This article is based on reports from Prague by Maynard Shelly, editor of “The Mennonite”:

While Washington and Hanoi volleyed negotiation sites, the third Christian Peace Conference assembly, not satisfied with President Johnson’s peace moves, called for a “complete, final, and unconditional” bombing halt and withdrawal of all U. S. troops so “the admirable Vietnamese people can finally make its own decisions.”

The assembly seemed less opposed to the war itself than to U. S. involvement in it. Delegates took two collections, totaling $1,500, for the National Liberation Front, then noted “with sadness that many Christians remain silent in the face of a war of annihilation by a world power against a small nation—which one can almost call genocide.”

The hardly hawkish American delegation, which had been more hopeful about Johnson’s peace moves, objected to the word “genocide.” Delegation leader Charles G. West of Princeton Seminary doubted that even anti-war groups would consider the statement “the word of God” or “an effort of Christians to understand themselves as under the Word of God.”

Masahisa Suzuki, moderator of Japan’s United Church of Christ, said “there is not the same criticism of what the countries of the East are doing.” Indeed, Westerners who often opposed their governments were disappointed that many Easterners were not even mildly critical of theirs and—in fact—did not take criticism by others kindly. Because socialist groups predominated, their thoughts usually colored official statements.

The Christian Peace Conference was organized in East Europe in 1958 to talk about world peace back when that was all the Stalinist regimes let the churches do. Now, as satellite countries move toward openness, the CPC seems to lag in dialogue.

But in Geneva the week after the assembly, Czechoslovakian Marxist Milan Machovec hailed the CPC as a significant example of liberty in his country, where democratization was occurring without gunfire. Politics is not isolated, he said, but is influenced by non-political systems like Christianity that often are more liberal than hard-line Communism.

While Christians and Marxists talked at the WCC-sponsored Geneva dialogue, Roman Catholics in Czechoslovakia met with members of the new cabinet. Their talks yielded government promises to return three bishops to their sees after eighteen years and to lift admission requirements on seminary students. “I am convinced,” said Bishop Frantisek Toma-sek after the meeting, “the new communist leaders honestly seek to restore religious freedom. For our part we want nothing more than to be good citizens and free Catholics.” He spoke for about 75 per cent of the Czech population.

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This is the way things are looking in other satellite countries:

POLAND: Revolution in Poland appeared first among the 40 per cent of the population under age 19. To curb student demonstrations, officials closed several departments of Warsaw University, suspended 1,300 students, and drafted more than 200 others into the army. When a Roman Catholic legislator criticized police use of force during the demonstrations, he was fired.

In all, more than fifty top officials suffered a similar fate in Poland’s most severe purge in recent decades. Ignoring party boss Wladyslaw Gomulka’s call for cessation of anti-Semitism, his hard-line opponents have used the unrest to oust moderates and to encourage criticism of Gomulka.

EAST GERMANY: No wind of revolution stirs East Europe’s last staunch Stalinist state. Indeed, with a new constitution, East Germany is settling even more firmly into the totalitarianism that isolates the country from its liberalizing neighbors. The new document omits provisions for human rights included in the previous constitution; but they were rarely observed anyway. One concession to Catholic and Lutheran bishops adds in the final version a statement guaranteeing each East German citizen “the same rights and duties regardless of his nationality, race, ideology, or religious profession and faith.” Many East German Protestants fear the new constitution will sever their ties with Western churches, the last major formal link between East and West Germany.

RUMANIA: Liberalization in Rumania occurs as the government strengthens diplomatic relations with the West, though internal changes come slowly. Churches reflect the growing external freedom. Last January Rumania’s prime minister met with Pope Paul at the Vatican. Earlier, Bishop Aaron Marton was released from the house arrest.

YUGOSLAVIA: Government permission to translate, publish, and distribute Bibles and other religious literature and to build churches is a hopeful sign for religious freedom in Yugoslavia. Although Communism requires commitment to atheism, a Belgrade newspaper called for more and better atheistic propaganda. The need became apparent when the paper’s survey indicated religious interest among 70 per cent of the people, including Army officers, who are supposed to show none.

Dialogue between churchmen and Marxists is hampered, according to one high-school political-science dean, not by the Church but by the Marxists, who know too little about either their own or Christian ideology.

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BULGARIA: Political liberalism steadily breaking into Bulgaria has opened a cautious new freedom for intellectualism. A similar breakthrough is appearing in church-state relations, though tension has not evaporated entirely. Hardline Communists see “serious shortcomings” in atheistic education, describe growing hostility of clergymen to the regime, and complain about “activation and modernization of the work of clergymen.”

ALBANIA: For several months now Albania has had no laws dealing with church-state relations. But that does not mean churches have greater freedom. On the contrary, Albania in effect eliminated the organized church and became “the first atheist state in the world.” And laws are unnecessary to govern something that does not exist.


Associated Church Press editors met in Washington, D. C., the same week as the American Society of Newspaper Editors, where Nixon charmed and Rocky droned.

Both Johnson and Humphrey had pulled out of ACP engagements, and Kennedy, McCarthy, and Nixon rejected bids to address the editors, who speak to 23 million readers, mostly Protestant.

“Mostly,” because ACP has a couple of Eastern Orthodox members and this year took in its fourth and fifth Roman Catholic publications. Next year it will hold its first joint meeting with the Catholic Press Association. The year after that, its annual meeting will be part of a Religious Communications Congress that will also include CPA, the Religious Public Relations Council, Evangelical Press Association, and several similar groups. ACP this year opened up non-voting associate membership for Jewish editors.

Of all things, ACP will be led at the 1969 ecumenical get-together by its first Southern Baptist president, Dr. W. C. Fields. In his 1968 address, Fields took note of racial discord in the District of Columbia and elsewhere, then said:

“Racial discrimination in our country and in our churches should be abolished, not because of a constitutional clause or the Communist challenge, or even because a horrified world is watching. Race prejudice should be cleansed from our lives and from the lives of our people because it is a sin …”

As at ASNE, there was a good sampling of politics. Dean Rusk’s suave off-the-record briefing on Viet Nam de-fanged critical editors—at the meeting, at least. Navy chief chaplain James Kelly made the remarkable statements that not a single one of his chaplains in Viet Nam has any doubts about U. S. war policy, and that the religious press has given better and more objective coverage of the war than the secular press. Senator Walter Mondale, Humphrey’s stand-in, accused the Church of doing little to get the open-housing bill through and said history might judge religious leaders harshly. The Rev. Walter Fauntroy, vice-chairman of the D. C. City Council, said the “Gospel” the poor need to hear is that the United States will create millions of public jobs. Edward Lindaman, Apollo Program manager for North American Rockwell, rhapsodized over beneficial side-effects from the billions going into next year’s moonshot.

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Senator Mark Hatfield said he’s grateful for Church social concern but cautioned that people also need inspiration and “the authority of Scripture, of God, of Christ in the lives of men. If the Church fails here, no other institution can fill that void.” Convention Co-chairman Carl F. H. Henry of CHRISTIANITY TODAY said that to many of the speakers, “the hope of the world” was not Christ’s resurrection but the sort of thing ASNE was talking about. Is the “Christian press being subverted by the secular ideals of our time?” he wondered.

ACP judges gave five general Awards of Merit—based on content, visual appeal, and imagination—to denominational youth monthlies Arena One and Youth, the United Church [of Christ] Herald, the Roman Catholic quarterly Continuum, and motive, which won last year’s prize for content.


The United Supreme Court last month upheld, 6 to 3, New York’s law banning sale of girlie magazines to persons under age 17. Thirty-four other states have similar laws. The ruling sets up a dual standard; one of the magazines involved in the case was judged not obscene for adults by the Supreme Court last year. The court also ruled 8–1 that Dallas can’t classify a movie as unfit for children because current standards are too vague.

The court threw out Mississippi’s 1964 anti-picketing law and decided to rule on the constitutionality of the strict parade ordinance in Birmingham, Alabama.

On April 22, the court heard arguments on the New York law requiring public schools to lend textbooks to church and other private schools, but gave few clues on which way the decision will go.


It was a sure thing, said the reports from Rome. The Vatican was ending its 1738 ban on Catholics’ joining Masonic lodges. Several days later the Vatican said the reports were “without foundation.” Sources explained that in some Scandinavian cases, converts to Catholicism have been permitted to retain lodge membership.

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Whether or not the official stance changes eventually, a noticeable thaw has developed in some parts of the United States between Masonic groups and the Catholic men’s lodge, Knights of Columbus. At a K. of C.-Masonic “prayerathon of brotherly love” in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a year and a half ago, Masons attended a Mass and K. of C. official Lee Everts prematurely declared “the deathknell of prejudice against Masons in the Catholic Church.”

The historic anti-Catholic stance of Masonry is well known. The lodges have generally made great inroads among Protestants, often because of this anti-Catholicism. Ecumenism may be changing that.

Nonetheless, ties to the Protestant Establishment abound. The District of Columbia Grand Lodge has held a special service in the city’s Episcopal Cathedral. The Imperial Chaplain of the world’s 851,000 Shriners is the Rev. Timothy Reeves, an Illinois Methodist.

Most anti-Masonic sentiment among Protestants is in conservative groups such as Lutherans, Seventh-day Adventists, and Christian Reformed. After extended synod debate, one of South Africa’s Reformed denominations forbade church members to belong to the Masons, stating:

“Freemasonry is a religion, but a religion without Christ. Freemasons are heathens for they do not pray to the God of the Bible, but to their own god.

They do not recognize the writings of the Bible, but believe God’s word was brought to them through the books of the great heathen religions. They preach that Christ was not man’s only Saviour, but that man can save himself. Their ethical standards and moral codes are not in keeping with the Bible.…”

Besides theological and moral grounds of opposition, there may also be practical reasons. Masonic duties consume much time of the four million members in the various U. S. bodies, many of them church members. Then there’s money. Scottish Rite historian James Carter has claimed the Masonic groups have accumulated “more liquid assets than any corporation in the United States” except the top financial houses and insurance companies.


Following up their best-selling book on anti-Semitism, Berkeley sociologists Charles Glock and Rodney Stark charge that the Bible and the doctrine of man’s free will are prime contributors to prejudice, and that active churchgoers are more bigoted than anybody else.

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Stark, reporting on a five-year study financed by B’nai B’rith, told a recent California symposium, “A great many church people, because of their radical free-will image of man, think that Negroes are themselves mainly to blame for their present misery.” This blinds them to “forces outside the individual which may utterly dominate his circumstances. Instead, one is led to dismiss misery of the disadvantaged as due to their own individual shortcomings.” He wished aloud that the “freewill image of man” could be dropped from “contemporary Christian doctrine.” The prejudiced churchgoers, he said, embrace most church doctrines but are less apt to “accept Christian ethicalism.” For instance, they would deny civil liberties, public office-holding, or schoolteaching jobs to atheists.

Conferees hoping for enlightened rebuttal from a theologian were further jarred. San Francisco Theological Seminary’s Noel Freedman said such Christians were only being “faithful to the history of the Church,” since the theme of inequality permeates the Bible. They cling to their prejudices “because they feel it is an essential part of their religion.” The New Testament “is simply an anti-Semitic book,” he explained, and “every figure in the Old Testament has slaves.” Even the Israelites took their slaves on the Exodus. He concluded sardonically, “Here is this great crusade for freedom!”

Symposium keynoter Arthur Flemming, president of the National Council of Churches, said “we plead guilty to charges of racism” in the light of the President’s riot commission report.


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