Leaders of the National Council of Churches, together with representatives of 25 of its 31 Protestant and Orhodox Christian member-denominations, called on President Carter last week to discuss a wide range of domestic and international issues.
William P. Thompson, NCC president, said the church leaders had a constructive conversation" with the president, whose own strong religious ties have been widely publicized. However, the Southern Baptist Convention, with which President Carter is affiliated, traditionally has declined membership in the more liberal National Council of Churches.
Prior to their visit, the church leaders had submitted to the president an extensive "background memorandum" on issues they wanted to discuss with him. The memorandum amounted to a virtual review by the church group of the president's foreign and domestic policy, comparing his performance to date with his campaign promises.
The group gave him high marks and praise in some areas, such as his stand on human rights around the world, but offered criticism and reproof in others, such as disarmament and development of the neutron bomb.
On the Panama Canal treaties, the church leaders commended the Carter administration's success in negotiatting the treaties and offered both prayers and pledges to help mobilize grass roots support for their ratification by the Senate. Catholic bishops, meeting with the president last summer, offered similar assurances of support for the Panama Canal treaties as have leaders of the president's own denomination.
On the domestic front, the church leaders tactfully reminded the president of "your campaign pledges" for the development of a national urban policy, which would include:
National commitment to "genuine full employment."
A housing policy "to provide decent housing at an affordable cost for lower-and moderate-income families."
"Comprehensive" national health insurance.
Tax law reform aimed at "a system of taxation based on the ability to pay."
Increased federal efforts to revitalize decaying city neighborhoods.
The church leaders reserved their sharpest criticism for what they perceived as the Carter administration's failure to effect cuts in U.S. military spending and the sale of arms abroad.
Reminding the president of his campaign plomises, the church leaders said in their statement: "It is with great disappointment that we do not see your commitment to lead the effort to reduce the international conventional arms race honored."
In their memorandum the church leaders explained their concern with political issues saying: "Our religious tradition and our understanding of the gospel compel us to study, speak out and act on issues which relate to the quality of our national life today and the relations which our nation has with other nations in an increasingly inter-dependent world."
One question that the church leaders did not raise with the president was that of abortion. divergent views among the Council's constituent churches consistently have prevented that body from reaching its own consensus on this issue.
Claire Randall, NCC general secretary, said that President Carter appeared to be appreciative of the visit by the church leaders. "He made the statement that he'd like to keep the lines open and to keep in touch," she said.
She said the visit concluded with prayers, led by Bishop Elisha P. Murchison, senior bishop of the Christian Methodist Episcopal church.