One of the most contested issues facing the recently elected Greek parliament concerns church and state relations. It has to do with the drafting of a new constitution aimed at establishing Greece as a democracy. A vote on it is scheduled this month.
The first article of the old constitution states: “The Kingdom of Greece is of the Eastern Orthodox religion. All forms of proselytizing against the established church are prohibited.” This article inspired and encouraged all sorts of restrictions against evangelicals, trials, and even imprisonment for as simple an act as giving away a modern-language New Testament. Throughout the years it has been the sword of Damocles hanging over all evangelical practices. While the majority of the population—nominally Orthodox—was referred to as Christian, the remainder was designated heterodox.
A special constitutional committee is now reconsidering matters. Liberal and left-wing members in the parliament, along with certain members of Premier Karamanlis’s ruling party, say the old article is anachronistic, and they favor deletion of the proselytism clause. Some want outright separation of church and state.
Greece’s small evangelical community is united in endorsing the removal of all restrictions on advocating one’s faith, but their leaders say they are willing to settle for the removal of the stigmatic proselytism reference. They have organized special teach-in sessions accompanied by fasting and prayer.
All 300 parliament members, even the Moscow-leaning Marxists, are at least nominally members of the Orthodox faith. Their degree of commitment, however, is something else. The undersecretary of education, whose department handles all matters of religion, is pressing for a thoroughgoing prochurch constitution. He wants pre-eminence for the Orthodox Church and a ban against proselytism of its members. He proposes an oath of office in which the president swears in the name of the church “to guide the prevailing religion.”
The move to frame a liberal constitution was denounced in a large meeting in Athens organized by the Union of Greek Theologians. “This is an attempt to deny the heritage of the Greek Orthodox,” asserted one speaker. He then warned: “If the representatives elected by the nation finally settle in bringing a constitution to their liking … the silent majority will rise like a lion to agonize for its beliefs and will bring radical changes in the country.” The union went on record in favor of a strict pro-church constitution.
I. Sergakis, a member of the centrist party, suggested in parliament that if proselytism is prohibited in the new constitution, it ought to be defined. Further, protection must be granted to all religions and not just one, he maintained.
A prominent member of Papandreou’s Socialist party lobbied for gradual separation of church and state. This church-state relationship, he said, has created innumerable problems. He criticized the clause on proselytism as a restriction of freedom that is in the end harmful to the Orthodox Church itself. The church, he castigated, seeks to enforce its dogmas through the state machine. He also came out for the rights of persons who are conscientious objectors for religious reasons. Such rights do not exist now, and anyone refusing to take arms is sentenced severely.
Freedom ought to precede the demands of the Orthodox clergy, asserted another deputy, who said he believes the church will flourish if left to compete with other religions. He also criticized the independent status of Mt. Athos—Greece’s ancient monastery in the north—which is actually a small state within the country, claiming uncontested right to great treasures accumulated over a period of more than 1,000 years. He urged parliament to nationalize the monastery.
Observers foresee a compromise. They do not anticipate strong statements upholding conscience and freedom in the realm of religion. Nor do they see state-church forces having complete sway.
Fountain Trust, a non-denominational organization that leads the charismatic movement in Britain, made—as it turned out—a crucial decision when it was launched ten years ago.
“We hesitated a long time over the name,” says director Michael Harper, a former Anglican clergyman. “The first choice had been Watergate Trust, but somehow it didn’t sound quite right.”
Sharing, Yes; Imperialism, No
Radical revisions of traditional mission patterns were projected at a week-long meeting of the World Council of Churches’ Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) at a seaside ecumenical center in Portugal last month. The eighty commission members present called for discussions on how missionaries from Asia, Africa, and Latin America could be sent to Europe and North America. They agreed, on the other hand, that a moratorium on the sending of funds and personnel by Western churches was “one possible way to create mature relationships of churches in mission.”
Evangelism consultants maintained that “evangelism [cannot be] allowed to have a trace of imperialistic motivation.” One Third World delegate spoke bitterly of caricatures of “Africans and Asians who speak of moratorium but go around with their begging bowls behind their backs.”
Dr. Emilio Castro, the Uruguayan Methodist who heads the commission, said that while the “reaching the unreached” concept of last summer’s International Congress on World Evangelization at Lausanne can be criticized as “superficial” and “imperialistic,” it makes the valid point that the Christian Gospel is to be shared. WCC evangelism secretary Gerhard Hoffman said he believes the agendas of the ecumenical movement and evangelical fellowships are “gradually converging.”
The CWME was born out of the merger of the International Missionary Council and the WCC in 1958.
First Things First
Presiding Bishop John M. Allin of the Episcopal Church insists that he will not call a special denominational convention to deal with the ordination of women to the priesthood. Lamenting all the attention the ordination issue is getting, he says the church has more important matters needing immediate attention, and ordination can await the action of next year’s convention.
Nevertheless, developments over attempts to force the issue are mounting:
• A board of inquiry last month was studying whether four bishops should be brought to trial for ordaining eleven women deacons to the priesthood in Philadelphia last year, an action later ruled invalid by the House of Bishops. The four are: Robert L. DeWitt, resigned bishop of Pennsylvania; Edward R. Welles, retired bishop of Western Missouri; retired bishop Daniel Corrigan of the national executive staff; and Bishop J. Antonio Ramos of Costa Rica.
• Trials are pending for William A. Wendt, rector of St. Stephen’s and the Incarnation Church in Washington, D. C., and Peter Beebe, rector of Christ Church in Oberlin, Ohio, for permitting two of the eleven women to perform priestly functions in connection with Communion (Carter Heyward, who teaches at Union Seminary, and Alison Cheek of Virginia). The charges involve church discipline rather than doctrine. If found guilty of violating church law and vows of obedience, the rectors could be reprimanded or suspended but not expelled from the ministry.
• Retired bishops Anson Phelps Stokes and Frederick C. Lawrence protested the offer of the Episcopal Divinity School of Cambridge to hire two of the women as teachers (Carter Heyward and Suzanne Hiatt) and to permit them to celebrate Communion.
• Bishop John H. Burt of Ohio announced he will resign as “an act of conscience” if next year’s general convention fails to approve ordination.
• Several pro-ordination bishops rejected requests by their diocesan policy-making committees to regularize the ordinations of members of the Philadelphia Eleven in their dioceses. The bishops asked that action be postponed until after the general assembly, when the church as a whole can vote on the issue. (In the last convention vote on the issue, the House of Bishops voted to extend ordination to women, but the measure failed to get the necessary majority among the clergy and lay delegates in the House of Deputies.)
• Two organizations have sprung up to press the issue: Women’s Ordination Now, seeking what its title says (the Philadelphia Eleven are members), and the National Coalition for Women’s Ordination to the Priesthood and the Episcopacy, drafting legislation for the coming convention.
Clearly, Allin will have a tough time trying to get attention shifted to those other “more important” matters he’s concerned about.
A suicide note and overdoses of sleeping pills preceded the deaths of the noted Protestant theologian Henry Pitney Van Dusen, 77, and his wife, 80, it was disclosed last month. A New York Times report said they were members of the Euthanasia Society and had talked of suicide with family and friends. Both were in failing health.
Mrs. Van Dusen died on January 28. Her husband was said to have vomited the pills and lived until February 13.
Van Dusen, a Presbyterian*, was president of Union Seminary in New York from 1944 until 1963. He took a leading role in ecumenical affairs and was one of the architects of the World Council of Churches.
The Times dispatch by religion writer Kenneth A. Briggs said the Van Dusens left behind a statement saying there were many old people who would die of natural causes if not kept alive medically and expressing the resolve not to “die in a nursing home.” The statement ended with a prayer: “O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.… Grant us Thy peace.”
Religion In Transit
Five Arizona dairy executives are performing charity work and four dairy firms are donating products worth $175,000 instead of serving jail terms or paying fines as the result of price-fixing charges. The charities include missions operated by St. Vincent de Paul Society (Catholic) and the Salvation Army. Criticizing the judge’s alternative sentences, a Justice Department attorney said: “Charitable work should be aspired to rather than used as punishment.”
Southern Baptist membership reached 12.5 million last year, a 1.8 per cent gain. Total denominational receipts reached $1.3 billion, a 11.4 per cent increase.
Some citizens distressed about certain TV programs find sponsors to be more responsive to their complaints than station executives and producers. National Television Advertising is a directory listing names and addresses of sponsors (Daccardo Publications, 3245 Wisconsin Avenue, Berwyn, Illinois 61402, $1.50).
Republican congressman Jerry Pettis, 58, a Seventh-day Adventist leader from Loma Linda, California, was killed when his light plane crashed into a mountain in Southern California.
Because 1974 expenditures exceeded income by $2.3 million, the executive board of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. (Southern) has ordered a 20 per cent reduction in projected spending this year. A hiring freeze, funding of only “highest priority” programs, and a ban on new commitments are among emergency measures handed down. Full salaries will continue until at least May. Restructure costs were blamed for a large share of the deficit.
Canon Press, the book publishing arm of CHRISTIANITY TODAY since 1972, has been purchased by Baker Book House of Grand Rapids.
Amid increasing controversy in the United Methodist Churches over the issue of homosexuality, the denomination’s Division of Ordained Ministry last month issued a statement pointing out that the church has officially declared homosexual practice to be incompatible with Christian teaching. “It thereby precludes the ordination of self-proclaimed homosexuals to the ordained ministry,” commented the division. There is need for further study on the topic, it added.
John Allen Knight is the new editor of Herald of Holiness, the Church of the Nazarene fortnightly. Knight, who was president of Mount Vernon Nazarene College in Ohio, succeeds the retiring W. T. Purkiser, who served as editor for fourteen years. Denominational executive Donald Gibson of Ohio will take Knight’s place at Mount Vernon.
Resigned: Frank R. Barth, 57, as president of Gustavus Adolphus College (Lutheran Church in America) in St. Peter, Minnesota. His reason: “A good college president should stay five or six years and then get out [because] by then he’s used up his ideas and it’s time for a new person, a new program, and a new emphasis.”
Charles Schoenherr, a Wheaton College-trained educator, will become president of 460-student Sterling College, an evangelical United Presbyterian school in Kansas. He replaces Robert Baptista, who will become president of Taylor University in Upland, Indiana.
FRANKLIN DEWEY COGSWELL, 86, former missionary executive of the National Council of Churches and editor of its Friendship Press for forty years; in Boulder, Colorado.
ELIJAH MUHAMMAD, 77, born Elijah Poole to Georgia sharecroppers, patriarch of the 50,000-plus-member Nation of Islam (Black Muslims); in Chicago, of heart failure.
ORVILLE S. WALTERS, 71, University of Illinois psychiatry professor, member of the Free Methodist Church, and president of the Institute for Advanced Christian Studies; in Peoria, Illinois, of cancer.
Four Welsh denominations entered into a covenant to work for union: the Church in Wales (Anglican), the Presbyterian Church of Wales, the Methodist Church, and the United Reformed Church. Pending are the requests of ten Baptist congregations wishing to join the group.
Leaders of the 130,000-member Romanian Assemblies of God say they have received a government-authorized shipment of 2,500 Bibles from the United Bible Societies. About 100,000 new Bibles are reportedly being printed in Romania for the Romanian Orthodox Church.
Plans have been made to evacuate fifteen American workers from a 100-bed children’s hospital in Da Nang, South Viet Nam, in the event of a North Vietnamese takeover. It is operated by the World Relief Commission of the National Association of Evangelicals. Da Nang is now isolated from the rest of the country. A spokesman says the hospital is serving North Vietnamese and Viet Cong as well as the South Vietnamese.
The 30,000-member Waldensian and 9,000-member Methodist churches of Italy urged members not to take part in observances of the 1975 Holy Year proclaimed by Pope Paul. The activities (to which non-Catholics have been invited) represent “a religiosity that falsifies the relation between faith and God … and they are a cover for a situation in which injustice reigns supreme,” said their statement. Meanwhile, a leading Waldensian pastor and a prominent Methodist one suggested that involvement in the Communistparty and in Christian ministry are not mutually exclusive.
Italy’s highest court ruled that the legal ban on abortion is “partly unconstitutional.” The court said a pregnancy could be ended without criminal violation if the health of the mother is endangered by its continuation. The Vatican declared that the ruling was “questionable and of extreme gravity,” and it warned that the decision “does not free human and Christian conscience” from the duty to apply moral standards to the issue.
Pastor Ted Noffs of Sydney’s Wayside Chapel, Australia’s largest Methodist church, was formally accused of heresy. A committee of eight will examine the charges, which concern Noffs’s beliefs about the Atonement. If found guilty, he could be expelled from the ministry. Noffs, who has been in theological hot water for years with conservatives, says Jesus laid down no doctrines. Heresy is the failure to love people and to act for suffering man, he asserted.
Julio Cesar Ruibal, the Bolivian Catholic-Pentecostal youth evangelist converted under Kathryn Kuhlman, has dropped out of the mass-evangelism scene in South America—and out of sight. He is reportedly secluded in a missionary commune near Bogota, Colombia, operated by Hannah Lowe, head of New York City’s New Testamet Missionary Fellowship. The fellowship was the object of “deprogramming” attempts and court cases last year.
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