Summit a `boost to Christmas message'. Church council head works to broaden group's ecumenical base
PAT McCLURG'S Christmas message is one of gratitude and hope. Gratitude that ideological opponents across the globe are starting to find common ground. And hope that this will lead to permanent world peace. The incoming president of the National Council of Churches (NCC) is not naive about easy solutions. But she sees the recent Reagan-Gorbachev summit as having strong religious significance.Skip to next paragraph
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The Rev. Ms. Patricia McClurg stresses that the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and hope for further arms reduction are proof that ``God comes among us to help us'' when we most need it. ``For that to happen at Christmas is a tremendous boost to the Christmas message: Peace on earth, good will to all.''
World peace, social justice, feeding the hungry, and healing the heart are all high on the agenda for this soft-spoken Texas-bred Presbyterian minister who on Jan. 1 will become the first woman member of the clergy to head the 40 million-member Council of Protestant, Orthodox, and Anglican church groups in the United States. In an interview at her office at the Presbytery of Elizabeth here in Plainfield, Ms. McClurg made these points:
Although the religious ``left'' and ``right'' often clash over scriptural interpretation and church outreach programs, the Bible has at the same time ``become a fundamental meeting point for liberals and conservatives.'' Both are involved in feeding the hungry and administering to the poor through domestic and international programs.
Understanding of God is the ``fuel'' for social action. It is not possible to help the poor and unfortunate through the churches without having one's ``spiritual batteries charged,'' the NCC official says.
She adds that it is also important that ``as we are learning the lesson that the whole world is our neighbor, we also need to remember that our next-door neighbor is our neighbor too.''
US Christians must ask themselves whether what is good for this nation is also beneficial to the rest of the world.
National patriotic values have, of late, pervaded the theological approaches of some ultra-conservative religious groups. They believe that what is good for Christianity in America should work for Christians elsewhere in the world. McClurg disagrees. She stresses that the history and culture of other peoples are sometimes antipathetic to the democratic process.
Justice for all peoples, however, is a ``basic Christian theme,'' McClurg says. She refers to the Biblical Christmas story in which ``God comes among us through poor people ... [and] reaches out to all people.'' She adds that government was the main threat to the Messiah, the Christ-child.
The incoming NCC president sharply criticizes Christians who hold that the government policy of apartheid in South Africa is ``God's will.'' She calls this ``warped theology'' that must be corrected by both whites and blacks who are devoted to spiritual values.
World peace is a top priority for religious peoples. ``We have tried [to achieve peace] through the secular world,'' McClurg says. ``The church, however, has no national boundaries. We must talk about peace on a global basis.''
During the recent summit meeting between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, church leaders from both the US and the Soviet Union kneeled in prayer side-by-side at the Washington Cathedral. Pray-for-peace vigils took place in Moscow, Leningrad, and many US cities.