For the first time since its creation in 1942, the head of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), with blessing from the organization's board, has addressed the general assembly of the National Council of Churches (NCC).
However, perceptions of the ecumenical significance of Don Argue's address at the NCC's annual meeting in November in Chicago differ between the two groups. "Without overclaiming the significance of the event, I think it definitely shows the possibility for conversation and cooperation between the two groups," says Joan Brown Campbell, general secretary of the NCC.
Campbell says she and Argue have become friends through prayer breakfasts with President Clinton and by cooperating on causes such as the Religious Alliance Against Pornography and helping to rebuild churches burned in last year's spate of racially motivated arson fires.
Yet Argue says he saw the speech as an opportunity to define and explain evangelicalism to the group, raising the banner of the authority of Scripture. "I was not interested in saying, 'We're all in this together,' " he says. "There was no olive branch or rapprochement."
Argue's message contained little opinion or embellishment, but instead he quoted heavily from documents of the Wheaton, Illinois-based NAE. The NAE represents 48 denominations and 250 parachurch ministries and educational institutions. The 47-year-old New York-based NCC has 33 member denominations, representing 52 million.
The NCC also reached out to American Muslims: Imam Warith Deen Mohammad became the first of his faith to deliver an address at a plenary session.
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