A press critic called it “a festival of American civil religion.”

Leaders at last month’s joint conventions of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) in Washington, D.C., would reject that description of their Bicentennial observance. Yet it is easy to see why an outsider might reach such a conclusion. The program featured an unprecedented mix of politicians and preachers, music and speeches resplendent in God-and-country themes, counsel by a convert from the Watergate cast, resolutions aimed at exerting a moral influence on the nation, and a position paper bearing the title, “Let Freedom Ring,” that prescribed antidotes to America’s spiritual decay.

For many of the 2,000-plus delegates (divided about evenly between the NAE and NRB), it wasn’t a matter of indulging in civil religion but of being challenged to be better Christians and better citizens—and celebrating the fact that they are both.

The four-day event at the Shoreham Americana hotel opened with a Sunday-night “prayer for the nation” rally at which President Ford and Republican congressman John Conlan spoke. In a brief address, Ford credited America’s greatness in part to the place God and the Scriptures had in the thinking of the country’s founders. Responding to those who would complain that with so much corruption and upheaval in society they don’t know who or what to believe, the President said, “My answer is that we can believe in God, we can believe in the faith of our fathers.”

Southern Baptist pastor and broadcaster Jess Moody of West Palm Beach, Florida, asked the President and others to join hands in prayer for the nation. Hundreds wept as Ford clasped hands with Moody and Ben Armstrong, executive secretary of the NRB, and bowed his head. Among other things, Moody prayed that Ford would receive “a special touch of the Holy Spirit” to equip him for the burdens of his office.

Ford was moved by the revival-like atmosphere, comments Armstrong. “Halfway through the prayer, his hand tightened on mine.”

Conlan, a doctrinaire political conservative who attends an independent Bible church in a Washington suburb, challenged his listeners to move “from the pews to the polls in 1976.” There are some 15 million unregistered voters who are evangelicals and who “could turn the tide of this nation,” he theorized. He urged the pastors and other leaders to help get out the vote, to implement their concerns by getting involved at the grass-roots level, where “movements that affect political decisions really begin.” He hammered home the need for Christians to get into issues in their local communities where there is the greatest recourse for change. The audience repeatedly applauded him.

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Other political figures also addressed the delegates. Republican Senator Mark O. Hatfield of Oregon seemed to counter Conlan somewhat. He warned against the formation of a “Christian political platform.” Pointing out the differences that exist among the believers in Congress, he asked: “Which of you would like to decide which of us has the Christian position on a given issue?” (Conlan is rumored to be part of a movement to raise millions of dollars to get evangelicals elected to office and to inject a Christian point of view into national issues and legislation.)

Hatfield, a Conservative Baptist who attends Fourth Presbyterian Church in Washington, called on evangelicals to speak out more on social and economic issues and to get involved personally in helping the needy.

Republican John B. Anderson of Rockford, Illinois, a member of the Evangelical Free Church, noted that Christians are justly concerned “about abortion, amnesty, and drug abuse as things that are tearing down the moral fiber of our society.” He asked that they also give attention to equality and to the problems of unemployment, poverty, and hunger. These too have moral implications, he said.

Anderson was part of a four-member panel on “What concerns me most about our country today.” Other members were Democrat congressman Walter Fauntroy of the District of Columbia, a Baptist minister; California Republican Carlos Moorhead, a Presbyterian; and Democrat Don L. Bonker of Washington state, a Baptist. Fauntroy criticized the Christian community for keeping its religious beliefs in church on Sundays instead of applying them in public life and policy. Moorhead and Bonker stressed individual responsibility. Bonker, a freshman congressman who recently made a commitment to Christ, suggested that Christian leaders both in and out of the capital need to get together more and pray about their decisions.

Converted Watergate figure Charles Colson appeared with entertainer Pat Boone and others during sessions on “Decency and the Media.” Colson blamed the media in part for America’s declining moral standards. Several broadcasters and Christian communications people are sponsoring campaigns aimed at cleaning up the media, especially television. As a result of the workshop emphasis, a resolution critical of the major networks and other media was drawn up, but the NRB board rejected it on grounds it was too negative and that the issues had been covered adequately in past resolutions. “We wanted to say something positive this year,” explained an NRB spokesman in an interview.

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The “positive” statement came in a paper drafted by broadcaster Pat Robertson. It said God and country are owed special duties of Christian citizenship, and it called on believers to pray for the nation, to vote responsibly, and to encourage godly men to seek public office. It passed unanimously, the NRB’s only resolution this year.

Chairman Richard E. Wiley of the Federal Communications Commission, a United Methodist who identifies with evangelicals, told a joint luncheon gathering of a meeting he had a year ago with the presidents of the three major TV networks. There was discussion about “gratuitous and excessive violent and sexual material” in TV programming, he said. Following this meeting, the networks and the TV industry’s code board adopted the so-called family viewing plan. Under it, the first two hours of evening prime time are to be set aside for material “suitable for viewing by the entire family.” But, noted Wiley, the plan is under attack, and there is already too much violence, sex, and indecency on TV. “Reform is overdue,” he declared, but it cannot be in the form of government censorship. He called on Christians to apply themselves creatively to help provide good programming.

In addition to the main program features there were a number of how-to workshops, informational seminars, and business sessions (a number of the NAE’s affiliates and commissions held their annual meetings simultaneously).

The NAE rejected a resolution on the “right to food” presented by its social action chairman, Clarence Hilliard, a black minister of Chicago. The wording was similar to a pending Hatfield resolution in Congress over which the evangelical constituency is divided, explained NAE leaders. Support of the resolution, they said, could have been interpreted as an endorsement of the Hatfield measure.

Instead, the NAE adopted a position paper that mentions many of the nation’s ills and needs. It pledges participation by Christians “in every lawful and morally right function of human government” and opposition to “whatever is unlawful and morally wrong.”

Nathan Bailey, president of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, was elected to a two-year term as NAE president. Missionary broadcaster Abe C. Van Der Puy continues as NRB president.

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There are various membership levels in the NAE; individuals, churches, religious agencies, and denominations can all join. Currently there are thirty-five member denominations, most of them small, and only one is black, the 800-member Full Gospel Pentecostal Association of Portland, Oregon. In all, the NAE claims to represent more than 30,000 congregations with nearly four million constituents.

The overseas mission wing of the NAE is the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association. It represents seventy-two mission agencies with 8,500 missionaries in 120 countries.

NAE members are required to subscribe to a seven-point doctrinal statement that includes belief in the Bible as the “inspired, the only infallible, authoritative word of God.” The final night’s speaker, scholar Francis A. Schaeffer of L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland, centered his address on that point. Only a “strong, uncompromising view of Scripture”, he asserted, will enable evangelicals to remain firm in their faith in the “hard days” he sees coming. But he warned of “infiltrators.” Said he: “Let me say with tears that evangelicalism today, although growing in numbers and name throughout the world, is not unitedly and clearly standing for a strong view of Scripture.”

“That talk completed the package,” remarked an NRB leader. “Conlan showed us the need to implement what we’re talking about, Hatfield gave us the guidelines, and Schaeffer underscored the basis.”

Women And Missions

Delegates at a recent evangelical workshop on “Woman in Mission” called upon church and mission leaders to examine seriously the place of women in missions, and to integrate biblical principles into the life-style of the community of Christian believers for which they are responsible.

Fifty-one American and Canadian women, representing twenty-three mission boards (related mainly to the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association and the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association) spent three days at the Missionary Internship campus in Farmington, Michigan, in late January to study the personhood of woman and her role in missions.

Three main areas of concern emerged: the need to live by biblical principles rather than cultural conditioning; the importance of personal identity; the need for women to be involved in leadership and decision making. The participants commented frequently on the inconsistency of responsibility and standards for ministry that exist on the field and in the home country. In some instances, as cited in personal testimonies, this involves women missionaries establishing churches and preaching and teaching abroad while having a limited ministry in the home church because they are women. In other cases that were mentioned, a heavy authority structure overseas precludes participation in decision making. Discussion was vigorous at times, and many women reentering the U.S. culture from remote mission stations where they carried heavy responsibilities expressed surprise at the issues raised.

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Probably the most strategic move of the conference was the establishment of a task force to pursue the issue of women in mission leadership and decision making. This action reflected the group’s concern for women who have gifts of administration and other leadership abilities but who are not allowed to develop their potential. The question was raised whether women are given equal recognition for equal responsibility and work.

Another task force will develop a survey of problems common to women in missions and work closely with the women in the decision-making study group. Still another task force is planning a second workshop for this fall to press toward accomplishing the goals set forth at the Michigan conference.


Crediting Calvinism

Evangelist Billy James Hargis said last month he had decided not to file libel charges against Time in connection with a recent story about him (see February 27 issue, page 42). Legal advisors told him he could not expect to win because he is a public figure, he stated. In an interview with the Tulsa Tribune, he said he was “not guilty of all the charges leveled against me in the national press.” He traced his troubles at American Christian College to doctrinal differences he had with college president David Noebel over degrees of Calvinism. But he did not comment specifically on published allegations accusing him of sexual relations with five students at the college, four of them men.

Hargis has indicated in his weekly tabloid and in fund-raising letters that he intends to continue his ministry.

Noebel meanwhile sent letters to backers of the college contending in effect that the allegations are true and are the reason the college terminated its relationship with Hargis in late 1974.

Florida Fight

No peace is yet in sight in the conflict between the Church of Scientology and citizens of the Clearwater, Florida, area (see February 27 issue, page 41). The church filed a $1 million lawsuit against Clearwater mayor Gabriel Cazares in connection with the public controversy surrounding its purchase of a downtown hotel. Over some objections to the way Cazares acted “unilaterally” in trying to unravel mysteries surrounding the purchase, the Clearwater city council voted to provide legal support to the mayor. Cazares, a member of the United Church of Christ, is vice president of the Florida Christian Migrant Ministry.

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The Scientology church had threatened to sue the St. Petersburg Times but did not follow through, contrary to an earlier report. Instead, the Times filed suit against the church seeking an injunction against alleged efforts to intimidate the newspaper and its reporters, a charge the Scientologists deny.

In another development, talk show host Bob Snyder has been fired by radio station WDCL, allegedly in an attempt to head off a possible Scientology suit against the Dunedin station for critical remarks made by Snyder on the air.

Meanwhile, a Scientology press spokesman denied a published report that the hotel is off limits to everyone but Scientologists. Other churches are welcome to use the facilities, he said.

Graham On The Spirit

Evangelist Billy Graham, whose book on angels was the nation’s best-selling nonfiction volume of 1975, is now writing a book on the Holy Spirit, according to a press report. He said he put together thirteen of its fifteen chapters while vacationing recently in Mexico. He went there with his wife Ruth, who was ordered to rest after suffering what appeared to be a heart attack (subsequent tests failed to find evidence of it).

Graham said he embarked on months of intensive Bible study about the Holy Spirit after reading The New Pentecost by Cardinal Leo Suenens of Belgium, a leader in the Catholic charismatic movement.

Part of his new book will deal with the gifts of the Spirit (including tongues and healing), said the evangelist. The charismatic movement has been used of God to arouse “dead Christians in many parts of the world, especially in the mainline denominations,” he stated. Yet, said he, there is much that is counterfeit. Also, he added, he does not regard the gift of speaking in tongues “to be evidence that a person has been baptized in the Spirit any more than the other gifts.” All Christians have gifts of some sort from the Holy Spirit, thus all Christians are “charismatics,” he affirmed.

The evangelist was interviewed by a Minneapolis reporter after undergoing tests at the Mayo Clinic. He has had continuing problems with an intestinal ailment he picked up overseas last fall, with his back (he no longer can do any heavy lifting), and with high blood pressure.

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Shelf Service

Since May, 1970, more than 1,000 public and parochial school libraries in thirty-eight states have been the recipients of 40,000-plus Christian books at no charge to the schools. The books have been placed by a non-profit organization, Christian School Books of Hubbard, Ohio.

CSB was founded by Evelyn Moffatt, wife of a plastics industry executive. She serves in a volunteer capacity as CSB’s president. Of United Methodist background, she was led to make a commitment to Christ through reading Catherine Marshall’s Beyond Ourselves.

“There is a book to reach anyone who will read,” affirms Mrs. Moffatt. So motivated, she and four paid staffers work out of offices in her basement to place Christian books on the shelves of school libraries. They are assisted by more than 200 volunteers across the country, most of them housewives. In an adopt-a-school plan, a volunteer shows samples of CSB books to the school librarian and explains the CSB program. The order sheet includes instructions for precataloging according to the librarian’s specifications. When the librarian agrees to accept the books, the volunteer enlists a church or service group to “adopt” the school and provide funds to pay for the book shipment. CSB then precatalogs the books and mails them to the school.

CSB has a dealership arrangement with publishers by which it can purchase books wholesale. Mrs. Moffatt says CSB searches for books that present the message of God’s love yet are not “churchy.” She adds that the books are screened, with care taken not to offend any denomination or ethnic group. Lists of recommended books are drawn up for students in both elementary and secondary grades. Among them are hardback and paperback books on sports, biographies, comic books, and books showing the dangers of drugs and the occult.

CSB vice president Rebecca Clark, a convert from the drug scene during the Jesus-movement era, points out that interests vary according to schools and regions. In some schools, for example, World War II is an in subject, and books like The Hiding Place and Hansei are in demand. Elsewhere, Nicky Cruz’s Run, Baby, Run might be a top choice.

Mrs. Moffatt cites tight school budgets as a contributing reason for CSB’s success. Librarians welcome good books that don’t cost them anything. Another reason is the preprocessing, she states. The books are nearly shelf ready upon arrival, saving the librarian hours of work. Most schools approached are willing to accept the books, she says, but some librarians turn them down, usually out of suspicion or fear of possible controversy—or simply because they are reluctant to handle anything pertaining to God.

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Angola: A Question

The following update on Angola was filed by aCHRISTIANITY TODAYcorrespondent in Africa.

As forces of the Soviet-backed Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) roared south through the countryside last month, the population scattered to the bush and villages of family origin. Relatively few were killed, but pastors of the United Church of Central Angola feared for their lives. A number had led their flocks into the fold of the defeated National Union for the Total Liberation of Angola (UNITA).

In the north, members of the Baptist churches around Carmona shed no tears at the flight of the western-backed National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA). Earlier, FNLA activists burned the homes of some Baptists when they declined to take out political party membership, citing their belief in church-state separation. Although the MPLA owes its victory to Soviet arms and thousands of Cuban troops, MPLA radio spokesmen mention neither ally. They give credit for the triumph to African “sons of peasants and workers.” Use of the word “Communist” is avoided, but the broadcasters do speak of their “non-aligned Marxism-Leninism.”

The remaining five missionaries of the Africa Evangelical Fellowship (formerly South Africa General Mission) left Angola in early February. AEF field director Donald Lutes, a Canadian, had been placed under MPLA house arrest last fall for operating a radio transmitter. He decided he had no choice but to leave when the MPLA swept south again. Canadian-American Robert Foster left his rural sixty-bed mission hospital in south central Angola.

Three missionaries serving the United Church (of U. S. Congregational and United Church of Canada origins) were in Angola in December. Canadian doctor George Burgess of the eighty-bed Dondi Mission hospital in UNITA heartland left briefly to spend Christmas in Canada. On his return he got only as far as Lusaka, Zambia. UNITA reverses prevented him from going further. Doctor Betty Bridgeman and nurse Edith Radley were thought to be still in Chissamba Mission Hospital east of Silva Porto (Bié) early this month.

At least two other Protestant missions still had workers in Angola at mid-month. Two women serving with Christian Missions in Many Lands (a Plymouth Brethren-endorsed group) were at a station near the Zambia border, and seventeen members of the Swiss Evangelical Alliance Mission were still at their hospital and other posts on five stations.

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Last fall MPLA officials interrogated doctor Rudolph Brechet of the Swiss mission’s Caluquembe Hospital for eighteen hours. When they discovered the local populace was solidly behind him, they released him as “a friend of the people.” Brechet, who has been in Angola since 1945, led in the 1974 founding of the Association of Evangelicals in Angola. The association claims that more than 60 per cent of the nation’s Protestants are evangelical in belief and alignment.

Probably the only Protestant clergyman riding high in MPLA’s Angola is the polished Methodist bishop Emilio de Carvalho. Based in Luanda, the capital, Carvalho is said to be close to MPLA’s leader, Agostinho Neto, himself a son of a Methodist minister and a beneficiary of Methodist mission schools and scholarship aid (see January 16 issue, page 43). Two summers ago Carvalho led his church to call for union with the Catholics. Through his newspaper O Estandarte he is known to favor a single unified Protestant Church for all of Angola.

Carvalho’s own Methodist church, however, has long struggled with an internal cleavage between two tribes, one side identified with big-city Luanda in the west, and the other side identified with rural Malange in the east. The fissure appeared when Carvalho led his urban wing to back the MPLA, essentially an elitist, educated, and “Europeanized” movement (the choir of the Central Methodist Church of Luanda could be heard singing pro-MPLA songs on Radio Luanda). The Malange Methodists favored the now defeated FNLA, basically a rural African grass-roots movement. A number of pro-FNLA Methodist pastors fled Malange when the MPLA shot up the town last summer.

A big question now, say mission observers, is whether Bishop Carvalho will exert influence on the MPLA regarding religious liberty. There are many variables: the extent of Soviet indoctrination, Carvalho’s own objectives, ancient tribal hostilities, the degree of impatience of the ruling urban minority toward the rural majority as social changes are sought. At stake may be the religious future of six million Angolans. Catholics number about 2.8 million (the figure may include several hundred thousand refugees who fled to Portugal), and Protestants are estimated to have between 450,000 and 800,000 adherents, the majority of them Baptists and Methodists.

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Clyde Was A Clergyman

It looked like just another bank robbery, perhaps more professionally executed than most. The manager had been tricked into letting a “mother and son” into his private office, the explosive device they produced was frighteningly realistic, the threat to blow the place sky high was convincing, and the getaway with the stolen bank notes was planned to the last detail. Police, referring to the robbers as the Grannie and Clyde Gang, were baffled by the affair and by a spate of other unsolved crimes in the far west of England.

In what lawmen conceded was a thousand-to-one coincidence, the trail took them to a vicarage in Plymouth on routine inquiries. Suddenly the housekeeper, Mrs. Stella Bunting, 59, confessed to complicity in the bank job. The moving spirit of the caper turned out to be her employer, the Reverend Stephen Care, 32, vicar of St. Chad’s.

When the couple appeared at Exeter Crown Court, Care admitted to bank robbery and to stealing antiques from an abbey, a prep school, and a neighboring vicarage. He also asked the court to take into consideration eight other offenses dating from 1973, including thefts from his church and Sunday school offerings. Total haul: $36,000. Mrs. Bunting, said to be completely under Care’s influence, was acquitted of the bank robbery and given a conditional discharge for what the judge called her “very minor role” in the school burglary. The vicar got a seven-year jail term.

The handsome Church of England clergyman, a bachelor son of a Cornish fisherman, was highly regarded by his parishioners. His church services were well attended. He drank at the local pub, told saucy jokes, even appeared in drag once to entertain old folks at a party. He was a snappy dresser, had expensive tastes, and an interest in antiques. It was the latter hobby that proved his undoing. He began to covet rare and valuable pieces he saw on ecclesiastical and social occasions. He took to thieving, and no one suspected him until a stolen article he had sold 150 miles away somehow found its way back to a store in a nearby town—where it was spotted by the original owner.

Care, who admitted everything, could offer the police no explanation. But, said he: “I have made my peace with God and am making my peace with the State.”

Most of the stolen property was recovered.


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