NEWS: Special Report

The Ecumenical Furor Over Rebaptism

Why did Luci Johnson renounce the Episcopal Church? What prompted her conversion to Roman Catholicism? How do her parents feel about the switch?

These are the questions nobody was asking this month. Instead, a storm of criticism swirled about the President’s younger daughter over whether she should have been administered the rite of baptism a second time. And churchmen debated the effect of Luci’s actions on the ecumenical movement.

What made it all more controversial was the fact that Roman Catholic and Episcopal churchmen were understood to have agreed only days before, in an unprecedented dialogue in Washington, that so-called conditional baptism ought to be carefully limited.

Luci was baptized in 1947, when she was only five months old, in the Episcopal Church of St. David in Austin, Texas. But Catholic authorities in Washington apparently made no attempt to uncover that fact when Luci made known her desire to be accepted into the Roman Catholic Church. Roman Catholics and Episcopalians normally recognize each other’s baptisms as valid.

On her eighteenth birthday, Luci went to St. Matthew’s Cathedral, seven blocks from the White House. There she was conditionally baptized by the Rev. James Montgomery and received officially into the Roman Catholic Church.

Why was the baptism “conditional”? What was the nature of the doubt about the first baptism? No one seems to be absolutely certain.

“I did what thousands of other priests would have done,” said Montgomery, adding that it was “the customary way of handling converts.”

Archbishop Patrick A. O’Boyle defended Montgomery and said he upheld the priest’s right “to make freely his decision in this matter after conscientiously considering all the circumstances.” Montgomery had indicated that the “circumstances” included a personal request from Luci for the baptismal rite. He said she merely wanted to be certain of fulfilling all the requirements of Roman Catholic membership.

To Dr. Fredrik A. Schiotz, president of the American Lutheran Church, this explanation “compounds the confusion. It suggests an inadequate pastoral ministry during the period of instruction.”

Luci told newsmen she had taken an initial interest in Roman Catholicism five years ago. She began her official instruction under the supervision of Montgomery last September.

The first comment on the rebaptism came from Episcopal Bishop James A. Pike of California, who labeled the ceremony “sacrilegious,” an “insult,” “a direct slap at our church.” Pike had been baptized a Roman Catholic and was never rebaptized when he became an Episcopalian.

Article continues below

Later, Pike seemed pleased at the controversy and ventured that Luci had “innocently made a distinct contribution to the ecumenical movement.” The episode, he said, “has resulted in a clear reaffirmation that such denigration of Christian baptism should never occur again—and I doubt that it will.”

Pike referred to the statement of an American member of the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity as supporting his view. Father Thomas F. Stransky of Milwaukee had pointed out in Vatican City that an Episcopal baptism is “valid” and that “normally, a convert to Catholicism from Episcopalianism would only take the profession of faith.” Stransky said the Johnson case was typical of “what is a bad practice in the United States—indiscriminate baptism.” “Despite clear rulings to the contrary by the Holy Office,” he said, “American priests have the tendency to rebaptize.”

Many Catholic newspapers in the United States have carried editorials on the conditional baptism issue. Some criticized the ceremony, holding that the validity of the Episcopal baptism of the President’s daughter had not been questioned. Others denounced Pike.

Generally, Religious News Service reported, “it was not felt that the controversy had caused a crushing blow to the ecumenical movement.” One paper, quite critical of Pike, said “efforts toward Christian unity … would be pathetically unstable if an incident of this nature would cause them to crumble.”

Osservatore Romano, Vatican City daily newspaper, said that contrary to some reports the Vatican has taken no official stand on the controversy. It stressed that any statements from Vatican personnel “must be considered entirely personal,” and that “diocesan ecclesiastical authorities are competent to express judgment on such matters.”

That still left Luci forsaking a Protestant heritage for some unknown reason. She would only say that five years ago, “I, like all young people, began to question, and I began to wonder. I found my answer in the church.”

“I was waiting until I was eighteen,” she declared, “so that I could make the decision as an adult, not as a child.”

Toward A More Biblical Base

At least a third of the fifteen-member committee appointed to scrutinize the United Presbyterians’ proposed new confession is reported to be theologically conservative. The committee, composed of nine ministers and six laymen, was assigned the responsibility by this year’s General Assembly of studying the draft of the creed and making recommendations for possible revision.

Article continues below

One evangelical source close to the committee indicated he was encouraged by its makeup. He predicted that its conservative strength would increase the chances of bringing the confession around to a more biblical base.

The committee will hold its first meeting in New York in September. The members are:

The Rev. Edler G. Hawkins, past moderator of the General Assembly; the Rev. Joseph Haroutunian, theology professor at the University of Chicago; the Rev. W. Sherman Skinner, president of the United Presbyterian Board of Christian Education; President William H. Schechter of Tarkio College; the Rev. William F. Keesecker of Wichita; the Rev. Louis H. Evans, Jr., of La Jolla, California; the Rev. Lewis S. Mudge, Jr., chaplain of Amherst College; the Rev. Robert J. Lamont of Pittsburgh; the Rev. William Johnston Wiseman of Tulsa; the Rev. James W. Angell of Lexington, Kentucky; Mrs. Robert Wise, a La Grange, Illinois, housewife; Robert C. Grasberger of Media, Pennsylvania, a lawyer; Irvin W. Cobb of Natick, Massachusetts, also a lawyer; Dr. Theodore Lindner of Cincinnati; and Dr. Harry Davis of Beloit, Wisconsin.

Baptist Mitosis In Wichita

The thunder of splitting asunder has stilled in Wichita’s classic case of church-splitting. Where there was one Baptist church five years ago, there are five today. The First Baptist Church—largest congregation in the American Baptist Convention before a lawsuit began winding its way to the Kansas Supreme Court—now draws 400 souls on a Sunday morning. They sit in a cavernous sanctuary built for 1,800.

Meanwhile the Metropolitan Baptist Church, composed of former members of First Baptist, is a booming Southern Baptist congregation of 2,000 that recently entered a $2 million building on five acres of land with a fifteen-story spire rising above downtown Wichita. Three other offshoots of First Baptist are visible now that the dust has settled; two small independents and a mission from First Baptist that became a separate entity during the legal battle.

The splitting started in 1960 when a First Baptist group led by the Rev. F. B. Thorn failed to get the ABC to leave the National Council of Churches on grounds of political philandering. The church voted to leave the ABC, and the minority in the vote regrouped 100 strong, met in another ABC church, and waged the legal battle that resulted in the 1962 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that “a mere majority vote” was not enough to cut denominational ties. The outs became the ins and regained the $2.5 million church plant, and the majority left to form Metropolitan Baptist. During the majority’s rule, a satellite church, Woodlawn Avenue Baptist, had been granted autonomy. But its pastor, the Rev. Darrell Sanford, was growing more and more unhappy with what he calls ABC’s “universalism” and “out-and-out affiliation” with NCC. So conflict arose when the ABC group returned to First, and Sanford resigned to join the Rev. Samuel Bradford at Beth Eden Baptist Church. Beth Eden was formed by disgruntled members of Metropolitan who disliked its move toward the Southern Baptist Convention. However, it wasn’t until this spring that Metropolitan formally joined the SBC. Of Wichita’s 100 Baptist churches today, the two largest are now Southern—Metropolitan and Immanuel Baptist, which defected from the ABC earlier.

Article continues below

Last year, a splinter developed in the splinter of the splinter. As Sanford described it, Bradford was forced to resign due to a “power struggle” with “powerful, rich laymen,” so the two ministers and their partisans founded the Messiah Baptist Temple.

Dr. W. E. Thorn, who succeeded his father in Metropolitan’s pulpit shortly after the court ruling, says the original split was good because “there is a need for both of these churches.” They don’t differ in belief, he said, but in “method of operation.” But Dr. Max Morgan said after 2½ years as minister at First Baptist that the split was “very unfortunate.” The remnant he leads has a $330,000 debt to pay off on a large educational building. But last year First had an income of $150,000 and Morgan predicts “slow but steady growth.” He said hundreds of members of the 1960 First Baptist have drifted to other Baptist churches, other denominations, or nowhere in particular. Sanford said Beth Eden, and Messiah Temple after it, have become “a haven for disillusioned Baptists.”

Flies, Foxes, And Images

Appointment of a retired major-general as information officer for the Church of England prompted an outburst of sharp criticism during this month’s Church Assembly at Westminster. The Rev. Adrian Esdaile, a curate from Wimbledon, wished Major-General Adam Block well but asked: “Does the image of a retired major-general, whose hobbies appear to be fly fishing and fox hunting, as our church information officer give the right impression?”

The Bishop of London, Dr. Robert Stopford, defended the appointment. He said that General Block had vision and experience, as well as the ability to make contacts. Block, former army commander in Malta, retained his job.

Article continues below
A March For Christ

Billy Graham, addressing the thirtieth anniversary meeting of International Christian Leadership, called for a renewal of Christian zeal and a “march for Christ” to make the world better for mankind.

“We are not responsible for the past or future generations, but we are responsible for our generation,” he told clergy and lay guests at a dinner.

The noted evangelist asserted that the “crisis of American civilization is the decline of human personality and human responsibility.…”

Graham said that the world is facing crisis after crisis and that every day solutions grow more difficult. Pointing to the war crisis, he said that “each day we draw nearer the hour of maximum danger as weapons spread and hostile forces grow stronger, and time has not been our friend.”

Other crises are found in social problems, moral standards, politics, and education, he continued. Though great social problems face society, such as race, poverty, and disease, he stated, the greatest is the “explosion of sexual energy.”

In six generations this country will have 9 billion people and “will become one single metropolitan city,” he said. “Then no system of government, be it democracy or Communism, could possibly prevent war.”

Graham also said that the country is “obsessed” with sex and that “never before in history has a nation been so completely given over to worshiping the goddess sex as we Americans. No nation can survive long when sex becomes its goddess.”

Turning to modern education, the evangelist charged it with “failing to answer the questions the student is asking”; consequently, he said, they are rioting all over the world. Graham asserted that education is avoiding the “ultimate realities of life and is losing its grip on the modern student.” He added that education should concern itself with the “great ultimate situations of human life—death, suffering, fate, and sin.”

Two-Part Harmony

The evangelistic series that took the name “Lower Mainland Crusade” was centered in Vancouver, British Columbia, and had two parts. The first part was held May 2–16 in the 6,000-seat Agrodome of the Pacific National Exhibition grounds, under the preaching of Leighton Ford. The second began with Ford June 25 in the 35,000-seat Empire Stadium. It closed July 2–4 with Billy Graham.

It was not easy, since Christians had gone all out for the first part, to galvanize the churches into action once again. Lower Mainland residents, having come through the hardest winter in living memory, were eager to begin their holidays. And the mood was not enhanced by public statements from a leading spokesman of liberal Christianity, who cited a survey minimizing the scope of church participation. A week before he had come out for “trial marriage” and subsequently announced his departure from the ministry for the field of psychology. It was revealed later that the survey had embraced only 23 of the more than 800 churches in the area.

Article continues below

Thus it was heavy going for the first couple of evenings in Empire Stadium, with some 6,000 in attendance. Rain is never far away in the Pacific Northwest, but as day succeeded day skies became clearer and temperatures warmer. As it turned out, Graham could say he had not seen a cloud in the sky in his days in Vancouver.

The crusade extended deeply into the culture of the area. One meeting was held for union members at the heart of one of the most militant and doctrinaire left-wing labor movements in the Western world. Vocalist Homer James, also a dairy farmer, spoke to agriculturalists from the rich Fraser River Delta. There was also a Chinese-language rally in the Chinatown section of Vancouver.

Mrs. Eleanor Whitney, noted Christian socialite, arrested the attention of the ladies with her hats and her straightforward testimony. Business and professional men turned out in droves for early morning breakfasts. There was also a luncheon, one of the largest ever held in the city; among attendants was British Columbia Premier William Bennett, who brought greetings and wished the crusade well.

Night by night, under Ford’s biblical, thoughtful, and relevant messages, an increasing number made public profession of their faith in Christ. When Graham rose to speak, many realized anew that his effectiveness lay, not in his organization, his image, or his simple and at times folksy messages, but in the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The two final services were hours of great triumph, with the stadium filled to capacity and many hundreds coming to Christ.


Double Fatality

Religious News Service reported this month the death of two Roman Catholic missionary priests in a New Guinea plane crash. The plane, a single-engine Cessna 206 belonging to the Catholic Mission Airways, smashed into a mountainside.

Found in the plane’s wreckage were the bodies of Father Joseph Walachy, 48, of Trenton, New Jersey, and Father Joseph Bayer, 49, of Wiesau, Germany. They were flying from Madang to Kegulsugi. Walachy was at the controls.

Article continues below

In 1958, Walachy was forced to crash-land a plane in New Guinea’s rugged Bismark Ranges because of engine trouble. He and his three passengers were not hurt. Later the priest won a commendation from Australia’s Commonwealth Department of Civil Aviation for his skill and swift action.

The Care Of 20,500 Orphans

Dedication services were held last month for a new building housing headquarters offices of World Vision, Inc., at Monrovia, California, in suburban Los Angeles.

The structure gives the missionary service organization, headed by Dr. Bob Pierce, more office space as well as a large warehouse. Room is also being set aside for research facilities that will eventually include not only a large missionary library but also photo, audiovisual, and information files.

World Vision’s first office was opened in Portland, Oregon, more than fourteen years ago. The space was shared with Youth for Christ. In 1956, World Vision moved to its own offices in Eagle Rock, California, and three years later to quarters in Pasadena.

Pierce established World Vision during the Korean War, primarily to help orphans in Korea and to facilitate evangelistic work. Now, through an extensive orphan sponsorship program, care is provided for more titan 20,500 orphans in nineteen countries of the world.

The work also embraces programs of emergency aid, social welfare services, evangelistic outreach, Christian leadership development, and missionary challenge. In addition to the U. S. offices, World Vision maintains administrative branches in Toronto, Seoul, Calcutta, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Malang, Indonesia.

A Curb On Cursing

On orders from its top general, the U. S. Army is conducting a campaign to discourage the use of profanity.

The focal point of the campaign is the classroom. Commanders have been asked to “prohibit the use of offensive language and off-color stories in our service schools.”

Initiating the letter was General Harold

K. Johnson, Army Chief of Staff, who frequently makes public his Christian convictions. Those who attended the Presidential Prayer Breakfast in March recall his story of his experiences on the Bataan Death March and his reliance on faith during Japanese imprisonment.

Johnson said his letter to curtail profanity was spurred by a skit he witnessed during a training demonstration. During the skit, he declared, “the soldier-actors employed language that I can only describe as offensive to the average person.”

Article continues below

Johnson’s effort to reduce vulgarity in the Army is not without precedent. General George Washington, on July 6, 1776, issued one of his famous General Orders from New York, which said:

“The General is sorry to be informed that the foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing, a vice heretofore little known in an American army, is growing into fashion. He hopes the officers will, by example as well as influence, endeavor to check it, and that both they and the men will reflect, that we can have little hope of the blessing of Heaven on our arms, if we insult it by our impiety and folly.”

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.