But no sides are taken at NAE’s annual convention.

Members of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) awoke on March 9 to find a report of their forty-first annual convention leading the front page of the New York Times after President Ronald Reagan appealed to the group to oppose a nuclear freeze. A day later at the Orlando, Florida, meeting, they heard theologians Ronald Sider and Harold O. J. Brown present different biblical positions on nuclear arms. Press attention and timely issues contributed to a sense of heightened visibility and leadership. These are traits NAE members say they want from the organization but which have eluded it in the past.

The nuclear issue also gave NAE officials a welcome chance to articulate their centrist position—not sold out to the profreeze Left nor aligned with the Religious Right, which backs administration defense policies. The 3.5 million-member group includes pacifist churches such as Mennonites and Brethren in its fold and remains committed to operating by consensus.

Because of this, NAE has no designs on becoming a political power bloc. Instead it emphasizes “an individualized involvement in politics rather than an institutionalized involvement,” according to Washington office director Robert P. Dugan, Jr. The primary focus is unity and fellowship in the body of Christ.

At Orlando, rethinking of the nuclear issue among evangelicals was evident. This has been spearheaded within NAE by its Evangelical Social Action Commission and elsewhere by leaders including John Stott, Sen. Mark O. Hatfield, Ted Engstrom, and Richard Halverson, NAE president Arthur E. Gay, Jr., credits Billy Graham with beginning the process. “When he had the courage to be a leader and take flak,” Gay says, “that’s when people began to listen.”

Aware of the rumblings, Reagan made a forthright pitch for evangelical allegiance. “I urge you to speak out against those who would place the United States in a position of military and moral inferiority,” the President said. “I ask you to resist the attempts of those who would have you withhold your support for this administration’s efforts to keep America strong and free, while we negotiate real and verifiable reductions in the world’s nuclear arsenals.”

Applause from the enthusiastic audience interrupted Reagan about 18 times during his 32-minute address, which touched on abortion, school prayer, tuition tax credits, and parental notifications for teen contraceptive users, NAE neutrality was clearly telegraphed by Gay. Seated onstage while Reagan spoke, Gay did not applaud the freeze remarks. He estimates that no less than one-quarter of NAE’S members are total pacifists or nuclear pacifists, and says “even if it were only 10 percent, we would have no right to quash that important corrective.”

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Pressure to address the issue has been building on both the Right and Left. For evangelicals, Reagan is probably the most compelling voice on the Right, and a majority of NAE’S constituents would support him. He appealed to the crowd in familiar terms of sin and salvation, good and evil, calling Soviet totalitarianism “the focus of evil in the modern world” and saying, “Let us pray for the salvation of all those who live in that totalitarian darkness.”

Reagan left the podium to the drumbeat of “Onward Christian Soldiers,” played and sung at the insistent request of presidential staff aides, NAE organizers, concerned about perpetuating a militant stereotype, chafed about the choice.

Reagan’s most avid supporters among the religious community include Jerry Falwell and others affiliated with right-wing groups. Falwell recently mailed a fund-raising letter on Moral Majority stationery requesting help to oppose the “freeze-niks” in Washington.

More temperate “peace-through-strength” spokesmen include Brown, Carl F. H. Henry, and Francis Schaeffer. Brown, a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, drew a distinction between consistent pacifists who oppose all conflict, and nuclear pacifists, who he said base their inconsistent position on fear of the consequences. Brown told the NAE members that a freeze could create unintended circumstances that would irrevocably endanger the United States. A freeze that turns out to be unilateral, he said, “promises effectively to dismantle our entire defense.…”

He defended the administration’s policy of deterrence, which justifies nuclear build-up by asserting that a credible threat will prevent actual use of the weapons. Sider counters that it is just as immoral to threaten to use the weapons as it would be to actually deploy them.

Sider, who teaches at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is president of Evangelicals for Social Action (not related to NAE), focused his remarks on the just-war theory, used through history to determine acceptable moral parameters for war. Sider believes the magnitude of nuclear holocaust renders the just-war theory useless.

NAE will wade deeper into the waters of nuclear debate in May, by cosponsoring a conference in Pasadena. Its involvement with “The Church and Peacemaking in the Nuclear Age” has caused some internal consternation because conference planners have had trouble attracting peace-through-strength spokesmen. Brown, Schaeffer, and Henry, as well as the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all turned down invitations. Brown said he was concerned that the meeting may tilt to the Left.

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Both Brown and Sider welcomed the “point-counterpoint” forum NAE provided in Orlando. Brown credits the group with “taking a sober and solid position, not allowing themselves to be stampeded” by either side. Sider believes consciousness raising among evangelicals will lead to growing profreeze consensus. He is less than satisfied with NAE’S leadership role on the issue. By not taking a position, he says, “it means the most prominent evangelical organization in America is going to stay neutral on our most important societal issue.” If present policies are wrong, he said, “then we are very, very wrong on something that matters more than anything else, except salvation.” He would like to see NAE “take several years to examine it and argue it theologically, with the same sophistication the Catholic bishops have.”

NAE’S constituents—like most Amerricans—have been caught off guard by the sudden intensity of the debate. Thomas A. Zimmerman, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God—NAE’S largest member denomination—says it is not a priority issue for them, and he bristles at press reports that characterize the Assemblies as “hawkish.”

“We did not gain our position in church growth by picking up issues on which logical disagreement could be occasioned,” Zimmerman said. “Our people are totally sold on the primacy of evangelization.” A recent study shows that the Assemblies of God denomination is the fastest-growing body in the country, (CT, Jan. 7, p. 28).

The nuclear debate probably will take a distant back seat to other concerns for nae in 1983, but it provided a valuable moment of national attention and initiated discussions that may be carried home to member churches. Washington office researcher Richard Cizik said, “We’re hoping that out of our new visibility we’re going to be able to effect constructive change in society.” But nae wants it known that their definition of constructive change still begins with individual commitments to Christ.


Reagan Appoints An Ardent Prolifer To A Cabinet Position

Margaret M. Heckler, new secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is a Reagan booster who was warmly endorsed by liberal Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy. She is deeply committed to the prolife movement, yet Sen. Jesse Helms was one of only three senators to vote against her appointment.

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Heckler, often willing to buck the Republican party line during her eight terms in the U.S. Congress, is a bundle of contradictions to some. Others sincerely welcome her moderate image, providing a chance to raise consciousness about how broad the support for abortion alternatives and family values really is.

At HHS, she will administer a budget that is the third largest in the world, behind the total U.S. budget and that of the Soviet Union. Under President Reagan, those funds have been sharply rechanneled into alignment with conservative goals. Pilot programs for adolescents emphasize sexual abstinence for adolescents rather than simply distributing contraceptives to them. A controversial new regulation would require telling parents when minors receive prescription contraceptives. That one is now held up in court.

These new directions also include budget cuts that slash at the heart of social welfare programs, which were advocated and developed primarily by moderates and liberals. Appointing Heckler may be Reagan’s way of signaling increased willingness for bipartisan cooperation in these areas, as well as a means to shore up support among women.

As a Republican congresswoman from Massachusetts, Heckler gained a proconsumer, prowomen’s rights reputation. She helped organize the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues and fought unsuccessfully to retain support for the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1980 Republican party platform. Kennedy said her record is one of “very considerable ability” and “follows a very proud tradition of our state of bipartisan public service.”

Like Kennedy, Heckler is an Irish Catholic, but unlike her senator, she favors antiabortion legislation. Under intense questioning by the Senate’s Finance Committee, she spelled out her views: “I am prolife. I sincerely believe in that position.… When faced with a major question on the issue, my own strong conviction on the right to life will dominate my own thinking.”

Her views on abortion did not hinder swift Senate confirmation by an 84–3 vote March 4. Opposition came from North Carolina conservatives Jesse Helms and John P. East, who object to her House voting record on how government money is spent. A Helms staff aide said the senator “doesn’t feel her fiscal philosophy is sufficiently conservative.” He said Helms’s vote “had nothing to do with her personally or her position on abortion.”

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The third negative vote was from Bob Packwood (R-Oreg.), the Senate’s most vocal proponent of abortion. Heckler replaces Richard S. Schweiker, who joined an insurance industry association after resigning his cabinet post.

While her prolife views square with Reagan’s, Heckler has parted company with him many times in the past. As a congresswoman last year, she fought against HHS’S parental notification regulation. Now, if it is salvaged on appeal of court injunction against its use, Heckler will be in charge of enforcing it. She told the senators at her confirmation hearing, “My own views were personal views. I am now playing a different role, and since this policy has the President’s stamp of approval, I will support it.”

Falwell Drops Out Of Financial Accountability Organization

Jerry Falwell’s organizations are no longer members of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, an organization Falwell helped start in 1979.

Disagreements on how to interpret the council’s rules on fund raising apparently led to Falwell and his board deciding recently not to renew the membership of Thomas Road Baptist Church and its related ministries. That includes Falwell’s “Old Time Gospel Hour” television program, and his fund-raising operation. It does not include Moral Majority, which is not a religious organization. The ECFA has 231 members encompassing 350 evangelical ministries. All of them must renew memberships each year by reapplying from scratch and providing audits, ECFA is a voluntary association for the selfregulation of its members’ financial and management responsibilities.

Art Borden, executive director of the ECFA, did not elaborate on the reasons for the disagreement with Falwell, although he said the discussions were friendly and open. Here are excerpts from a statement released by the “Old Time Gospel Hour”:

“It was the unanimous feeling of the board that the very controversial and high-profile nature of Dr. Jerry Falwell’s ministry created a limitless assault upon the ministry from various and sundry organizations who oppose our position on moral and traditional values.

“The ‘Old Time Gospel Hour’ (OTGH) believes in total compliance with all of the standards and requirements of ECFA and will continue to support it and its purpose.…

“While the OTGH leadership deeply appreciates the relationship we have had with ECFA … we felt it was in the best interests of all concerned to abide by the desires of the board and not renew membership at this time.…

“We shall continue to support ECFA in every way possible and pray God’s blessing on the purposes for which it was founded. Likewise, the OTGH will continue to make its needs known to its public, with total integrity, so that we may secure support for all of its ministries of teaching, preaching, and evangelism.”

A spokesman for OTGH declined to elaborate on the statement.

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