It was billed as a Conference on Church and Society, but it turned out to be mostly a clash between youth and age over the means of social revolution. Actually, it hardly mattered. Both agreed socialism is the wave of the future; the only basic difference of opinion lay in how the churches should help bring it about.

Youth wanted a tidal wave—violent, crushing, devastating the existing social structures. Their elders were willing to settle for a rising tide that would come no less surely but with less violence.

The conference, held at the Ecumenical Center in Geneva under auspices of the World Council of Churches, was called “because of the need for a new ecumenical examination of Christian social ethics in a world perspective.” Its legacy had come down from Stockholm (1925) and Oxford (1937), the first such conferences called to give ecumenical expression to social concerns. But this heritage was lost on many of those at Geneva. During those earlier conferences they had been, if born at all, mere babes in arms. They had grown up to be young Turks.

Tremors signaling the inevitable conflict were felt in the first days of the two-week meeting. A group of young ecumenical activists were in the vanguard. Perhaps the most articulate spokesman among them was M. Richard Shaull, professor of ecumenics at Princeton Theological Seminary, who asserted that “the Church’s service to the world is that of being the ‘pioneer of every social reform’ without making any claims for Christianity or trying to Christianize the revolution.”

Dissociating himself from those who believe in the “capacity of the established order to renew itself without strong revolutionary pressures upon it” (notably Professors H. D. Wendland of Germany and André Philip of France), Shaull urged a “new strategy of revolution” using “political guerrilla units” similar to those in military strategy.

He said he could not “insist that Christians should have no participation in the use of revolutionary violence” and called for the “constant formation throughout society of small nuclei with revolutionary objectives.”

The conference seemed to have its own revolutionary nucleus: twenty-five specially chosen youth participants (primarily leaders of the national Christian Student movements) plus some of the thirty stewards. Among the more than 400 delegates, they were perhaps the best organized group, surpassing even the Russians. They spoke frequently, sometimes eloquently.

A few times the elder statesmen of Christian socialism with their appeal to “evolutionary change” sounded downright reactionary when contrasted with the young activists who called for “deeds—not words.”

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The open clash came on the next-to-last day. The youths, not satisfied with two weeks of talk, wanted to march—right down the hill from the Ecumenical Center to United Nations headquarters. There, amid banners and speech-making, they would present to someone (not identified) something (equally unidentified) to show the conference’s concern for world needs.

The President’S Reaction

President Johnson thinks statements like those on Viet Nam made at the Conference on Church and Society (see above story) “are generally very one-sided,” reports Press Secretary Bill Moyers.

Moyers, an ordained Baptist, said on CBS Radio’s “World of Religion” that “the Geneva Conference would have spoken with a more effective voice if it had been equally critical of both parties in the Vietnamese conflict.” He attributed criticism of the United States not so much to a growing influence of non-Western nations in the World Council of Churches as to “a general hostility to war on the part of clergymen. Unfortunately, in this case, there was a lack of acquaintance with the facts in Southeast Asia.”

Moyers said religious leaders are the “largest organized group” opposing Johnson’s Viet Nam policy but that “the President has had many expressions of support from many churchmen.”

The steering committee, more aware that the conference was to speak to the WCC and the churches, not for them, proposed that the order of the march be reversed—uphill from the U. N. center to the Ecumenical Center. When both proposals were voted down by the assembly (a delegate from India suggested they march through the villages of the world where they could see the need but not be seen, especially by television), the youths got tacit permission from conference officials to organize a voluntary march.

All in all, it was a fascinating two weeks, sometimes frightening for observers who doubted that “status quo” and “sin” were necessarily synonymous.

If the Oxford conference of 1937 charted the course for ecumenical social thinking, Geneva marked a radical shift, for the modern theological phenomenon of “contextual ethics” was the underlying rationale of its papers and findings.

This was spelled out early in the conference by Professor Andre Dumas of the Protestant Faculty of Theology, Paris, who rejected all attempts to pigeonhole God with past times or the notion of “immobile transcendence.” God is, Dumas said, the One who is coming, “the One whose time is not a separate eternity but a time that is approaching.”

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The only appeal to biblical authority that one reporter could find after digging through several hundred pages of addresses and reports was this one: “The churches see in biblical teaching the sanctity of monogamous marriage.” This was in a redraft of one section report that in an earlier version spoke only of “traditional doctrines.”

But even that paragraph was unsatisfying for, although it was the only part of the document to mention pre-marital and extra-marital sex relations, it failed to apply the same biblical standard it did to monogamous marriage. Indeed, it acknowledged that “many in secular society argue for the rights of these relationships” and added nothing more than that for youth these “arguments bring serious personal conflict.”

Apart from the worship periods and a few impromptu speeches by delegates from the younger countries, scriptural references were rare enough to make one wonder whether a moratorium on the Bible had been declared.

However, Viet Nam and American involvement there came up frequently enough. The youth participants circulated a statement that the war “is fundamentally a struggle for national independence by the Vietnamese people” and asked for signatures. (Reports put the response at about seventy.) The Christian Peace Conference shipped from Prague releases condemning the bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong. There were enough copies for each newsman to have one.

Another release (Conference General No. 42) was titled “Report of some activities of U. S. citizens acting as individuals during the conference on the matter of Viet Nam.” What they did (seventy-five of them) was cable President Johnson asking him to refrain from reprisals over the prisoner situation, call on North Viet Nam to treat captured personnel according to International Red Cross standards, and write Bishop Reuben Mueller asking him to “mobilize the resources of the National Council of Churches and its constituent denominations” to bring about a reassessment of America’s Viet Nam policy.

The official conference statement on Viet Nam came from a section chaired by John C. Bennett of Union Theological Seminary, which also called for the admission of Red China to the U. N. The statement read: “The massive and growing American military presence in Viet Nam and the long continued bombing of the villages in the South and of targets a few miles from cities in the North cannot be justified.” Efforts to get “cannot be justified” changed to “should be condemned” were defeated on the plea that the wording represented a very delicate compromise.

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A Korean delegate suggested that the bombings in Saigon by the Viet Cong should also be included, but no enthusiasm was shown for this proposal. And an amendment that would have added the words: “Also the massive and continued trespassing of Laos and South Viet Nam by North Viet Nam cannot be justified and should be censured by people throughout the world,” received fewer than ten votes.

If the conference failed in its opportunity to speak a meaningful spiritual word to the churches, the reason may in part have been that most of the delegates were laymen unversed in these matters. They were chosen by the WCC Department on Church and Society and their denominations, presumably for their technical competence.

Almost every class and group in the world had a spokesman. If there were any “unvoiced multitudes,” they were industrialists, businessmen, and other assorted “capitalists” who have some say over the means of production. (They were outnumbered among participants by the Russian delegation, seventeen to twelve.) That fact in itself seemed strange, especially since a considerable part of the discussion centered around who should control the means of production.

To its credit, the conference showed great courage in attempting a staggering task. Anthropologist Margaret Mead noted, “We are trying to do everything for everybody—at once.” Not even the officials were willing to claim the meeting an unqualified success. What may have been its greatest success was the very fact that it could bring so many people together from so many professions and places representing virtually every tension in the world—and get them to agree on anything.

But if the conference could be commended for its idealism and forgiven for its lack of spiritual depth, it could hardly be excused for its incredible—but characteristically ecumenical—naïveté when dealing with human nature. It placed an enormous amount of faith in the social scientists to bring the kingdom of God on earth.

Forty years ago at Stockholm when the social gospel was in its heyday, liberal theologians expected to change the world through good men. In Geneva that hope was still alive, but now they seemed to think it would come about through clever men.

A Religious Garbage Dump

A church-owned garbage dump would be for the birds, says Captain Albert Newhall, commander of Glenview (Illinois) Naval Air Station.

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The tax-exempt Society of Divine Word, which operates Roman Catholic seminaries in the Chicago area, has tried for two years to get a site near the air base rezoned so it could lease the land to Lakeland Fill, Inc., to operate a profit-making dump.

A zoning board contended the dump might draw sea gulls from Lake Michigan, and last October the Cook County commissioners denied the rezoning plea. Divine Word then took its case to court.

Newhall contends the dump could cost human lives, since one bird can incapacitate a jet aircraft. Hundreds of airplanes a day fly over the land proposed for the dump.


Ecumenism At The Top

The International Congregational Council last month recommended to member churches a merger with the world Presbyterian Alliance that would be the first union of major, world-wide confessional bodies.

The decision at Swansea, Wales, was unanimous, despite misgivings from the Swedish and Finnish delegations. Their churches broke from Lutheranism and retain some misgivings about Reformed churches. However, the strategy seems to be not to contest the merger but to decide about joining when the time comes.

Executives of the Presbyterian alliance, which first proposed the merger, gave quick, “hearty” approval to the ICC vote. If member communions agree, a joint agency with a constituency of 125 denominations and 55 million members would organize in 1970, with probable headquarters in Geneva. The plan is called a closer fellowship among denominations, not a uniting of them.

The move toward the Presbyterian body (officially, the Alliance of the Reformed Churches Throughout the World Holding the Presbyterian Order) was spearheaded by General Secretary Ernest Long of the United Church of Canada, a denomination formed by merger of Congregationalists with Presbyterians and Methodists. Also in tune was the large delegation from the United Church of Christ, U. S. A., another merged denomination involving Congregationalists.

Another big step at Swansea was complete revision of the ICC constitution. Altogether, the changes were quite radical and amount to a full reconsideration of what Congregationalism is today. As one delegate said, “It was a case of seeing how far you can move away from your historical foundations and still remain the same thing.”

From now on, the ICC will meet every three years instead of every five, to keep pace with the fast-changing ecclesiastical world. Also, the executive committee was cut down so that members can meet with greater ease and travel at less expense.

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The ICC chose as moderator Ashby E. Bladen, first layman in the post since 1908. He is a retired insurance attorney and executive director of the Commission on Development, United Church of Christ.

Disciples: Radical Surgery

The Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) are undergoing radical structural surgery. Preparations for the operation—which is expected to cause some congregational pains—were completed last month in Cincinnati at a week-long meeting of the International Commission on Brotherhood Restructure.

One result is an unusual amount of advance interest in the denomination’s convention in Dallas September 23–28. After presentation there, plans would go to the grass roots for a year of discussion, with action slated at the 1967 assembly.

“We’re undergoing a radical change,” says the Rev. E. S. Moreland, a Cincinnati pastor and member of the forty-member Executive Council, which, under the new plan, would “serve as the board of directors and exercise trustee responsibilities for the Christian Church.”

Moreland admits “we’ll catch the devil from independent brethren who won’t have anything to do with organization. There will be some congregations who will just ignore the commission’s recommendations—and they have that right.”

The design, five years in the making, would relate all Disciples organizations to one structure, governed by a system of representative assemblies at the regional (state) and international levels.

Under the present system, any time a Disciples organization holds a convention, as many members of as many congregations as are interested may attend. While undoubtedly democratic, the meetings at times become unwieldy.

In a related semantic shift, the denomination would make its title singular instead of plural: “Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).”

The denominational offices point out that congregations would retain such traditional rights as holding and managing their property, calling ministers, and planning their programs.

Of course, the current proposal is just an overture to the main event—decision on full alignment with the Consultation on Church Union, with its plan for a denomination of 24 million members and a centralized regional structure reminiscent of the “Brotherhood” design.


Hands Across The Archipelago

Philippine evangelicals are trying to set up a broad new national fellowship. Initial action came in Manila June 28 during a meeting of representatives of more than a dozen religious groups and Asia Secretary Dennis Clark of World Evangelical Fellowship.

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While there is already a national body of evangelical churches known as the Philippine Council of Fundamental Evangelical Churches, most representatives felt it is known more for its stand against the National Council of Churches of the Philippines than for a positive evangelical position. The term “Fundamental” in the PCFEC title, some think, is intended to “scare” those in the NCCP who espouse liberal theological views.

Since membership in the PCFEC is open only to churches and organizations, it was felt that individual church leaders within the NCCP system who share PCFEC theology are being shut out of fellowship.

Representatives of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, one of the largest member church bodies in the NCCP, expressed satisfaction over the aims of the WEF and asked to be included in future meetings that will be held to set up the new national chapter.


‘Ecumenical Experiment’ Explodes

The Rev. John Tirrell, the embattled U. S. Episcopalian assisting at Edinburgh’s St. Giles’s Cathedral, historic shrine for Presbyterians, resigned last month. The Church of Scotland had approved promotion of Tirrell to senior assistant—which would have involved participation in sacraments—but had said Tirrell had to get permission from his superiors.

Ironically, the final decision fell to an enthusiastic ecumenist, Bishop James A. Pike of California. Pike, in effect, went along with Scotland’s Episcopal Bishop Kenneth Carey, and said churches are not yet ready for such a move. Carey, widely criticized for opposing Tirrell, explained that an “ecumencial experiment” can be disruptive to wider efforts, such as the present delicate negotiations between the Church of Scotland and Anglicanism.

Reds Renege On Lutherans

East Germany swung its political sickle to cut off plans for the first worldwide Christian convention in a Communist country. The Lutheran World Federation got permission earlier this year to hold its 1969 assembly in Weimar, under the stipulation that it be purely non-political. But last month Hans Seigewasser, secretary for church affairs, announced cancellation because the assembly would not “serve a useful purpose.”

Managing Church Manpower

Can big-business personnel techniques be applied to Protestantism? Despite wide variations in programs and terminology, the National Council of Churches is trying.

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Admitting that less is known about church work than most professions, the NCC rallied management experts, computers, and charts and surveyed ministers in fifteen denominations. Late last month, the results appeared in “The Church and Its Manpower Management.” In the 139-page booklet, Ross P. Scherer, who directs the NCC’s ministry studies, says “probably no other major program agency” tries to do so much with so little staff as the Church.

The survey found nearly two-thirds of the churches have memberships under 500, half have a budget under $20,000, and about three-fourths of the clergymen are “solo” performers, without staff except for lay volunteers.

As for pay, Scherer says that probably no institution has “such a sporadic, quixotic, and laissez faire system of patronage.” Salaries generally coordinate with church size and the minister’s education. Median cash income was $5,158, plus $1,848 in housing and other benefits. But the median minister paid $685 from his own pocket for professional auto expenses.

The survey found that ministers consider themselves mainly as preachers and pastors, placing little importance on “administrative and community functions.” Scherer says the “secular city” reorientation will change personnel training and assignment but predicts that “external” activities like service and “worldly dialogue” will supplement, rather than displace, such traditional “internal” functions as proclamation, worship, consultation, education, and fellowship.

The official news agency explained the Reds’ reasons: West German Protestants had backed a “despicable law” claiming the West has jurisdiction over all Germany, and had joined in rallies for refugees from former German territories administered by Poland.

The LWF Executive Committee said political tensions in divided Germany do not involve LWF, a church group representing seventy-two communions in forty nations. It added sadly that the Weimar assembly could have contributed to “an easing of tension.”

What Good Are Parochial Schools?

A three-year study shows Roman Catholic schools have little effect on students’ religious behavior unless parents are devout, and concludes there is no evidence that parochial schools “have been necessary for the survival of American Catholicism.”

The report, published this month as The Education of American Catholics, was financed by Carnegie Corporation and the U.S. Office of Education. More than 2,000 persons were polled concerning church attendance, contributions, and religious knowledge and attitudes.

The authors predict that “critical years” may be ahead as Catholics become better educated and more conconcerned about school quality.

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