The silver was mostly on paper as the National Council of Churches celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary last month.
The low-key birthday observance took the form of a governing-board meeting that was generally business as usual except for passage of a food pronouncement favored by its new president. The New York City sessions were unusual in that the board performed for the first time some of the functions formerly handled by a large general assembly, including the election of officers. The council’s assembly was eliminated in constitutional changes effected three years ago.
Heading the triennial 1976–78 slate is the new president, William P. Thompson, stated clerk of the United Presbyterian Church, a leader in the council since he left his law practice for the UPC post. Reelected general secretary was Claire Randall, also a United Presbyterian.
Only 168 of the nearly 300 eligible members of the board were on hand for the streamlined business meeting. The nominating committee’s slate of officers was unopposed, so the group was elected unanimously. Only one vote was counted during the three-day sessions, and the total number recorded was only 110.
Under the NCC formula that determines the size of denominational delegations on the board (using such factors as communicant strength and financial contributions to the council), an even smaller number of people will be eligible to attend during the next three years.
Thompson has no intention of presiding over the last rites of the body, however. He is optimistic that the member churches consider it an integral part of their work as well as a leader for them.
Thompson told CHRISTIANITY TODAY that he looks upon his election to the presidency as a sign of that interest among denominational leaders. In council terminology he is a “chief executive of communion,” and he is the first such top officer of a denomination to be president since 1963–66, when the post was held by Reuben H. Mueller, then senior bishop of the Evangelical United Brethren Church. Thompson disclosed that before accepting the nomination he consulted with several other “heads of communions” and was encouraged by them to take the post.
In his inaugural address at a closing worship service, Thompson pointed to a council that will take an increasingly active role in national affairs. He said, “I suggest to you that the churches of America, as the inheritors of the Judaeo-Christian ethic, have a contribution to make in this Bicentennial year. Taken together, the members of these churches are the citizens most likely to be sensitive to the demands of moral principle. What is needed today is for these members of the churches to hear a clear voice calling them to practice that ethic in public and in private.” He specified that the council should provide the leadership.
While speaking out strongly on the prophetic role, Thompson told an interviewer that he also thinks the council should be prepared to “undertake what the denominations want.” His predecessor in the top NCC post, Sterling Cary, a United Church of Christ regional executive, had been emphatic in his call for continued council activism. Cary, the council’s first black president, said in a keynote speech, “Our NCC instrument must never exclusively see its role as a facilitator for denominational programming. We dare not become slaves of denominations. We are called to be prophetic, constantly urging constituencies to be faithful servants of Him who seeks to liberate humanity from the powers and principalities of darkness.”
Thompson indicated no disagreement with Cary’s position and added that the council had always worked with the tension of both leading and following the churches.
Asked about council emphases in the area of evangelism, he suggested that at this point the NCC would probably follow the churches. If member denominations increase the appropriations for work in this field, then the council will increase its program and staff, he said. Likewise, he added, if there is any shift in doctrinal emphasis on evangelism in member churches, it will be reflected in what the council does in this area.
Thompson said he believes the council must also have “its own life” so that it can function in some situations without awaiting denominational impetus. This would apply in the area of program as well as in public pronouncements, he explained.
Only one document with the status of a policy statement was passed, and it was on hunger. Ordinarily a policy statement must be given a first reading at one board meeting and then passed six months later at a second. The period between is designed to give member churches an opportunity to study and comment on the proposal. The first reading was eliminated for “Human Hunger and the World Food Crisis,” and an extraordinary procedure was adopted that requires only that it be mailed ahead of time to members of the board. The eighteen-page document calls for transformation of the means of production and distribution without an outright condemnation of the capitalistic system. The board heard, but was not asked to approve at this meeting, the frankly anti-capitalistic statement on hunger adopted at a Wisconsin consultation in September. There was practically no debate on the substantive issues when the longer document reached the board floor, and the vote for it was 108 in favor, one opposed, and one abstaining.
Thompson told a reporter that he thought the ordinary procedure for requiring the second reading on policy statements should not be “collapsed” except in urgent matters, but he indicated that he considered the hunger statement urgent.
Resolutions on several current topics were passed. Among other things, the resolutions: asked the United States to negotiate a new Panama Canal treaty with Panama; asked the Senate not to ratify the June Marianas Islands commonwealth referendum; called for a study of U.S. “complicity” in torture worldwide; urged leaders of the United States and the United Nations to seek the Kremlin’s release of two dissidents; and appealed to Chile to readmit activist Lutheran bishop Helmut Frenz from Europe.
The board approved a 1976 budget of $18.7 million, reflecting an anticipated income drop of about $1 million from the 1975 figure.
Climaxing the weekend meeting was a banquet honoring former presidents and former general secretaries. Among the six former presidents attending was the first, Henry Knox Sherrill. He was the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church when the council was organized in 1950.
During the anniversary meeting, little was said of the Federal Council of Churches or other predecessor organizations, but they were mentioned in a 128-page “unofficial history” bound in silver-colored paper and distributed at the banquet.
Commercial Cleanser Down The Drain
An attempt by the United Presbyterian Church to change the image of women in Proctor & Gamble advertising was swamped by an overwhelming “tide” of opposition last month at the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting in Cincinnati, home of the giant corporation.
The church leaders, who had charged P & G with depicting women as “housekeepers, mothers, and sex objects” in TV commercials and magazine ads, left town with little to “cheer” about. Their resolution calling for a detailed report on ways in which P & G advertising “portrays and utilizes” women received 2.3 per cent (1.3 million) of the total shares voted. The UPC owns 70,594 shares of P & G stock.
The action by the national church agitated many local Presbyterians. The session (board of elders) of the prestigious Seventh Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati in a special meeting denounced the national body’s “intrusion” into P & G affairs. The session resolution called the action “a deplorable abuse of trust.” Lauding P & G for its contributions to the city “and to our own church,” the elders instructed their own treasurer to vote shares owned by Seventh Presbyterian against the resolution supported by UPC headquarters.
More than 300 persons attended the shareholders’ meeting in Proctor and Gamble’s soap-shaped building downtown while fifty persons from the National Organization for Women picketed in support of the Presbyterian resolution.
Arguments in support of the resolution were countered by “salvo” after salvo from many of the older Presbyterian stockholders. They accused the resolution backers of trying to destroy the Presbyterian Church, P & G, and American industry.
One woman stockholder questioned why any woman would be “ashamed of being depicted as a homemaker,” and she suggested that “if we had more good homemakers in their homes we might cut down on some of this crime that is going on.”
Denominational spokesman Robert C. Lamar said his church “in no way devalues the role of housewife or homemaker, but vast numbers of women are neither mothers nor housewives, and millions of women who are know that [these] roles … do not limit or give primary definition to their lives.”
Howard Riegler, a member of Silver-wood Presbyterian Church in suburban Kenwood, commended P & G for “an outstanding job” and said he “would like to see our people do as good a job in the religious field.”
The founders of Proctor and Gamble were churchmen and philanthropists. Harley Proctor was sitting in his pew in Cincinnati’s Episcopal Church of our Saviour on a Sunday in 1879 mulling over what to name a new soap that floated. The minister was reading a passage from the Psalms that included the phrase “out of the ivory palaces.” That, so the story goes, is how Ivory soap got its name from “on high” and it has been floating ever since.
JAMES L. ADAMS
Religion In Transit
Contrary to some rumors, elimination of tax-deductible contributions to churches is not on the agenda of the present Congress. That is the word from Chairman Al Ullman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Committee member James C. Corman adds that proposed tax reforms will not alter current laws allowing gifts of appreciated property to charitable institutions to be deducted at their appreciated value. Also to remain unchanged, he says, is the provision allowing ordained ministers tax-free use of church-owned parsonages.
A group of actors and producers intends to file suit challenging the legality of the so-called “family viewing hour” under which the three major networks and their affiliates reserve the hours from 7 to 9 P.M. for programs suitable for general family viewing. The group maintains that the family hour idea originated with the Federal Communications Commission and is thus a form of government-imposed censorship. The family rule has “drastically curtailed the free flow of ideas and expressions on television and is stifling the creativity of many artists,” the critics argue.
More than 800 women were expected to attend a conference in Detroit this month on the ordination of women to the Catholic priesthood, a cause gaining in popularity in Catholic circles. Archbishop Joseph L. Bernardin of Cincinnati, the president of the U. S. Catholic bishops, cited the duty of church leaders “not to seem to encourage unreasonable hopes and expectations, even by their silence.” Therefore, said he, “I am obliged to restate the church’s teaching that women are not to be ordained to the priesthood.” A serious theological obstacle stands in the way, he stated.
President Dallin H. Oaks of 23,000-student Brigham Young University says the Mormon school will not follow some of the new federal regulations regarding equal opportunity for men and women in the nation’s schools because they are unconstitutional or illegal. For example, he asserts, BYU will continue to enforce dress and grooming codes that differ for the sexes. And it will oppose a regulation prohibiting inquiries into the sexual behavior (including abortions) of students and employees. “Where [such] an inquiry or action … may be necessary to create or enforce the moral climate we desire at BYU,” asserts Oaks, “we will disregard any contrary requirements of the regulations.”
James P. Wesberry, 69, pastor emeritus of Morningside Baptist Church in Atlanta, was named to succeed the retiring Marion G. Bradwell, an Atlanta Presbyterian, as executive director of the Lord’s Day Alliance. The interdenominational Alliance was organized in 1888 to support “the institution of the Lord’s Day as a day of unique religious significance.”
Geologists at the University of Miami believe they have found evidence of a rise in the worldwide sea level some 10,500 years ago that would account for widespread stories of a prehistoric flood. Their conclusions were published in a recent issue of Science magazine. They think a huge ice cap suddenly melted, raising the ocean level between fifteen and thirty feet.
Episcopal clergyman Edward I. Swanson is the new executive secretary of the General Commission on Chaplains and Armed Forces Personnel, the principal interchurch agency involved in military-related ministries. The commission’s former communications director, Swanson replaces A. Ray Appelquist, who has joined the staff of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches.
K. Duane Hurley was appointed executive secretary of the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference, which has some sixty churches with a total membership of 5,200. A former president of Salem College in West Virginia, Hurley succeeds Alton L. Wheeler, who has returned to a California pastorate.
Ruth Bell Graham, wife of the famed evangelist, was elected trustee of Wheaton College, the first woman board member in the school’s 115-year history.
President Lyle Hillegas of Westmont College resigned on the eve of the October meeting of the college board.
Officials of the World Council of Churches say their $5 million goal for reconstruction and reconciliation efforts in Indochina has been fully subscribed during the last three years along with a special $500,000 appeal. Hospitals and schools have been rebuilt, slum health ministries have been provided, and fields have been replanted. Some $2 million is now on hand, and it will be spent according to “the priorities set by the people in the area,” say the WCC officers. The WCC program has the approval of the governments of Laos and North and South Viet Nam.
The inauguration of the Church of Sri Lanka on November 16 concludes thirty years of union negotiations involving the Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches, the Church of Lanka (Anglican), and the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India. The bishops of the new church are the three Anglican bishops plus the presidents of the Methodist and Baptist churches.
Two left-of-center Catholic organizations in Colombia called on the Colombian government and the Catholic Church to expel Jesuit sociologist Roger Vekemens for allegedly being involved with CIA endeavors in Latin America and for blocking development of liberation theology on the continent. Vekemens, an advisor to the Bogota-based Latin America bishops’ conference and director of a conservative research center in Bogota, was linked in recent news accounts to CIA funded activity against Salvador Allende, the late Marxist president of Chile (see October 10 issue, page 62). Vekemens denies the links.
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Korea issued a major statement that opposes Communism, refuses to “dichotomize … individual salvation and social salvation,” denounces Korean church leaders who accuse the World Council of Churches of being Communist, and serves notice that any oppressive leader or system will be resisted.
News from Romania: church leaders are appealing for funds to repair or rebuild scores of churches damaged by summer floods; the government has approved a program of cooperation in religious affairs between Israel and Jewish communities in Romania, the first such agreement with a Communist nation; authorities have launched an all-out campaign against alcoholism, will close 2,000 establishments by next year; Jehovah’s Witnesses are the objects of intense religious persecution; and Pentecostal worker Vasile Rascol reportedly has been released from prison after serving fifteen months for distributing Bibles (See November 22, 1974, issue, page 52).
The Uruguayan government has banned publication of a national pastoral letter issued by Uruguay’s Catholic bishops. The letter makes a strong plea for amnesty for political prisoners and a halt to repression of civil and human rights. A military coup in 1973 resulted in the dissolution of the national congress and the banning of leftist political parties. Since then, some church leaders and Catholic publications have been harassed.
The Arabs are pushing religion. A group of Muslim broadcasters recently launched a global broadcasting campaign to spread the Islamic faith. And in Libya, a tax-supported Islamic center with a $20 million budget is directing propagation of the faith in thirty-five other countries.
Church authorities in North East India say that a wave of religious persecution against Christians has subsided and that many refugees have returned to their homes in the state of Arunachal Pradesh.
GRANVILLE GAYLORD BENNETT, 92, retired Episcopal bishop; in Barrington, Rhode Island.
PHILIP CARRINGTON, 83, New Zealand-born former Anglican archbishop of Quebec; in Little Somerford, England.
G. BEAUCHAMP VICK, 74, president of Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri, former pastor of the large Temple Baptist Church of Detroit; in Springfield, of a heart attack.
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