For nearly all of its twenty-five-year life, the National Council of Churches has been criticized for its lack of attention to evangelism.

In one of the first acts of its three-year term, the council’s newly-constituted governing board responded to the attacks. At its Atlanta meeting on a warm spring day early this month it quickly passed a policy statement on evangelism.

Although the statement was the council’s first on the subject, it attracted little attention and no floor debate. No votes were cast against it. The favorable vote did not carry with it, however, any commitment of personnel or funds to put evangelism higher on the council’s priority list.

Even though 1975 was reported to be the NCC’s best in terms of dollar income, none of its ninety-eight executives was assigned to work full-time on evangelism. The portfolio has been a part-time responsibility of Dean Kelley, the council’s expert on religious and civil liberty. Asked at a news conference if adoption of the policy statement would be followed by a beefing up of the staff in evangelism, general secretary Claire Randall said there were no such plans.

“Not intended as a comprehensive theological treatise on evangelism,” according to its introduction, the new statement is a carefully-worded “corrective to the recent dichotomy between ‘personal’ evangelism and ‘social action.’ ” It was drafted by a working group composed primarily of denominational secretaries of evangelism, some from within the NCC and some from non-member churches. A draft presented to the board said the group had “hammered out” the paper, but after someone objected to the description on grounds that it sounded combative, the word “developed” was substituted in the published introduction.

The document was adopted on a vote of 124 for, O against, and 4 abstaining. Notable among the abstainers was president Robert Marshall of the Lutheran Church in America. When the statement was introduced at the end of the previous board meeting last October, he had suggested amendment at several points. Asked by a reporter why he had not spoken to the issue in Atlanta, Marshall replied that he felt it would be useless since he had no evidence that he was heard when he spoke last October or when he submitted written objections later. The chief criticism he voiced after the first reading was that the paper said too much about human action and too little about God’s action in evangelism. After the statement was altered slightly between meetings and then finally adopted, it was still deficient in that area, the Lutheran leader said.

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In its opening paragraph, the policy statement disclaims that it is a “final or definitive description” of evangelism. Instead, it claims to be a review of the way that evangelism, a “central issue in American church life,” has been treated for twenty-five years. It concedes that many of the churches connected with the NCC have minimized evangelism as a congregational function. These churches “still seem strangely bound by a reluctance to name the Name of Jesus as Lord and Saviour,” says the pronouncement.

The paper then goes on to describe “naming the Name and bearing witness to it” as a profound and complex event with personal, social, public, and community implications. “That commitment to Jesus Christ must have an impact on the issues of social and economic justice through the stewardship, integrity, and inter-dependence of Christian disciples,” it states.

“Commitment to Jesus Christ,” says the document, “is not a once-for-all event. It is the beginning of one’s spiritual pilgrimage of discipleship.”

The only substantive amendment offered on the floor was one which added Bible study and prayer to a list of items included in the task of evangelism. It was accepted without challenge by the framers of the document and by the board.

While the text of the statement was not debated at the meeting, there were some speeches about it. Marion de Velder, stated clerk of the Reformed Church in America, said, for instance that his denomination would send the paper to all its ministers. He indicated that the mailing would also include the World Council of Churches document “Confessing Christ Today,” a statement on evangelism adopted at the WCC’s-recent Nairobi assembly.

Kelley, the council staffer responsible for evangelism, told reporters after the vote that one of the purposes of the statement is to promote cooperative efforts between member churches and those outside the NCC.

The overwhelming vote for the new pronouncement was typical of most of the actions at the Atlanta meeting. The only close votes were on procedural matters. Most important (though not close enough to be counted) was the tally on a proposed constitutional amendment which would have reduced the quorum for governing board meetings. If passed, the proposal would have allowed the board to conduct business with only 25 per cent of its members present. After being reminded that the current 40 per cent requirement is unusually low, the governing body turned down the change.

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Presiding over his first meeting of the triennium, council president William P. Thompson noted that denominational leaders must be responsible for getting their delegations to the board sessions. Quorum problems are not new, and the reduction was suggested by the constitution and bylaws committee after council leaders analyzed attendance patterns. After proxies were seated, Thompson announced at the end of the first day’s meeting that 145 members had been seated out of an eligible 240. The total of 128 votes on the evangelism statement was the largest number counted on any issue.

Members stayed until the end of the three-day meeting in Atlanta, so the president had no trouble keeping a quorum. A probable reason for the turnout was the highly-publicized plutonium issue on the docket. At the previous board meeting in October, a policy statement was introduced citing “unprecedented hazards” in plutonium extracted from used nuclear fuel. The first reading fired a debate in the scientific community as well as within the NCC, and sponsors of the document downgraded it to a resolution at the Atlanta meeting.

Technically, the policy statement was sent back for further study and expansion (with a report due in two years), but the board passed as a resolution one of the chief points: a call for a moratorium on the commercial processing and use of plutonium as an energy source. Board members had been subject to intensive lobbying throughout the meeting (mostly from proponents of the moratorium), and they debated it for an hour, but when the vote was taken, there were only a few negative responses.

In other resolutions, the board:

• urged the United States to recognize the People’s Republic of Angola, the government formed by the Soviet-backed MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola).

• requested its president to extend greetings to the Roman Catholic eucharistic congress planned for Philadelphia this August.

• called on the federal government to make full employment the nation’s “number one priority,” with an unemployment rate of no more than 3 per cent within two years.

• backed the New York State Council of Churches in asking for clemency for principals in the Attica prison riot.

• reaffirmed its support of the United Nations.

• directed that a letter be sent to the President of the United States expressing the council’s commitment to a policy of self-determination for Puerto Rico.

The board also heard the first reading of a proposed policy statement on handgun control and authorized the drafting of a policy statement on American Indian concerns.

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State Of The Nation

In a candid “state of the nation” address that lasted more than two hours, Wallace Muhammad told thousands watching closed-circuit TV in seventeen city auditoriums and fifty prisons that the Nation of Islam (Black Muslims) has fallen on hard times. The Nation, he said, is in debt $4.6 million, down from $9.5 million at the time of his father’s death a year ago.

Wallace, who succeeded his father Elijah as supreme minister of the Nation, blamed his father for unwise investments (he paid $4 million for a headquarters mosque valued at $1.4 million) and “inaccessibility” that kept him from facing losses of nearly $5 million annually on Muslim-owned farms. Also uncovered were vast amounts of unpaid taxes.

The leader placed his organization on an austerity budget, ordering pay cuts for employees, ministers, and other officials. He pushed through management changes and some badly needed reforms. One source told a New York Times reporter that when Wallace Muhammad took over “he found no bookkeeping, no record system whatever. Cash was taken in and spent with no accountability.” Commented Salim Muwakkil, editor of the Bilalian News, the Muslim newspaper: “There was corruption in the Nation of Islam.” To help balance the ledgers, a number of properties may be sold, say sources.

Muhammad’s speech was the focal point of the Nation’s annual Savior’s Day observances in Chicago last month. An estimated 700 were on hand to hear it. It was full of surprises, including the desacralization of the Nation’s founder, W. D. Fard, who was promoted as “God in the flesh” by Elijah. Wallace stated point blank that Fard was not Allah in physical form. He also denied that his father was equal to the Arabian prophet Muhammad, as Elijah had suggested.

The supreme minister said his father was “bluffing” in his demand for a separate state for blacks and was mistaken in his refusal to allow members and ministers to study and preach from the Koran (Elijah had indicated that his own writings and speeches would supersede the Koran). Places of worship will no longer be called temples, but mosques, he decreed.

These changes are viewed as moving the organization to a position in harmony with other Islamic groups. Wallace Muhammad, a close friend of Malcolm X, was himself put out of the Nation at one time. He has always been known to favor orthodox Islam. A puritan, he has instructed the Muslims to follow faithfully the group’s religious teachings, and he has imposed discipline on violators.

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The changes follow other sweeping revisions announced earlier (see March 12 issue, page 51), including the admission of whites (see following story). Some members say the changes are too radical and are coming too rapidly, and they fear a coup or schism will occur.

For years, the Nation was reputedly America’s largest black economic enterprise with assets rumored to be $70 million, an amount sources now say was exaggerated. No official membership figure has been released (an increase of 27 per cent over the preceding year’s total was reported, however); the figure mentioned most is 750,000. Some observers feel that this is an inflated number too.

Whatever, Wallace Muhammad’s followers say that the Nation is on its way to recovery and that its best years are yet to come.


White Muslim

The first reported white member of the Nation of Islam (Black Muslims) is Dorothy 13X (formerly Dorothy Hill) of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, a convent dropout who holds a Ph.D. in sociology and taught at Beloit College. She has had ties with the Muslims since at least 1970, when she married a member of the Nation, Donald 12X Dorsey. The couple met at a Black Panther rally in Washington, D. C. Ironically, Dorsey was ousted from the Nation because of the ban on such marriages then in effect. He presumably rejoined and his wife joined soon after Muslim leader Wallace Muhammad last summer lifted the ban on whites.

Religion In Transit

Of the “minor” candidates in the New Hampshire primary, anti-abortion candidate Ellen McCormack got 1,004 votes and evangelist Arthur Blessitt received 836. (In the primary race for mayor of Milwaukee, Nazi candidate Arthur Jones received 4,765 votes, placing fourth in a field of seven.)

The confessional “box” appears to be on its way out among Catholics. It has not been abolished, but it is being outmoded in favor of a “reconciliation room,” where a penitent may discuss his shortcomings face to face with a priest, if he wishes to. Under a new rite of penance, more emphasis is being placed on counseling.

The money crunch at United Presbyterian Church headquarters has led to several official recommendations. In one, support would be given next year to only one of two four-year minority colleges related to the church (Barber-Scotia College in North Carolina or Knoxville College in Tennessee), and there would be cutbacks in funds for five other minority schools. Another recommendation calls for further restructure of the denomination through the merger of the UPC’s three mission agencies (Program, Support, and Vocation).

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The controversial Child and Family Services Act (see February 13 issue, page 69) will die in committee, according to congressional sources. If sponsors on Capitol Hill are still interested, it will have to be reintroduced in both houses in the next Congress (1977 or 1978). The bill has occasioned a lot of angry mail, much of it based on a campaign of misinformation.

Anglican leaders in Canada are trying to put an end to what they describe as indiscriminate baptism of infants and children. Anglican bishop Lewis S. Garnsworthy of Toronto laid down stiff guidelines on who is to be baptized and when in the 200 churches under his care. The guidelines specify that if parents do not attend church or exhibit strong intent to do so they will be asked to wait until their children are mature enough to ask for baptism themselves. Garnsworthy, a former Baptist, says he doesn’t want to discourage outsiders; he only wants baptism and its implications for the family to be taken more seriously.

By a vote of 134 to 132, delegates to the American Bar Association convention came within two votes of recommending repeal of criminal penalties for prostitution.

Women now constitute almost half of the enrollment at some seminaries in the Boston area, according to a Boston Globe report. They number between 40 and 50 per cent at Harvard Divinity School, Boston University School of Theology, and Andover Newton. Of the 2,000 students enrolled in a consortium of nine seminaries, 500 are women—up from 125 four years ago. The 203 fulltime teachers in these schools include seventeen women.

Temperance advocate Sam Morris, 75, is still in there pitching. He recently helped the “drys” win over the “wets” by 1,614 votes of 24,325 cast in a local option liquor election in Abilene, Texas (population: 100,000). Church forces and students at Abilene Christian College and Hardin-Simmons University were credited for the winning margin.

National leaders of the various branches of the charismatic movement have been meeting quietly in an effort to bring about peace and reconciliation in their ranks. There have been recent controversies in the movement over issues of authority and submission, trans-local chains of command, and the influence of certain teachers.

The Living Bible is now available in an edition containing the eight apocryphal books considered to be part of the canonical Old Testament by Catholics. The paraphrase was prepared by Our Sunday Visitor in cooperation with Tyndale House.

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Fires destroyed two historic Massachusetts churches—St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brookline and the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Lynn. Some officials believe the arson-set blazes to be acts of a “Bicentennial terrorism” campaign.


Robert McAfee Brown, the controversial United Presbyterian theologian who has been a leading proponent of “liberation theology” in the United States, has signed on as professor of ecumenics and world Christianity at Union Seminary in New York.

World Scene

At a Catholic mass in Seoul marking Korean Independence Day on March 1, a statement was read calling for the resignation of South Korean president Park Chung Hee. It was signed by twelve prominent South Korean political and religious figures, including general secretary Kim Kwan Suk of the Korean National Council of Churches and Lee Woo Jung, president of Korean Church Women United. Kim was questioned but others were jailed, according to reports.

The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, an official dialogue group concerned with unity, is “running into great difficulties” on the issue of authority, according to Archbishop Donald Coggan of Canterbury. He cited infallibility and papal supremacy as two problem areas. Earlier, the group issued statements of agreement on the ministry and the Eucharist.

The general synod of the Church of England approved a report calling for better care of the dying and rejecting euthanasia (mercy killing). Modern drugs make it unnecessary for the most prolonged and incurable conditions to be painful, said the report.

Communist Albania, self-avowedly the world’s “first atheist state,” has ordered a change of all citizens’ names that are “unsuitable” from “a political, ideological, or moral viewpoint.” These include Christian names.

The social action unit of the Catholic hierarchy in Peru issued a statement that endorses Peru’s socialist form of government but warns that it might become totalitarian if there is not greater participation by the people. The paper specifically urges the military regime to do something about soaring unemployment. It says that socialism can be upheld “if human values such as liberty, responsibility, and openness to the spiritual are respected.”

Amid a blaze of press attention, Archbishop Laszlo Lekai was installed as the first functioning primate of the Catholic Church in Hungary in nearly three decades. The death of Cardinal Josef Mindzenty in exile in Vienna last year cleared the way for the Vatican and Budapest to agree on a new primate.

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An international conference on Soviet Jewry in Brussels called on Moscow “to end the campaign of anti-semitism” and to allow free emigration of Jews to Israel.


C. EMANUEL CARLSON, 69, internationally noted authority on religious liberty and for seventeen years executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs; in Dundee, Florida, of a heart attack.

ALLAN S. MECK, 89, former president of Lancaster Seminary, past moderator of the United Church of Christ; in York, Pennsylvania.

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