New politico-economic pressures stir sharp counter-criticism

The National Council of Churches recently stepped further into the economic arena by pressuring two leading New York banks to discontinue credit to South Africa in protest of apartheid. The NCC urged the Chase Manhattan and First National City banks, in which it maintains large accounts, to oppose renewal of a forty-million-dollar revolving credit to the South African government when the loan comes up for renegotiation by a ten-bank consortium.

The action startled many Christian observers into blunt criticism of the NCC’s deepening entanglement in secular affairs. Apparently, some said, council spokesmen think it moral to boost trade with Communist nations and immoral to extend credit to South Africa. Objectionable as apartheid may be, they said, are commercial banks hereafter to lend funds only to NCC-approved recipients? Does the NCC plan to supervise the moral overtones of the hundreds of thousands of bank loans and to meddle in banking as much as it meddles in politics?

Some laymen indignantly suggested that the NCC may itself misuse, for secular and political goals, financial contributions that church members sacrificially give for spiritual objectives. Increasingly disturbed by the NCC’s political trend, they directed at leaders of the conciliar movement the old adage that “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” Of the NCC’s current $23,583,910 budget, they noted, only an insignificant portion undergirds evangelism, in the historic Christian sense of that term.

Some critics protested that the NCC is rapidly returning to a medieval complex reminiscent of that which the Protestant Reformers opposed in Roman Catholicism. Medieval scholastics disapproved all lending of money at interest and, until the Reformation broke the yoke of ecclesiastical authority, canonistic conscience delayed the modern concept of capital.

Robert Woodburn, twice international vice-president of the Christian Business Men’s Committee and a Washington bank executive, said that the NCC maneuver “again places it far out in left field. Supposedly the Church’s calling is proclamation of the Gospel. Why should the NCC become a pressure group in economic matters that belong strictly to the business world and are properly none of its concern? If the NCC would spend as much energy on New Testament basics as it does on secular affairs, the world—including South Africa—might really become a better place in which to live.”

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The NCC telegram to the New York banks was doubly disappointing because of reports circulated by some ecumenical leaders that, with the election of Dr. Arthur S. Flemming as president, the movement would take a larger interest in evangelism in order to overcome an adverse public image and mounting criticism of its economic and political obsession. But despite the increasing unrest in the churches, NCC leaders extend their involvement in secular affairs, and on the local scene clergymen are now pitted against one another as the indignation of laymen continues to rise.

During a special poverty action service in Washington (D. C.) Cathedral, the Episcopal Suffragan Bishop of Washington, the Right Rev. Paul Moore, Jr., bluntly called on President Johnson and the Ninetieth Congress not to cut back antipoverty grants; but a former cathedral canon called on the Church to put “regeneration before Christian social action” and questioned the competence of clergymen in the political and legislative field. The Episcopal minister, the Rev. Richard Williams, served for fifteen years as director of the Department of Social Relations of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and was more closely linked to poverty and other social causes than any other Episcopal churchman in Washington.

“Clergymen, whether we like to admit it or not,” said Mr. Williams, who since 1963 has been vicar of Holy Cross Episcopal Mission in Bethesda, Maryland, “are, generally speaking, guilty of over-simplification and not competent when it comes to antipoverty legislation or appropriations, urban development, farm subsidies, housing and fair employment practice. Planning and execution can only be carried out by experts, with years of training in their field.”

Williams criticized ministers for volunteering leadership in social and political matters. “Individual clergymen and groups of clergymen,” he said, “are today offering specific solutions and are claiming to be taking leadership in the enactment of these solutions to almost every social, economic, and political problem that exists, on a national, international, and interplanetary basis.” These clergymen are taking the easier course, he said: “It is a great temptation to side-step the difficult and often humbling task of endeavoring to change the hearts and minds of man and in place of this propose programs and schemes as solutions to the ills of men.”

At the hierarchical level, however, the many pleas by clergy and laymen alike for a return to scriptural imperatives still fall on deaf ears. Ecumencial officials seem to ignore the increasing cry that the corporate church has no divine mandate, jurisdiction, or competence in political and economic affairs. Since pontifical pronouncements in such areas undermine public confidence in the Church as the bearer of a sure Word of God, laymen raise new questions about the type of ecumenical structures that faithfulness to the Gospel actually demands.

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Salaries For Clergymen

A survey of ministerial salaries shows that of the larger denominations, the United Presbyterian Church provides the highest median pay—$5,669 per year (CHRISTIANITY TODAY, Sept. 30). The lowest, reported by the American Baptist Convention, is $4,618. These figures do not, of course, tell the whole story, for most ministers also are given the use of a house with utilities paid. And the figures, though the latest available, are for 1963. Nevertheless, the salaries are low.

A comparison between the salaries of the American clergy and those of bus drivers in the District of Columbia underscores the problem. The starting wage for bus drivers is $6,600 a year. The median wage is considerably higher.

Clergymen must buy books, educate their children, dress well, and entertain. They spend many years (at least seven after high school) to prepare for their work. Most clergymen are hesitant to discuss their financial plight with official boards and congregations; to do so may mark them as “worldly, money-conscious, and unspiritual.” Church members who pray, “Lord, you keep him humble, we’ll keep him poor,” think the minister demeans his calling if he talks about money.

On behalf of a great calling, and with deep compassion for underpaid clergymen, we would speak a word. The laborer is worthy of his hire. If your minister has faithfully preached the Word of God and given himself without stint in the service of your church, why not respond to his needs and pay him an adequate salary? There’s no better time to start than right now.

Tribute To A Stalwart

Montreat-Anderson College in North Carolina is naming its new library building for our esteemed colleague L. Nelson Bell. We hail this tribute to our roving executive editor, whose high service to the Church of Jesus Christ spans an entire generation. Dr. Bell served in China as a missionary-surgeon for twenty-five years. As his gifted hands performed many thousands of surgical procedures, he ministered to sick bodies as well as to needy souls. He founded the Presbyterian Journal and he was a co-founder of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, which across the years has carried his regular column, “A Layman and His Faith.” Since 1948 Dr. Bell has served the Presbyterian Church, U. S., on its Board of World Missions, has been a frequent delegate to its General Assembly, and has faithfully taught a Bible class in Montreat which is aired over a local radio station.

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One of the three daughters of Nelson and Virginia Bell is the wife of Billy Graham and another is a missionary; their only son is a minister of the Gospel.

We cannot avoid some fond reference to a colleague beloved by staff members as congenial, optimistic, and always available for counsel and help. We wait for his unheralded appearances in the office, where his routine provision of doughnuts adds spice to a long afternoon.

To this stalwart soldier of the Cross, this firm defender of the faith and staunch friend of missions, go our hearty congratulations!

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