It was 1967, often referred to as the “Summer of Love.” Scores of young people were involved in religious and meditative movements. They were suspicious of the government and generally opposed to the Vietnam War. Grown-ups viewed young people as being too radical or acting too militant.
In Portland, Oregon, all this was being experienced while the General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. was gathering, and among the items on its agenda was the Confession of 1967 (C67).
“I was just finishing up my freshman year in college at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon,” said the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Campbell, pastor at Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and a former president of McCormick Theological Seminary. “That made attending the assembly easy … since it was right downtown.”
Campbell recalled the excitement and controversy surrounding the confession, which focuses on themes of race and reconciliation.
“At that time, during that period of adopting C67, it was a big deal, and really groundbreaking,” said Campbell, who was born and raised in Pasadena, California. “There was huge opposition, and a number of congregations actually left the denomination.
“People thought the language of C67 was crazy. There was a statement on race and racism. It contained a very strong statement on war and nuclear weapons. Also there was a statement that suggested that the nation should be about peacemaking, and the role of the church somehow being involved with a phrase saying, ‘even at the risk of national security.’”
Campbell said one of her most interesting memories of the assembly was a group of protesters opposed to the ratification of C67 that staged a mock funeral during the debate: “The discussions were held in a basketball arena. It had an upper level and a lower level. At first they protested outside and then it moved inside. They had a cheap black casket that they paraded around the arena…it was very dramatic.”
Campbell served on a committee that dealt with issues concerning the Vietnam War.
“I remember during the early part of the assembly, most of my time was spent camped out on the floor, because there were so many people in attendance that were involved in the debate in taking a stand against the war,” she said.
The mood was pretty divided, and some felt that the church had no business dealing with such issues, Campbell recalled. “Others weren’t so much angry as they were perplexed. … And then there were those of us, like myself, who were quite proud that I belonged to an institution that was actually dealing with relevant subjects that were so controversial. Those issues being race and racism, war and peace, poverty and sexuality.”
In spite of the sometimes spirited debate, Campbell remembers feeling a great sense of accomplishment when the assembly passed C67.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” she said, “but in a very powerful way, coming back to Portland, and how far we’ve come since C67 brings back memories of all those that were so courageous and who spoke out regarding the issues.”