At age 33, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has come down with a bad case of perplexity.
At this year’s annual AU-sponsored National Conference on Church and State, held last month in suburban Washington, D.C., it was clear that some 120 participants were anything but united on several important issues, including the role of religious groups in politics. They did seem agreed that religion-and-government issues are no longer as simple as they were back in 1947. AU was founded that year by a group of Protestant church leaders to fight government aid to Roman Catholic schools and to prevent the appointment of a U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.
Much of the platform and corridor talk during the two-day event centered on the activity of the so-called evangelical right in the 1980 election campaign. Speaker after speaker condemned the organized evangelical political activity led by such groups as television preacher Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, Richard Zone’s Christian Voice, and Ed McAteer’s Roundtable organization. The movement makes a Christian’s position on certain political and social issues virtually a litmus test of faith, alleged several speakers.
Such organized political activity “cheapens the church, and it cheapens grace,” declared Southern Baptist R. G. Puckett, AU’s executive director.
“Churches have a responsibility to lobby to correct wrongs when the government oversteps its borders, but they shouldn’t get involved beyond that,” commented panelist H. Dickenson Rathbun, manager of the powerful Christian Science lobbying office in Washington.
Another panelist, James Dunn, social concerns executive of Southern Baptist churches in Texas, said it is okay for religious individuals to become involved in the political process, but not organized movements. The leaders of the evangelical right, he alleged, are uninformed and unrealistic about the issues, unfaithful to their own highest ideals, uncaring, unbrotherly, and untruthful.
Dunn referred to Falwell’s much-publicized account of a conversation he supposedly had with Jimmy Carter about homosexuality, a conversation that did not take place. (Falwell first tried to explain that his account, given to an Alaska audience last spring, was intended to be taken as a parable, but he later expressed regret for having made the misstatement.)
Two other Southern Baptist leaders also took the religious right to task: William L. Self, pastor of Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta and chairman of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board, and Jimmy R. Allen, who heads up Southern Baptist radio and television work.
Self accused the religious right of “trying to stampede the American voter and turn back the clock on the issue of separation of church and state,” an action he says will eventually result in loss of religious liberty.
Allen, a former president of AU, said that as the anti-Catholicism in AU’s past is “not to our credit,” neither is the crusading spirit of the present-day religious right a credit to the church. The movement, he alleged, is driven by a “desperation mentality.”
Younger participants in the AU meeting, however, disagreed with the speakers during floor discussion. United Methodist seminarians said they had been raised in a church that taught them they must change the system if they are going to help society—and this means getting organized and active politically. They indicated that they oppose the religious right, not for being involved politically, but for being on the wrong side of issues. The priority, they said, is to become mobilized themselves. Older members of AU raised their eyebrows at such talk.
Several other participants said that the conservative evangelicals are to be commended at least for recognizing and dealing with some moral problems in society that liberal church people have declined to face.
The most important current church-and-state issue is prayer in public schools, commented Puckett. Lutheran lobbyist Charles Bergstrom, who classifies himself as an evangelical theologically, said he wonders why any evangelical would want government-mandated prayer in the schools. “Whose prayer will be used?” he asked, suggesting that evangelicals might not be pleased with the outcome.
One session dealt with the issues of scientific creationism and secular humanism in public schools. Mormon law professor Paul Toscano of Brigham Young University said that the government ought to permit churches to use tax money to set up alternative schools because the government, through the courts, has established “the religion of secular humanism” in the public schools.
Julius B. Poppinga, a New Jersey attorney who is president of the evangelical Christian Legal Society, replied that he agreed with Toscano on some points, but that parochiaid, tax credits, and dual school systems are not the answer. Government and educators must recognize the pluralism that exists in the public schools and adapt their methods accordingly, he said. For example, he suggested, creationism should be taught along with evolution in science classes, and both should be equally regarded as theories.
Panelists in still another session explored the current disputes between Christian schools and the federal Department of Labor. The government has been classifying employees of Christian schools as non-church employees in order to require payment of unemployment compensation taxes, but in the process the government has applied a limited definition of church. Panelists agreed that the problem is a sticky one, and that long litigation is ahead. The main issue: if the government can apply a definition to a church that the church itself does not accept, is not the government violating religious liberty?
Both Dunn and Puckett acknowledged in interviews that AU may be entering a new phase in its struggle to keep the wall of separation between church and state in place. In the past, they indicated, AU has been concerned primarily with making sure that religious groups stay on their side of the wall. A greater danger may now exist from government attempts to breach the wall, they said, and AU will have to pay more attention to that threat.
To patrol the wall, AU has a staff of 27, a budget of $1 million for its three components (a research division, a legal arm, and a parent administrative body), a mailing list of 100,000 (there is no formal membership), and a 70,000-circulation magazine—Church and State—with considerable influence in the field.
Roman Orgy on Film Makes First-run Theaters
“The most degrading film ever made,” charged attorney Paul McGeady of Morality in Media. “The most outrageous and savage attempt to exploit the macabre nature of man in order to suck money from his pockets,” asserted author and Church of Christ pastor Neil Gallagher.
The movie Caligula, produced by Penthouse magazine publisher Bob Guccione, won’t win any awards from antipornography activists. In fact, they want the movie banned.
Filmed in Rome, the two-and-one-half hour movie is filled with explicit sex and graphic violence. Obscenity foes are particularly concerned about stopping Caligula because it is showing in first-run movie theaters where it has greater visibility and would seem more respectable than if it were shown in X-rated movie houses.
Antipornography watchdog groups are convinced the movie is legally obscene, according to the benchmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Miller v. California. This ruling established three tests for defining what is obscene: (1) when the work, as a whole, appeals to the prurient (lustful) interest; (2) depicts or describes sexual conduct in a “patently offensive way,” and (3) “lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
The Cleveland, Ohio—based Citizens for Decency Through Law and the New York City—based Morality in Media both have sharply criticized U.S. Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti for not challenging the film. (In a letter to CDL founder Charles H. Keating, Jr., Civiletti said U.S. District Court and Department of Justice officials had viewed the film and agreed that the Supreme Court’s standards provided insufficient basis to exclude the film legally.)
In February, Morality in Media lost a court bid to have the film confiscated and destroyed. MM president Morton Hill, a Jesuit priest and former member of Lyndon Johnson’s Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, and Hinson McAuliffe, Fulton County, Georgia, prosecutor, a Baptist layman who in 1978 filed charges against Guccione for selling the sex-oriented Penthouse magazine in his jurisdiction, were coplaintiffs.
U.S. District Court Judge Vincent Broderick in New York rejected the suit, saying “there was no injury in fact to any of the plaintiffs.” He did not rule on the question of whether the material was obscene. A subsequent appeal to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also failed. Morality in Media since then has fought the film by asking district attorneys around the country to send investigators to view the film to see whether it violates obscenity laws.
Only one local judge so far has ruled on the illegal obscenity issue. Chief Justice Harry Elam of the Boston Municipal Court in August found the movie not legally obscene. Elam believed the film has a “serious political theme.” He said it was important that Americans be reminded of “degrading periods” of history to prevent their repetition. (Guccione flew in and paid expert witnesses, who testified to the merits of the movie.) To this, Massachusetts MM vice-president Joseph W. Chevarley was quoted as arguing in rebuttal, “One of the best ways to repeat historical degradation is to sanction the vilest exhibition of that degradation for the public entertainment.”
Both Morality in Media and the CDL, nonsectarian groups, have individual Christians and, in some cases, churches as members. From the Christian community, there has been no organized opposition to the movie.
Gallagher, an East Providence, Rhode Island, pastor, and president of his state’s NDL chapter, has filed a complaint against the movie with Rhode Island Attorney General Dennis Roberts.
He sees Caligula as a watershed. If Christians and the general public don’t challenge the movie, he said, “We will have shown the truth of what Francis Schaeffer writes about [Whatever Happened to the Human Race?]: the only thing Americans are concerned about is their own personal peace and affluence.”
Ironically, the film begins with a Bible verse etched across a blank screen: Mark 8:36, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” What followed was anything but biblical, although Gallagher in a telephone interview judged that it showed “the truth of Romans, chapter one … what men will do when they are really cut off from God.”
The Baptist Federation of Canada, or “Federation Baptists,” is not a member of Interchurch Communications, an ecumenical group that opposed government licensing of the evangelical Canadian Family Radio in Vancouver, British Columbia (Sept. 5 issue, p. 78). In fact, the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec—one of the four member bodies within the Baptist Federation, and a member of the ICC—officially supported the licensing and disassociated itself from the ICC’s stand.
The brief reign of Rome’s fourth emperor, Caligula Caesar (A.D.37–41) is depicted with explicit sex scenes: oral and anal sex, homosexuality, incest, masturbation, necrophilia, rape, and often with lingering close-ups. The writhing bodies are paired with graphic violence: Caligula cuts off a dead man’s penis and feeds it to dogs; a small girl’s head is smashed against a stone wall; there are decapitations, torture, and mutilations.
The movie’s sex and violence made it “a $17 million trough of rotten swill,” in the eyes of movie critic Rex Reed.
The film’s cast and budget would seem to give it greater respectability than other “adults only” fare. It has played in first-run, not X-rated theaters: in 108 theaters in 83 cities as of September 25, said Penthouse Films official Leslie Jay. It cost $17.5 million to produce, and features name British actors: five-time Oscar nominee Peter O’Toole (best known for his role as Lawrence of Arabia) cast as Tiberius Caesar, Malcolm McDowell as Caligula, Shakespearean actress Helen Mirren, and Sir John Gielgud. Art director Danilo Donati is a three-time Academy Award winner. “This film is really special,” said Jay. “It depicts pagan Rome as it really was.” In some cities, Penthouse has leased movie theaters where it sets the adults-only admission price of from $5.00 to $7.50.
In the future, pornography is expected to spread further among the general public. Pornography on cable television will be the big moneymaker of the 1980s, said Hill of Morality in Media. One TV industry magazine has estimated that two-thirds of the more than $120 million worth of prerecorded videotapes sold this year will be X-rated.
Pornography is growing because of public apathy, not because of weak laws against it, say antiobscenity activists. Morality in Media’s president Hill says the pornography traffic could be wiped out in 18 months if the U.S. Attorney General’s office initiated nationwide investigation and prosecution.
The U.S. Supreme Court seems to have given local governments the power of deciding for themselves what is obscene. Groups such as MM and the CDL quickly rebut arguments that pornography is protected by the First Amendment, according to a CDL newsletter. State and local obscenity laws generally are the same, but local law is preempted when that is not the case, said lawyer McGeady of MM.
(Formed in 1962 by three clergymen concerned about pornography’s effects on children and the family, Morality in Media has dual aims of educating Americans to the dangers of pornography, and encouraging community efforts against it. MM runs a National Obscenity Law Center in New York City, which is a clearing-house for information to aid in court prosecution of pornography cases.)
Gallagher himself has used most of the methods for fighting pornography that are described in his book, How to Fight the Porno Plague (Bethany Fellowship. 1977).
Existing laws and the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling generally allow for persons to “get a prosecution,” Gallagher said. His antipornography philosophy has been: “You can prosecute this film or this magazine if you want to. You just don’t take no for an answer. You take the attitude that Caligula or whatever it is, is leaving the city, or I’m leaving. Christians should be like the importunate widow in Scripture.”
There are just so many Christians who don’t know the problem of sex abuse, and “how it directly leads to sex crimes as well as desensitizes Americans,” he said. He advises Christians to inspect exactly what is being sold and distributed in their communities; they will be alarmed, but able to knowledgeably fight pornography, he said.
In fact, the central issue is whether pornography is harmful. Its supporters argue that pornography is a subjective matter that can’t be legislated. Pornography and civil rights advocates have cited an individual’s right to read what he wants. Opponents argue that pornography rarely is a private matter, since anything that is sold or distributed is a public concern.
Missouri Synod’s Preus Declines a Fourth Term
Jacob A.O. Preus looked like a shoo-in for reelection next summer as president of the 2.7-million-member Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). Most Lutherans, therefore, voiced surprise when Preus, 60, announced in a statement in the October issue of his denomination’s official publication, The Lutheran Witness, that he would not seek reelection.
Preus, who is completing his third four-year term, has guided the church through its most turbulent years. He entered office with a mandate to halt the church’s alleged drift toward theological liberalism. Most observers agree he accomplished that goal.
By contrast with the period during which he became president in 1969, “the trend toward more liberal doctrinal positions [in the LCMS] has almost totally stopped,” Preus said in a telephone interview. He believes there is greater emphasis in the LCMS today on evangelism and strengthening the local church. The new president should pursue these and other emphases, he said.
Those comments explain Preus’s published statement: “… after 12 years and three terms in the office I believe the Synod needs a change in leadership, a new face, new directions, and new interests. Many pastors stay in a parish too long, and I believe a change in synodical leadership will be beneficial.”
Some observers said Preus just needed a rest. He rode out a rocky, often controversial, tenure in office. He expects to take his first-ever sabbatical and perhaps do some teaching when his term officially expires next September.
Conservatives backed Preus’s election in 1969, and wanted him to stop theological liberalism, allegedly typified by teachings at the denomination’s leading seminary, Concordia in Saint Louis. Preus, president of the synod’s Concordia Seminary in Springfield, Illinois, before his synodical election, began promoting doctrinal orthodoxy at the Missouri school. He also launched an investigation of the teachings of its faculty.
This ultimately led to the suspension of Concordia president John Tietjen, and, in turn, a student-faculty walkout. They formed a “Concordia Seminary in Exile,” since renamed Christ Seminary-Seminex. It has 200 students currently and Tietjen is president. The school is in partnership with the 112,000-member Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, organized in 1976 by so-called moderates opposed to the turn toward the right.
Soon after, Preus stated his intention of moving “more into the middle” in the dispute between theological liberals and conservatives. His action angered groups at both extremes. The denomination experienced political maneuvering, and this is expected to continue (if not build) before the election of Preus’s successor at the July 1981 convention.
Preus, who won’t endorse anyone, asks only that the new president be “doctrinally sound,” and not “the creature or possession of any faction or clique in the Synod.” Asked if he would have done anything differently as LCMS president, Preus said he would have tried to be “more patient … as kind and as loving to everyone as I could.” He noted this had been difficult in those early turbulent years “because of all the mud flying.”
The Teacher: A Wolfe in Sheep’s Clothing?
On Sunday, September 14, Myrna Wolfe returned to her New Castle, Pennsylvania, apartment after a six-day absence to find the bodies of her two roommates and religious devotees, Jean Barr, 43, and Marina Olsen, 52, sprawled on the floor.
Olsen, a Virginia Beach, Virginia, divorcée, apparently succumbed on September 10, the thirtieth day of a 40-day fast. Barr, recently separated from her husband over religious differences, expired two days later. In both cases, the coroner ruled death by natural causes. Until the final days of their fast the women had abstained from water as well as food and each had wasted away to a mere 60 pounds.
Before they began periodic rigorous fasts a year ago, Olsen weighed 150 pounds and Barr “at least 160,” according to family members. Both were described as “born-again charismatic Christians.” Three years ago they forsook denominational churches (Mrs. Barr was a Presbyterian, Mrs. Olsen a Catholic) to follow Wolfe, 46—a self-appointed minister, prophet, and healer known to her handful of local disciples as “The Teacher.” Relatives allege that Wolfe completely dominated the two women, reducing them to “mindless robots,” and charge her with ordaining the fast. Wolfe denies the accusation, the three women moved into the sparsely furnished New Castle apartment last June, but their “teacher” made frequent trips alone to attend to her “ministry” and to visit her husband and daughter in Pittsburgh.
Wolfe told police she was a chain-smoking alcoholic, blinded by glaucoma and diabetes and contemplating suicide, until a miraculous healing eight years ago following her conversion during a Billy Graham telecast. She became involved in charismatic groups in Virginia Beach and western Pennsylvania, but withdrew to form an independent “transient” ministry. “We prayed her out,” one Pennsylvania charismatic leader informed this reporter, “because she always tried to dominate everyone.”
A Virginia Beach couple related that they “quit their jobs, flushed their jewelry down the toilet, threw away their wedding crystal, and even sold their two Fiat cars for $30—“the first sum a stranger offered”—when assured by Wolfe and Olsen that God would provide for all their needs. Wolfe admitted having accompanied Barr and Olsen on multi-thousand dollar shopping sprees. Only a few days before the deaths she accepted $1,500 in “love gifts” from Jean Barr. Asked why she didn’t try to dissuade the women, Myrna Wolfe retorted, “that would be witchcraft, … control.”
She added that she failed to report the emaciated condition of her roommates when she last saw them alive, six days before the bodies were discovered, because “it was not my business. I knew they had to stand on their own convictions.” At press time no charges had been filed and police were continuing the investigation.
JOSEPH M. HOPKINS
After eight years of brushing up against the law, things recently got sticky for professional “deprogrammer” Ted Patrick. He was convicted of felony kidnapping in San Diego for planning the abduction of a 25-year-old Phoenix woman from what her family believes is a cult. Patrick was sentenced to a year in jail and is free on appeal. Until now, he has been tried 13 times and convicted only twice, both times for misdemeanors.
Michael M. Zembrzuski, a Pauline priest whose efforts to build a large shrine near Philadelphia led to a church investigation of the project’s mismanagement, has filed a $100 million lawsuit against Gannett News Service. Gannett’s lengthy exposé of the project won it a Pulitzer Prize. Zembrzuzki’s libel suit asks $10 million in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages.
George Bush’s pastor would like to make one thing perfectly clear: Bush is one political candidate who is not born again. Thomas Bagby, pastor of Saint Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, said, “While the charismatics and the reborn Christians are concerned about themselves, George and I are concerned about our religion being the impetus, motivation, or causation for other people. Let’s put it another way: We don’t belong to the Me Generation.”
Phillip Potter, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, will be on a leave of absence from his duties until next April 20. Konrad Raiser will step in as acting general secretary until Potter returns. Potter is a native of Dominica in the Caribbean. His wife Doreen died in June following a year-long illness.
Fiscal Millenium Dawns for Tribulation Touter
Author and financial consultant Jim McKeever is spending advertising money as if the Tribulation, about which he writes, were tomorrow. McKeever’s Omega Publishing Company in Medford, Oregon, budgeted $500,000 for a two-month advertising blitz—mostly in Christian magazines—for three of its books, said Omega president Bob Turnbull.
Two of the books are McKeever’s and the third is by author Dave MacPherson: each says Christians will go through the prophesied seven-year Tribulation, and McKeever tells how to prepare for that experience.
McKeever’s Christians Will Go Through the Tribulation, for instance, has chapters on preparing to survive nuclear war, famine, and earthquakes. He tells where to buy water purifiers and dehydrated food, which are the safest areas of the U.S. in case of nuclear attack, how to build a fallout shelter, and the advantages of moving to a self-sufficient farm. He includes detailed diagrams and lists of resource materials.
McKeever also has a section on how to prepare spiritually for the turbulent end times. For those Christians who believe it is wrong to make physical preparations for the Tribulation, he writes, “This is okay. However, we do have an obligation to take care of our families.”
Where did all the advertising money come from? Turnbull, whose previous 10-year ministry in Hawaii earned him the unofficial title, “Waikiki Beach Chaplain,” said the funds came from McKeever’s nonprofit Ministries of Vision organization. Besides Omega Publishing, the organization has two newsletters, conducts seminars, and sells cassette tapes. A former IBM executive, and computer and financial consultant, McKeever decided a number of years ago to place any personal profits above living expenses into Ministries of Vision, said Turnbull. In August, the organization bought charismatic businessman George Otis’s Bible Voice publishing firm, and the two merged—McKeever’s Alpha Omega Publishing becoming simply Omega Publishing.
Smith Rouses Clamor over Whether God Listens
Bailey Smith, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, stood his ground last month in the furor over his remark at a Dallas political affairs rally in August, to the effect that God doesn’t hear the prayers of Jews. Many fellow Southern Baptists and U.S. Jewish leaders scolded him publicly for it.
“I have a deep, deep love for the Jewish people, but as a Christian minister I must proclaim the distinct message of Jesus Christ,” he said in a Christianity Today interview. If he were to repeat the remark, knowing it would be pulled out of the context of his speech, he said he would specify that God hears no one who rejects Christ as Messiah and Savior. Among Scriptures he offers as evidence are Luke 10:16 and 1 John 3:22–23.
Smith said his mail, more than 300 letters, was running heavily in his favor, and he has tracked down the opinions of numerous Southern Baptist thinkers, past and present, who agree with him.
What about Cornelius in Acts 10, the Roman soldier whose prayers definitely were heard by God? “That’s easy,” Smith said. “Anyone gets his prayers heard who is ultimately willing to be led to Jesus Christ.”
North American Scene
Some Southern Baptist Convention executives recently formed a convention-wide videotape network. This ad hoc committee (which has no official SBC sanction or authority) will promote the use of videocassettes as a teaching and training tool in local churches. With funds it hopes to raise from state conventions, the committee plans to produce from 200 to 500 video programs during the next three years. These would be made available to local churches on a loan or service fee basis. The committee has arranged for SBC churches to buy the expensive video players at discount prices.
Some U.S. Mennonite Brethren delegates challenged their church’s historic peace position during its recent triennial conference. However, delegates avoided serious conflict by approving a compromise statement. They affirmed the church’s peace stance—preferring alternative service to the military draft—but also recognized there are differences of opinion among churchmen and Mennonite Brethren themselves. To these persons, the statement read, “we commit ourselves to loving and accepting relationships.”
A suburban Portland, Oregon, church is closing its six-month-old refugee resettlement station near Condon. An $850,000 abandoned air force radar station was purchased by the charismatic Easthill Church in Gresham, where it taught Laotian Hmong refugees survival language and job skills there (June 6 issue, p. 48). However, church officials say the camp was too isolated for the refugees, many of whom had families, friends, and cultural ties back in Portland. “They need to be in touch with their community, and that’s something we just flat out didn’t anticipate,” pastor Jerry Cook told a reporter. He said the program would continue, but in the church’s activity center and not as a live-in operation.
Membership in the Evangelical Church of North America grew by 3.4 percent last year. One of the youngest but fastest growing denominations in the U.S., the ECNA numbers about 12,500 members spread across 140 member churches. It was organized in 1968 in Portland, Oregon, when 46 former Evangelical United Brethren church congregations chose not to take part in the merger with the Methodist church. The withdrawing congregations (including more than half of the EUB congregations in the Pacific Northwest) feared liberalism in the Methodist body. Churches in the ECNA strongholds of Oregon and Washington have continued growing, while United Methodist churches in the two states have lost more than 25,000 members (15 percent of their membership) since 1968.
Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship’s multimedia division, Twentyonehundred, won recognition from secular peers. Its production, Habakkuk, which presents the prophet’s words against a modern backdrop, received a gold medal at the International Multi-image Festival in Vail, Colorado. The 55-minute production, used on college campuses as an evangelistic tool, projects images from two dozen projectors onto a 50-foot screen and has a three-channel soundtrack (see Refiner’s Fire, April 18 issue). This was the first time the 10-year-old Twentyonehundred entered one of its programs in a competition.
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