The Political Price of Prophetic Leadership: The National Council of Churches and the Vietnam War

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The National Council of Churches (NCC) felt called by church bureaucrats to take a prophetic leadership role on the Vietnam War. Therefore it moved beyond the sentiments of its denominations’ parishioners to articulate antiwar positions on this controversial issue. Council leaders met several times with Dean Rusk to persuade him to change the presuppositions undergirding America’s Vietnam policy, while Rusk tried to sway the Council into accepting the necessity of the government’s actions. The Council’s staff failed to realize that government weighed the NCC’s clout not by the quality of its information, staff, or moral vision, but rather by the number of constituents it represented or influenced. When the NCC took what some perceived as elitist stands more representative of liberal church bureaucrats than millions of voting, church-going Americans, the White House shunned it as politically useless. The NCC has yet to recover from its loss of status suffered during this period.