Summer is prime time for conducting denominational business, and the past few months were no exception. Church bodies met to consider issues ranging from women’s ordination to denominational mergers.

After two days of debate, delegates from the 18,000-member Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) voted 78 to 68 in favor of joining the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). However, this fell 20 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to send the proposal to the denomination’s 12 presbyteries.

The OPC was founded in 1936 when some 5,000 lay people, elders, and pastors—led by New Testament scholar J. Gresham Machen—withdrew from what was then the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Some church members said this year’s fiftieth anniversary celebration made it difficult for OPC delegates to vote for a merger that would eliminate the denomination’s separate identity. The OPC and the 160,000-member PCA have had close relations since the PCA was established in 1973. OPC delegates kept the prospect for union alive, however, by adopting resolutions calling for meetings between PCA and OPC representatives.

Meanwhile, the PCA voted to join the National Association of Evangelicals. Some opposed this move because NAE is not a Reformed organization. The assembly also selected pastor Frank M. Barker, Jr., of Birmingham, Alabama, as its new moderator, and reelected Morton H. Smith as stated clerk.

In other denominational meetings:

• Missouri Synod Lutherans reelected Ralph Bohlmann as president despite an effort by ultraconservatives in the 2.6 million-member denomination to defeat him. Critics said Bohlmann had failed to discipline those in the denomination who want closer fellowship with other Lutheran bodies. They maintained also that decision making in the denomination had become too centralized.

Missouri Synod delegates reaffirmed a ban on women’s ordination. But they beat back an effort to rescind a 1969 decision allowing women to be voting members of congregations and to serve on boards and commissions.

• The 160,000-member Church of the Brethren adopted a policy of divestment from companies doing business in South Africa. Delegates also called for strategies to eliminate South Africa’s policy of apartheid. In March, the church’s general board divested more than $400,000 from companies active in South Africa. The church also elected its first black moderator, William Hayes, pastor of First Church of the Brethren in Baltimore.

• The Christian Reformed Church rejected an attempt by a regional church body to reverse the denomination’s 1984 action opening the office of deacon to women.

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• The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) narrowly rejected a call from prolife advocates to reexamine the abortion issue. The church reaffirmed the stand it has held since 1970, which allows abortion to be considered ethical in cases where a fetus has serious genetic problems or the mother has inadequate emotional or financial resources.

In other actions, the 3.2 million-member denomination voted to recognize the ministries and sacraments of the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America, and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches. It elected former Lebanon hostage Benjamin Weir moderator, and reported a loss of nearly 44,000 members in 1985. Sixteen Presbyterian members of Congress issued an open letter to the general assembly stating that “many Presbyterians are profoundly disturbed to see their church deeply involved in leftist political causes.”

• Delegates from the 700,000-member Christian Methodist Episcopal Church voted to continue working toward a proposed 1992 merger with the 1.1 million-member African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.

• The Conservative Baptist Association of America reaffirmed the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy; affirmed a policy against acceding to ransom demands for missionaries abducted by terrorists; affirmed women in ministry, although not as pastors; and affirmed Creation as an “act of God” rather than an evolutionary process. Messengers (delegates) also issued a challenge for the denomination to combat the spread of pornography.

• The general board of the 1.3 million-member American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. urged the U.S. Senate to support economic sanctions against South Africa. The board also passed a policy statement on church and state in which it opposes government-mandated prayers, tuition tax credits for religiously sponsored activities, and government surveillance of religious activities. Delegates voted to postpone considering whether to join the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights.

By Randy Frame.



Debate in the Mainstream

Meeting in New York City, religious leaders from various backgrounds have requested a White House meeting for 200 denominational leaders on the issue of pornography. The leaders also announced plans for a much larger meeting to work for the elimination of “illegal obscene” pornography, defined as pornography that involves children or promotes rape or the degradation of women.

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Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago and John Cardinal O’Connor of New York hosted last month’s meeting. Protestant, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, and Mormon leaders participated, as did representatives from the National Association of Evangelicals and the National Council of Churches. The group asked Presbyterian pastor Jerry Kirk, president of the National Coalition Against Pornography, to chair its steering committee. Kirk asserted that “for everyone, pornography has become a public safety issue.”

Catholic priest Bruce Ritter said the meeting’s impact might overshadow the importance of the recent report issued by the U.S. Attorney General’s Pornography Commission. “The debate on pornography has now been mainstreamed,” he said.


Sexual Harassment?

Three former members of Seattle’s Community Chapel and Bible Training Center have filed suit against the church’s pastor, charging him with attempting to coerce them into having sex with him, according to the Seattle Times.

Kathy Lee Butler, Sandi Lee Brown, and Christine Hall filed the suit in King County Superior Court. They allege that pastor Donald Barnett tried to coerce them into having sex with him by saying it was sanctioned by God. Loren Krenelka, Community Chapel’s official spokesman, was unavailable for comment.

Many have left the church in recent months because of its unusual teachings and practices. Barnett has encouraged church members to develop “spiritual connections,” close relationships with others in the church (CT, Aug. 8, 1986, p. 32). These relationships typically occur outside the marriage bond, and critics charge infidelity is often the result.


Challenging an Ambassador

A coalition of religious and other interest groups has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to cut diplomatic ties between the United States and the Vatican.

The groups charged that diplomatic ties with the Vatican, established by the Reagan administration in March 1984, violate the U.S. Constitution by conferring special privileges on one religious faith and by entangling the U.S. government in church affairs. The legal action was first filed in 1984, but two lower courts ruled that the groups did not have adequate legal standing to challenge an executive-branch decision on state affairs.

“We strongly believe that Americans have a right to take this matter to the bar of justice,” said Robert Maddox, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, one of the plaintiffs. “The First Amendment forbids the government to establish a special relationship with one religious faith. The Supreme Court has a duty to correct the Reagan administration’s mistake.”

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In addition to Americans United, plaintiffs include the National Association of Evangelicals; American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.; the American Humanist Association; the Church of the Brethren; the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); the National Council of Churches; the Unitarian Universalist Association; and the National Association of American Nuns. The Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs also endorsed the efforts by filing a friend-of-the-court brief.

Vatican Ambassador William A. Wilson resigned his post in July, but opponents say they expect a replacement to be appointed soon.


Briefly Noted

Appointed: Richard L. Baker as president and chief executive officer of Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He succeeds his father,

Herman Baker, who founded the company in 1938.

Completed: A three-and-one-half-year walk across America by legless Vietnam veteran Bob Weiland. Weiland walked on his hands from Orange County, California, to Washington, D.C., to focus attention on the plight of the poor around the world. He presented $30,000 of the $315,000 he raised to World Vision, whose former president, Stanley Mooneyham, inspired the feat.

Died: Clifford Bjorklund, 65, secretary of the Evangelical Covenant Church since 1967; August 2, in suburban Chicago, of leukemia. Bjorklund’s ministry was characterized by a special concern for less-fortunate people in the Third World.

Elected: By the 86,000-member Evangelical Covenant Church, Paul Larsen, a 52-year-old pastor from Redwood City, California, to succeed Milton Engebretson as president. Engebretson retired after 20 years in the post.

Michael Geoffrey Peers, to head the 900,000-member Anglican Church of Canada. Peers succeeds E. W. Scott, who had held the office for 15 years.

Thomas Wang, as international director of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. Wang, general secretary of the Chinese Coordination Centre of World Evangelism for the past 10 years, is the first Asian to be elected international director of the Lausanne committee.

Sold: To Guidepost Associates by the Zondervan Corporation, two book publishing subsidiaries: Fleming H. Revell Company and Chosen Books. Guidepost Associates publishes Guideposts magazine, the country’s most widely read inspirational monthly.

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