NCMA : An Obvious Thing To Do!
by David Burnight
I was happy to be an APUP delegate to the 1964 gathering in St. Louis which created NCMA. It was an obvious thing to do. We were all pleased that the wheels of denominational structure could move in such a reasonable way. We welcomed each other!
Looking back, it strikes me that connections with WSCF (World Student Christian Federation), APUPs(Association of Presbyterian University Pastors) , NCMA, and all the gathered campus brothers and sisters thereof, have added to my education as much as any course or seminar. What a great bunch of people I have been privileged to know! Experimental forms of spirituality, ways of doing intercultural education and exposing justice issues, contact with movements like Taize — all these have been gifts to me.
Extracurricular gifts were often surprises. One was in 1954. Just three years out of seminary, I was happy to be preparing for a visit to our Cal Aggie Christian Association at UCDavis, from a young man in Guatemala who was to tour the U.S. under the sponsorship of WSCF, talking about Christian faith and international sharing. Abruptly, he called it off! Our U.S. had sponsored a coup which overthrew the democratically elected president of Guatemala. It quickly came out that John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State, and his brother Allen Dulles, CIA Director, had large holdings in United Fruit Company. President Arbenz wanted to nationalize United Fruit, or at least arrange for Guatemalans to get a bigger share of the banana business. He was labeled a “Communist.” Our young Christians protested America’s arrogance. This all startled me, because one seminary professor had held up J.F.Dulles, a Presbyterian elder, as a shining example of Christian involvement in political life! My naive view of the way our nation and churches work was seriously modified!
Actually, a similar confrontation for me occurred in 1952, but it took a while for it to sink in. At the Presbyterian General Assembly, a missionary from Iran came into a meeting of the Missions Committee. He reported that the American/English upsetting of Premier Mossadegh was very disturbing, and likely to have dire consequences. Churches, in general, paid little attention. . .. The rest is, of course, history!
In 1964 my associate John Pamperin and I chartered a bus to take 30 students, faculty, local clergy and townspeople from San Diego, CA to meet MLK Jr. on his march into Montgomery, as he had invited. We were not surprised at the sullen reception given by the white people there. But we were inspired by the gentle sturdy faith of the black church folks who hosted us. Singing hymns together that night brought tears to everyone’s eyes! . . . After King’s speech, next day, we started back, reading the local newspapers on the bus. The coverage of the event was so skewed and misleading that it was really a lie. The big side story was that a black man and white woman had been found fornicating on the fringes of the march! If the press could so misrepresent what we had just experienced, what might this mean back home about our own newspaper’s coverage of the Viet Nam war? Another eye-opener! (The faith experiences were good sympathetic material for talks to churches in conservative parts of California.)
APUP and NCMA gatherings were always awareness openers and learning experiences. When the Nicaraguan revolution was going on, the first clear whispers of it came to me from fellow UP’s at our national conference. So in 1981, Jim White and I took some students from SDSU and Long Beach State to Nicaragua, for a 10 day visit. Though missionaries and other aware Americans were holding weekly protests outside the American Embassy in Managua, the American press ignored them, and repeated the Kissinger line about the “brave Contras.” The interviews and photos which we took back became provocative material for student discussions and for sermons in local churches.
These are a plus to all the personal gifts of growing faith and love which I had from students and faculty. We were trying to be a community which understood and practiced spiritual Universals, and welcomed everybody’s Truth. Now this seems to be happening in many quarters! There is hope!
My campus ministry assignments were: University of California at Davis, 1951-1966; San Diego State University, 1966-1994.
These 20 years of retirement have been lively, but they are difficult to describe. For a while I hung in with the Presbytery, chairing the Peacemaking Committee and then the Social Concerns committee. The committee folks were fine, but the stupid hassles over homosexual policies became such a block to anything else that I stopped having any part of it. Ginny is a Vatican II Catholic, and I have participated with her in a lot of activities of her parish.(even though I can’t say the Nicene Creed with them!). Bible study with liberal Catholics can be fun. We went to Turkey with Pacifica Foundation, and since then have been in a Muslim-Christian dialogue group, including Ramadan meals together. I have kept in touch with a lot of former students from Intersection House (SDSU), and I publish an annual alumni newsletter for about 150 of them. Other than that, I’m not good for much.