A National Council of Churches’ film awards panel decided The Greatest Story Ever Told wasn’t. It snubbed the widely publicized film extravaganza, as did Catholic film judges, and gave no religious film prize for 1965.
A Hollywood member of the awards panel quit in protest: the Rev. Frederick Essex, film-broadcasting director for the American Baptist Convention. Methodist Bishop Gerald Kennedy, who is West Coast chairman for the NCC Broadcasting and Film Commission, tried in vain to get the full BFC to overrule the panel nominations and honor The Greatest Story.
The George Stevens film has been praised by leading churchmen—including NCC President Reuben Mueller and Archbishop Iakovos—and panned by sophisticated secular critics.
The BFC awards were announced February 3 at a hotel in the New York theater district. The week before, the panel had spent two hours discussing The Greatest Story, then voted it down by a narrow margin. It was the only film discussed in the religion category.
Awards chairman Thomas Trotter, dean of the Claremont, California, School of Theology (Methodist), said The Greatest Story was judged “a mish-mash of historical and biblical tradition,”For instance, in having Jesus recite words from First Corinthians. and added that the NCC “copyrighted the Revised Standard Version so none of this could happen.”
He said the film also failed the “pertinence” test by dealing “with Christian tradition without engaging in any contemporary issues” and by “obscuring such issues by its interpretative slants.” “Given the historical time in which we live, the Church must speak with a prophetic edge,” he said, no matter what “little old ladies in Pasadena” think. He doubts a historic, biblical film can be artistically viable.
To Kennedy, all this sounds as if the critics think the Bible story, treated by itself, is irrelevant. The bishop admits The Greatest Story has its faults, but he thinks it is the best Hollywood version of Christ’s life so far, and the snub “makes us look funny.”
Trotter commented that the panel cannot nominate a film just because it’s “a good try.”
One award was particularly popular: the one given to The Sound of Music as exceptional family entertainment. A day before the NCC decision, the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures also gave its family award to The Sound of Music, which was the only American film to win a Catholic award (the NCC limits its choice to American productions, a policy which is unpopular among film followers and is being reconsidered).
The Catholic prizes were perhaps even more controversial than the Protestant-Orthodox choices. The office praised two films, Darling and Juliet of the Spirits, which had been classified by the old Legion of Decency as “morally unobjectionable for adults, with reservations.” Darling was called the best film for adult audiences, and Juliet was chosen for the best foreign-language film. Other awards went to Nobody Waved Goodbye (youth) and World Without Sun (education).
The Pawnbroker also got a shady Catholic rating because of a bare bosom scene. It won an NCC award among films which honestly portray man’s struggle to “realize the full potential of his humanity.” Three films were honored for enhancing understanding of the “family of man”: A Patch of Blue, Nothing But a Man, and The Eleanor Roosevelt Story. The children’s film award, like the religious one, was withheld.
The Rev. William F. Fore, executive director of the NCC commission, said the categories used in the second annual awards reflect “a new attitude among mainstream Protestants” toward feature films. “We are primarily concerned with encouraging honest portrayals of the human situation.”
The Catholic awards also mirror change. They are the first since the December conversion of the National Legion of Decency into the Office of Motion Pictures, and represent a change from banning bad films to promoting good ones. Saturday Review film critic Arthur Knight told the NCC meeting this constructive approach is the best way to affect standards in movie production. He said churches can also help avert film censorship by classifying films so mature adults have free choice but children are “protected” from what society doesn’t think they should see. Thus, the state would have “adult viewing ages” just as it has adult drinking ages.
Focus On Alcohol
Top churchmen in Massachusetts are appealing for more programs to deal with the alcohol problem. They issued a joint statement last month asking wider alcohol education plus social and legal controls. Among those signing the appeal were Richard Cardinal Cushing, Episcopal Bishop Anson Phelps Stokes, Jr., Methodist Bishop James K. Mathews, and Dr. Forrest L. Knapp, general secretary of the Massachusetts Council of Churches.
They declared that in the per capita rate of alcoholism, Boston was second only to San Francisco among American cities and that Massachusetts ranked fourth among the states.
The statement was approved at a luncheon sponsored by the North Conway Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to the study of alcoholism and its problems.
In Richmond, Virginia, the U. S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that states “cannot stamp an unpretending chronic alcoholic as a criminal if his drunken public display is involuntary as the result of the disease.”
Researchers in alcoholism have stumbled on a bizarre but hopeful phenomenon: a venereal disease drug, metronidazole, has the side effect of eliminating a person’s craving for alcohol.
But Harvard psychiatrist Morris Chafetz pins his hopes not on chemical cures but on education on how to drink. Chafetz recently told the New York Academy of Sciences that elementary school children should “practice drinking” so they can develop a “healthy attitude” and learn to control it.
In Chafetz’s design, teachers would spike pupils’ drinks with something subtle like sherry, then increase dosage as they grew older. They would be told of hazards in over-drinking, and benefits of light drinking such as facilitation of social relations, relaxation, and a feeling of well-being.
Booze barons had no immediate comment, but reaction was fast and hot from other quarters. One outspoken critic was Harold E. Hughes, an alcoholic who broke the vice, salvaged his career, and even got elected governor of Iowa as a Democrat.
Hughes called alcohol “the greatest poverty-creator in America.” Telling students they can’t drink doesn’t work, he said, but schools should report drinking’s dangers. Chafetz-style instruction in imbibing was tried in France, the governor added, and it didn’t work.
‘Truth On The March’
Protestant church leaders in Manila say they are encouraged over the response to a weekly telecast inaugurated in late November by evangelist Gregorio Tingson. The half-hour program is the first of its kind in the Philippines.
The potential of the telecast is impressive. There are more than 200,000 television sets in the Manila area. In addition, relay arrangements take the programs from Manila stations into neighboring provinces. Greater Manila alone has a population of more than 3,000,000.
Tingson is the main speaker for the Sunday afternoon evangelistic telecast known as “Truth on the March.” Instrumental and vocal music is provided by members of evangelical churches in the area. Several local business enterprises have pledged financial support, and one donated office space.
EUSTAQUIO RAMIENTOS, JR.
The 70–30 Plan
The trouble with Christian radio stations is that evangelism often fails because only Christians tune them in. At the National Religious Broadcasters’ twenty-third and largest convention, held in Washington. D. C., last month, 200 delegates got some advice in attracting outsiders.
The advisor was Dr. Sigurd Aske, an erudite Norwegian Ph.D. who directs the three-year-old Radio Voice of the Gospel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This $2 million station is a project of the Lutheran World Federation.
Aske said airwaves are cluttered with “objective, John 3:16 sermons which never touch the human situation enough to make an impact. True preaching is only prophetic if it has to do with the people you talk to … with a sense of geography,” the way Amos preached in the Old Testament.
Aske is no social gospeler. He flatly rejected the “fallacy” that the “Gospel is made relevant only by diving into all sorts of social issues.” This produces the temptation to convey “cultural influences, not the Gospel,” he said.
Aske advocates thorough knowledge of the non-Christian cultures a broadcaster is speaking to and says “audience relations” is even more important than programming. Thus, RVOG enlists local believers to encourage listening by non-Christians and to monitor their reactions.
His program formula is 30 per cent direct proclamation of the Gospel and 70 per cent “indirect,” which means basic informational and cultural offerings that “express Christian concern for the listener,” such as child-care features and agricultural advice.
He said circumstances forced RVOG to undergo the “slow, laborious process” of developing good news programs. The station has made inroads this way, since unbiased, non-national radio news is hard to get in Africa and Asia.
The results? Forty per cent of the listener letters from the Near East are from non-Christians, which Aske considers “revolutionary.” The Lutherans plan to import their African concept to Tokyo and Hong Kong and open new stations.
Two members of the Federal Communications Commission spoke at a luncheon and supported FCC policies on religious programming, which were criticized at NRB last year by another commissioner, Lee Loevinger. Kenneth A. Cox said it is proper for the FCC to ask how much religious programming a secular broadcaster offers, since it is one of several valid types of public-service programming.
Cox said “religion has seldom, if ever, been the deciding factor” in station license renewal. However, if there were two identical petitions for a broadcast band and one prospective owner offered free time to the three major faiths while the other proposed to sell all his religious time to anyone with the money, Cox said, the FCC would favor the first applicant. Also, he said, the FCC would look askance at a renewal application if the owner promised more religious programming than he actually offered.
FCC Chairman E. William Henry backed current policies and said. “I don’t foresee any change.” A change to Loevinger’s view might require the FCC to deny radio-TV licenses to any religious organization, so this forecast was greeted warmly by the NRB audience, which now includes many more religious station owners than previously as a result of an organizational change last year.
Second Thoughts On ‘Secular City’
Harvard’s Harvey Cox revisited his Secular City last month and presented some modifications on ideas contained in that fast-selling paperback.
His forum was the seventh meeting of the exclusive American Society of Christian Ethics (limited mostly to professors with Ph.D.’s in the field). Most of the sessions convened at Garrett Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois, with some held at Seabury-Western Seminary across the street. The assembly was informed at a banquet that Northwestern University students refer to the two schools as “East Jesus Tech” and “West Jesus Tech,” respectively.
In the tradition of the Christian Century’s series “How My Mind Has Changed,” Baptist Cox said his immersion in Bonhoeffer had supplied negative stress (phrases like “the end of the religious age”). But he now thinks the book was too hard on the organized church and is ready to talk about “the secular reappropriation of our mythological past.”
Cox explained that what he really wished to oppose was the “triumphal church” that endeavors to promote its future for its own sake. Cox’s name has been linked to the “death of God” discussions, but he specifically disengaged himself from Paul van Buren’s literal rejection of God’s present existence.
He called his Secular City an attempt to integrate the transcendental theology of Barth with the dynamic sociology of Talcott Parsons. To the kind of epistemological question that has always troubled Barth (how do you know when the Holy Spirit is present in social action?), Cox blithely affirmed that “only the hermeneutical community with its eyes of faith discerns ‘where the action is.’ ” Whereupon the inevitable query came from the floor: “Carl McIntire’s church or yours?”
Franklin H. Littell of Chicago Theological Seminary moved into the sphere of this latter question in a sparsely attended historical seminar on “right-wing threats to America.”
Littell lashed out at both the Communist far left and the Fascist-reactionary far right. A particularly telling argument was that in spite of the support John Birchers receive from certain “defrocked radio preachers,” the far right, like the Nazi Deutsche Christen religion, is “without history or creed and beyond all objectivity of law or sacrament.” Thus top Bircher Robert Welch writes that the rightist cause is hospitable both to fundamentalists and to convinced rationalists.
But Littell left several listeners (including Cox) uncomfortable when he asserted his laudable social liberalism in pugnaciously illiberal terms (“I won’t listen to anyone who won’t listen to me”).
Half a day was devoted to “wars of national liberation,” which means Viet Nam these days. American foreign policy won articulate support, particularly from two Roman Catholics.
JOHN WARWICK MONTGOMERY
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