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Protestants: Down the Middle

2 minute read

It was the 21st annual convention of the National Association of Evangelicals, and to many it appeared that the association was coming of age. Founded in 1942 by conservative Protestants who objected to liberal tendencies in the old Federal Council of Churches, the association has sometimes seemed to be the great dissenter of U.S. Christianity. In past conventions, delegates hurled mighty anathemas at their list of enemies of the Gospel—liberal Protestants, Godless Communists, Roman Catholics eager for political influence. “But now we have a position.” observes the Rev. Stan Mooneyham of Wheaton, 111. “We are no longer reacting.”

Gathering in Buffalo, the delegates, representing about 2,000,000 Protestants in 40 denominations ranging from Assemblies of God through Evangelical Mennonites to Free Will Baptists, seemed to be more for than against. Although conservative Protestants generally prefer to see the wall between church and state kept high, the association this year issued a surprisingly moderate statement. It resolved that Christians are “citizens of two cities” who exist “in relation to the church and also in relation to the state. These two aspects may overlap but they do not coincide. Neither are they properly considered in conflict.” The Evangelicals reaffirmed their opposition to Communism but warned Christians against making it “the church’s sole or main enemy.” Another resolution called upon the churches not to withdraw from a wicked world, but to “penetrate culture.” Christians, the statement urged, should dedicate themselves to applying the Biblical principles which promote “social justice and enduring peace.”

The association’s new lessened militancy has caused speculation that it might consider a merger with either the ecumenical-minded National Council of Churches, to its left, or the fundamentalist American Council of Churches, to its right. President Robert A. Cook, of Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., put a quick stop to such talk. “The National Association of Evangelicals,” he said, “does not propose to take either the course of accommodation, represented by the ecumenical movement, or the course of reaction, represented by the neofundamentalist movement. Both positions are too far on the extremes.”

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