals with 6,600 beds, 273 homes for some 11,000 elderly, 105 homes for the physically and mentally handicapped, and hundreds of other institutions. (The government pays the operating expenses of the church’s social agencies.)

About 250 students are enrolled in the church’s six university-related seminaries, influenced more by the late Karl Barth’s teachings and traditional Protestant liberalism than by evangelical doctrine. Other church centers offer training in social-service vocations.

There are a number of church periodicals and book stores, weekly radio broadcasts of church services, and bimonthly church-produced programs on national television.

Roman Catholics number about 1.3 million in 920 parishes, with approximately 1,500 priests.

Of the so-called free churches, the Evangelical Methodist Church has a constituency of 35,000 in about 300 churches and several dozen preaching stations. The 21,000 Baptists are scattered among 220 churches and 300 preaching stations (which are, essentially, congregations without permanent pastors).

Many churches operate Sunday schools and youth ministries, including popular camping and retreat programs.

A number of the older Christian leaders and Communist officials have known—and, to an extent, respected—each other since the days when they shared prison cells under Hitler. This may be one reason why the churches in the GDR have largely been spared the tight restrictions placed on churches by Marxist regimes in several other East European countries.

However, relationships between the church and state have deteriorated in recent years, mostly over issues affecting young people. Church leaders contend that many Christian young people have been barred from universities and good jobs solely because they are active Christians. If a Christian youth chooses not to join the national Communist youth organization, or if he decides for reasons of conscience to serve his required military stint in the army’s “construction corps” rather than a unit trained for combat, it is understood that he is forfeiting his opportunity to attend a university.

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Such discrimination has been criticized by church synods in sternly worded resolutions. The synods also have called on the government to offer to conscientious objectors alternative service completely separate from the military, but to no avail. Adding to the tensions are recent government bans on organized peace efforts among church young people, including a “Swords Into Plowshares” campaign that attracted favorable Soviet comment, embarrassing GDR officials. Such actions have created a sense of solidarity between church leaders and young people in the GDR.

“Some young people, I am sure, are attending church simply to show their displeasure with the authorities, to make a political statement,” observes a Berlin pastor. “As a result, we now have an unprecedented opportunity to introduce them to Christ.”

Another bone of contention involves old church buildings and monuments. For decades, some that were damaged in World War II remained in ruins, thanks to government inaction, and a number of historically important structures, suffering from the ravages of time and severe environmental pollution, failed to receive needed maintenance. State authorities recently have taken note of some of the structures and have embarked on a number of restoration and repair projects—partially at church expense in Western currency.

West German churches are providing millions of marks for these projects. East German Lutherans consider several of the buildings white elephants too costly to maintain, and they no longer want them, but the government insists that the church must keep and maintain them.

Still another source of irritation is the government’s belated conscription of Martin Luther as a state hero embodying Marxist ideals. Next year is the five hundredth anniversary of Luther’s birth, and both church and government committees are planning a year of special observances.

The growing hostility toward the government on the part of church leaders affected Graham’s visit. Church leaders in Halle, for example, canceled Graham’s appearance in that city when authorities denied them permission to erect loudspeakers to serve the huge overflow crowds expected. With only one week’s notice, the meeting was rescheduled for Dresden. It attracted Graham’s largest crowd (nearly 7,000) in his 10-day swing through the country, and it was one of the best organized, with 400 choir members from area churches and more than 100 hastily trained counselors taking part.

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A few church leaders gave Graham the cold shoulder because of the cooperation that was necessary between church and state officials to facilitate the visit. One leader, at a meeting of the Synod of Saxony, which Graham addressed, questioned the official trappings surrounding the visit (an aspect over which Graham had no control).

Other leaders, however, were supportive, and acknowledged that dialogue must be reestablished with the authorities before there can be reform, and they said that the Graham visit may have opened the way.

What seemed to impress church leaders most was Graham’s forthrightness and warmth in explaining the gospel to each government figure with whom he met—and their apparent interest in what he said.

“We sometimes forget that they, too, are humans for whom Christ died,” commented a church leader in Berlin. “There is hope for them, and there is hope for us.”

New Incentive For Tougher Drunk Driving Laws

Beginning February 1, states that pass tougher laws to prevent drunk driving will receive extra highway funding from the federal government. The new incentive program was signed into law by President Reagan.

To qualify, states must enact several stringent provisions:

• Defining legal intoxication while driving at 10 percent blood alcohol content, and making that content level a punishable offense in itself.

• Automatically suspending the driver’s license for at least 90 days for a first offense and at least one year for repeat offenses.

• Requiring a mandatory sentence of 48 consecutive hours in jail or 10 days of community service for repeat offenses.

• Stepping up enforcement by police officers on patrol.

Currently only three states meet these requirements—Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island. Seven others fall short only because their license suspension terms are too lenient.

The new law is expected to give citizen action groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) “important leverage in urging their governors and legislators to strengthen state and local drunk-driving control programs,” Barnes said.

The program authorizes the Transportation Department to dispense $125 million over the next three years. It will draw on the Highway Trust Fund, a surplus fund used to tide over programs that fall short of cash. No new federal money will be spent.

Annually, drunk-driving collisions in the U.S. kill more than 25,000 people, nearly one-third of whom are teen-agers and young adults. Another 650,000 are seriously injured, (CT, March 5, p. 50). The problem worsens each year end during the holiday season.

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This year, a National Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness Week will precede the peak season for traffic fatalities. It will be observed from December 12 to 18. Barnes, a sponsor of the Awareness Week resolution, said it will help assure that national momentum to combat the problem is sustained.

Also, a presidential commission on drunk driving will issue specific suggestions to states about other ways to reduce the death toll, such as raising the drinking age to 21. A final report from the commission is due in April.

North American Scene

Jerry Falwell met last month with A. Bartlett Giamatti, president of Yale University and outspoken critic of Moral Majority, in a session arranged by Vice-President Bush. Giamatti has assailed Falwell’s organization as propagating “dangerous, malicious nonsense.” Apparently Falwell emerged unscathed. He claimed the two agreed on many issues. “Some might accuse Mr. Giamatti of being a conservative,” Falwell said. But they had some disagreements, including the issue of prayer in public schools. Falwell said he told Giamatti, “I feel we can disagree and remain friends.”

The boycott of RCA is working, according to Donald Wildmon, who heads the Coalition for Better Television. Since March, the 2,200-group coalition has been urging people to refuse to purchase RCA products because of the violence, vulgarity, and profanity aired on NBC, which is owned by RCA. Wildmon pointed to a third-quarter drop in RCA sales of consumer electronic products, claiming the boycott was largely, though not totally responsible. An RCA spokeswoman denied the boycott has hurt corporate sales.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has added a weekly 15-minute Hispanic broadcast to its popular weekly radio program, “The Hour of Decision.” The show, called “Momentos De Decision,” premiered on November 28 in 20 U.S. cities in which more than 11 million Spanish-speaking people live.

Only one-quarter of the American public supports the concept of abortion-on-demand, according to University of Nebraska sociologist Mary Ann Lamanna. Lamanna also reported that at least a majority oppose the right-to-life position, which is against abortion in all cases, except perhaps to save a woman’s life. According to Lamanna, three-fourths of the public want access to abortion when the mother’s life or health is threatened, in cases of rape and incest, and in cases of serious defects in the fetus.

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A county probate judge in Michigan has denied a 13-year-old girl’s request for an abortion. Judge Randall Hekman says he will not grant it even if ordered by a higher court. “There is no question in my mind that if I am ordered to initiate procedures to kill innocent life for the expediency of others, that is a criminal order which I will not obey,” Hekman said.

Churches are the largest suppliers of day care to American families, according to a recent study by the National Council of Churches. The study, financed by the Carnegie Corporation, revealed that more than 25,000 churches are involved in some type of child-care program. Eileen Lindner, director of the Child Advocacy Project of the NCC, reported that fewer than 1,000 day-care centers are run for profit.


For the first time in its 107-year history, David C. Cook Publishing Company, Elgin, Illinois, has a chief operating officer from outside the Cook family. On October 4, David Mehlis, 39, was named vice-president and general manager by President Lee Vance, 75. (Vance is a brother-in-law of board chairman David C. Cook III, 70.) Mehlis had been marketing director of the publishing firm, one of the nation’s largest suppliers of nondenominational Sunday school curricula. A family business until 1950, it is not owned by the Cook Foundation.

Ernest L. Boyer, has been named chairman of the Messiah College Board of Trustees. Boyer was appointed in 1977 by President Carter as the U.S. Commissioner of Education. Prior to that appointment, he was chancellor of the State University of New York, the largest university system in the world.

Ted W. Engstrom, chief executive officer for World Vision International since 1963, has become the organization’s international president. Engstrom, who succeeds W. Stanley Mooneyham, will direct the agency’s 2,700 projects in 85 countries.

Erwin Rempel, former pastor and missionary to Brazil, has taken over as executive secretary of the General Mennonite Conference’s Commission on Overseas Mission, which supports 155 missionaries in 15 countries. Rempel succeeds Howard Habegger.

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