Conservatives in the 9.9-million-member United Methodist Church are still pinching themselves to make sure that the UMC’s sudden shift to the right is not just a dream.

For years the church had been drifting leftward and downward, suffering a loss of one million members over the past decade. Delegates to the denomination’s quadrennial conferences seemed to plow eagerly into controversial issues, adopt unpopular—and often unrepresentative-positions with a let-the-chips-fall attitude, then return home and try to sell their fellow church members on what had transpired.

Last month, when the 1976 General Conference concluded, it was as if the fed-up folks back home at last had had their say—and way.

“This conference has been the ear of the church, not its voice,” commented an obviously pleased delegate at the conclusion of the eleven-day meeting in Portland, Oregon. Dudley Ward, retiring head of the UMC’s social-action unit, said it was “good for us to be challenged by the grass roots to re-look at some of our positions.”

Probably no one was happier than the members of the UMC evangelical caucus known as the Good News movement, headquartered in Wilmore, Kentucky. Led by executive secretary Charles Keysor, the group kept information circulating among the churches prior to the conference, then dispatched a number of members to Portland to monitor legislative hearings, to approach key delegates discreetly with input on issues, and to devise other strategy aimed at winning important floor battles. Clergyman Robert Sprinkle of St. Petersburg, Florida, coordinated the effort. Friend and foe alike attributed much of the conference’s outcome to the well-oiled work of Good News.

The big media issue of the conference concerned the place of homosexuals in the church. Fortunately for Keysor and his fellow conservatives, gays and a youth caucus began announcing two years ago that they would press for changes in the church’s position on homosexuality to one of greater acceptance, including the ordination of gays. These announcements aroused—and alarmed—thousands of church members who previously had turned a deaf ear to the warnings and complaints of the Good News people. From then on. Good News had an issue by which it got a foot in the door of UMC churches and homes across the country. Once in, Keysor was able to get a hearing on other topics.

Amid the ensuing debate, district conferences quietly elected a number of responsive delegates to represent the grass roots at Portland.

The conference, held in Portland’s Coliseum on the banks of the Willamette River, began with a series of legislative committee hearings and work sessions involving consideration of 20,000 petitions (resolutions) from churches, agencies, and individuals. The committees (of delegates) would recommend acceptance, revision, or rejection of a measure. It would then go to the entire conference body of 986 delegates for action.

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From the outset, it was evident that a number of conservative-minded delegates (two-thirds of them laity) had come to Portland to put the UMC’s house in order. Surprisingly, many conservatives landed on the committee in charge of handling social-action measures (three-fourths of the resolutions were in this committee’s domain).

As expected, the issue of sexuality attracted major attention. The UMC’s Board of Church and Society had recommended deletion of a sentence from a Social Principles policy statement adopted in 1972. The sentence: “We do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” The Board proposed a substitute: “We welcome all persons regardless of sexual orientation into the fellowship and membership of the United Methodist Church, and we insist that all persons are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured.”

Gay caucus leader Keith Spare of Reserve, Kansas, was granted permission to address the assembly, and he pleaded for the change, claiming there are many homosexuals in the UMC. The little applause that he got came mostly from his dozen or so colleagues in the observers’ gallery.

Among the many speakers opposing the change was Wesleyan scholar Albert C. Outler of Perkins School of Theology in Dallas. He argued that homosexuality is “contrary to biblical interpretation” and to “the whole tradition of Christian ethics.” He also questioned it on psychological grounds, then cautioned: “We are being asked to vote … for or against moral decadence.” A nod to the gays, he warned, would be “a foolproof recipe for irreversible disaster in the United Methodist Church.”

Delegates voted to reject the board’s proposed change and to retain the wording of the 1972 statement. They did change another policy statement from “We do not recommend marriage between two persons of the same sex” to “We do not recognize a relationship between two persons of the same sex as constituting marriage.”

The conference rejected as too harsh petitions calling for the outright condemnation of homosexuality and for a specific ban on ordination of homosexuals. In regard to the latter, the delegates affirmed their “trust … in the process by which we ordain ministers,” pointing to Scripture as the final word on doctrine and to the 1972 statement on homosexuality.

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In action on a financial matter, the conference approved an amendment directing staff and committee people not to give funds to any gay caucus or group “to promote the acceptance of homosexuality.”

Several UMC agencies had proposed a churchwide study of human sexuality over the next four years at a cost of up to $320,000, but the conference decided to restrict to local churches any sexuality study—and without funding.

“For anything with human sexuality in it, I came to this conference with a ‘no’ vote,” declared William T. Boyd, an Ashboro, North Carolina, real estate dealer.

Much attention was given to the matter of church wide priorities for the next four years. By a resounding vote, evangelism was given top-priority status along with world hunger and support for ethnic minority local churches (88 per cent of UMC churches (88 per cent of UMC churches are totally white, and only 4.2 per cent of the UMC’s membership is of ethnic minority background). UMC churches will be asked to give $10.6 million a year, $6.5 million of it beyond their normal support of the UMC’s budget ($54.4 million yearly for the next quadrennium, up 14 per cent), to fund these concerns. World hunger will get $5 million yearly, ethnic concerns will get $5.5 million, and evangelism will receive $125,000. The evangelistic emphasis will be left primarily to local churches, with the Board of Discipleship providing some resources.

A number of women’s concerns were approved, including a directive that sexist language be removed from church publications, curricula, and audio-visual resources. But there was a limit. When “God the Father” became “God the Creator” in an attempt to remove masculine language from the Social Principles statement, Arkansas delegate Ernest Emurian impassionately reviewed Scripture, the words of Jesus, the Lord’s Prayer, and credal descriptions. “Whether or not that is sexist language is incidental,” he declared. “God is father.” The delegates agreed.

Some verbal scuffling occurred on an issue pertaining to youth. For a long time, a number of UMC young people (and adults, too) have been upset by the controversial statements (support of gay causes, for example) coming out of the United Methodist Council of Youth Ministries, and by the way it has been run by relatively few people allegedly unresponsive to mainstream youth and youth leaders. High school senior Lee Drinkard of Atlanta led a stiff but successful floor battle to scrap the UMCYM in favor of a broader-based youth organization.

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In other action, the delegates:

• Approved without debate guidelines calling for openness and love in dealing with persons in the charismatic movement, while suggesting that charismatics should make certain they adhere to UMC policy and tradition.

• Retained life tenure for UMC bishops (who have neither voice nor vote at the General Conference), raised salaries $1,000 per year (to $30,000 by 1980), and set maximum stay in one area at eight years.

• Endorsed return of the Panama Canal Zone to Panama.

• Reaffirmed abstinence from alcoholic beverages as a good idea, warned of the misuse and dangers of other drugs, and asked that felony penalties be removed for posession of small amounts of marijuana (no approval of the drug intended).

• Condemned legalized gambling.

• Rejected a proposal favoring a national health-care program (critics called it socialized medicine).

• Endorsed gun control, the Equal Rights Amendment, and U. S. participation in the “healing, reconciliation, and reconstruction” of Indochina.

• Decreed that executive staffers must be United Methodists.

Among the international figures who addressed the conference were General Secretary Philip Potter of the World Council of Churches, a Methodist, and Methodist bishop Emilio de Carvalho of Angola. Potter gave a pep talk for the WCC cause and asked for a greater commitment to ecumenism by the UMC. De Carvalho disputed claims that the new government of his country is Marxist, and he questioned why missionaries remain under capitalist regimes but flee when political change occurs.

Although the over-all conference outcome offered much to cheer the heart of any Good News leader, Charles Keysor and his friends engaged in no victory celebrations. They want to see the UMC turned around theologically, laying hold on its evangelical Wesleyan past. To them, that prospect seems distant, even from Portland.

Obliterating The Sacred

At the request of the United Nations Educational, Social, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Jacques Dalibard, a world authority on religious works of art, investigated charges that Greek Orthodox churches on Cyprus were looted and vandalized following the Turkish invasion two years ago. Dalibard, a Canadian, found the charges were true and said so in a 100-page report for UNESCO. Perhaps out of fear of upsetting Greeks and Turks alike, UNESCO suppressed the well-documented report and asked Dalibard to produce an abbreviated paper instead. The final product was an innocuously worded five-page summary. Even so, UNESCO attached a disclaimer, saying Dalibard’s views were his own.

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In April the Turks accused the Greeks of burning down a famous mosque near Nicosia. Dalibard visited the mosque, found it undamaged, and said so, earning him the ire of the Turkish Cypriot administration. He returned to Ottawa angry and disillusioned.

Last month, John Fielding of the Manchester Guardian and another journalist secretly visited twenty-six former Greek villages and found things as Dalibard had described: cemeteries had been desecrated, churches and a monastery had been ransacked and smashed. Gone were eleventh-and twelfth-century treasures; fifteenth-century frescoes had been ruined. Reported Fielding: “The vandalism and desecration are so methodical and so widespread that they amount to institutionalized obliteration of everything sacred to a Greek.”

Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash says his government has a policy of protecting religious property but someone else must take care of maintenance.

UNESCO isn’t saying anything.

Indonesia: Still Burning

Revival fires are still burning in Indonesia, say officials of World Vision International. For nearly three weeks last month. World Vision president W. Stanley Mooneyham preached to crowds at Surabaja, Kupang (Timor), and Jakarta. At Kupang, a city of 60,000, more than 20,000 persons turned out nightly to listen to Mooneyham. There were nearly 1,000 professions of faith at the first two meetings alone in Surabaja, according to a spokesman. The outreach campaign, sponsored by the Indonesian Missionary Fellowship, included Christian-growth seminars and a conference for several hundred pastors


Delegates to the triennial assembly of the Canadian Council of Churches rejected their nominating committee’s choice for president and, by a vote of 66 to 34, elected the Reverend Lois Wilson of Hamilton, Ontario. She is a minister in the United Church of Canada and the mother of four children.

Canadian Lutherans, meanwhile, scheduled their first ordination of a woman. Pamela Jo McGee, 29, will serve in St. John’s Lutheran Church, oldest Protestant congregation in Ontario.

Lillian R. Block, managing editor and director of Religious News Service, became the first woman and first non-Catholic to receive the St. Francis de Sales Award of the Catholic Press Association. Miss Block, who is Jewish and a veteran of more than thirty years in the religious press, was honored for her “outstanding contributions” to Catholic journalism.

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Maxine Carnett Grindstaff, 55, was named 1976 American Mother of the Year during a fete in Washington. D.C., sponsored by the State Mothers Association and the American Mothers Committee. A former missionary to Israel, Mrs. Grindstaff is married to a Southern Baptist minister in Questa, New Mexico. She teaches at the New Mexico Boys’ State School. She has three grown sons and five grandchildren.

An American Presbyterian woman who has been preaching since she was six was announced last month as the speaker for a thirteen-week series of the NBC program “Art of Living.” The Reverend Renee Huie, ordained by the Atlanta Presbytery in 1972, will be the first woman featured on the program in its forty-year history. She travelled around the world as a child evangelist and more recently has been known as a singer, recording for Decca and London.

Religion In Transit

The manuscript of the “Good News Bible” (Today’s English Version) is completed and will be published this fall, says the American Bible Society. Millions of copies of the TEV New Testament (“Good News for Modern Man”) have been sold.

Protestant and Catholic communications agencies and seventy-nine individual church communicators joined in petitioning the Federal Communications Commission to require that all television stations provide program time to non-profit community organizations to serve the public interest. The action was announced by the communications commission of the National Council of Churches.

Eight persons who were active in the fight against controversial textbooks in Kanawha County, West Virginia, public schools were defeated in bids for public office during Democratic primaries. Textbook critic Alice Moore, however, was reelected to the county school board by a large margin. Clergymen Avis Hill and Marvin Horan were defeated in congressional bids, and Ezra Graley garnered only 1 per cent of the statewide vote for the Democratic gubernatorial slot.

The American Church Union, a conservative “high-church” organization in the Episcopal Church, has fallen on hard times and will sell its headquarters estate property in Pelham Manor, New York. Part of the proceeds ($10,000) will be used to pay contractual obligations to Canon Charles Osborn, who resigned as executive director last January when a board vote went against him. Osborn had charged breach of contract by the ACU. The decision to sell was announced by Father Robert Morse, ACU’s unsalaried interim director. Bishop Paul Reeves of Georgia meanwhile was elected ACU president, succeeding Canon Albert duBois, who will retire next month.

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Pledges and gifts of $422,763 for global outreach during the next fiscal year were received at the annual missions conference of 2,600-member Park Street Church in Boston. Contributions have amounted to $8.8 million since the special funding program was started in 1940. The church supports seventy-five missionaries and their families in thirty-five countries along with special projects (schools, hospitals, training of Third World Christian leaders), according to Pastor Paul E. Toms.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association will build a $2 million mail-warehouse facility next door to its present world headquarters in Minneapolis. The new building will replace an older one condemned by the city under a redevelopment program. It will also house additional offices. Spokesmen say the BGEA team office in Atlanta will be moved next year to Minneapolis. On another front, the projected amount to be raised for the Graham center at Wheaton College was set at $14 million (rather than $21 million, as announced earlier).


Dean Karl E. Soderstrom of The Stony Brook School, the well-known evangelical prep school in New York, has been appointed acting headmaster, replacing Donn M. Gaebelein, headmaster since 1963, who resigned to head The Westminster Schools in Atlanta.

Philosopher Frederick A. Ferré of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was chosen president of the American Theological Society, a group of 100 Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Greek and Russian Orthodox theologians. His predecessors include Reinhold Neibuhr, Paul Tillich, and his father, Nels F. S. Ferre.

World Scene

Ordination of women was endorsed after spirited debate by delegates at the eighth general assembly of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, representing congregations in Kenya and several neighboring countries. Four of the church’s eight presbyteries opposed women’s ordination in pre-assembly votes. The earliest a woman could be ordained is probably 1980; so far, none has applied. The assembly also went on record against permissive abortion.

Anglican, Wesleyan Methodist, and Presbyterian leaders from Mozambique denied reports of religious persecution in their country. They told World Council of Churches officials that missionaries were arrested because of “national security” reasons and not on religious grounds. Two American and three Brazilian missionaries were released recently, but Nazarene Armand Doll was still being detained early this month.

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American and Saudi geologists say they believe they have found the “lost” gold mine of King Solomon in a mountainous region between Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Known as Ophir, it yielded about thirty-four tons of gold ($125 million worth at current prices) during Solomon’s reign.

Ten new Baptist churches have opened in Hungary over the past three years, according to news reports. There are about 500 Baptist churches with some 12,000 members in that country.

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