Southern Baptists ended their annual convention in New Orleans with a spate of resolutions on social issues, including strong support for a school prayer amendment, the teaching of creationism in public schools and a constitutional amendment banning abortion "except to save the physical life of the mother."
The resolution on school prayer reverses longstanding tradition of the 13.8 million-member denomination to view such legislation as a violation of the separation of church and state. It is also an indicator of the strong conservative influence in the nation's largest Protestant body.
The convention's 20,400 messengers, as delegates are called, adopted a resolution on abortion that said "social acceptance of abortion has begun to dull society's respect for all human life, leading to growing occurrences of infanticide, child abuse and active euthanasia."
The resolution on "scientific creationism" declared it could be taught in public schools "solely in terms of scientific evidence without any religious doctrines or concepts."
Other resolutions supported "mutually verifiable disarmament, including nuclear disarmament," opposed tax credits for private school tuition, and urged legislation requiring labeling of alcoholic beverages as dangerous.
Between surges of conservative strength at the beginning and end of the convention, moderates won some rounds in the selection of trustees for denominational institutions.
Control of such boards has been an underlying issue in the seesaw struggle between the two factions that have emerged in the Protestant body.
The conservative-fundamentalist wing, after winning its convention drive to elect the Rev. James T. Draper of Texas as president,ran into a countersurge from moderates, who managed to bump three conservatives picked for institutional church boards.
In sometimes sharp debate on the nominations, the denomination's conservative outgoing president, the Rev. Bailey Smith of Del City, Okla., ruled that challengers to nominated trustees "may not speak negatively about someone you want to replace, only positively about those you want to nominate. This is not the place for character assassination."
Southern Presbyterians in their annual convention in Columbus, Ga., this week called on the United States to halt military aid to Israel until that country "ceases acts of violence" against Lebanon.
The motion passed by the 122nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States also called on the government to initiate contact with the Palestine Liberation Organization if and when that group acknowledges Israel's right to exist within secure boundaries.
The resolution, which passed by a voice vote, reflects essentially the stance adopted a year ago by the National Council of Churches.
The Presbyterians also endorsed a joint U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms freeze, opposed a school prayer amendment and urged the government to halt its assistance to the ruling junta in El Salvador.
In its resolution against a school prayer amendment, the assembly said, "There are no grounds for alleging that the Supreme Court is attempting to deprive our nation of its Christian heritage . . . The point at issue is a personal guarantee from the Bill of Rights, whose purpose is to place certain subjects such as religion beyond the reach of majorities."
The commissioners also affirmed the group's membership in the Religious Coalition For Abortion Rights and called on the denomination to find ways to help men and women deal with "problem pregnancies."
In earlier actions, commissioners elected the Rev. John F. Anderson Jr. as moderator, top leadership post in the denomination. Anderson, 62, has been pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas since 1973.
The assembly adopted an amendment to its official church discipline, which for the first time specifies in writing what has long been held in theory: that even though a local congregation holds legal title to its property, that property is held "in trust" for the denomination as a whole.
Such legislation is intended to preserve local church property in cases where local congregations decide to leave the denomination.
Va. United Methodists
Virginia United Methodists at their gathering in Virginia Beach voted to support a bilateral nuclear arms freeze; they opposed a school prayer amendment to the Constitution, private-school tuition tax credits, U.S. development of chemical weapons, aid to El Salvador, and a proposed state-operated lottery.
The 2,300 delegates to the annual conference adopted with no debate two resolutions from their Board of Church and Society that supported "a freeze on the nuclear arms race and . . . negotiations toward an end to the arms race" and urged Congress and the president to reverse their decision to produce chemical weapons.
Floor resolutions opposing a proposed constitutional amendment allowing school prayer and a plan to start a state lottery in Virginia also breezed through to passage.
Delegates rejected a resolution proposed by the Conference's Board of Church and Society that would have urged ministers to prepare for nonadvocacy draft counseling and to advertise availability to the youth of each local church.
Three Korean language churches, one in Annandale and two in Arlington, were accepted into full membership. They had previously been associated with the independent Korean Methodist Church.