Orlando, FL (March 3-6, 1997)--The 55th Annual Meeting and Convention of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) was held March 3-6 here in the Raddison Twin Tower Hotel and Convention Center. Even before its meeting, the NAE was swirled in controversy. An article appearing in the February 24 issue of The Wall Street Journal by Edward Felsenthal described the divide between the NAE and other evangelicals over constitutional amendments on religious liberty.
On one side along with the NAE's Office for Governmental Affairs was the Christian Legal Society and the Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. They have endorsed a proposed amendment by Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) which has about twenty co-sponsors.
The other side includes several dozen Christian organizations and denominations such as the American Family Association, Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, the Christian Coalition, and Christian financial analyst Larry Burkett. They are supporting the amendment introduced by Rep. Ernest J. Istook, Jr. (R-Okla..) which has approximately 120 co-sponsors.
The amendment supported by NAE leadership would prohibit the government from discriminating against religion, whereas the Istook amendment would allow for student-initiated prayer and the posting of the Ten Commandments on school and courtroom walls, and would protect other acknowledgements of the nation's religious heritage, traditions and belief on public property, such as the motto "In God We Trust" on the currency and the phrase "One Nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The conflict among evangelicals over which approach to take was reflected in the NAE itself. Fueling the controversy was the assertion by the NAE in its monthly newsletter Insight and in its bulletin insert for churches, that the Istook amendment was DOA--"Dead on Arrival" in Congress. This assertion was made despite the fact that the proposal from the Oklahoma Republican had six times the number of sponsors in the House of Representatives as was enjoyed by the proposal by Mr. Hyde.
The fact that not everyone in the NAE agreed with its Washington Office was evident at the Board of Directors meeting the opening day of the convention--a meeting which featured Mr. Istook himself, along with former Rep. William Dannemeyer (R-Calif.), Chairman of Americans for Voluntary Prayer. Adding weight to the Istook viewpoint was the fact that not only NAE Board members, but also some member denominations, including the Salvation Army, the Open Bible Standard Churches, and the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, also supported it.
Seeing a mini-revolt in the making, the NAE leadership scotched any efforts officially to support the Hyde position and instructed their lobbyists in Washington not to support one amendment over the other. [Since the NAE Convention, the House Republicans have decided on the Istook amendment as their official position--Ed.]
While there was disagreement at the convention on how best to preserve religious liberty and to acknowledge the nation's Christian heritage, there was unanimity on the five measures brought forth by the Resolutions Committee. Delegates approved resolutions which called on the church to step into the gap as the federal government reduces its programs of food, health care and income assistance, and to minister to those in prison and to family members impacted by incarceration; which opposed the practices of partial-birth abortion and physician-assisted suicide; and which re-affirmed the relevance of Scripture to guide in a post-modern culture.
Among other actions, the NAE received into membership the Worldwide Church of God. Founded by the late Herbert W. Armstrong and characterized historically by British-Israelism and unitarian doctrines, it has recently renounced these positions and identifies as an orthodox, Christian denomination.
Every NAE Convention features award presentations. Dr. Hudson Taylor Armerding, President Emeritus of Wheaton College, received the J. Elwin Wright Award for promoting evangelical cooperation through international and national efforts. A teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Armerding has also served as President of Gordon College, the NAE, and World Evangelical Fellowship. He is presently on the Board of Directors of Covenant Theological Seminary.
Dr. George Brushaber received the James DeForest Murch Award for leadership and contributions in the field of Christian publishing. Brushaber, the fourth president of Bethel College and Seminary in Minnesota, also serves as Chairman of the senior editors of Christianity Today, Inc., as well as secretary of higher education for the Baptist General Conference.
Although unable to attend, Ruth Bell Graham received the Layperson of the Year Award for her outstanding witness, Christian character, and evangelical commitment. Her daughter Anne Graham Lotz accepted the award on Mrs. Graham's behalf.
The first-ever award for racial reconciliation was given jointly by NAE and the National Black Evangelical Association to Rev. Louis Rawls, Sr. NAE's Faithful Servant Award went to Dr. Marion Spellman for "high commitment to social concern in evangelicalism." Brian Johnson received the Helping Hands Award, presented by NAE subsidiary World Relief, for his lifetime of service to the poor.
This convention saw the retirement of Rev. Dr. Robert "Bob" P. Dugan, Jr., after 18 years of service as Vice President of the NAE's Office for Governmental Affairs in Washington, DC. According to those familiar with his work, Bob Dugan's career in the nation's capital have been characterized by integrity, good humor, and the ability to work both sides of the aisle in order to advance the kingdom of Christ. From all reports, Dugan is respected by Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, Christians and non-believers. The NAE appointed him as Vice President--Resource Development.
Two prominent officials, Rev. Leonard Hofman, Chairman of the NAE, and Dr. Don Argue, its President, mentioned during the convention the need for "inclusiveness." Hofman is the past General Secretary of the Christian Reformed Church, a denomination which has now opened all church offices to females; Argue is a member of the Assemblies of God, which has always ordained women. Two years ago, the then-President of the NAE, Dr. David Rambo, gave a progress report on NAE Reorganization. One of the established objectives announced at the 1995 meeting was that the "participation of women in NAE is being encouraged, while respecting conservative scruples" (PCA, Minutes 23rd General Assembly, p. 381).
In accord with the call for inclusiveness, women were evident at the convention in leadership roles. The Wednesday evening session featured Scripture reading by black conservative activist/commentator and former welfare recipient Star Parker. Mrs. Parker has been active in the growing black conservative movement. Her husband, Peter Parker, is a vicar in the Charismatic Episcopal Church (C.E.C.), a non-NAE denomination which does not ordain women to any of the church offices of Deacon, Priest, or Bishop. The C.E.C., along with the Reformed Episcopal Church (a member of the NAE), are the two fastest-growing Anglican denominations, benefitting largely from the continuing apostasy manifested in the (mainline) Episcopal Church, U.S.A.
The pastoral prayer at the same session, given by Kelly Monroe, thanked God for the Abolitionists. Miss Monroe is the founder of "The Veritas Forum" at Harvard University. The Forum was started "to explore the possibility that the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ unites the disciplines and endows all of life with meaning and beauty." It is now active on twenty university campuses. Monroe, a former Harvard graduate student, is presently a Harvard chaplain. She has been active in InterVarsity, Young Life, and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and is a member of the Conservative Baptist Association (which belongs to the NAE). When asked, she said that she had not thought about whether to pursue ordination.
The role of Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Billy Graham, provided an explicit example of the NAE's movement toward "inclusiveness." Mrs. Lotz is the founder of AnGel Ministries and actively involved in Bible Study Fellowship. According to the Leadership Alert of February 15th, published by NAE, Anne Lotz was to close the convention by "sharing her own experiences in seeing God at work through neighborhood outreach ministries." That did not occur.
As the featured speaker at the 55th Annual Banquet on the final night of the convention, Mrs. Lotz instead delivered a stemwinder of a sermon on Isaiah the prophet, stating that he (if alive today) would be an Evangelical. Her delivery and style was similar to her famous father, and her presentation was punctuated by shouts of encouragement from the "amen corner" of those assembled.
The use of women in leadership roles is not strange for many of the members of the NAE. The largest denomination in the organization, the Assemblies of God, with 2.2 million members, and other Pentecostal and Holiness churches which belong, have a long history of female ordination. They, along with the Christian Reformed Church and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which also ordain women to all ecclesiastical offices, constitute more than a majority of the constituent members of the NAE.
[Mr. David A. Williams, who authored this article, lives in Ft. Worth, TX. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference ("4C's"), and serves as his denomination's representative on the Social Action Commission of the NAE. He comments: "The use of two women to provide Scripture reading and pastoral prayer back-to-back, on the same platform and on the same night, strikes one to be more than coincidence. One could interpret this as a part of the effort by the NAE to be more 'inclusive.' . . . This writer felt uncomfortable in being subjected to what would be considered in any local church situation as a full-scale sermon. After the convention I was sought out by a reporter from the Religion News Service who had been present at the NAE convention. She was clearly aware of the division among Evangelicals on women in a preaching/elder function, and she asked me about my reaction to Mrs. Lotz's message. . . . With the continuing drive by certain elements to place women in ecclesiastical authority in evangelical denominations that previously have not done so, holders of the I Timothy 2:12-13 position will have their work cut out for them if they remain in the NAE." (The above views are his alone and do not necessarily represent those of his denomination.)]
Other Perspectives on the NAE
Dr. Ralph Colas, who reports on various ecclesiastical happenings for the American Council of Christian Churches, wrote the following:
In response to a question about the NAE's position on women preaching or leading in worship, the Chairman replied, "Every so often the Presbyterians or those who hold to a Reformed persuasion complain to us, but our answer is that we are not a church and we do not ordain; and the meetings are held in an hotel."