An interfaith team of five religious leaders will leave New York next Tuesday to confer with top church and political leaders in Europe and the Middle East. Soviet Russia is on the itinerary. The National Conference of Christians and Jews is sponsoring the trip. The conference said the team will discuss with foreign leaders the problems affecting religious groups throughout the world. This is the first time such an interfaith team has entered the Soviet Union.
Members of the group are Dr. John Sutherland Bonnell, pastor of New York’s Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church; Dean Leonidas C. Contos of Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Los Angeles; Dr. Samuel L. Gandy, dean of Dillard University Chapel in New Orleans; Rabbi Irving Lehrman of Temple Emanu-el in Miami Beach; and Roy J. McCorkel, director of the conference’s Commission on Religious Organizations.
A conference spokesman said the group has been kept small intentionally. The leaders hope to encourage an intimate exchange of ideas between the foreign and American religious leaders. The Americans will try to get authoritative viewpoints on the relationship between politics and morality on issues facing the world today. The team will visit Moscow, London, Prague, Vienna, Istanbul, Belgrade, Budapest, Rome, Geneva, Paris, and cities in Egypt and Israel.
Seminary development was in the news during the week. In New York, Union Theological Seminary, largest interdenominational seminary in the world, announced a $16 million program. Charles C. Parlin, chairman of Union’s development committee, said the program is a long-range one designed to meet the needs of its increased enrollment. Before World War II the largest student body the seminary ever had in one year totaled 314. Today, 669 students are preparing for service all over the world. The seminary hopes to modernize facilities, increase faculty salaries, develop advanced studies and internships, provide student scholarships, and build new student residences, offices, lecture, and seminar rooms.
At Notre Dame University in Indiana, a cornerstone was laid for the new $3 million theological seminary scheduled to open on the campus next fall. The Rev. Theodore J. Mehling celebrated a solemn High Mass prior to the blessing of the cornerstone. Father Mehling is provincial of the Holy Cross Fathers who operate Notre Dame University. He said the new building will provide residence and training facilities for 200 seminarians, as well as 28 rooms for faculty members, student priests and semi-retired religious workers. Funds for the seminary were raised through a nationwide appeal. Earlier this year the university announced a $66 million development program.
The American Jewish Congress, meeting at Miami Beach, heard a warning that Jewish existence as a people is in danger in the Western world. Dr. Nahum Goldmann, president of the World Jewish Congress, told 1,500 delegates that the danger lies in a lack of challenge. Through the centuries, he said, Jews have reacted constructively and heroically when threatened. Conversely, he said, we have not been conditioned to maintain Jewish solidarity and identity in normal times. Dr. Goldman said that because of the lack of challenge, a process of disintegration is at work, especially among the younger generation. Sidney Hollander of Baltimore, convention chairman, declared that recent bombings of Jewish schools and synagogues in the South stemmed from lawless resistance to school integration. He said there must be a reversal of the policy of the Southern states of organizing massive resistance to the nation’s desegregation policy.
Ten thousand women gathered at St. Louis this week for the fifth quadrennial national assembly of the Women’s Society of Christian Service. The WSCS is the Methodist women’s group. Delegates represented 31,000 local chapters, as well as larger area groupings. Dr. Walter G. Muelder, dean of Boston University School of Theology told the women they now have tremendous social, cultural, and religious power. Women must use it, he said, as a trust. Dean Muelder said that at the very time when economic opportunity tends to entice the woman away from home and church, both these institutions need her ministry with a greater sense of vocation than ever. The Methodist women also heard a plea that they work for measures that will combat crime and delinquency in the United States.
In Los Angeles, Protestants welcomed a group of 82 White Russians, who arrived from Hong Kong on their way to new homes in Brazil. The Russians have lived in China since 1919. They are “old believers,” members of a Russian Orthodox sect. The 82 who arrived in California are the vanguard of 192 White Russians to be resettled in Brazil. Another 500 are expected to follow at a later date. Transportation for members of the sect was arranged by the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration with the help of a $100,000 allotment from Church World Service, a relief agency of the National Council of Churches.
The bearded Russian men, their wives and children, were to sail for Brazil from Los Angeles with 60 tons of farm supplies contributed by American Protestants through Church World Service. A 6,000-acre tract of almost virgin land will replace farms seized by the Chinese communists from the old believers in 1951 and 1952.
In Washington, a congressional conference committee agreed not to raise second-class mail rates for religious and other non-profit periodicals (which may or may not be legal.) The conference committee voted, however, to increase third-class rates for other printed matter sent by non-profit organizations. This hike will be only one-fourth of a cent per piece, and it won’t take effect until July 1, 1960.
Here are some briefs from the words of Religious News Service:
In New York the Jewish Theological Seminary of America established a new institute of ethics named after former Sen. Herbert H. Lehman. One quarter of the projected $1 million endowment already has been raised.
In Dallas, Texas, 300 white Protestant ministers issued a statement declaring enforced segregation morally and spiritually wrong. The ministers urged school boards in the area to make their desegregation plans public as soon as possible.
In Chicago, Dr. Ruh Edwin Espy, a National Council of Churches official warned that the world’s people must learn to live closer with one another. Dr. Espy sees world population growth to 6 or 7 billion by the year 2000 (He must be seeing things, for this is a doubtful projection). [In fact, world population was over 6 billion in the year 2000.]
When the Syrian Orthodox Youth Organization meets in Pittsburgh in July, the young delegates will get occasional breaks from the routine of convention business, but they will be religious breaks. Planners of the convention have arranged for the delegates to relax by listening to informal 10-minute talks by religious leaders. Sounds like the postman taking a walk on his day off.
And now for some foreign news items:
In Portugal, a 15-ton statute to our Lady of Fatima was unveiled in front of the Basilica of Our Lady of Fatima. The shrine commemorates the appearance of the Virgin to the three shepherd children of Fatima in 1917. The statue was donated by American Catholics, and was carved by an American Dominican priest, Father Thomas McGlynn.
In the new city of Jerusalem, a towering new structure was dedicated as the supreme religious center for the entire Orthodox Jewish world. It is a seven-story building on the highest hill in the new city, and will serve as the seat of the chief rabbinate of Israel. It will house also a new Orthodox research and information center, a rabbinical library and a liaison office for Jewish religious foundations throughout the world.
And in Ruschlikon, Switzerland, European Baptist leaders urged revitalization of the Baptist conception of the priesthood of all believers. Baptists from 17 countries met for a conference on evangelism sponsored by the European Baptist Federation. Dr. Joel Sorenson of Stockholm was chairman. He said the consensus of the delegates’ report was that the Baptist idea of the priesthood of all believers must be revitalized through good neighborly contacts and adequate programs for laymen.
Dr. Charles Allen, Atlanta pastor, in his syndicated column this week passed along some excellent suggestions under the title of what he calls “The Race Issue.” Taking his text from Galatians and calling it an expression of the “climate of freedom,” he goes on to urge:
- We must grant to our opponents the same freedom that we demand for ourselves.
- The freedom of the pulpit must be maintained. There was a time when heretics were burned. Now, he says, they are sometimes fired. So long as a minister is loyal to truth, he should be encouraged to speak his honest convictions on vital matters.
- Let us quit calling our opponents names. Good, honest men differ on important matters. Name-calling is unbecoming. Someone has said that “Labels are libels,” and few people should want to be libelous.
- In this controversy over race relations, only reason and tolerance will win in the long run. Force in any form, threats, intimidation, coercion, have not the ghost of a chance of winning. Force may win a skirmish but it will lose the war.
Can you think of four better guiding principles in trying to forge our way through the mass of tis so’s and tain’t so’s about this subject?
Two final items of a local nature that may or may not have any particular religious and/or moral significance.
It has been an amusing and not un-educational experience of reading the local paper “The Tempest in a Teapot” regarding the wearing of shorts, as reflected in letters to the editor. However, the letter of May 14 contained a statement that was rather nettling. The “Old-Time Reader” closes his letter by saying that “God meant for people to wear clothes.” It is difficult to be patient with people who are sure that they know what the intent or purpose of the deity was or is on any subject. The immediate reaction this reporter had to that sentence was this: “If God had intended people to wear clothes, is it not reasonable to assume that they would have been born fully clothed?” which makes the whole thing ridiculous. Emotionally inclined people, particularly the blood and thunder type, are sure they know God’s purpose on every subject. Those of us who try to make up our mind on the basis of evidence take no stock in such nonsense.
The last item is this. This program has emphasized rather heavily and frequently the traditional and imperative practice of separation of church and state as a part of our social scheme of things. Yesterday I attended a political convention in Jonesboro, where the (self-phrased) “platforms” of candidates were read. One candidate, who later was nominated for an important office, included in his platform statement, not only the fact that he affiliated with a particular religious denomination, but went on to nauseous lengths to describe how long he had been so affiliated, the various posts he had held in the church, that he had been Sunday school teacher, superintendent, etc., etc., etc. Conceding, that it may be perfectly proper for a candidate to indicated that he is church-affiliated, it not only is in poor taste but also a violation of our principle of church-state separation to make such an obvious bid for votes on the basis of a religious appeal. There is no necessary relationship between church membership and good citizenship or good performance of a public official. That candidate maybe secured some votes by this appeal. It may be also that he lost at least one by so doing.