Some 10 or 11 years ago, an evangelical Chicago pastor and one of his parishioners, a lawyer, undertook a study to determine the Bible’s idea of justice. They found more than 80 passages conveying God’s concern for social justice—a concern especially directed toward the poor, whom society so easily casts underfoot. The pastor was William Leslie. The attorney was Charles Hogren. Their church, LaSalle Street Church, is on Chicago’s Near North Side. It is only blocks from Cabrini-Green, a neighborhood that is home to the poorest of Chicago’s poor.

Hogren helped out at his church’s youth center. It was there that Cabrini-Green children, hearing he was a lawyer, approached Hogren with pleas to help an older brother or neighbor who had been unfairly dumped in jail, according to the children. At first Hogren pleaded back: he was not a criminal lawyer, and had in fact avoided studying criminal law in law school.

Yet the children argued that he was the only lawyer they knew, and Hogren, in light of the biblical teaching, felt an increasing obligation. So he became the reluctant defender (the title of a book about Hogren’s work by David Claerbaut, published by Tyndale House, 1978).

The history of the Cabrini-Green Legal Aid Clinic is less a sugar-sweet American success story than a chronicle of committed endurance. Now into its ninth year of operation, the Legal Aid Clinic offers competent legal assistance to the 13,000 residents of Chicago’s most harrowing public housing project.

The cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and hopelessness that has trapped the largely black population of Cabrini-Green remains unbroken. Even residents helped by the clinic have said it is like an overwhelmed ambulance picking up bodies after an accident that should have been prevented.

But the accident keeps on happening. The Legal Aid Clinic, chronically lacking enough money, has stayed in Cabrini-Green since 1973 because it is a Christian endeavor. LaSalle Street Church still largely finances it.

Hogren learned early in his work with Cabrini-Green residents how disdained the rights of the poor actually are. Some youth were jailed merely as a harassment to scare them from loitering on the streets. Some were arrested on false warrants. Some were guilty; but Hogren believed they were as entitled to conscientious legal aid as someone who could afford it. (Though Hogren believes public defenders are competent and sincere, indigent people view them with suspicion as “part of the system.”)

Article continues below

Would Hogren, as a Christian lawyer, do his utmost to defend a client he thought guilty? Hogren thinks the American legal system requires sincere defense even of the guilty, so he will take such cases. But Hogren will not allow a defendant to mount the witness stand and lie. Neither will the law clinic defend hardened criminals—those with long conviction records.

The clinic now handles from 250 to 300 cases every year. The staff has expanded to include four lawyers and two law students, yet the clinic still has more work than it can handle.

Cabrini-Green is overcrowded: more than 80 buildings (3,600 apartments) are crammed into a five-by-eight-block area. The average family size is five persons, and 70 percent of the families have only one parent (usually the mother, who is often a woman younger than 25 who had her first child by age 14). Unemployment is rampant, with six of every 10 adults out of work. Violence is as commonplace as broken glass. The “three Ps” (prostitution, pimps, and pushers) are all most of the 10,000 children of Cabrini-Green know as role models for a livelihood.

Not all the cases handled by the clinic are criminal. A solid 100 this year, in fact, have involved landlord-tenant conflicts. The housing project is owned and managed by the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), which decided to crack down on troublemaking tenants last year. Unfortunately, even victims of crimes that showed up on police reports were being evicted. Clinic lawyers believe the CHA knowingly abused the rights of tenants in its drive to clear out troublemakers. The CHA denies those allegations.

Since the average monthly rent at Cabrini-Green is only $50 to $100, most evictees could not afford to live elsewhere. The clinic was successful in reversing every eviction brought to its attention.

Work in Cabrini-Green is hardly filled with security for clinic lawyers. White (only one of the lawyers is black) and dressed in business clothes, they are conspicuous. “I am unnerved, on guard, when I go into one of the buildings,” admits James Brackin, one of the clinic lawyers. Hogren has been at the clinic long enough to be recognized by many residents, and that makes him feel safer. Still, he has wheathered an attempted robbery (someone wanted his briefcase) and interrupted several burglaries at clinic offices. Once he ducked into an apartment to talk with a Cabrini-Green woman minutes before a man fired several shots down the corridor.

Article continues below

There are, of course, rewards to offset the insecurities of working in Cabrini-Green. Sincere attention from one attorney who cares sometimes turns a youth from a career of crime. Yet for every youth truly changed, there are several more the legal clinic cannot even attempt to help.

“If a person was just here to practice law, he would get discouraged,” says Brackin, who is also a Catholic priest and on weekends, chaplain at Indiana State Prison. “That’s where the theological perspective comes into play. Whether you change the system or not, as Christians we are called to be with the poor, to be there even knowing we’re not going to reap the benefits of our work. The kingdom is not here tomorrow.”

Hogren says the clinic does have dreams that, if they became reality, would lend hope of change. One is a factory to get residents back to work and teach them marketable skills. A second dream is a farm for the rehabilitation of drug addicts—staying in the drug-ridden Cabrini-Green environment makes quitting especially hard. Finally, wide-ranging social work would, in Hogren’s words, “prevent the need for later legal aid.” Such social work would help Cabrini-Green residents get jobs, schooling, and get off welfare, which Hogren calls a “psychologically damaging status.”

They are all dreams in various stages of happening, dreams that keep the staff of the clinic working even when the notorious “urban burnout” threatens. The dreams keep them going—dreams, and some simple words of Jesus Christ: “I was in prison and you visited me.”

Antiabortion Movement Broadens

For years the antiabortion movement was considered the concern of only some Roman Catholics, but in the last two or three years, evangelicals and fundamentalists have become more visible in it. Now comes a statement—signed by 200 American religious leaders—which displays a breadth of antipathy to abortion not previously evident.

The 137-word statement objects to the “growing tendency of some to value human life only if they deem it ‘meaningful,’ ” and it affirms the “sanctity of each human life regardless of intelligence level, physical appearance, stage of development, or degree of dependency.”

It is signed not only by evangelicals and Roman Catholics, but also Jews, Eastern Orthodox believers, and scholars from Protestant denominations that are often considered “liberal.” The project was organized by Norman Bendroth, director of communications for the evangelical Protestant Christian Action Council. It notes that “all human life is sacred because each human being bears the image of God” and refers to the “Judeo-Christian ethic” which “specially responds to the need of the weak and unwanted.”

Article continues below

Worded positively as an affirmation, the statement concludes: “We encourage all efforts to help women facing unwanted pregnancies, to aid children and others suffering physical or mental handicaps, and to protect all human life under the law.”

Well-known signers of the statement include Theodore Hesburgh, president of the University of Notre Dame, and Malcolm Muggeridge, former editor of the British magazine, Punch. Several evangelicals who have already written at length against abortion were signers: John Warwick Montgomery, Francis Schaeffer, Harold O. J. Brown, and John Jefferson Davis.

The range of the list is evident from the educators whose names appear. Robert Cooley, president of the evangelical Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary signed. So did Paul Lazor, dean of students at the Eastern Orthodox Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, and Roman Catholic Michael Novak, a professor at Syracuse University.

Editors who signed cover a similarly broad spectrum. Eileen Egan, associate editor of the Catholic Worker signed, as did Moody Monthly’s Eric Fellman, and Francis X. Maier, editor of the National Catholic Register.

Jewish signers included Rabbi Seymour Siegal, a professor of ethics at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and David Novak, rabbi of a congregation in Far Rockaway, New York. (Interestingly, several other ethicists besides Siegal also signed. They included Max Stackhouse, a professor at Andover Newton Theological School, and Paul Ramsey of Princeton University).

The statement was drafted by the Christian Action Council, then edited to its final form by evangelical theologian Carl F. H. Henry. Bendroth said it demonstrates that the opposition to abortion is “much wider than right or left, conservative or liberal.” For that reason, he said, it is a “significant statement.”

North American Scene

A Reformed seminary, considered a conservative alternative to Calvin Seminary (Grand Rapids, Mich.), will open September 1 in Orange City, Iowa. The new seminary, to be called Mid America Reformed Seminary (MARS), arises from last year’s controversy at Calvin about the historicity of Adam and Eve. Some of the Calvin faculty were said to support a ministerial candidate who expressed doubt about the actual existence of Adam and Eve. In February, the board of Calvin College and Seminary stated publicly that all members of the faculty believe Adam and Eve did exist in history. Calvin is a seminary of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). Four CRC ministers have been appointed to teach at MARS.

Article continues below

Chariots of Fire, Heartland, and Gallipoli were announced winners of the National Council of Churches Film Awards for 1981. The NCC film committee lauded Heartland for its evocation of “elemental human dignity” and the “heroic role of pioneer women.” Chariots of Fire, the Academy Award winner as “film of the year,” was praised for the “poetically uplifting way” it affirmed basic values and “integrity of conscience.” Gallipoli, the NCC commission said, was exceptional because of its “moving depiction, in terms almost biblical, of the cost of true friendship.”

A bevy of Hollywood films about homosexuality is losing at the box office. Making Love, the story of a supposedly happily married man who leaves his wife for a man, started well then plummeted. Personal Best, the story of two women athletes who develop a sexual relationship, died at the box office after two weeks. Neither is it expected to do well in Canada. The Toronto Star concludes that only films treating homosexuality as comedy succeed with viewers. Such movies as Victor Victoria and Deathtrap “are so polite and determinedly nonexploitative of homosexuality that one wonders why anyone would have ever objected to the practice,” writes film critic Ron Base.

Cult deprogrammer Ted Patrick, at age 52, says he is quitting. “We need at least 10,000 deprogrammers,” the granddaddy of deprogrammers insists, but he is giving up the practice because of legal tangles. “It’s just so much my family can take,” said Patrick, who has been jailed for alleged kidnapping. “Paying all this money for attorney fees, in jail all the time.…” But he promises to be writing and teaching about deprogramming and the cults, “educating a nation before it’s too late, if it’s not already.”

There are now more conservative than liberal religious political action groups, according to a new conservative journal, This World. Paul J. Weber, a social scientist at the University of Louisville, writes that in 1970 there were 19 religiously liberal and 8 religiously conservative interest groups trying to influence national politics. By 1980, 30 were liberal and 34 conservative. Most of the 26 conservative groups that began in the 1970s were Protestants lobbying for the New Christian Right.

Article continues below

The membership application of a largely homosexual denomination has been deferred one year by the National Council of Churches’ governing board. The Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, begun in 1968, s about 80 percent homosexual. The denomination’s application for membership in the NCC will now be considered again in May 1983. “This is not a delaying action but a responsible attempt to approach a very significant and delicate subject,” said Bishop James Armstrong, president of the NCC. An NCC news release stated that “although many of the member communions support civil rights for homosexuals, none affirms homosexuality as a Christian lifestyle.” Eastern Orthodox members of the NCC’s governing board were said to be “prepared to vote against eligibility” of the denomination.

President Reagan has proposed a constitutional amendment to reinstate prayer in public schools. Speaking against the 1962 Supreme Court ruling that barred audible prayer, Reagan told a White House audience, “How can we hope to retain our freedom through the generations if we fail to teach our young that our liberty springs from an abiding faith in our Creator?” A New York Times/CBS news poll conducted in March showed 69 percent of Americans in favor of “organized prayer” in public schools. Reagan has emphasized that his amendment would sanction voluntary prayer. Many religious denominations—including the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest—are against the return of school prayer. Religious supporters include Moral Majority’s Jerry Falwell, Ed McAteer of the Religious Roundtable, and evangelist Cecil Todd.

A government study has concluded that violence on television can lead to aggressive behavior by children and teen-aged viewers. “Television and Behavior,” a recent report by the Department of Health and Human Services, concludes that the “consensus” among scientists is that there is a “causal relationship” between televised violence and real-life aggression. The report cautions that not every child viewer becomes aggressive, emphasizing that various studies have compared large groups rather than individuals. The report also said television is most popular among the very young and the very old; that television does a “rather poor job” of helping viewers foster better health practices; and that television heavily influences the attitudes of viewers.

Article continues below

Campus Life, a nondenominational youth magazine, was chosen as the “periodical of the year” at last month’s Evangelical Press Association meeting. The judging committee praised Campus Life for its “strong editorial activism” and called the “overall product carefully designed and innovatively crafted.” The magazine also won an award of excellence in the youth category. An award of excellence in the general category went to Leadership, published by Christianity Today, Inc. The College of Communications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign evaluated the magazines.

World Scene

American missionaries in Argentina have reported some tension but no anti-American incidents. They were continuing routinely with their duties last month, but attempting to keep a low profile. Britain’s South American Missionary Society, however, evacuated its 35 missionaries late in April, while the London-based Evangelical Union of South America advised its personnel to leave, but left the decision to them.

The British Council of Churches (BCC) has passed a resolution encouraging member churches to appoint more evangelicals to its boards and agencies. Interestingly, major support for the resolution, passed at the BCC assembly in Leeds in April, came from the archbishop of the Russian Orthodox church, Anthony Bloom. He said his church felt closeness to evangelicals with their concerns for theological themes, and was disturbed by the penchant in the BCC for exclusive concern with political and social themes.

A newly built mosque in southeastern France was destroyed by a bomb last month. Police estimated the damage to the mosque in Romans-sur Isère, one of the first in the country outside Paris, at $100,000. A series of bombings destroyed Protestant churches in and around Lyon last year.

The Pope’s latest trip was more controversial than most. John Paul’s trip last month to the Marian shrine at Fatima, Portugal, was seen as unnecessarily provocative, coming as it did just two weeks before his scheduled visit to England and talks with leaders of the Anglican church. It also followed a March pastoral letter by the Portuguese bishops condemning “politically motivated strikes”—in sharp contrast to the position of the church with regard to John Paul’s native Poland. The Pope stressed that “Catholic social doctrine does not think of unions as a reflection of a ‘class’ structure of society.” Ironically, the visit, a thanksgiving pilgrimage for surviving the attempt on his life a year earlier, was also marked by an assassination attempt by a reactionary priest who had been affiliated with the traditionalist group led by French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

Article continues below

Greece’s socialist government is moving to separate church and state, and to expropriate the church’s unused land. The Greek constitution recognizes the Orthodox church as the state church, finances it, and provides for its involvement in many of its legal and administrative functions. Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, however, intends to end the church’s “improper” involvement in state affairs. It views expropriation as a means to aid underprivileged farmers. Other moves include the introduction of a bill to provide for automatic divorce after several years of separation, and pending legislation to allow abortion on demand. The government’s ultimate objective is to confine the church to a “spiritual” role.

Controversy over infant baptism has again emerged in West Germany. Comments in the press and radio over the recent dismissal of Gottfried Kirschner, 38, of Schonstadt, near Marburg, sparked off the debate. Kirschner was rebaptized in a Pentecostal church. He was dismissed by the regional Protestant church because the church still advocated infant baptism. It said his rebaptism separated him from the church and its ministry. Earlier this year, several young people were excommunicated by the Lutheran regional church in Saxony over their rebaptism. Ironically, they were rebaptized because they wanted to take the matter of being a Christian seriously.

Christian radio and TV broadcasting in France should benefit under laws enacted by the government of François Mitterand. Until recently, strict government control barred evangelistic broadcasting; no evangelistic TV broadcasting was permitted over the past 30 years. Now, nonprofit, nonpolitical groups may apply for a license to broadcast on FM radio frequencies. But commerical advertising is prohibited. Two independent TV stations have since started in the Paris region.

Article continues below

Plainclothes police seized a Russianfamily shortly after their departure from the British embassy in Moscow on April 27. Alexander and Raisa Balak, together with their three sons and her sister, were seeking help in emigrating from the Soviet Union. Two years ago the family of believers went to Moscow because of threats and actual assaults on their children in the town of Zhdanov. Unable to get a hearing or protection, they have since—following threats of imprisonment and assault—moved twice.

Some Surprising Words From A Catholic Historian

Single-issue voting is wrong. Morality cannot be legislated. The government’s secular rule of society is neutral. Moral Majority is the first religious group to be involved in politics, and the first to try to impose its absolute values on others.

All these beliefs are self-evidently true. Right? Not according to prominent historian James Hitchcock, a St. Louis University professor and practicing Roman Catholic.

Although Hitchcock is known as a religious and political conservative, he delivered a lecture at Wheaton College recently that was an iconoclastic machine-gun, firing at dogma after ill-considered dogma of contemporary American society. He finished by proclaiming the start of the “true” ecumenical movement. “The ecumenical movement,” Hitchcock said, “is only beginning because Catholic-evangelical dialogue is only beginning.”

Hitchcock, a past president of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, said “pluralism” has become “one of the buzz words that has now taken the place of thinking in our society.” To appeal to “pluralism” ends all discussion, yet Hitchcock believes many Americans don’t understand what pluralism is.

American pluralism does not mean government can be religiously or philosophically neutral. That, said Hitchcock, is “the myth of neutrality.” “It is in the nature of the pluralistic experiment that no single group is going to get everything it wants,” he added. Instead, pluralism “requires that each group be aggressive. You must fight for something. Our whole political system is built on this.”

To Hitchcock, then, the activities of Moral Majority are neither new nor unconstitutional. “It is an illusion that no group imposes values on another,” he noted. All legislation that is not approved unanimously imposes the will of the majority on the minority. And court decisions settle a clash of values. “Every time a judgment is handed down, someone’s values are being imposed on someone else,” he said.

Article continues below

Hitchcock defended the activity of religious groups or individuals in politics: “The involvement of religious groups in politics is hardly a new thing.” The antislavery and civil rights movements were each “heavily supported by religious groups.”

He also disagreed with the frequently stated contention that Moral Majority is the first to introduce absolutes to politics. “To charge Moral Majority with having introduced absolutes into politics is to overlook a lot of history. Abolitionists considered slavery absolutely wrong,” he noted. Civil rights and the last decade’s antiwar movement were also motivated by the beliefs that discrimination and the Vietnam war were absolutely wrong.

Again, said the historian, “what is new are the kinds of absolutes being asserted and the people who are asserting them.” Even the “governing liberal mind of our time is not simply relativistic,” he claimed. Busing is defended on the grounds that racial integration is an absolute good, so that even a kind of “coercion” (forced busing) may be used.

The uproar about Moral Majority and similar groups stems from an anti-religious bias present in America since its birth, said Hitchcock “The men of the eighteenth century had a vivid recollection of religious wars and persecutions. They saw religion as dangerous. To insure peace and security in society, organized religion should be kept weak,” some founding fathers believed. But theirs were “very definitely minority positions,” he added.

The antireligious bias has perhaps been strongest in the judiciary, Hitchcock said. Generally, the courts have gone out of their way to protect religious liberty in cases involving some small and politically impotent religious groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Amish. The judiciary has leaned the other way—citing the separation of church and state—more often with large religious groups.

It is the “secularist agenda” that relegates religion purely to a personal and private realm. On that agenda, religion must “in no sense influence public and social conduct,” Hitchcock said. Thus, public schools will not allow 10 seconds of prayer each morning but require three hours of sex education each week.

Article continues below

A final area of concern to Hitchcock was the legislation of morality. “It’s clear we always do legislate morality and we can’t avoid doing it,” he said, again citing the example of the civil-rights movement and resulting laws.

Hitchcock concluded with an exhortation to recognize the broad body of Americans loyal to the Judeo-Christian tradition—Jews, Catholics, Protestants, even orthodox Muslims—and to politically involve those citizens. “Nobody’s values are taken care of in politics unless you fight for them,” he said. It is necessary to get religiously and morally committed people active.”

Specialized groups need to be formed, then linked together, though single-issue politics are not shameful, said Hitchcock. “Civil rights, antiwar, abortion—all these are single issues. What it comes down to is whether the [single] issue is important enough.”

It was in the context of molding this broad alliance that Hitchcock hailed the beginning of “true” ecumenism, the meeting of Catholics and evangelicals. “The real ecumenical test is what to do when people who take their beliefs very seriously get together,” the historian said.

Hitchcock has written several books and contributed to many magazines, including the New York Times magazine. He is a contributing editor of the New Oxford Review, an Anglo-Catholic periodical, which includes former CHRISTIANITY TODAY editor Carl F. H. Henry on its masthead.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.