Rise of religious right alarms -- but doesn't provoke -- National Council of Churches

Despite distress about the role of groups such as the Moral Majority in conservative politics, leaders of the National Council of Churches (NCC) have decided that they will not make any direct attempt to counter the movement.

"The last thing the National Council is interested in is a religious war," said NCC general secretary Claire Randall at a press conference here. "Our commitments remain firm, but we don't envision an aggressive attack."

Her comments followed the semi-annual meeting, Nov. 6-8, of the NCC governing board, which was held in the wake of a national election seen by many board membbers as ominous for causes they supported.

Throughout its 30-year history, the NCC has generally taken liberal stands on domestic and international issues, and its leadership has usually felt the most rapport with liberal political leaders such as those defeated in this year's election.

But though the "religious right" was a topic of widespread concern at this fall's meeting, NCC board members offered no proposals for a countervailing movement and suggested no legal restraints.

Also appearing at the pres conference was NCC president William Howard, who said the NCC could raise a lot of money by leading a crusade against religious groups on the right. "But we can't use polarization as a tactic for raising funds to combat people talking positions different from us," he said. "It would lead to an ugly religous war, and the losers would be the people."

He said that the NCC would respond rather by intensifying its educational efforts to explain its own views and by conducting studies on the role of religion in politics.

Mr. Howard also said that he had personally joined People for the American Way, a group of religious representatives and others brought together by TV producer Norman Lear. This group is broadcasting TV spots with appeals for tolerance of diversity among religiouly committed people.

In the past, as the NCC has supported causes such as civil rights and economic jus- tice, it has come under conservative attack for getting into politics. But the countis has argued that the churches have a right and re sponsibility to speak out on matters affecting the general welfare.

Charges of inconsistency are often leveled when liberal church officials criticize the tactics of conservative evangelicals who have become active on the opposing side of political issues. But Mr. Howard thinks there is a line past which political activity becomes improper: "when I have a parishioner who doesn't agree with me and I question his or her faith."

At the recent board meeting, delegates as usual dealt with a broad range of issues, including the Middle East, immigration, chemical weapons, public education, the recently concluded J. P. Stevens boycott, and the United Nations Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Recalling his visit to Iran as one of the clergymen who held services for the hostages last Christmas, Howard warned that current trends could take the United States toward the theocratic state established there.

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