The Turin Shroud At Credibility Corner

The Shroud of Turin once again is out of sight, but certainly not out of mind. The celebrated cloth was returned to its sealed, silver casket last month, but not before it had been viewed by an estimated 3.3 million pilgrims and scrutinized by an international team of scientists. Many Christians who formerly ignored the shroud as a Catholic relic or harmless hoax await results of the scientific tests with more than casual expectancy.

Tests results aren’t due for another six months to two years, but the scientists intend to prove whether the fourteen-by-three-foot piece of twilled linen is in fact, the burial sheet of the crucified Christ (see book review, p. 32).

Kenneth Stevenson, IBM computer technician and spokesman thirty American scientists who studied the shroud, expressed his opinion: “The historical and scientific evidence indicates to me that the shroud is authentic.”

Raised in a Catholic church and converted by Protestant friends in 1970, Stevenson says the tests can’t prove 100 per cent that the shroud is Christ’s burial sheet. “But whether it is art work or for real, the shroud will always be the most accurate portrayal of the suffering Christ that the world has ever seen,” he said. “It’s medically, scripturally, historically, and culturally accurate. And at this point I defy anyone to show me evidence to the contrary.”

Archbishop Anastasio Ballastrero of Turin prompted the recent public display of the shroud—its first in forty-five years—in observance of the 400th year the shroud has rested in Turin. For more than six weeks, devout pilgrims and curious tourists jammed this otherwise ordinary Italian automobile manufacturing town. At least twenty Catholic cardinals viewed the shroud during the forty-three day exhibition that ended last month.

Once inside the dim renaissance cathedral, visitors peered upwards at the shroud and saw the faint negative image of a man with markings that seem to fit Christ. Floodlamps illuminated the shroud where it hung twelve feet above the floor inside a bomb- and bullet-proof glass case.

As soon as public viewing ended, church officials removed a protective cloth backing from the shroud and an international scientific team began a rushed program of complicated tests. Archbishop Ballastrero had allowed only five days for “nondestructive” tests on the shroud, so the scientists worked non-stop and in shifts.

Their goals: to determine how the man’s image became imprinted on the cloth, to establish the age of the cloth, and to reveal any unseen details on the cloth through image enhancement techniques.

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About 250 scientists had gathered two days before the tests for a seminar sponsored by the International Institute of Shroud Study. Included in that group was a thirty-member American delegation, the U.S. Research Conference on the Shroud. Billed as a scientific seminar, the conference sometimes delved into the spiritual and mystical implications of the shroud. A Belgian delegate was rebuked for sharing his insights on visions, rather than on science.

Harry Gove, chairman of the physics department at the University of Rochester, described his new method for Carbon 14 dating. Gove said he could determine the age of the shroud within 100 years by using a single thread eight inches long. Church officials have rejected Carbon 14 testing in the past because a portion of the shroud fiber would have to be destroyed. They weren’t convinced by Gove’s proposal and refused permission for the test.

But many observers believe Archbishop Ballastrero was magnanimous even in allowing the tests. Turin Catholics have believed the shroud was Christ’s burial sheet for 400 years without needing scientific proof. Apparently, Ballastrero allowed the tests both to appease scientists who for years have been asking permission to experiment on the shroud, and to put the controversy to rest once and for all.

A high point of the shroud seminar was a presentation by Eric Jumper and John Jackson, U.S. Air Force Academy physics instructors who led the American scientific team. They showed two life-size, three-dimensional cardboard models of the body depicted on the shroud. Raised as Roman Catholics and professing Christians, Jumper and Jackson based their models on complex computer-indicated profiles done by them—mostly at their own cost and on their own time with volunteer help.

While in Turin, Jumper and Jackson directed a diverse United States team, many of whom were from the Los Alamos scientific laboratory in New Mexico and the Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena, California. Even more mixed were the religious backgrounds of the scientists; there were Protestants, Catholics, Jews, a Mormon, and several agnostics.

“From a credibility standpoint,” Stevenson said, “we couldn’t have assembled a better group. No one can say this is a Catholic study or a study by ‘Jesus freaks,’ as it has been called.”

The various scientific groups that tested the shroud hope Ballastrero will let them test the shroud again. According to Peter Rinaldi, a Catholic priest, and vice-president of the Holy Shroud Guild in New York, test results will be given first to Humberto II, the last king of Italy, now living in exile in Portugal. Humberto is of the family of Savoy, which owns the shroud.

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Until test results are revealed, controversy focuses upon several unresolved questions. Theologians argue regarding modern translations of the Bible, which say Christ was wrapped in “pieces of linen” rather than a single burial sheet. Others say the tests are inconclusive—that the image on the shroud could belong to any man crucified during the Roman era.

But the cloth is attracting a more receptive hearing in evangelical circles, according to Stevenson. He has received letters of support from American pastors who previously rejected the shroud’s claims.

“This is something I’ve been praying about for the two-and-one-half years that I’ve been involved with this project,” Stevenson said. “There have been times when I’ve said, ‘Lord, if this shroud is real, why the total silence, or at worst, the antagonism from the evangelical community?’ Now I finally see the door opening.”

New Denomination Is Born In Controversy

The following news account is based largely on a report filed by correspondent Ruthanne Garlock.

Breakaway Episcopalians of what was tentatively known as the Anglican Church in North America met last month for their first church convention. They christened their fledgling denomination as the Anglican Catholic Church, and in many respects, the 250 delegates who gathered in Dallas resembled worrisome parents—trying to decide how best to raise their infant church.

Tensions were evident within the assembly. Feelings were almost as strong as those that caused the traditionalist Episcopalians to split from their parent church after it approved in 1976 the ordination of women priests and the modernization of the Book of Common Prayer.

The delegates did manage to approve a provisional constitution. But discussion of the proposed document almost never made the conference agenda. Early in the deliberations, delegates of two dioceses walked out of the meeting to protest the seating of the Southwest diocese (Texas and Missouri) because of the questionable status of two of its priests. One Southwest priest had been divorced and remarried and another had been deposed by authorities in the Haitian church.

The church’s four bishops had split in a vote for seating the diocese. James Mote of Denver and C. Dale Doren, Pittsburgh, had voted to seat the diocese, while bishops Peter Watterson of West Palm Beach, Florida, and Robert Morse of Oakland, California, voted against it and had led the walkout of the protesting dioceses.

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Mote agreed to change his earlier vote to seat the Southwest diocese if the protesting delegates would return to the conference. But the protesting delegates, who had spent half a day in caucus, said they would come back only if conditions were met in their “Four-point Mandate.” Its four conditions were: to call the bishops to chair the meetings, to dissolve the assembly and convene a synod, to give the Southwest diocese a voice, but no vote, and to conduct a vote by orders.

The so-called Four-point Mandate narrowly got approval in a vote among the assembly. Angry words were tossed about, such as calling the bishops who led the walkouts “popes.”

Then the convention assembly began a line-by-line study and revision of the proposed constitution. When they were through only one-third of it, an Arizona delegate asked for immediate approval of the entire document. Those articles that had not yet been examined would be provisional and non-binding for the time being, according to the suggested plan.

That procedure met the unanimous approval of the lay and clergy delegates, many anxious to have something tangible to show for their first-convention efforts. All but one of the bishops—Bishop Morse—accepted the recommendation also. Now the constitution needs the approval of at least four of the seven dioceses within the church to take effect.

The root issue of the convention was “high church” versus “low church.” Carroll Simcox, president of the Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen (lay group that organized the convention), said the “high church” advocates led the walkout against the Southwest diocese because its low church advocates would give less power to the bishops and distribute the powers of decision-making to the church body as a whole.

Simcox, who is a visiting professor at the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Kentucky and a former editor of an Episcopal publication The Living Church, was disappointed by the superior power of the high church faction at the convention. Though he had intended to break from the Episcopal Church before the convention, he now is making “an agonizing reappraisal” of that decision.

Episcopal Church observers are watching the development of the infant denomination closely. (Its four bishops were ordained only last January.) Membership within the Anglican body is estimated to be 25,000, with about 165 member congregations, and no one knows for sure whether it will grow.

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Two additional bishops have been elected, but are not yet consecrated: William Burns, 59, of the Diocese of the Resurrection, serving New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, and Carmino de Catanzaro, 62, elected the first Canadian bishop of the church. There is presently no diocese in Canada, but Catanzaro will officiate over church missions in Ontario and Quebec as well as parishes in Ontario. The Anglican body also plans to open its own seminary next fall, St. Joseph of Arimathea’s Anglican Theological College, on the campus of the University of Caifomia at Berkeley.

One Episcopal official believes the Anglican body won’t attract as many discontented Episcopalians as expected. “There are many conservative Episcopalians who have no intention of breaking away, but they vocally support the Anglican Catholic Church, hoping it will fight their battles for them.”

Lutheran Unity: An Uncertain Warble

Vice-President Walter F. Mondale has received boos and cheers during convention speeches. But in an address last month at the ninth biennial American Lutheran Church (ALC) convention, the Presbyterian layman heard high warbling calls from the 1,000 voting delegates.

The strange call was introduced earlier in the conference of the 2.4-million-member body by ALC president David W. Preus, as he welcomed another guest speaker—Lutheran World Federation president Joseph Kibira. Preus said the call was a joyous greeting of honor in Kibira’s native Tanzania.

But another call at the convention—one heard more frequently at Lutheran gatherings—was the call to unity. ALC delegates voted to establish altar and pulpit fellowship with the 112,000-member Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC). The AELC, a group that split from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in 1976 over doctrinal differences, earlier had invited the ALC and the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) to consider an “organic church union” of all three bodies.

ALC delegates rejected that idea (the LCA accepted it), but they asked the AELC to join the Committee on Lutheran Unity. Representatives of the AELC, the ALC, and the LCA constitute this committee that will meet in January. Structural union of the three churches will be their first item on the agenda.

Earlier in the convention, Preus asked the AELC to become a non-geographic church district within the ALC. AELC president William Kohn was cool to the idea—wanting instead a three-church union including the LCA.

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Preus was miffed by criticism that he was “holding back” on progress toward Lutheran union. But Preus believes a structural union with the LCA and AELC at present might hamper the more important goal of Christian mission.

In lengthy discussion, ALC delegates voted to forbid infant communion—upholding a similar decision by LCA in a joint statement on communion practices.

Other convention action included:

• A call to increased dialogue between Roman Catholics and Lutherans on the local church level.

• Creation of a task force with 50 per cent women membership that will study the abortion question and present a position paper at the 1980 convention.

• Election of Arnold Mickelson to a third six-year term as ALC general secretary and aproval of a 1979 budget of $31 million.

Full Disclosure: Coming Halfway

About sixty-five representatives of evangelical organizations approved guidelines for establishing a sort of evangelical Better Business Bureau at a meeting last month in Chicago. The ad hoc group continued its discussion of voluntary financial disclosure that originally began during a meeting last December (see Jan. 13 issue, p. 44). Both meetings were called by George Wilson, executive vice-president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and Stanley Mooneyham, president of World Vision.

At the earlier meeting, the organizational leaders expressed adamant opposition to government legislation of church financial matters. Instead, they advocated voluntary disclosure by evangelical groups. Particularly, the conferees had opposed the Charity Disclosure Bill (HR 41), which would have required charitable organizations that seek contributions to list the percentage going to the proclaimed work of the organization. (HR 41 died in congressional committee this fall.)

A six-member committee was assigned at the first meeting to establish uniform standards for financial disclosure by evangelical groups, and it gave its report last month. The committee members suggested several guidelines that evangelical groups should follow to become part of the projected “policing” organization.

Those guidelines included the recommendation that each member group is to: 1) make available to its donors an annual audit; 2) secure an outside accounting firm to do the audit; 3) form a finance and audit committee of nonemployees; 4) create an active governing board of directors, mostly of nonemployees; 5) provide a statement of purpose and of faith (“of an evangelical Christian perspective”).

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The committee members, who were chosen by Wilson and Mooneyham, will determine how these elements can be implemented within the as-yet-to-be named central organization. A full report will be given at a meeting of the entire group next March in Chicago.

Some observers wonder if the guidelines are complete enough. Former National Association of Evangelicals director of field services Edward Hales, for example, pointed out that no mention was made of publishing detailed figures showing the breakdown of ministry versus overhead expenditures. But the essential elements suggested by the committee—voluntary disclosure and outside auditing—got “unanimous approval” from the conferees, according to Wilson.

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