Pham Xuan Ang, 62, is a former civilian district chief of Quang Nam province in South Viet Nam who also worked for a time for the U. S. Agency for International Development (AID). In the final hours before Saigon fell he and his wife and other relatives, including his 29-year-old son Ba Vinh, a biochemistry teacher, joined the tens of thousands leaving the country. Some simply did not want to live under Communism, some were running out of sheer panic. The Phams were fleeing for their lives.

Last month the Phams landed at Indiantown Gap, a military base near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for processing. A nominal Buddhist, the elder Pham had been reading a New Testament he’d found and had decided he wanted to become a Christian. Then he got involved in a spiritual nurture program run by Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) workers at the camp who helped him to follow through on his decision. Among them were Jack Revelle, former field director of the CMA work in South Viet Nam, and former Indochina hand John Sawin and their wives.

Pham hopes his family members, who attend daily chapel meetings with him, likewise will become followers of Jesus soon. He also hopes sponsors will be found soon so that his family can leave the camp and make a new start in life.

Pham is one of 15,000 at Indiantown Gap and one of an estimated 130,000 refugees whom the American government is trying to resettle. They are being processed in four military bases (Indiantown Gap, Camp Pendleton in California, Fort Chaffee in Arkansas, and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida) and in several staging areas in the west Pacific. Many on Guam and at Pendleton and Eglin live in tents; those at Chaffee and Indiantown Gap live in barracks. The going is slow. There are security checks, medical examinations (overall, the Vietnamese are a healthy lot; the incidence of tuberculosis, for example, is less than that among Americans), language and orientation classes, and often long waits while sponsors are located. As of mid-June some 100,000 refugees reportedly were still in the pipeline.

The government is providing food, lodging, and medical care at the camps, but it has contracted with private voluntary agencies to handle resettlement. So far, nine agencies—four of them religious ones—have signed or are about to sign contracts. The negotiations between the agencies and the government have been marked by much haggling over terms and conditions, the amount of paper work required, and the like. The agencies are to receive $500 for each person resettled; the money will come from the $405 million appropriated by Congress for the program. Several of the groups began working at the outset on a strictly volunteer, privately financed basis.

Article continues below

The four religious agencies are Church World Service (the relief arm of the National Council of Churches), United States Catholic Conference, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and United Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Other religious groups are assisting with resettlement, but they must be accredited for sponsor placement through a contract body, and they will not receive any of the $500 per head grants unless the contract body channels the funds to them.

The Seventh-day Adventists, Southern Baptists, and Assemblies of God have linked up with Church World Service (CWS). All three had missionary work in South Viet Nam, and they are mainly interested in locating and resettling their own people. Nevertheless, they are helping a number of other refugees as well. Food for the Hungry, an independent evangelical relief agency based in California, is also working through CWS. Food’s president, Larry Ward, who assisted with the evaluation of more than 1,000 people from South Viet Nam, and several associates have set up a job-training, counseling, and sponsor-placement center for refugees at a leased medical center in central California. Ward figures the program will cost $250,000. Another evangelical organization, World Vision, last month was considering a hookup with CWS.

Because of the CWS’s identity with the National Council of Churches, leaders of the Christian and Missionary Alliance—wary of a backlash by conservative constituents who dislike the NCC—chose instead to join arms with the International Rescue Committee, a secular organization with Jewish leadership.

The CMA began working in Indochina in the early 1900s. Most of South Viet Nam’s Protestants are members of the CMA-affiliated Tin Lanh (Good News) Church. So far, CMA missionaries have identified nearly 2,000 Tin Lanh people in the camps. Each camp has several CMA missionaries who formerly served in Indochina. They are working in the resettlement program, aiming to find sponsors among American CMA members for all of the Tin Lanh people. New converts are referred to other evangelical churches for sponsorship.

Each contract agency has its own ideas about how the $500 per refugee will be used. Some will keep the entire amount as a reimbursement for administrative expenses. Several agency heads insisted in interviews that it costs more than $1,000 in overhead to resettle a refugee, and that costs escalate further if sponsors must be replaced (the agencies are required to guarantee sponsorship). “We’re already spending a lot of our own money,” said one executive.

Article continues below

Other agencies will spread the money around. The U. S. Catholic Conference will channel $350 of the $500 to dioceses, which in turn will pass along up to $300 to sponsors and refugees toward reimbursement of initial resettling expenses—a practice begun even before federal funds were available. (The Catholics are hoping to resettle about half of the refugees.) After a stormy committee meeting last month, the CWS said it will give $100 jointly to the sponsor and the refugee for expenses, a practice it has not followed before. Some CWS members are a bit uneasy philosophically about accepting any government money.

The religious agencies have had difficulty in recruiting prospective sponsors. Spokesmen blame everything from the recession to bigotry to a lack of communication (prospective sponsors should indicate their interest to the appropriate denominational officer or directly to one of the resettlement groups). Sponsorship, they say, involves a moral obligation to provide food, shelter, medical care, and pocket money, and to assist in finding a job. The sponsorship might last from a few weeks to a year, depending on how long it takes to obtain employment. Unexpected major crises may be cared for by the local public welfare department with other funds from Congress, but some confusion exists on this point among government officials.

In a number of cases, congregations are assuming sponsorship even when a single guarantor’s name is required for the record. An Episcopal minister in Minneapolis last month assumed sponsorship on behalf of his congregation for an extended family of twenty-six at Indiantown Gap.

Church groups meanwhile are engaged in extensive orientation and outreach work in the camps. Under the leadership of the newly organized Baptist Committee for Refugee Relief, chaired by Pastor Al Oliver of Adelphi, Maryland, the Southern Baptists at their own expense established and are running the entire education program at Ft. Chaffee. One of their products is a booklet entitled This is America. A similar program at Pendleton was recently taken over by the state of California under federal funding.

At several camps refugee clergymen of the CMA’s Tin Lanh Church have been hired by American military authorities to be camp chaplains. At Pendleton two such clergymen are at work along with CMA missionaries Keith Kayser and Robert Greene. There are three chapel worship services daily, classes for new believers, English-language Bible study classes (one for Cambodian refugees), and evening evangelistic meetings, featuring films, guest musicians, and special speakers. Some 500 Christians have been identified among the 18,000 at Pendleton, and there have been 150 new converts, says Kayser. A third so far have been baptized in a swimming pool. Assisting in the work is OMF missionary Rose Ellen Chancey. The group is also producing Christian literature in Vietnamese.

Article continues below

About 500 Tin Lanh constituents have been found at Ft. Chaffee by CMA missionary Richard Drummond and his associates. They report some 300 conversions have been recorded among Chaffee’s 28,000 refugees.

Nearly 200 Tin Lanh churchmen have been found at Eglin in Florida, and another 200 have professed Christ since coming to the camp, according to CMA missionaries George Irwin and Leroy Josephson. About 100 volunteers from the First Baptist Church of nearby Fort Walton Beach are helping the 5,000 refugees at Eglin to fill out papers, to find their way around camp, and to feel at home.


Leaders of the Nationwide Festival of Light, an evangelical organization set up to fight pornography and moral degradation in Britain, say they plan to establish a hostel in London for “victims of moral pollution,” including young homosexuals, “porn addicts, and others involved in erotica.” The objective is to reach for Christ “victims of permissiveness”—including those in the London entertainment world who have contributed to the moral decline, and to provide them with care “in a civilized, loving, and morally pure atmosphere.” A married couple will supervise the work, which will also rely on psychiatric and social resources in reclaiming the products of “commercialized depravity.”


Merger Musings

A showdown vote on the proposed merger of the Wesleyan and Free Methodist churches moved one step closer last month when the administrative board of the Wesleyan Church approved a “basis of merger” for presentation to the June, 1976, Wesleyan General Conference. The proposed basis (including a constitution) had previously been worked out by the joint Committee on Merger Exploration.

This means attention will focus on the 1976 Wesleyan General Conference as the first solid indication of how Wesleyans in general feel about merger. If approved there, the proposal will then require approval by Wesleyan districts and by two overseas Wesleyan general conferences and their districts.

Article continues below

Merger approval by the Wesleyans would then be followed by a Free Methodist decision. This would come at the 1979 FM General Conference, or at an earlier specially convoked conference, and would also require approval at the FM district level.

The 1974 Free Methodist General Conference declined to take action on the merger proposal, preferring to await a Wesleyan decision. Sentiment in the Free Methodist Church is mixed; merger discussion at a recent FM “Conference on Mission and Strategy” reportedly was “lukewarm to negative” on union. Some strongly favor merger, however, including upper Midwest regional superintendent Orin Scandrett, who says that “the Wesleyans are ten years ahead of us” in church-planting strategy in the Minneapolis area.

But some Frees say merger would be “a step backward,” citing negative images projected by some Wesleyan and Pilgrim Holiness churches in the past. (The present Wesleyan Church resulted from the merger of the Wesleyan Methodist and Pilgrim Holiness churches in 1966.)

Wesleyan general superintendent Melvin Snyder reports the Wesleyan Church will probably reach 100,000 members by the date of the 1976 General Conference. The denomination has shown some growth since the Wesleyan-Pilgrim merger. Free Methodist membership stands at 70,000 in North America and 143,000 worldwide.

The Wesleyans and Free Methodists cooperate in several areas, particularly in publishing. A joint hymnal is in preparation for release in January.


Conservative Presbyterians: Unity, Yes; Union, No

After ten, years of merger talks, the 23,000-memberThe figures include both communicants and children. Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RP-CES), and the 10,186-memberThe figures include both communicants and children. Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) at last voted on the issue. Many observers had predicted that the more doctrinally stringent OPC would vote against the proposed merger, but the delegates to the OPC General Assembly came up with a 95–42 vote favoring it, a 69 per cent majority. The RPCES commissioners (delegates) in their assembly, however, fell short of a necessary two-thirds majority in voting 122–92 (57 per cent) to approve it. Within hours the assemblies exchanged messages, pledging to continue discussions “with a view to effecting an eventual union.”

Article continues below

The RPCES and OPC assemblies were hosted concurrently on the campus of Geneva College near Pittsburgh by the 4,287-member Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA), which held its annual assembly at the same time. The some 500 commissioners and hundreds of visitors mingled freely between sessions and held two joint meetings.

Theologian Francis Schaeffer, an RPCES member, was among those who argued against merger. If union is approved, he warned, “our time will be consumed by ten more years of division and debate.” RPCES pastor Richard Gray of Coventry, Connecticut, a member of the committee on union, also opposed merger. “Union will destroy unity,” he declared. “As soon as we can find unity, that will produce union.” He implied that he was referring not only to points of difference with the OPC but also to the possibility that some key RPCES churches would withdraw rather than merge.

Both bodies are staunchly evangelical, and they agree on major doctrinal points. The differences, says an RPCES spokesman, are largely in styles. The RPCES emphasizes evangelism and church planting, while the OPC stresses an academic view of faith, giving much attention to the finer points of doctrine and practice. The RPCES has taken a stand for total abstinence from alcoholic beverages, but the OPC holds that liberty of conscience precludes an official proscription on this matter. Also, the Orthodox Presbyterians don’t believe that churches should operate colleges. The RPCES operates 600-student Covenant College at Lookout Mountain on the Tennessee-Georgia border (nearly 10 per cent of the students are Orthodox Presbyterians). On this point the OPC was willing to allow it to be a part of the plan of union.

Another factor that damaged the union cause is the case of California pastor Lawrence Andres. In 1973, Andres, a graduate of the RPCES seminary in St. Louis and pastor of an RPCES church in Quarryville, Pennsylvania, was called by the Sunnyvale, California, Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Andres moved to his new pastorate, but the local OPC presbytery rejected him as being deficient in doctrine (one report described him as “too mystical”). Under OPC law, the Sunnyvale church was not permitted to retain him as pastor. The situation festered for months, and finally last year Andres and some members withdrew from Sunnyvale and founded an independent congregation nearby. Meanwhile, he was admitted to the local RPCES presbytery, and a feud broke out between the OPC and RPCES presbyteries. Not surprisingly, commissioners from these two bodies voted against union at last month’s meetings.

Article continues below

On top of this, some Orthodox Presbyterians suspect that dispensational theology—a position fiercely opposed by the OPC—lingers in certain RPCES circles.

The OPC, RPCES, and the RPCNA all voted to join the 280,000-member Christian Reformed Church and the fledgling 80,000-member Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in organizing the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council. Action by the OPC to enter a five-year Christian-education publishing venture with the PCA encouraged speculation of future merger with that group, the product of schism within the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. (Southern). The OPC also authorized a committee “to initiate exploratory conversations” with the 3,054-member Reformed Church in the U. S. (Eureka classis), a group of German background, as well as with all founding members of the new North American council with a view toward union. OPC leaders said they hoped these actions would help to correct the church’s image of sectarian separatism.

All three bodies have thus far resisted the women’s liberation trend. All are agreed against ordaining women as ruling elders, but there is disagreement about whether women can serve on boards. The RPCES sent back for further study a recommendation that women be ordained as deacons, a practice followed by the RPCNA for more than forty years.

A statement critical of the Toronto-based Institute for Christian Studies was approved by the RPCES. Institute leaders stress the meshing of Christianity and culture, but many RPCES members accuse them of holding neo-orthodox views of Scripture, an accusation the institute’s people deny.

Statements opposing the charismatic movement were referred by the OPC and RPCES to their churches and presbyteries for study. The papers concur with Calvin in concluding that the so-called charismatic gifts ended with the Apostolic age.

When missionary Arnold Kress experienced glossolalia during a charismatic worship service in Japan in early 1973 he was ordered home by the OPC for a year’s “study leave.” Although Kress insists that his limited use of tongues has been confined to private devotions, and that he has neither practiced nor promoted glossolalia in his mission church 350 miles north of Tokyo, church officials object that tongues is a “revelation gift” which presumes to impart new revelation on a par with Scripture. If Kress’s “problem” remained unresolved by this month, steps were to be taken to rescind his ordination.

Article continues below

Married and the father of five children, the 40-year-old minister hopes that his years of language study and missionary service will not prove to have been in vain. “I love my church very deeply,” he says, “and I am hopeful of reconciliation with my brethren and a return to Japan under our mission.”

Another OPC highlight was a lively 3½-hour debate over whether the church’s Christian Education committee should be enjoined against quoting from The Living Bible and promoting it in publications. Six of the OPC’s eleven presbyteries submitted overtures (resolutions) expressing the fear that the Taylor paraphrase might “open the door to some erroneous doctrinal views based on this version’s Arminian bias.” (Arminius was a Dutch theologian associated with views that differed from Calvin’s.)

After being assured the volume would be banned from advertisements in denominational publications, the assembly approved a committee recommendation against proscribing “the use of any version, translation, or paraphrase of the Scriptures,” but advising against quoting from The Living Bible in educational materials except in instances when “no suitable alternative can be found.”

A recent Fuller Seminary study shows that over the past ten years the RPCES has registered a whopping 74 per cent increase in, membership and the OPC 22 per cent. The RPCNA, however, has suffered a decline (less than 1 per cent).

The RPCNA (its members are known popularly as “Covenanters”) has its roots in Scotland. Immigrants established the first Reformed Presbyterian congregation in North America in 1743 in Pennsylvania. The Covenanters sing from the Psalms rather than hymn-books, and without the use of musical instruments. They practice “close” Communion, but commissioners acted last month to admit properly examined non-member adherents to the table.

The RPCNA requires all its members to subscribe to the Westminster Standards of the 1640s as a test of faith, but a committee now is reviewing that requirement and may decide that only the clergy need to subscribe. (The RPCNA, RPCES, and the OPC hold in common a commitment to the Standards and to the inerrancy of Scripture.)

Other RPCNA distinctives include non-participation in civil government until its acknowledges the lordship of Christ, strict observance of the Christian Sabbath, and abstinence from alcoholic beverages and tobacco. These positions have softened in recent years, and the rationale for them is shifting from negative premises to positive ones.

Article continues below

The history of all three bodies is marked by conflict and schism. The RPCNA represents the hard-line side of an 1833 split of Reformed Presbyterians over questions of politics and citizenship. The OPC traces its beginnings to the departure of J. Gresham Machen and others from Princeton Seminary in 1929 to establish Westminster Seminary. Defrocked after setting up the conservative Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions, Machen and his associates—100 Presbyterian ministers and seventy congregations—in 1936 organized a new denomination later known as the OPC. A few months later Pastor Carl McIntire of Collingswood, New Jersey, and President J. Oliver Buswell of Wheaton College broke with the OPC to form the Bible Presbyterian Church. The rift occurred when the OPC denied their demands that the denomination adopt total abstinence and premillennial views of eschatology as official positions.

In 1956 a row broke out in the McIntire camp over personality and policy issues. In the ensuing rupture the McIntire faction retained the Bible Presbyterian name, and his opponents reorganized as the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. In 1965 some 2,000 members of the other Reformed body in the 1833 schism linked up with the Evangelical Presbyterians to form the RPCES.



Divorce is on the increase in a number of countries, and both government and church authorities are becoming increasingly concerned.

In Greece, the state requires a couple to submit their problems to arbitration by the church before divorce papers are filed. But some priests of the Orthodox Church, interested in stopping the trouble before it reaches the compulsory arbitration stage, have come up with an idea on how to get a bad spat in a hurry. They’ve equipped their cars with two-way radios so that friends or relatives of an unharmonious couple can alert the roving priests to rush to the scene of the crisis.

Religion In Transit

President Ford, acting on a request of Congress, proclaimed July 24 as National Day of Prayer. He asked Americans to pray for strength to meet national challenges, for unity, and for “the blessings of freedom throughout our land and for peace on earth.”

The New York Supreme Court ruled that the American Bible Society does not qualify for exemption from a city real-estate tax on its headquarters. The Episcopal Church won’t have to pay taxes on its headquarters, according to another decision.

Article continues below

Jeb Magruder, former White House aide convicted in Watergate, was named administrative vice president of Young Life. He and his wife have been active at National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D. C., since his release from prison.

Clergyman Donald G. Ray, 57, was elected secretary of the United Church of Canada, the denomination’s top administrative post.

Retired theology professor David W. Hay, 69, of Toronto’s Knox College was elected moderator of the 100th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

Waiter Burke, retired chairman of the Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corporation, a Connecticut Congregationalism succeeds Mrs. Horace Havemeyer, Jr., as chairman of the board of directors at New York’s Union Seminary.


Thomas Jefferson Adams is the new pastor of First Baptist Church of the Deaf in Portland, Oregon.

He comes from George, Washington.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.