Overemphasis on sex and violence in U. S. television and movie productions is prompting demands for countering moves from Protestant ranks.
The mailbag at National Council of Churches headquarters in New York exudes grass-roots ire daily, a council spokesman indicates. NCC officialdom is being subjected to growing demands that it openly challenge deteriorating moral standards in Hollywood drama.
Protestant interests suffered a setback recently when, as the result of a vigorous denunciation of film trends, dissension developed within the NCC’s own Broadcasting and Film Commission.
“The time has come to act,” said George Heimrich, Lutheran layman who heads the commission’s West Coast office. Scoring motion pictures’ “increasing portrayal of sex and violence,” Heimrich declared that “something very definite must be done about this situation, which has been getting worse during the past six months.”
The charges were immediately repudiated by one of Heimrich’s superiors, Dr. Robert W. Spike, commission vice chairman. In a letter to Eric Johnston, president of the Motion Picture Association of America (and host for Nikita Khrushchev’s viewing of “Can-Can” scenes which the Russian leader subsequently labeled “immoral”), Spike said Heimrich had not spoken for the commission in “hinting at a possible boycott” of certain films.
“Boycott and censorship are most reprehensible to traditional Protestant thinking,” Spike wrote. “As every moviegoer will tell you, the fact is that the film industry has recently begun to show increased maturity and artistic sensitivity in what it is producing. This is not true of all productions, of course, but the church should be grateful for this new fact and not simply castigate the industry.”
Many Protestant film viewers, in turn, are known to dispute the position attributed to them under Spike’s “every moviegoer” generalization.
Most NCC officials avoided public comment on the Heimrich-Spike episode, preferring instead to cite broader considerations. Some feel that the exchange will spur efforts of a special 35-member study committee appointed by the 1957 NCC General Assembly to look into the influence of mass media and to recommend a representative Protestant view toward these media. Others regretted the “premature airing” and predicted that the committee now must “back up and get a fresh, more objective start.”
The Production Code
1. No picture shall be produced which will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience shall never be thrown to the side of crime, wrong-doing, evil or sin.
2. Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented.
3. Law—divine, natural or human—shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.
Motion Picture Association of America, Inc.
A report from the committee is expected when the NCC’s 250-member General Board meets in Detroit, December 6. It is not known, however, whether recommendations will be forthcoming at that time.
Key criticism of the film industry argues that Hollywood producers have violated their own “Motion Picture Production Code,” which forbids favorable portrayal of illicit sex and thus holds a far higher standard than even the U. S. Supreme Court. The nation’s highest tribunal ruled several months ago that the First Amendment to the Constitution “protects advocacy of the opinion that adultery may sometimes be proper.”
There is evidence among NCC General Board members of concern not only in offensive theater movies but in risqué television productions. One noted that some “tall thinking” was due about the “real deterioration” in the moral tone of TV programming.
Television industry officials claim to be as eager to stay within bounds of decency as the Christian community expects. One network issued an apology after religious leaders protested an overly realistic portrayal of a love affair. This attitude on the part of industry leaders indicates that perhaps advertising pressures are to blame for distasteful scenes. (The drama which prompted the apology had as one of its sponsors a company whose advertisements repeatedly cite endorsement of a French film star noted for her sexy roles.)
Evangelicals have undergone considerable soul searching in their attitudes toward movie and TV drama. What critics describe as “increased maturity and artistic sensitivity,” many Christians classify as Continental eroticism and decadence whittling away at what is left of this country’s Puritan heritage.
Many evangelicals challenge the notion that boycott and censorship are “reprehensible to traditional Protestant thinking.” Even secularists usually possess a moral conscience which favors a degree of these for the health of society. The question is: How and when are they to be applied and how strict should the norms be?
Some evangelicals practice total boycott of theater movies even while endorsing the same films to the extent of viewing them on the living room TV screen. This paradox often demands reexamination of conscience and raises certain other questions: Is total boycott as effective in influencing the movie industry for good as selectivity? Have boycotts left the issues with those lacking spiritual and proper moral discrimination and, if so, is the present state of affairs a result? Or is the industry depraved beyond recall or beneficial influence? And does one’s spiritual life suffer from even selective forays into the medium?
Be it movies or TV, evangelicals must confess that they write far too few letters of protest. Yet networks and advertisers readily concede that such protests wield great influence.
The Same Pattern
The World Council of Churches made public this month a 3,000-word report on birth control. In the pattern of most ecumenical pronouncements, the report was detached from official WCC policy, though prepared under commission of the WCC by a specially-constituted 21-member committee of theologians, physicians, and social science students, and distributed by the council to more than 171 member church bodies for “study and comment.”
The report was drafted at a three-day meeting of the committee at Mansfield College, Oxford, England, last April.
“Limited or spacing of children is a morally valid thesis,” the report was quoted as asserting. “There appears to be no moral distinction between the means now known and practiced.”
Appended to the report was a minority opinion representing views of the Orthodox Church: “Parents do not have the right to prevent the creative process of matrimonial intercourse.”
A Cleveland lay preacher was found guilty this month of violating a city ordinance by preaching the Gospel on Public Square.
The verdict against Fulton Baker of Cedar Hill Baptist Church, which included a suspended five-dollar fine, is being appealed. Baker’s attorney has wide support from even the judiciary in his contention that the pertinent ordinance is unconstitutional.
The ordinance forbids two or more people to congregate on a sidewalk without having business there.
‘Good for You’
Beer advertising, however widespread, has its limitations. U. S. law forbids the alcohol industry from making any curative and therapeutic claims about its products. Thus when the U. S. Brewers Foundation began a “good for you” pitch in magazine advertisements, temperance organizations sprang up in protest. “Misleading,” cried the executive director of the National Temperance League, Clayton M. Wallace.
This month, under government pressure, the brewers cancelled the remainder of its “good for you” series.
In the advertisements in question, a “good for you” in big type pertains in context to a feat being performed by an illustrated figure. But a casual glance at the page could easily create the impression that the phrase referred to beer.
• A memorandum stating its views on 35 agenda items before the United Nations General Assembly has been distributed by the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs to more than 700 U. N. delegates and alternates. The commission is a joint agency of the World Council of Churches and the International Missionary Council.
• “The people could stand no more,” said the Roman Catholic episcopacy of Colombia in commenting on a destructive anti-Protestant demonstration last month. Bishops nevertheless asked Catholics in the town of La Plata to make restitution for damage done in a mob raid on an evangelical chapel construction site.
• Missouri Synod Lutherans in Canada are organizing an autonomous national religious body.
• Singer Pat Boone is turning over all royalties from his best-selling ’Twixt Twelve and Twenty to the Northeastern Institute for Christian Education, new Churches of Christ college in Villanova, Pennsylvania.
• U. S. Agriculture Secretary Ezra Benson, a Mormon leader, preached before an overflow audience at the Moscow Baptist Church on Sunday morning, October 4. Only days before, in Washington, Khrushchev’s son-in-law had invited Benson’s son “to come to Russia to do some missionary work for the Mormon church.”
• A Reformation Day dedication service was planned for the reconstructed Reformation Memorial Church in the West German city of Worms, where Martin Luther uttered his famous, “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.”
• The North Carolina Conference of the Methodist Church is sponsoring a year-long evangelistic campaign for 100,000 converts.
• The House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service says pornography is a major factor in increasing juvenile delinquency. “Federal legislation,” said a committee report, “will not substitute for parental guidance nor absolve parents from their obligation to guide their children by appealing to their instincts as forcefully and attractively as the ‘dirt peddlers.’ ” “The American home is the target of the pornographic attack,” it added; “the American home must also be the center of the counterattack against pornography.”
• A newly-published yearbook of the United Church of Canada, the country’s largest Protestant body, shows a communicant membership of 980,461.
• Southern Baptists plan to spend at least 3 million dollars on a weekly television program to combat juvenile delinquency.
• Mother Elizabeth Anne Seton, who is credited with founding the American Catholic parochial school system and who apparently is destined to be the first U. S. native to be “beatified” by the hierarchy, was a granddaughter of a Protestant Episcopal clergyman.
• Methodist Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam received the 1959 Upper Room Award this month for his “contribution to world Christian fellowship.”
• An addition to world-famous Pacific Garden Mission on Chicago’s Skid Row will be dedicated November 8.
• The First Hebrew Christian Church (Presbyterian) of Chicago is marking its 25th anniversary.
• The Ethiopian Orthodox (Coptic) Church plans to establish a U. S. branch. A seminary in America also is projected.
• Two Roman Catholic biblical scholars are proposing that Catholics adapt the Protestant Revised Standard Version of the Bible into a Catholic edition as a means of furthering Christian unity. The RSV, according to Benedictine Fathers Bernard Orchard and Edmund Flood, “is a scholarly rendering of Scripture which is a delight to read and with very little editing could be made entirely acceptable to English-speaking Catholics.”
Billy Graham’s current crusade in Indianapolis was preceded by a week-long evangelistic series in Wheaton, Illinois, a city which like its college namesake is observing its 100th birthday. Here is a report on the Wheaton meetings:
Biggest event in the city of Wheaton’s centennial celebration, and undoubtedly the most spectacular event in its history, was this fall’s evangelistic campaign with the Billy Graham party.
Pushing 25,000 population, Wheaton is now one of Chicago’s “bed-room suburbs” and one of the most evangelical and Christianized towns in America. It is the home of Wheaton College (enrollment: 1,600), famed for evangelical fervor, and the headquarters of such organizations as the National Association of Evangelicals, Scripture Press, Youth for Christ International, Conservative Baptists, the Sword of the Lord, and Baptista Films. Wheaton pastors sometimes feel that the city has a religious superiority complex, is overrun with evangelical churches, and sated with religious meetings and big-name Christian speakers. What could the Graham team do there?
Graham was a 1943 graduate of the college and a pastor in nearby Western Springs. How would Wheaton respond?
Originally planned as the college’s fall revival meeting, public pressure necessitated including the city and all neighboring towns and surrounding areas.
Despite cool, rainy weather all week (two meetings were held inside and five outdoors) the crusade was amazingly successful. Aggregate attendance totaled 101,000, the largest turnout coming on the opening Sunday when 18,000 heard Graham. On Thursday night, when teen-agers were special guests, 16,500 attended and 652 responded to the invitation. Not counting decisions at morning college chapel services, inquirers numbered 2,812. The 1,000 counsellors represented 130 churches. Delegations accounted for 7,500 people each night.
For the closing service on Sunday afternoon, October 4, rain fell steadily. Six college buildings wired for closed circuit TV were needed to accommodate the 16,000 who attended, and an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 were turned away.
Several of the evening meetings attracted crowds comparable in size to those at nightly services in New York and San Francisco. Graham preached essentially the same messages; although the emphasis was evangelism, many Christians came forward. About 62 percent of inquirers were first-time commitments to Christ—not as high as in Australia but above the U. S. average.
Wheaton churches cooperated fully. Church people forgot their differences and learned to work together as a solid phalanx for the salvation of souls. Even the more ritualistic churches backed the campaign vigorously, and their pastors took leading roles.
The crusade not only lifted the spiritual life of the college and the city, but it revived the churches, set them on the trail of many potential new members, and created spiritual hunger for a great campaign in nearby Chicago.
Evangelist Billy Graham’s agenda for 1960 calls for mass meetings in Africa, Switzerland, and Germany, plus appearances in both North and South America.
On January 19, Graham plans to leave for a three-month African tour which is to include meetings in Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, the French Cameroons, Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, Ruanda-Urundi, Ethiopia, and possibly in Egypt. Before returning home he hopes to visit, as a tourist, the Holy Land.
Protestant clergymen in Washington, D. C., plan a week-long crusade with Graham next June. The evangelist held a month-long crusade in the nation’s capital in 1952.
As of now, this is the way the rest of his schedule lines up:
—July 3, 1960: Closing address before the Baptist World Alliance convention in Rio de Janeiro.
—Mid-August, 1960: Series of brief crusades in cities of Switzerland.
—September–October, 1960: One-week crusades in Berlin, Hamburg, and Essen.
—November, 1960: One-week crusade among Spanish-speaking peoples of New York City.
—Early 1961: Crusade in Miami.
—Fall of 1961: Month-Ions crusade in Philadelphia.
—June, 1962: Crusade in Chicago (still tentative).
Out in the rolling hills north of Kansas City, Missouri, the Southern Baptist Convention’s sixth seminary is taking shape.
The Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary began operation last fall in temporary quarters downtown. By last month, construction work on the 125-acre suburban campus site was well enough advanced so that the 274 students could move to the new location even while workmen put on finishing touches to four contemporary style buildings: an administrative center, a classroom building, a library, and an auditorium.
More buildings will be added. Enrollment goal: 1,200.
Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, also Southern Baptist, was dedicated this fall at its new Strawberry Point site near San Rafael, California.
Other campus building news:
—Eastern Nazarene College at Quincy, Massachusetts, is launching a $1,500,000 development program extending over the next three years. Two more dormitories and a student union building are planned. A half-million-dollar science building was opened last month.
—Northeastern Bible Institute at Essex Fells, New Jersey, is erecting a $50,000 chapel-library. Estimated completion date: Spring, 1960.
Alberta Premier Ernest C. Manning told delegates to this month’s convention of the Christian Business Men’s Committee International that man’s separation from God is the basis of all our problems in personal and public life, “nationally and internationally.”
“The … Bible makes clear to man that there is only one solution,” layman Manning said. “It is not by education, reform or human effort, but only by a personal, spiritual new birth.”
Delegates to the convention, held in Minneapolis, were cautioned that they must “lean over backwards” to “make every business transaction as clean as a hound’s tooth.”
“No area of a Christian businessman’s life is more vulnerable to the attack of the enemy than is his business life,” said James E. Colville, retiring vice chairman of CBMCI who is an official in a New York wholesale produce firm.
“In competition with the world,” he said, “the temptation is great oftentimes to meet competition on its level or resort to worldly practices.”
“Let us desire to be faithful rather than to be successful. Let us desire to be right rather than to be rich. Let us desire to prove the reality of Christ in the crucible of daily experience more than to prove our cleverness as businessmen.”
Colville said he was opposed to suggestions that the CBMCI liberalize its doctrinal statement: “It is my firm conviction that God has signally blessed us as a movement because of our unwavering stand.”
Dr. Rutherford L. Decker, pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri, will head the Prohibition Party’s election ticket in 1960.
At a party convention in Winona Lake, Indiana, Decker won nomination for president while E. Harold Munn, assistant dean of Hillsdale (Michigan) College was named the vice presidential candidate.
An open break between two rival factions disrupted the 44th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Korea, last month, and threatened that church, largest Christian body in the country, with its third major schism in eight years.
Center of the controversy, ostensibly, is the church’s membership in the World Council of Churches. But the breakup of the assembly, begun in Taejon, appeared to some observers as more a power struggle than a clash of principle.
For three days a faction calling itself the “National Association of Evangelicals” party (not affiliated with the American NAE), fearing loss of power, blocked all efforts of the opposing “Ecumenical” party to carry on such business as election of new officers. Major offices of the retiring 43rd assembly had been under control of the NAE party.
The rupture broke into open violence when the retiring moderator postponed elections by adjourning the assembly for two months against the wishes of the majority. NAE commissioners walked out and Ecumenical delegates were evicted.
Denied further use of the host church, the majority group moved to Seoul, elected the Rev. Chang Koo Yi as moderator, and appointed a peace committee with instructions to seek reconcilement with dissidents. The committee reported its willingness to suspend Korean Presbyterian representation at ecumenical conferences for the sake of unity.
Earlier in Taejon, plans were cancelled for assembly ceremonies which would have marked dissolution of the 75-year-old Korea Mission of the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. and its integration into the Presbyterian Church in Korea. Cancellation of the integration plans, announced by a three-man deputation from the United Presbyterian Commission on Ecumenical Mission and Relations, were prompted by the assembly’s failure to recognize a change of name in the American denominational body. Objections were raised to the word “United,” which the church picked up in its name when it merged with the United Presbyterian Church of North America in the spring of 1958. The NAE faction opposes the new name of the American church on grounds that the word “United” implies recognition of the ecumenical movement.
Back in 1951, a split in the Presbyterian Church in Korea prompted organization of the Koryu Presbyterian Church, now numbering 150,000 adherents. The 170,000 Presbyterian, R.O.K., members separated in 1954.
The National Baptist Convention, U. S. A., Inc., largest Negro church group in the world, plans steps toward eventual reunion with the National Baptist Convention of America. The groups split 44 years ago over ownership of a publishing house.
Some 20,000 delegates approved the action at an annual meeting of the 5,000,000-member U. S. A. body, held last month in San Francisco. The NBC of America, also Negro, has more than 2,000,000 communicants.
As a first step toward possible merger, a proposal was advanced which would arrange for annual meetings of the two groups to be held in the same city.
In other action, delegates adopted a resolution advocating a “go slow” national racial integration policy such as that taking place in Little Rock.
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