It was a question of keep-’em-guessing-to-the-end in the appointment of the World Council of Churches’ new general secretary. The Geneva headquarters staff were not talking when the Central Committee met last month to make the decision. But this was not merely a reflection of their discretion—they simply did not know. Later, speculation kept returning to one name, but no one could quite discount the possibility that a dark horse might dart ahead at the last minute. The unhappy case of an earlier executive committee nominee had not been forgotten (see Feb. 4 issue, p. 54).
Such was the position when the Central Committee in closed session carried out final deliberations. The scene outside was no less remarkable as an impressive array of newsmen and photographers awaited the outcome, while the galleries were crammed with staff who had forsaken their desks to find out who the new boss would be.
The climax was fitting. Not a wisp of smoke, but a deafening tattoo on three gongs played somewhere aloft by an official with a sense of high drama. “We have a pope,” murmured one journalist, as the crowd surged into the conference hall to hear the news. There the surprise ended, for Chairman Franklin Clark Fry briskly announced the election of the Rev. Eugene Carson Blake, for fifteen years the outspoken, activistic stated clerk of the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. To a standing ovation Dr. Blake was escorted to the rostrum by three WCC presidents. The time was just before 10:30 A.M., the date February 11.
At the ensuing press conference there was some uneasiness on the part of Bishop John Sadiq of Nagpur, chairman of the nominating committee, and he never did give a straight answer to two questions put to him: Was Dr. Blake’s name before the committee from the beginning? Was the election unanimous? (Rumor suggested three votes cast against, one abstention.)
There was no such equivocation evident when Dr. Blake was confronted with questions. In fact, he answered some not specifically asked. He had learned most from Hugh Ross Macintosh, Reinhold Niebuhr, and William Temple; the death-of-God theologians were saying nothing new; since 1956 he had chaired an NCC committee seeking to establish relations with the churches of Red China; the real differences among the churches do not follow a denominational line; “there is no Blake plan for church union.” With the consent of his General Assembly and presbytery, Dr. Blake will probably take up residence in Geneva this summer and work for a period in collaboration with the retiring general secretary, Dr. W. A. Visser’t Hooft.
Visser’t Hooft expressed public and private dismay that in the discussion of his own report to the committee, many contributions from the floor concentrated on one section of the report. He had declared that the health of the ecumenical movement depended “on the place it gives to the Holy Scriptures in its life,” and he pointed out afterwards that the achievement of greater unity was dependent on “the one voice which gives us our marching orders.” Archbishop Iakovos of New York was clearly not happy about this. “Who is going to interpret the one voice so that we understand it as our marching orders?” he demanded.
Another typical Orthodox contribution on the same theme, but on a different occasion, came from Archpriest Vitaly Borovoy of Geneva. An aggressive supporter of the Prague-based Christian Peace Conference, with strident voice to match, the archpriest declared that a biblical theology could not be a basis for unity because “we have no common consensus in our understanding and our interpretation of the Holy Scripture.” He called for mutual acceptance of the dogmas, basic order, and moral principles “of the ancient undivided Church, as they have been maintained for us from the time of the seven Ecumenical Councils.” There alone could true unity be found.
The assembly found itself more united in discussing the report of tire Division of Inter-Church Aid, Refugee and World Service. The report told of India: 12 million people in a desperate plight as a result of the worst famine in a century; five states declared disaster areas so far; the current harvest expected to be at best only 35 per cent of normal; millions certain to die before the end of 1966. The DICARWS suggested: encouraging governments in giving immediate and practical aid, and taking immediate steps to increase the current feeding programs of member churches. “There are big things to do,” says the report, “and difficult, drawn-out programs to provide—there are millions whom we cannot save, and this is surely one of those occasions when it is peculiarly appropriate to ponder the saying of Scripture—‘When you have done all that is commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants.’ ”
The committee authorized an appeal for not less than $3 million to support a three-year program for projects in India calculated to increase water resources, land reclamation, and agricultural developments, and in other ways to remove the causes of famine; also endorsed was a program for providing immediate relief to at least one million people through activities of the National Christian Council of India. Authority for the WCC to coordinate its relief programs in this area and in Africa with the Roman Catholic Church was also given by the committee.
World Council And The World
After electing Dr. Eugene Carson Blake its new leader, the World Council of Churches’ Central Committee turned its attention to the tangled East-West situation and came up with ten resolutions likely to be the talk of the church world for months (sec editorial, page 31).
The policy-making body called on the United States to stop bombing North Viet Nam, and on North Viet Nam to stop its military infiltration of the South. It asked a seat for the Viet Cong at negotiations, questioned America’s foreign policy of “containment,” and urged that Red China be brought “into the world community of nations.” presumably including the U.N.
The resolutions had been promoted by Orthodox spokesmen from the Soviet Bloc. They went far beyond the current peace offensive of Pope Paul and reflected views expressed by Blake at the National Council of Churches board meeting last December.
Immediately after his WCC election, Blake declared that “whatever victory” the United States might achieve in Viet Nam “will have a racial stigma.” He said that “basically the more successful the U. S. policy seeking victory in Viet Nam, the greater will be the disaster in the long run.”
In America, a high policy adviser to President Johnson countered that Communism isn’t color-blind and that tyranny and aggression don’t respect racial lines. He cited an incident last month in which the Viet Cong blew up three buses, killing fifty-four innocent farmers. The White House view is that the United States has a duty to stop aggression, regardless of the color of the aggressor.
The President told an educators’ convention in Atlantic City February 16, “Observers are not invited when the Viet Cong murder the mother of an officer in the Army of Viet Nam as reprisal against her son—or torture and dismember the master of a local school. But people who hate war ought not ignore this strategy of terror.”
On internal matters, Central Committee Chairman Franklin Clark Fry caused a stir by resigning that post, which he had held since 1954, following Blake’s election. Fry said publicly that it would be “abnormal” and “undesirable” to have Americans in the two top jobs, but rumors from the secret committee session indicated it had more to do with Fry’s longtime differences with Blake on major policy matters. The committee refused to accept the resignation.
The WCC added a second vice-chairman, Dr. J. Russell Chandran, principal of United Theological College, Bangalore, India. A Negro Methodist from the West Indies, the Rev. Philip Potter, became the first person from the mission churches to head WCC’s World Mission and Evangelism Division. Archpriest Vitaly Borovoy was named to the Faith and Order Department, becoming the first Russian Orthodox staffer in the WCC. The department’s new director is Dr. Lukas Vischer, who replaces the Rev. Patrick Rodger, the Scot who last year failed to get final approval as the new general secretary.
Vischer and Nikos A. Nissiotis presented meticulous reports on Vatican II, at which they were official WCC observers. Vischer said the council “brought to shame some hopes which were too small.” He said the WCC and Roman Catholicism now “stand beside each other” without knowing “how the ecumenical movement, which is one, can be expressed as one.”
Despite the ecumenical atmosphere, a Sunday communion service was held in which only Orthodox churchmen were allowed to partake. A second service of Reformed vintage was open to all those whose churches approved. The Central Committee maintained a pregnant silence on this vexing matter of intercommunion.
Several WCC departments reported interest in conservative evangelicals outside the organization and seemingly found not all of them are aggressive, incorrigible, or obscurantist. The Division of Ecumenical Action listed three major areas of difference: spiritual versus organizational emphasis, church involvement in social causes, and standards of personal holiness. But it said “questions like the nature of biblical authority were not raised in any great detail,” perhaps because of the courtesy of those evangelicals it consulted.
The WCC raised its membership to 217 communions by accepting four churches with 720,000 members: Orthodox Church in Czechoslovakia, United Church of Zambia, Malagasy Lutheran Church, and Episcopal Church of Brazil.
Evangelical Fellowship In Africa
While giraffe and lion stalked the game plains below, 189 evangelicals from twenty-one African countries and Madagascar met in a Kenya highlands country lodge to establish their first continent-wide fellowship. A 50-year-old Nigerian, the Rev. David Ishola Olatayo, was elected president of the group, to be officially known as the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar.
“Our churches are coming under increasing pressure from liberal ecumenists,” said Olatayo, who is also president of the Nigeria Evangelical Fellowship. “We must stand together to bear witness to our faith, which rests upon the infallibility of the Word of God, and to help one another in these days of urgent spiritual need.”
The nine-day conference began January 29 in response to a call from the Africa Working Committee, a joint project of the American-based Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association and the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association. On the fifth day, the Rev. Aaron Gamede, vice-chairman of the Bantu Evangelical Church of Swaziland, moved that the conference form a continent-wide fellowship, and the entire body of delegates stood to give unanimous affirmation. The formative constitution stressed united evangelical action in evangelism, maintenance of doctrinal purity, relief work, and provision of “representation before governments or other agencies when necessary.” A membership clause states that “no member may at the same time be affiliated with the World Council of Churches, or its associated organizations.”
The Rev. Kenneth Downing, an American who has headed the Africa Evangelical Office at Nairobi, was named general secretary of the new association.
During a series of reports on African countries, delegates were reminded of unsettled conditions. Churches in Angola and Rwanda could not send delegates because of the uncertainty of being allowed to return, and the fear of separating fathers from their families in areas of danger. A Rhodesian delegate was on the last international flight out of his country. One mission leader had to return to Nigeria because of a coup there.
Creation of the new group reflects a continuing trend among evangelicals around the world toward closer cooperation. In addition to the Africa-wide association, there are now national evangelical fellowships in Sierra Leone, Upper Volta, Ivory Coast, Mali, Rhodesia, Zambia, Congo, Senegal, Tchad, Malawi, Nigeria, and Ethiopia.
Last November, a new “Fellowship of Asian Evangelicals” was formed at a Tokyo meeting attended by persons from nine countries. The stated purpose was “fellowship, defense, confirmation and furtherance of the Gospel in Asia.” Dr. Timothy Dzao, evangelist from Hong Kong, was named president. The group promises a measure of additional evangelical cooperation in the Orient, though its scope does not approach that of the new African group.
Prayer For The President
Lyndon Johnson says prayer and faith in God are the “greatness of this nation and the strength of its President.” He spoke after a hard-hitting spiritual appeal (see editorial, page 30) from evangelist Billy Graham, whom Johnson called “one of the great speakers and leaders of our time.”
The occasion was last month’s Presidential Prayer Breakfast, the fourteenth of an annual series, attended by two Supreme Court justices, four Cabinet members, and hundreds of other of other dignitaries.
The President quoted Isaiah’s “they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” and added, “I believe that with all my heart.” He said he is sustained not only by his own prayers but also by those of “hundreds of Americans who daily give a little encouragement to mine.”
The weight of decision-making showed in the President’s face as he said that history teaches us many things but hasn’t shown “how to bear without pain the sending of our young men into battle.”
Mindful of such pressures as the Viet Nam war, the Rev. Richard C. Halverson—a Presbyterian minister in the capital who leads the breakfast-sponsoring International Christian Leadership—prayed for God’s guidance for the President “in the lonely hours when the final decision is his alone.” He also asked God to forgive America for its “presumption” of accepting material wealth “as if we did it alone.”
Vatican: Bans Persist
Pope Paul VI announced last month that he would reorganize a special Vatican commission on birth control in order to “hasten its work.” The commission was established in June, 1964, to aid the church in arriving at an up-to-date pronouncement on birth control. Presumably because of differences among its members, the commission has thus far made no official recommendations.
The Pope’s plan to reorganize the group was revealed in remarks made to a delegation of Italian women. Some observers felt his talk was a clear indication that he favored retention of the church’s ban on artificial contraception.
In other action, Paul VI relaxed the Vatican’s ancient fasting rules. Roman Catholics still are required, generally speaking, to avoid eating meat on Fridays. But under an apostolic constitution that was to go into effect on Ash Wednesday, Lenten fast days are reduced from forty to two. Also, national hierarchies are permitted to lift the meatless Friday rule if it is replaced by other forms of penance and charities. This exception was said to be made in the interests of poorer countries, where abstinence and fast would be added sacrifice for already underfed people. All children under fourteen have been released from the meatless Friday obligation (the age was previously seven).
A number of additional innovations are evident in the 1966 edition of the Vatican Yearbook. Among them is the abolition of a curia office that judged writing for the Vatican’s index of forbidden books. The index did not die with the office, but some see the change as a step in that direction.
Mcintire At The Capitol
Dr. Carl McIntire, president of the International Council of Christian Churches, led a protest rally on the steps of the Pennsylvania State Capitol last month. An estimated four to five thousand persons attended in Harrisburg (see photo at left). McIntire demanded that the state House of Representatives repeal a resolution of censure it had adopted against him last December 17.
At issue was what the legislature called McIntire’s “operational control” of radio station WXUR in Media, Pennsylvania. The resolution questioned whether he “exercises the degree of social and public responsibility which the law demands of a broadcast licensee.”
McIntire denied that the station is under his “operational control.” The stock of the corporation is owned by Faith Theological Seminary, which McIntire serves as board chairman. He says he has never been to the station.
Ecumenical Ins And Outs
Just after the American Baptist Convention’s council voted to stay out of the Consultation on Church Union (see Feb. 18 issue, page 42), the 1.25-million member African Methodist Episcopal Church signed up to become the seventh COCU member.
Meanwhile, another Negro denomination, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, voted to become the sixth group to join the North American wing of the Baptist World Alliance.
Dissent with the ABC’s decision is developing. In Buffalo, a thirty-seven-church association vowed to raise the COCU issue again at the ABC’s May meeting.
Religion And Reportage
Like a smoldering pile of old magazines, church-sponsored news coverage is gradually diminishing. It is a forgotten problem of the ecclesiastical world. In recent weeks, however, a few protesting voices have been raised, and top churchmen may be induced to ponder whether to save the charred pieces or watch them turn to ashes.
The vast majority of North America’s religious periodicals are, in the technical sense, “house organs.” They are financially underwritten by, and therefore subject to, the dominant policies of denominations or other religious organizations. Broad religious news coverage yields to institutional puffery, or to the unoffending humdrum of inspirational sermons and starry-eyed ecumenical apologetics. Occasionally a publication attempts to break the bonds of conformity, but the fatality rate for such adventurers is high. And if they don’t die, they usually fall into a conformity of their own.
Veteran Lutheran spokesman Erik Modean points to this long-dormant problem in a newsletter of the Religious Newswriters Association, composed of religion editors from North America’s largest daily newspapers. Modean, considered the best of church publicists by many secular newsmen, takes sharp issue with no less an authority than Professor Roland Wolseley of Syracuse University’s School of Journalism, well-known expert on religious journals.
Wolseley maintains that the religious press is ahead of the secular press in presenting many of the vital issues of the day. He says “church publications of this country are not so timid as the secular press” in offering “better and more intelligent and intensive coverage of religious news and ideas.”
In a tart rejoinder, Modean asks what periodicals Wolseley reads “and what standards does he use to evaluate their contents? Of the 170 publications listed in the latest directory of the Associated Church Press, 90 are monthlies, 25 semi-monthlies or bi-weeklies, and 15 bi-monthlies or quarterlies. Only 40—and most of these are small, obscure periodicals—are weeklies, and what news they publish is devoted almost exclusively to their own denominations.”
“The sad fact is,” Modean declares, “that there is little religious news, either ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ in today’s church press. As production costs mount and reader interest wanes, more and more periodicals have changed from weeklies to bi-weeklies or monthlies, with a sharp reduction in the space allotted to news. And even that’s so old by the time it’s printed that it can hardly be called news.”
Wolseley, however, is not so blind to the propaganda rationale of ecclesiastical journalism as Modean’s criticism might suggest. In his 451-page Understanding Magazines, published a few weeks ago by Iowa State University Press, Wolseley declares:
“Since the latter part of the eighteenth century, religious magazines have been the core of the churches’ efforts to interpret themselves to their constituencies.”
Wolseley notes that despite wholesale all-member subscription plans through which church people get publications whether they want them or not, the interpretations reach relatively few. He says that “except for leaders, like Presbyterian Life (1,100,000), Awake (3,000,000), The Watchtower (4,000,000), The Upper Room (3,000,000), Together (900,000), and Catholic Digest (700,000), denominational publications have moderate circulations.”
Another problem is church-oriented journalism’s failure to draw a clean line between newsman and publicist, as is done in secular journalism. One ecumenical journal, for instance, has had as its longtime “news correspondent” in a major U. S. city the publicity chief of a large denomination. To the secular world, this is ethical heresy. Writing a promotional item is automatic grounds for terminating accreditation from groups such as those covering the Capitol.
Secular journalism also has its Achilles’ heel. Its presupposition that the only independent publications are those that exist for financial profit falters when one considers that these must cater to the reader and the advertiser. Not even the most daring news media can afford to carry material that consistently alienates reader and advertiser.
The only other alternative is to let government subsidize the press. In a democracy, that is the worst course of all.
Modean offers no encouraging prospect. He concludes that “what’s needed … are news magazines issued weekly, but we’re realistic enough not to confuse need with demand.”
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