“New Breed” churchmen, given the upper hand at a major strategy conference in Detroit last month, proposed a general 24-hour strike as a means of protesting future U.S. escalation of the war in Viet Nam.The same week, 107 eminent Americans led by former Presidents Truman and Eisenhower announced support of U.S. policy. Included were Negro Baptist leader Joseph H. Jackson, who heads NCC’s second-biggest denomination; exlogical Seminary, New York; Edito-in-Chief Thurston Davis of America (Jesuit); and President Abraham Hecht of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. They also spoke approvingly of a domestic revolution in which open violence is deemed justifiable.
The National Council of Churches, which sponsored the five-day U.S. Conference on Church and Society, is now asked to “announce to the churches and to the nation escalation measures where the line must be drawn, such as: 1. the use of nuclear weapons, 2. the land invasion of North Viet Nam, 3. intentional direct military offensive action against China, 4, the bombing of the major Red River dikes in North Viet Nam.”
Should any of these occur, religious leaders are asked to “call upon the people of faith … to close their businesses and industries, their transportation facilities and schools for one full day, calling on all sympathetic citizens to join in this action.”
Eleven pages of recommendations came from a twenty-five-member work group on Viet Nam which was obviously dominated by social-activist radicals. The suggestions are in no way binding upon the NCC, but they provide wide visibility for the New Breed under the tutelage of Harvard Divinity School’s Harvey Cox (see story, next page) and give fresh respectability for its revolutionary motif.
A work group on “the role of violence in social change” released a paper asserting: “One criterion for judging violence is whether or not the violence seeks to preserve privilege based on injustice or to redress wrongs. The former is unjustified violence. The latter can be justified.”
The paper adds that violence, “to be effective in social change needs: objectives, strategy, disciplined effort, action-troops, people willing to sacrifice life, and a high degree of secrecy.”
The espousal of violence follows a drift of thought which surfaced at the 1966 Geneva Conference of the World Council of Churches. At that meeting, Princeton’s Richard Shaull said that “there may be … some situations in which only the threat or use of violence can set the process of change in motion,” and a report developed at Geneva saw Christians involved in violence as an “ultimate recourse.” Shaull was on the planning committee for the Detroit conference.
The Detroit meeting included some 700 clergy and lay participants, including a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, several Roman Catholics, and a number of Protestant clergymen from denominations not members of NCC. Dr. Foy Valentine, head of the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission, was a member of the planning committee.
Conference concerns covered a wide range of subjects from politics to economics, and included consideration of a number of sticky ethical issues brought about by advances in technology, medicine, and urbanization.
As conferees met, Israeli and Egyptian troops exchanged fire in the Holy Land, which placed an added burden of responsibility upon a work group devoted to Middle East problems. The work group came up with a series of general recommendations which Cox called “disappointing.”
The Viet Nam paper includes a long list of “action proposals.” Local churches are asked to set aside time in each Sunday service to give “current ecumenical views on Viet Nam information and historical background” and to make buildings available as sanctuaries for draft resisters. News media are urged to “stop ‘Red-white’ oversimplification of the war, specifically the identification of the NLF and Viet Cong as ‘Communist.’ ” The NCC, it is suggested, should set up a “free pulpit fund” for pastors and others threatened with financial handicap for speaking out on Viet Nam. Denominations are called upon “to examine the propriety of clergymen being in the employ of military forces.”
The work groups—there were twenty-nine in all at the Detroit meeting—made public their papers even though the opinions expressed therein did not represent even a consensus of their respective groups. Included in the Viet Nam group was a State Department representative who disagreed sharply with the mimeographed findings. No plenary action was taken on the papers, and it was not immediately clear what would be done with them.
It is doubtful that there are more than 1,000 hard core activist clergymen of the New Breed variety identified with Cox. The Harvard professor boasts, however, that in the past decade social-activist clergymen have “moved into key positions in churches, seminaries, and city-mission structures.” They draw pay from mainline denominations, but he rightly notes that few are parish ministers.
Cox says the New Breed includes “a sizeable minority of ministers graduated from the main interdenominational seminaries and some of the denominational ones in the past ten years.” The New Breed is also said to include some “educated laymen” who have been influenced in the years since World War II “by college pastors and professors of religion.”
A SPICY PROLOGUE
A film show with several segments in questionable taste accompanied the keynote address by Harvey Cox at the opening of the U. S. Conference on Church and Society.
One sequence showed an animated black-and-white profile of a couple engaged in sexual intercourse. Another, in color, a buxom stripper removing the last of her undergarments. Still another, the gyrations of a topless dancer.
More than a dozen conference participants walked out on the hour-long Sunday-evening show. It was unclear, however, whether they acted in protest or merely got bored.
The films followed a brief speech in which Cox warned that the “mixed-media presentation” might jolt the audience. A total of eighteen films were shown on a wide screen. At times there were four running simultaneously. A TV set also played throughout, accompanied by weird sound effects.
Most of the films took as their theme some aspect of the contemporary social milieu, but the net effect, probably by design, was confusion. A mixed audience of more than 700 viewed the film presentation, which was arranged by Paul Abels, a “director for the arts” of the NCC.
Cox, somewhat in contrast to the films’ mood of confusion, warned against fatalistic attitudes. “Although we seem to be in a power dive toward disaster,” he said, “we can still pull out.”
His critique focused upon economic realities: “Famine chokes off millions of lives while we employ our scientific wisdom to produce low-calorie vanilla fudge ice cream.… If the way we spend our money expresses what we value, then we think booze is more important than the education of the kids in our cities, and lipsticks and deodorants are more important than their bodily health.”
COX: PROMISE EXCEEDS PERIL
A visibly annoyed Harvey Cox held up a Detroit newspaper headlining him as a “top theologian.” “What will my peers think of this?” he asked.
Indeed, the 38-year-old Cox is not even a theologian in the precise theological sense.Cox studied theology at Yale and has taught it at Andover-Newton and Harvard. But his Ph.D. is in the history and philosophy of religion, and he is now “associate professor of church and society” at Harvard. But insofar as the activist clergy of the Sixties have a theological undergirding, Cox holds the reputation for having provided it. Though at times ambiguous, he is unquestionably the leading theoretician of the movement and an appropriate choice to be de facto chairman of a Conference on Church and Society to devise strategy for social change.
“Although the present battle within the churches has profound theological significance,” he says, “it is not debated in overtly theological terms. Rather, the debate turns on questions of church strategy and policy.”
Harvey Gallagher Cox, Jr., grew up in Malvern, Pennsylvania, at the western tip of Philadelphia’s Main Line. In high school he was president of the student body and the senior class. At the University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in history, Cox made the marching band—he plays a number of musical instruments. He saw a more raw side of humanity during his teens when he worked on cattle and relief ships to Poland and Germany. He is married to a drama major from Oberlin, and they have three children.
National prominence came to Cox with the 1965 publication of a 276-page paperback, The Secular City. The book, a surprise best-seller—more than a quarter of a million copies sold to date—attempts to tie together a lot of loose ends about modern man. It focuses upon secularization and urbanization as “the two main hallmarks of our era” and sees an emerging “Technopolis” wherein Christians are called to serve in new dimensions.
In secularization, Cox says, “the promise exceeds the peril,” though he concedes that perhaps it is in the realm of values and ethics that the nurture of secularization becomes most ambiguous and problematical. Cox rejects ethical and moral absolutes, arguing, for example, that it is hypocritical to expect premarital chastity when Christians have helped to create a set of cultural conditions that makes sexual responsibility difficult.
As a youth, Cox attended an American Baptist church where the pastor was a college roommate of evangelist Billy Graham. Cox retains little in common, however, with the evangelical tradition. He draws selectively upon scriptural themes and emphases but ignores considerations of the Atonement and afterlife. The big problem today, as he sees it, is that “we are trying to live in a period of revolution without a theology of revolution. The development of such a theology should be the first item on the theological agenda today.”
Cox calls the activist clergymen “the New Breed.” He tries to put them into theological and historical perspective in an essay that is part of his latest book, On Not Leaving It to the Snake. He sees the current movement as a “reclamation of the main stream of theology in America,” drawing from the spirit of the old social gospel but having some differences. World War I saw the fading of the social gospel with its view of the gradual social incarnation of God. It was displaced by the neo-orthodox ethic of Reinhold Niebuhr, who perpetuated many elements of the social gospel but, as Cox puts it, “was often critical of what he took to be its naïveté about power.”
Cox declares that with the New Breed, “the Kingdom of God, which in the neo-orthodox period had become an ‘impossible possibility,’ has become once again something for which to work.” Still, there are differences: “The views of the New Breed tend to be more provisional. They do not believe that one push will bring in the Kingdom. They tend less to identify particular utopian schemes, such as socialism or pacifism, with the gospel. They are more appreciative of secular allies and see the church more as a supporter and strengthener of movements already underway than as a vanguard. They rely less on preaching and are more willing to lead the institutional church directly into the struggle for power for the poor.” Cox affirms “a deeper realization of the intransigence of evil and a more realistic idea of power and how it functions.”
Cox is not as vocal as some activist churchmen in condemning so-called American power structures. Neither is he overly enthusiastic about the socialist-Communist rationale, in which he finds the messianic element objectionable. But he does see a massive task for activist Christians in reforming society.
“God has taken the mad risk of putting himself and his cosmos at man’s disposal,” Cox told the Detroit conference. “He has identified himself unreservedly with the chancey experiment called man, and the results are not yet in.”
MARCHING TO THE PENTAGON
Seminarians and clergymen were liberally sprinkled among the estimated 50,000 persons who rallied at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C., last month and then marched on the Pentagon in the largest anti-war demonstration in U. S. history.
One of the most prominent was Yale University Chaplain William S. Coffin, Jr., who spoke at the Memorial, urged young men to turn in their draft cards, and helped arrest a Nazi counter-demonstrator, but did not join the surly throng that assaulted the Pentagon. The protest was engineered over several months by an organization known as the Washington Mobilization Committee to End the War in Viet Nam.
The University Christian Movement—which includes campus-ministry groups from all major National Council of Churches denominations except the Negro Baptists and Methodists—supported the confrontation, during which 647 persons were arrested.
Similar anti-war demonstrations were held elsewhere in the nation. In New York City, twenty-eight Union Theological Seminary students surrendered draft cards, and faculty members Robert I. Miller, Tom F. Driver, and Paul Lehmann joined others in a “complicity statement.”
As the Pentagon protest plans took on “direct action” overtones and a hardening militancy, several church-related groups backed out at the last minute. Some said they were not pleased with the apparent take-over by the new left. L. Doward McBain, president of the American Baptist Convention and a critic of U. S. war policy, issued a strong rebuke of the “violent trend” in the anti-war movement, which he called “ridiculous and damaging to the cause of peace.”
ACTIVISTS OUT AND IN
Militant civil-rights action by two white Episcopal clergymen in St. Louis is cited as the cause of their dismissal last month. Bishop George L. Cadigan said he took action because of “procedural misunderstandings” but indicated privately that the pair had persisted in abrasive, bizarre tactics despite repeated pleas for moderation. About twenty members of the Christian Churches, in town for the national convention (see story, page 54), picketed Cadigan’s office.
The fired priests are Walter Witte, Jr., rector of predominantly Negro St. Stephen’s Church, and its curate, the Rev. William Matheus, a man who grunts earthy expletives. Shortly before the dismissal Matheus tangled with the Veiled Prophet Ball, an annual St. Louis social event he considers symbolic of “social bigotry and economic discrimination.” The stocky cleric has a record of arrests dating to 1960, when he pleaded guilty to employing a minor to sell liquor at his beatnik bar, the Holy Barbarian. Witte was arrested “crashing” the ball with Negro companions.
Taxes And Textbooks
The church-state controversy—at least as old as Caesar and Christ—may have moved one short, but important, step toward solution. The U. S. Supreme Court has decided to decide whether taxpayers can challenge federal grants to church-related institutions. The court last month tersely granted the appeal of seven New Yorkers who advanced a test case challenging the use of public money for instructional materials in parochial schools, on the ground that it violates the separation of church and state.
If the court rules in favor of the taxpayers, it will open the door to testing of a wide range of related government spending programs involving church-related organizations. A decision on the school-aid case is expected next spring. The court turned down a plea that it rule on the right of the Amish in Kansas to refuse to send their children to high school.
Pearl Birch Bests Baptists
Five California Baptist charities, including California Baptist seminary at Covina, lost a multi-million-dollar money grab in Dallas, Texas, last month when the court awarded the estate of the late A. Otis Birch to his widow, an exconvict. The church groups—which promised to contest the case—maintain that Birch left his fortune to them in an earlier will and was mentally incompetent when he wrote a second will May 14, 1966.
Pearl Choate Birch, a 200-pound nurse who once served twelve years in a Texas prison for slaying a former husband, married Birch last year less than a month after his first wife died. Birch died at 96 last March.
Mrs. Birch, who now lives in California, is free under $10,000 bond, posted on an assault charge for firing a rifle at a tenant in her Compton apartment house.
But one clergyman won his battle. Channing Phillips, United Church of Christ activist in Washington, D. C., won cheers and congregational support after emotional dissidents asked for his resignation. Dissatisfaction with the Negro minister was heightened by a church appearance of revolutionist Stokely Carmichael at Phillips’s invitation last May.
A soul-searching look for evidence of the existence of the soul ended last month in Phoenix, Arizona. Harried Superior Court Judge Robert Myers, after seeking “divine guidance,” chose the city’s Barrow Neurological Institute from a field of 139 claimants as sole heir to James Kidd’s $230,000 estate.
The frugal copper miner—who disappeared mysteriously in mountain country east of Phoenix in 1949—left a handwritten will bequeathing his money to anyone who could scientifically prove or would research proofs for the human soul.
The claimants ran the gamut from the American Society of Psychical Research, headed by Gardner Murphy of the Menninger Institute in Kansas, to a frumpy New York waitress who said she was Kidd’s widow. The court ruled he had been a bachelor.
The thirteen-week marathon hearing included eerie tales of life beyond the grave, stories of persons transported to earth from other planets, and claims of the mistress of a dead “clairvoyant” Boston terrior that supposedly had “frequent contact with the dead.”
The Barrow Institute, research arm of Catholic St. Joseph’s Hospital, works in medical science, psychology, and psychiatry.
POLITICIANS ROAST ‘RELIGION’
Thousands of young people dramatically left a session of last month’s University of Toronto “Teach-In on Religion and International Affairs” to march in protest against the Viet Nam war. Unlike the Washington, D. C., protest the same weekend their march involved no violence, but tempers became heated and some shoving occurred.
The young adults who attended the teach-in, many of them high-school students, were respectably dressed, and hippies were noticeably absent. Over three days, they listened intently to more than ten hours of speeches, none of which had much to say about Christianity.
Violence and intolerance—inevitably linked with much of religion from the beginning of time—were not separated in Toronto either. The experts on religion included political has-beens with strange credentials.
V. K. Krishna Menon, former defense minister of India, was one of many speakers attacking America over Viet Nam. He charged that the United States is a power-mad nation perpetrating serious war crimes there and that it is also an imperialist figure in the Middle East. Yet in regard to India’s seizure of Goa from Portugal, Menon had declared, “We have not abjured violence in regard to any country who violates our interest.” When Menon was fired from the government, the New York Times breathed an editorial sigh of relief “in view of his record of official incompetence and his pro-Communist views.…”
The religious sparring between Menon’s nation and Pakistan gave Alex Quaison-Sackey a chance to point the finger. Speaking gently but firmly, he said partition of the two nations was the most glaring modern example of religion’s divisive power. Quaison-Sackey was foreign minister of Ghana during the regime of Communist-leaning dictator Kwame Nkrumah.
Poetry-writing Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who now lives in Paris, was expected to bring a gentle message. But he startled teach-in officials by laying blame for the continuation of the war almost solely on the United States.
In a special film for the teach-in, United Nations Secretary General U Thant testified that his Buddhist religion “offers absolute truth.” He said “It is through the ignorance of the law of Karma [good and bad qualities carried on in reincarnation] that men do evil to one another, and thus to themselves” and that the Dhamma (absolute truth) is the only hope for finding “a solution to the problems that beset us.”
Rhodesia’s former moderate prime minister Garfield Todd, a Disciples clergyman, and Bishop Trevor Huddleston, who was ejected from South Africa for his opposition to racial separation there, talked with restrained anger of white supremacy. The Church was also represented by Canon Lewis John Collins of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, who issued another call for some form of world authority to prevent war. He is chairman of Bertrand Russell’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
Looking toward the future, Professor Richard Shaull of Princeton Theological Seminary urged young people to link themselves with the New Left and get more involved in basic issues. But from all evidence at the teach-in, the young people did not need his urging.
CANADIANS ELECT CLERGYMEN
In Ontario, where a government committee has proposed taxation of church property, voters last month elected three clergymen to legislative seats. In an upset, the Rev. William Ferrier, 34, of the United Church of Canada defeated Progressive Conservative cabinet minister J. Wilfrid Spooner. It was the first run for Ferrier, a Socialist (New Democrat).
Other seats were won by A. W. Downer, Anglican priest and former legislative speaker, who was re-elected for the Conservatives, and Fred Young, another United Churchman and a Socialist. Three other clerics lost, including Reginald Stackhouse, theology professor at Wycliffe College (Anglican).
LOSING AFTER THE WAR
Inter-religious affairs remain jumbled in the wake of last June’s Arab-Israeli war. To wit:
• Israel’s Supreme Court upheld a rule against Jewish children living in Christian orphanages, forcing probable closing of Beth-El Children’s Home in Haifa.
• Syria’s Education Minister Sulayman al-Khush boasted, “The era of missionary work in Syria has ended for good,” and the government confiscated all Christian schools.
• Vartan Sahagian, executive secretary of Jordan’s Bible Society, who was out of the country during the war, said he has been refused readmission to Jerusalem.
• Beirut Radio said Christians and Muslims plan to meet in Lebanon to plot a “rescue” of Jerusalem from Israeli occupation.
• Jews, able to visit Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall at Rosh Hashana for the first time since 1949, thronged plaza space where Israel had bulldozed sixty Arab homes. On the holiday Egypt’s President Nasser reportedly sent greetings to his country’s Jews.
• The American Jewish Committee issued a plaintive mimeographed rundown on the status of Jews in eight Arab nations and said strangely, “It is not to be released to the press, or the mass media, at this time.”
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