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US churches press for world peace, nuclear arms control

By Richard L. WalkerSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / January 14, 1982

Louisville, Ky.

For many US churches, the cause of peace and nuclear arms control is emerging for the 1980s with the same sense of moral urgency that civil rights had for churchmen in the '60s.

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While the lead on the peace issue is being taken by figures in historically liberal ''mainline'' Protestant denominations and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, there also have been significant stirrings in the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination and usually a bastion of conservatism.

Seven Southern Baptist state conventions have adopted statements on peace, according to Glenn Hinson, a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary here. Conventions in Virginia and North Carolina passed ''strong statements,'' he says, though a pronouncement on peace was killed in Alabama.

Like most of his counterparts in other denominations, Mr. Hinson does not call for the United States to embark on a course of unilateral nuclear disarmament.

''We don't know the exact approach for arms reduction,'' he says. ''But we try to lend our weight to encourage discussion and form peacemaking groups and get people to become politically involved to support arms reduction.''

The Rev. Kenneth D. MacHarg, director of Louisville's religious ecumenical agency, says he feels the current peace movement in American religion is far different from the battles against the Vietnam war.

Describing it as ''more of a populist movement . . . less extreme, less radical,'' Mr. MacHarg said most mainstream religious leaders are campaigning for nuclear arms control in ways designed to include, not alienate, average church members who may be wary of calls for unilateral disarmament.

Some recent developments indicate the mounting importance being accorded the peace issue in American religious circles.

Dr. Avery D. Post, president of the 1.8 million-member United Church of Christ, recently told members of his foreign mission board here that the denomination is becoming a ''peace church.''

Making peace the chief item on its agenda will begin to align the United Church with such pacifist groups as the Quakers, Mennonites, and the Church of the Brethren, church spokesmen say.

''We are not known as a 'peace church' year in and year out like the Mennonites,'' explains William Winslow, a United Church communications officer.

''But our synod felt it's the most pressing issue now, as our forebears felt the abolition of slavery was the most pressing moral issue in the last century, '' he adds.

The denomination's foreign mission arm is also being asked to consider new guidelines that could lead it to dispose of stock in companies that manufacture arms.

Dr. Audrey Smock, world issues secretary for the mission agency, says General Electric and American Telephone and Telegraph shares would be affected under the proposals because both corporations are closely involved with the US Defense Department and each manages a nuclear installation.

Halting the nuclear arms race emerged as one of the three major concerns during a meeting of the nation's Roman Catholic bishops in Washington, D.C., in late November.

''The church needs to say 'no' clearly and decisively to the use of nuclear arms,'' declared Archbishop John R. Roach in his presidential address to the bishops' conference annual session.

Support for arms control will loom large in the bishops' lobbying efforts as a result of the meeting, along with their concerns for battling poverty and banning abortion.

Some leaders among the country's 50 million Catholics already have moved beyond conventional lobbying on the peace issue.