A watchdog organization that has criticized mainline church agencies for their alleged Marxist ties says it wants to help corporations keep an eye on church involvement in economic affairs.

The Washington, D.C.-based Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) has targeted the National Council of Churches (NCC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC) for much of its criticism. Recently, IRD launched a newsletter called Church Economic Programs Information Service Bulletin (CEPIS). Published 10 times a year, the newsletter is aimed at a readership of well-heeled persons in business, labor, and government. Subscriptions cost $2,000 a year.

IRD research director Kerry Ptacek said the newsletter attempts to provide “objective, non-editorial reporting on church involvement in economic questions.” So far, the newsletter has 11 subscribers. Ptacek said subscribers will receive additional services for their $2,000. According to a prospectus, IRDwill provide “at least five hours of research or consultation to each subscriber per year.” In addition, the organization says it plans to “call together subscribers and others from time to time for seminars and consultations on critical issues and developments.”

Richard Neuhaus, a Lutheran writer and social critic who is on IRD’s board, said the organization is in financial difficulty and that the high-priced newsletter was intended, at least in part, as a way of raising funds.

Timothy Smith, head of one of the church organizations that the IRD monitors, calls the newsletter “not a very meaningful information resource.”

“It’s a way for IRD to fund raise while being church watchers,” said Smith, director of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR). “This is a new face to an ongoing attempt to get funding from corporations and put pressure on mainstream church organizations. It’s a continuation of their [IRD’s] attack on church social programs.”

He said corporations could receive information about mainline churches’ economic involvements more cheaply by subscribing to the ICCR newsletter, The Corporate Examiner, for $25 a year. ICCR, which is related to the NCC, coordinates research and shareholder action for 210 Roman Catholic orders and 15 Protestant denominations that have a total of $8 billion in investments.

A prospectus advertising IRD’s newsletter stresses the economic clout of religious bodies. “Decision-makers in business, labor, and government are learning that the concerns of the Christian churches can have a powerful influence on the climate of economic affairs, both in the United States and worldwide,” it says. “The significance of church-sponsored campaigns for disinvestment in South Africa, the infant formula boycott, and the opposition to U.S. aid programs in Central America have made that apparent to most.”

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IRD says it will compile and analyze information on numerous topics, including shareholder resolutions; church involvement in Central American issues; WCC activities related to economics and development; and church actions on nuclear energy policy, U.S. defense programs, plant closings, and pension fund investments. The IRD mailing piece tells prospective subscribers that religious groups control $15 billion in capital investments.


World Scene

Two U.S. senators have introduced a resolution condemning persecution and discrimination against religious believers in Warsaw Pact nations. Senators Charles Percy (R-Ill.) and Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.) are calling on the U.S. government to “raise publicly and privately the failure of the Warsaw Pact states to fulfill commitments on religious freedom.” At Senate hearings on the resolution, Ernest Gordon, president of Christian Rescue Effort for the Emancipation of Dissidents, submitted a list of 182 evangelical Christian Baptists who are imprisoned in the Soviet Union. He said new laws there “indicate the Soviet’s intention of increasing its controls upon the religious, and particularly the Protestant, community.”

An epidemic of abortions in China has been one side effect of a government program to curb population growth. Statistics for 1983 show that in Shunyi County, northeast of Peking, there were 84 abortions for every 100 live births.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland has rejected women’s ordination. A 108-member synod voted 73–32 in favor of ordaining women, but this fell short of the three-fourths majority necessary to amend church regulations.

Pope John Paul II has endorsed a six-nation proposal for a nuclear freeze. The initiative, signed by leaders from India, Mexico, Tanzania, Sweden, Greece, and Argentina, calls for the major world powers to stop producing nuclear weapons and start negotiations for complete disarmament. The U.S. State Department said it shares the goal of the statement that there never be another world war, but rejects the specific proposal for a freeze on nuclear weapons production.

IN magazine, published by Youth for Christ Southern Africa, plans to increase its print order from 16,000 to 100,000. A free, national distribution of the youth magazine begins in December. The organization will depend on major advertisers and grants for financing. It hopes someday to print half a million magazines.

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Based on attendance, activities of the Church of Sweden last year were twice as popular as all sports events combined. Church activities drew 21.5 million visits, whereas sports drew only 10 million spectators. Still, roughly half of Sweden’s population never attend church. Nevertheless, Church of Sweden Archbishop Bertil Werkstroem says, “We have noticed a change. There is a spiritual awakening taking place in Sweden today.”

Tension between the Roman Catholic Church and Nicaragua’s Sandinista government remains high. At a recent mass, Archbishop Miguel Obando y Bravo reflected the church’s increasingly militant opposition to the government. “To those who say that the only course for Central American countries is Marxism-Leninism, we Christians must show another way,” he said. “That is to follow Christ, whose path is that of truth and liberty.”

North American Scene

The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries has signed a union contract with its secretarial workers. The secretaries are affiliated with District 65 of the United Auto Workers. The contract sets guidelines for pay increases and promotions. Board treasurer Stephen Brimigion said the board backs the union, in keeping with the denomination’s longtime support in its “Social Creed” for the right of collective bargaining.

Mayor William Hudnut III of Indianapolis has signed legislation banning pornography as discrimination against women. The law was immediately challenged in court, and a federal judge has prohibited its enforcement until the issue is resolved. According to the ordinance, “pornography is a systematic practice of exploitation and subordination based on sex.” Earlier this year, Minneapolis mayor Donald Fraser vetoed a similar law, stating that it impinged upon the First Amendment.

CAMPUS LIFE magazine has announced the winners in its twelfth annual Book of the Year competition. Top awards went to Charles Colson’s Loving God (Zondervan), Stacy and Paula Rinehart’s Choices (Navpress), and Stephen Lawhead’s Dream Thief (Crossway). A review panel of 700 CAMPUS LIFE subscribers determined the winners, and several thousand more wanted to participate. “This dispels the notion that kids don’t read anymore,” says CAMPUS LIFE editor Gregg Lewis. He said research indicates that readers of CAMPUS LIFE spent some $6 million last year on books.

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Since Easter, demonstrators in western Pennsylvania have crashed at least four church services. They are union workers and church people who feel that wealthy, churchgoing economic leaders have turned their backs on the area’s economic problems. On one occasion, 35 protestors broke up the service of a church attended by David Barnes, chairman of Pittsburgh’s Mellon Bank. The demonstrators handed out dead fish, then petitioned Barnes to “reproduce the fish as Jesus did and feed the multitudes” in the area.

A wave of anti-Catholic literature has hit Canada. Books and pamphlets purporting to expose everything from sexual perversion to anti-Protestant espionage in the Catholic Church are turning up in increasing numbers. The most controversial publication is a comic book called Alberto, purporting to be the confessions of a former Jesuit priest “assigned to infiltrate and destroy Protestant churches and seminaries.” The book, however, is fraudulent (CT, March 13, 1981, p. 50). Alberto was never a priest. The books are published by Chick Publications of Chino, California.

Only 17 state-financed abortions were performed in Illinois in 1983. In 1976, the year before the passage of a law prohibiting the use of public money for abortions, the state paid for more than 23,000 abortions. However, some state officials suspect that many poor women are using other welfare benefits to pay for abortions.

Researchers have noticed a link between tougher drunk driving laws and an increase in jail suicides. The crackdown on drunk drivers is putting many people behind bars for the first time. Researchers believe the feelings of guilt and anxiety these individuals must cope with, compounded by a forbidding cell environment and the effects of alcohol (a depressant), increases the likelihood of suicide, which typically occurs within the first three hours of confinement.

Producers of the Methodist Hour international radio broadcast have announced plans to develop a Methodist Hour satellite TV network. The first national, live satellite telecast is planned for October 6. The organization’s goal is to begin with 100 affiliate U.M. churches and to expand to 1,000 in the first year. The organization’s president, Herb Bowdoin, says the purpose of the network is to bring spiritual renewal to the United Methodist Church.

The number of Catholics in the U.S. rose last year by 300,000, but there was little noticeable increase in the number of priests. According to the 1984 Official Catholic Directory, Catholics now make up 22.31 percent of the U.S. population. The number of priests rose for the first time since 1980, but only by 21.

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Warren W. Wiersbe has become the new general director of Back to the Bible broadcast, based in Lincoln, Nebraska. He was recommended by Theodore Epp, who founded Back to the Bible in 1939.

After teaching for 46 years at Princeton Theological Seminary, Bruce Metzger has retired. He is now professor emeritus of New Testament language and literature at Princeton.

Jerry A. Miller has been elected president and chief executive officer of The Cove Ministries, based in Asheville, North Carolina. He succeeds Columbia Bible College president J. Robertson McQuilkin. The Cove Ministries consists of four Christian educational and camp ministries, including the Billy Graham Lay Center and the Ben Lippen School.

Orlando Costas has become dean and professor of missiology at Andover Newton Theological Seminary. Costas, a native of Puerto Rico, has ten years of field work with Latin America Mission and the United Church Board for World Ministries. Most recently he taught at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

This September, Will L. Herzfeld will become the first black to lead a U.S. Lutheran body. He succeeds William H. Kohn, who has announced his resignation as president of the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches.

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