More than 15,000 programs were placed on TV stations last year by the Broadcasting and Film Commission of the National Council of Churches, it was reported at the commission’s annual meeting this week in New York. Of the total, 56 were half-hour network programs presented over 140 CBS or NBC stations. In addition, the commission sponsored 260 radio programs. Dr. S. Franklin Mack, executive director, said three of the TV programs were widely acclaimed and received awards. These were the “Look Up and Live” series for teenagers, “Frontiers of Faith,” and “Off to Adventure,” a new children’s series. The “Frontiers of Faith” series is one in which segments are presented alternatively by Protestants, Catholics, and Jews.
In Detroit, church building experts were warned not to let the church of tomorrow become a building with a spiritual vacuum. The warning came from Dr. George M. Gibson, a professor at Chicago’s McCormick Theological Seminary. Dr. Gibson spoke to several hundred architects, artists, denominational church executives, and laymen attending the 18th Joint Conference on Church Architecture, which was sponsored by the Church Architectural Guild of America and the department of church building of the National Council of Churches. Dr. Gibson warned that many churches built in the last 30 years virtually deny in their architecture what they are saying in their doctrine. He said it must not be forgotten that while the church building must be functional, its primary purpose is sacramental. But at the same meeting the executive director of the council’s church building department said that fear of building new types of churches may paralyze both thought and action. The Rev. Scott Turner Ritenour spoke at the department’s business meeting. So, it would seem, you pays your money and you takes your choice in the matter of when and if a given type church building is functional or sacramental. By the way, the medieval ecclesiastics never did agree on how many angels could dance on the point of a needle, either.
A Jesuit sociologist this week held out high hopes for the progress of interracial brotherhood in the southern states. He is the Rev. Albert S. Foley, professor of sociology at Spring Hill College in Mobile. Spring Hill is the only racially integrated college in Alabama. Father Foley spoke at a John A. Ryan Forum presented in Chicago by the Catholic Council on Working Life. He said seeds of brotherhood, not of civil strife, are being planted in desegregated southern universities, seminaries, theological schools, and secondary schools. The priest went on to say that a whole new crop of southern minds is being reared. In them, he added, we repose the greatest hope for the well being of the region in time to come. He praised the restraint of southern Negroes, and lauded Christian Negro ministers for their leadership in Montgomery, Alabama. He also praised Methodist, Congregationalist, and Episcopal clergymen in predominantly Protestant areas of the South who, he said, have made significant steps up the road to brotherhood.
In Atlantic City, New Jersey, the American Christian Palestine Committee called for an intercredal conference to protect the Holy Land from communist penetration. The committee, holding its annual meeting, suggested a conference of Christian, Jewish, and Moslem leaders. In its issued statement, the committee said, “It is of the utmost importance that the three faiths find a way of reconciling and jointly furthering their spiritual goals in the land sacred to all. Unless they do, they run the risk of losing the holy places to the communists.”
More than 1,100 bishops, ministers, and church workers gathered in Washington this week for a three-day convocation on urban life in America. The conference was sponsored by the Methodist Church. The participants heard a report saying that Methodist and other Protestant denominations have a great evangelistic opportunity. The report went on to emphasize that the opportunity in so-called inner-city areas is the greatest in the last 50 years. To this inner city, the report went on, come the newest arrivals in the metropolis, the European immigrant, and more recently the newcomers from the South, both white and Negro.
Another sociological study reported at the conference concerned class-consciousness in the church. It deplored the fact that middle-class laymen monopolize leadership posts in the Methodist Church, and warned that the church is in danger of losing the interest of the poor and underprivileged because of a tendency to minister only to middle and upper income groups.
Speaking at the meeting also was Dr. James G. Ranck, a psychologist at Drew University. He cited religious divisiveness as a form of segregation in this country which astounds secularists and provides propaganda for communist Russia. He scorned what he called the alienation of Jew and Christian, the rift between Catholic and Protestant, and the ridiculous denominational fragmentation of Protestantism. He urged all religious forces in the U.S. to form a united front in proclaiming the fallacy of secularism and the primacy of moral and spiritual values. And he concluded by urging religious forces to cooperate more actively in every area of human need.
Much the same idea was expressed in New York this week, where 3,000 men gathered for an eastern area regional meeting of the National Council for Presbyterian Men. At this meeting, Dr. Henry P. Van Dusen, president of Union Theological Seminary, urged the laymen to join in an all-out campaign for united action on the common responsibilities of all Christians, suggesting that churches and laymen cooperate in every community to set up interdenominational guilds of Christian lawyers, physicians, bankers, teachers, industrialists, and men in other occupations. Such groups, he said, could face and think through the ethical problems, the perplexities, the Christian tasks and opportunities in each profession.
Recently returned from his second visit to the Soviet Union in the past five years, the Rev. Dr. Reuben Youngdahl of Minneapolis told of numerous talks with the Russian people who, he said, are fearful the United States will start a war. Dr. Youngdahl, minister of Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, said this week in an interview in Omaha that his talks had been encouraging in that the Russian people are no longer afraid to talk. He described them as apparently having divested themselves of what he termed “the dictator complex” so noticeable on his first trip to Russia. Dr. Youngdahl reported that Baptists in Moscow have added one more church service by popular demand, for a total of three. He also noted that 58 churches are now open in Moscow. The Minneapolis clergyman explained, “The people volunteer information now, and couldn’t be more friendly and helpful. Yet they keep asking why, if we don’t plan a war, do we build bases all around them?” Commenting on nuclear energy, Dr. Youngdahl quoted noted scientist Dr. Arthur Compton, “Science has created a world in which Christianity is imperative.” Few would disagree with that, but some of us would substitute the word “religion” for Christianity, for nobody but the bigots is so Pharisaical as to insist that there is only one religion interested in saving mankind from its own folly.
Dr. Youngdahl has asked a question that goes to the root of the problem of establishing a working peace with the communist world, a problem about which we hear little from our officials. Peace grows out of a common understanding of different viewpoints, and that cannot come about without until and unless there is mutual communication, something that neither Mr. Dulles nor Mr. Khrushchev is as concerned about as both are about Sputniks and similar engines of possible destruction. It certainly is not coming about as long as we refuse passports to American newsmen who wish to go behind the Iron Curtain to let us know what they find. This is trite, but apropos at this point, “What the people don’t know can and probably will hurt them.” And having been a bureaucrat for nearly nine years, albeit on the lowest rung of the totem pole, and knowing something of the bureaucratic mind, this reporter is all the more resentful that men of little vision are given power to tell the American people what they can and cannot hear, through censoring what will be released to the public about the workings of the government. We need more eggheads than fatheads in those places.
Since its founding 50 years ago next Wednesday, The Christian Century, of Chicago has come to be considered one of the most outspoken voices in American Protestantism. Some have called it the conscience of American Protestantism; some have called it other things, not quite so complimentary. Certainly, on more than a few occasions, it has prodded, coaxed, and occasionally slapped the wrists of Protestant churches – no matter what the denomination.
In its 50 years of interdenominational service, the magazine has stood solidly for two things: relating the whole gospel to the whole secular world, and seeking reunion of Christians through integration of denominations.
Boasting a world circulation of 40,000 and a staff of 60 correspondents scattered around the globe, the magazine’s managing editor is a Presbyterian minister, Dr. Theodore Gill. He concedes that the publication has frequently drawn the ire of each of the denominations because its undenominational position offers the opportunity to comment independently on developments within all denominations. He recalls that many Methodists were unhappy with the magazine for a time when it questioned the tempo of their action 10 years ago in the field of race relations. Now, Dr. Gill comments, “We have been as vocal as anyone on the real strides they have made in the last two years.”
He goes on to note that many Lutherans protested when The Christian Century questioned the church’s handling of the issue of the defrocked ministers in Milwaukee two years ago. It was the magazine’s feeling, says Dr. Gill, that the ministers had failed in their pastoral responsibility to their young colleagues.
Billy Graham is the target of one of the magazine’s most recent controversial stands. Dr. Gill has this to say on the matter: “We are the only religious journal that has minimized the significance of Billy Graham’s revivalism. We consider it a serious threat to real Christian evangelism.” Pursuing the subject further, Dr. Gill calls the Graham brand of revivalism “a tissue of archaisms and irrelevancies which muffles the gospel it seeks to display.… We consider revivalism,” he goes on, “a reminding to some forgetful souls of what they have forgotten for a while. It is not evangelism, which is the penetration of the antagonistic world by the Gospel.” Well, that is Dr. Gill’s diplomatic way of taking issues with Mr. Graham. This reporter has from time to time on this program taken issue with him in other ways, but, unfortunately, not as skillfully as does the editor of The Christian Century.
The magazine has had about three editors in its first half century. Charles Clayton Morrison served from 1908-1947, and at the age of 83 he still contributes articles. Methodist minister Paul Hutchinson was the second editor. The present editor, Dr. Harold Fey, a Disciples of Christ clergyman, took over in 1956. The contents of the 50th anniversary issue are typical of this very influential religious journal. It has articles by Dr. Fey, South African novelist Alan Paton, by Morrison, one by Jewish scholar Will Herberg, and a review of a new book by the Roman Catholic philosopher, Jacques Maritain.
And as a footnote, it might be observed that the contents of this issue are indicative of its materials generally. It recognized that the religions of mankind have arisen and developed because people in all times and places have been moved by certain basic and impelling needs, fears, aspirations, desires. Such feelings, unanalyzed and usually at some dim level of awareness have motivated human beings everywhere to those activities and beliefs which make up the substance of religion. In time these activities are formalized into rituals, and the beliefs systematized into theologies, in each instance with the culture influencing further the ultimate pattern of the particular religion. It is always essential, and The Christian Century continually points that out, that we do not mistake the form for the meaning of religion. Substance is always paramount to semblance.