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US churches press for world peace, nuclear arms control

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Bishop L. T. Matthiesen of Amarillo, Texas, has urged workers at his area's Pantex plant, which assembles nuclear weapons, to quit their jobs. Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen of Seattle has taken a more radical step, asserting that citizens would be morally justified in refusing to pay 50 percent of their income taxes as a nonviolent protest against the nuclear buildup.

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Bishops of the Episcopal Church have committed themselves to a ''weekly act of fasting and prayer for the peace of the world'' until next September, when the denomination's governing general convention meets in New Orleans.

Saying that ''massive nuclear overkill poised for instant use represents deadly insecurity,'' the Episcopal prelates said in a recent pastoral letter that they were determined that ''our actions may reflect a new resolve of leadership in peacemaking.''

The letter was designed to be circulated to parishioners in some 7,000 churches. It urges 2.8 million Episcopalians to join them in fasting and praying for peace.

Along with fellow Southern Baptist Theological Seminary faculty member Glen Stassen (son of former Republican presidential candidate Harold Stassen), Mr. Hinson is a key figure in his denomination's embryonic but growing peace movement. He edits the Baptist Peacemaker, a newspaper focusing on arms control and related issues, sponsored by a local church.

''We've gone this route in setting up the paper because Southern Baptists are usually so wary of the ecumenical movement,'' Hinson said in an interview. ''If Southern Baptists are going to hear what our brothers and sisters in other churches are saying about peace, it's going to have to be said for them by a fellow Southern Baptist.''

Hinson agrees that other churches are treating peace and nuclear arms control as a moral imperative analogous to the civil rights crusade two decades ago. But he says he feels the similarities aren't necessarily all there for Southern Baptists since their innate ''social conservatism'' has held many of them aloof from the struggle for black equality.

''With civil rights, people knew it was right but feared how far the movement would go and how radical the changes might be,'' he observes. ''With peace, the issue is also divisive. Many of our people don't see it hitting as close to home as civil rights since . . . most of the talk about nuclear war now is about Europe.''

The Southern Baptist peace movement has great obstacles, Hinson admits. Among them are the more ''militaristic'' tradition of the South and the ''powerful influence'' exerted on the denomination and its pastors by the Moral Majority, which supports a strengthened military.

Though Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell is an independent Baptist with no connection to the Southern Baptist Convention, Hinson says studies have shown Mr. Falwell to be the ''most influential figure in forming our pastors' outlook on political issues.''

But the Southern Baptist ''mania for foreign missions'' has assisted the peace movement in gaining attention and support, the scholar says.

''Our people are seeing that military spending is hampering programs they're devoted to,'' he says. ''They become more interested in peacemaking when they see the arms race and the threat of war would hamper the foreign mission effort.''

Three years ago, the movement was initiated with a ''Baptist Peace Convocation'' at a local church. It drew endorsements from President Carter, evangelist Billy Graham, and some past denominational presidents; but its participants were mostly drawn from the Louisville seminary's student body.

Now, Hinson says he believes the Baptist Peacemaker constituency is large enough that a second convocation has been scheduled in Louisville next Aug. 5-7 (to coincide with the day an American plane dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima). This time, pastors and lay men and women from across the country are expected to attend.