Articles & Testimonies

“Confrontation at the 1969 Annual Meeting”

by | Aug 15, 2020

Tom Taffel
<< Address on file >>
The First Church of Christ, Scientist
October 17, 2012 (Date Property Received)
December 20, 2012 (Signed Under Seal)

Prologue:  One month earlier, on May 4, 1969, James Forman interrupted the service of Riverside Church of New York to read a 2,500-word “Black Manifesto” and to make specific demands to the congregation.  Responses to similar interruptions and demands in other churches were hotly debated in newspaper editorials and magazine articles across the country.

There I was… seated in the fifth row of the Extension of The Mother Church when it happened — on Tuesday, June 2, 1969 …  the unthinkable … our beloved Mother Church was confronted at the Annual Meeting by the “Metropolitan Committee of Black Churchmen” and none but the Boston Police and the Christian Science Board of Directors knew of the eminent, potential danger.

According to Bruce Stores, author of the book: “Christian Science: It’s Encounter With Lesbian/Gay America,” published by iUniverse, Inc. 2004, the confrontation began at 3:00PM when the group demanded admission to the Annual Meeting.

Quote:  “For their part, Church leaders were adamant that the would-be intruders did not enter. Their representatives tried hard to pacify them and work out an alternative arrangement. They even told the militants they could have a private meeting with the Board of Directors when Annual Meeting was over.

“The militants held their ground. Their position was a refusal to meet with ‘any appropriate official’ except the entire membership.

“When it appeared no other recourse was possible, Church leaders backed down. David Sleeper, Church Manager of the Committee on Publication told the group’s chairperson, Hayward Henry, he could read his statement to the congregation. The militants were then ushered inside the large domed temple. They walked briskly down the aisle. Representatives from the media followed after them.” End Quote.

Then, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Inman H. Douglas, CSB, introduced the group of fifteen religious militant activists in a terse but loving manner, allowing them to address the Annual Meeting attendees — from the platform of the extension of The Mother Church.

It was most unsettling for me to see their photographer hanging from the stately brass lanterns, (which project the hymn numbers), photographing their speaker, Hayward Henry — and catching audience reaction shots. As a young student of Christian Science, it was unsettling to see something so prominent and pristine, desecrated.

From Newsweek: “The group of black Boston clergy [was] seeking $100 million from area churches and synagogues…. For a start, committeeman Hayward Henry asked for a public financial accounting from the supersecretive Christian Scientists. Among his other demands: that the Second Church of Christ Scientist in Roxbury be turned over to Boston’s black community; that the Christian Science Monitor publish a series on the financial status of American churches; and that all black employees of the mother church be immediately upgraded.” (Newsweek, June 16, 1969 page 88, “Black Demands in Boston”)

There was a distinct, angry and vitriolic tone in their demands. But something remarkable happened on that historic day just as Henry demanded disclosure of the number of members of the Mother Church. I can still hear that small, resolute, female voice; just a single clear voice from the top of the balcony cry out: “No!  Never!” It was the voice of a black woman.

Again from “Newsweek,” “Henry’s manifesto was politely applauded, but a scheduled meeting between the black committee and a special team of Christian Science “negotiators” never materialized.” (Newsweek, June 16, 1969 page 88, “Black Demands in Boston”)

None of the Mother Church’s Annual Meeting attendees could have possibly imagined the potential for harm and destruction, as the female members of the group — dawning their black choir robes — were concealing armed smoke grenades. The Boston police tried to discourage the Board of Directors from allowing the group inside the edifice, knowing that there was a potential for mass hysteria and injury, but The Board of directors felt that under the circumstances, the most loving and prudent thing was to allow the group into the Extension to speak.

There was an atmosphere of electricity, fear, threat and even terror in the edifice, but I was most distressed by my own mother’s anxiety and apprehension. She was a dedicated and effective Christian Science Practitioner and applicant to be a Teacher of Christian Science, (CSB) – completely taken in by the “noise,” spectacle, hysteria, mesmerism and confusion of the moment. When she grabbed my hand, I looked her right in the eye and told her to grab hold of herself and start praying. And she did. I think that was the only time I ever told my mother what to do!

If I were to characterize the feelings, thoughts and atmosphere at the time, the only fitting adjective would be the word “shock,” total shock. As an enthusiastic, astute, twenty-two year old and life-long student of Christian Science, and graduate of The Mother Church Sunday School, I was able to control my thinking and remember asking myself, what would Mary Baker Eddy do right now — and I thought of “What Our Leader Says” under “Admonition and Counsel” in “The First Church of Christ Scientist and Miscellany” regarding the attacks of error of every sort…

“Good thoughts are an impervious armor; clad therewith you are completely shielded from the attacks of error of every sort. And not only yourselves are safe, but all whom your thoughts rest upon are thereby benefited.”

I loved “The Beatles.” John Lennon’s words “All you need is love, love, all you need is love” came to mind. “God Is Love” is the battle song of Christian Science, and I held my thought steadfastly, in the midst of the chaotic atmosphere to just one simple word, “Love.” That’s all I could do — and that was my healing contribution to the meeting.

The following year, I was invited to spend nearly one hour in Inman Douglas’ office at 106 Falmouth Street and I told him how impressed I was with his loving sense of control at the meeting. I told him how secure I felt by his presence on the platform — by his control of the situation. While the speakers ranted and raved, he never gave up his position of authority on the platform, but stood silently, respectfully, in control, taking imperceptible steps forward toward the First Reader’s podium as the rhetoric gained momentum, volume and ire.

I told Inman that I watched him carefully and felt a sense of calm knowing that he/(He) was in control. Those few authoritative steps forward in a deliberate, meaningful and respectful manner reassured the congregation that all was well, in spite of the apparent human picture before us.

I enjoyed our talk about “strength” and “defenselessness” and how the safety of the meeting as well as the safety of the Church and its members from anger, threat, danger and attack, was secure in our defenselessness, love and trust.

In retrospect, had I known, (as did The Board), that the group was armed with smoke grenades, I wonder what my thought might have been? 1969 was a troubled, turbulent time of civil unrest, in our country: Vietnam, New York City’s Stonewall riots as well as riots in more than 100 cities following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the assassination of Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

Hymn number 134 is the inspiring and healing poem by Samuel Longfellow with these magnificent words: “Embosomed deep in Thy dear love, Held in Thy law, I stand.” Many decades later, that’s how I put it into perspective. As unsettling and tumultuous as it may have been, that was an Annual Meeting I’ll never forget, all the while, feeling embosomed in God’s dear love.

PS.  Sometime after the Annual Meeting, The Christian Science Monitor printed the response from the Board of Directors. They gave a reasoned rebuttal to each of the militant’s demands. They accepted none of them, but gave an explanation for each demand, why they did not accept it.

Addendum by Tom Taffel ~ August 8, 2020

1969 was a crucial and critical time of social activism in our Nation’s history.   A brief review of National events; both before and after the June 2, 1969 Mother Church’s Annual Meeting confrontation, will both frame that historic day, and place it into historical perspective.

A Brief Overview of 1969

1969 brought the “Swinging Sixties” to an end with Richard Nixon’s tumultuous Presidency. “Earth Day” was the result of Union Oil’s Santa Barbara devastating blowout. Boeing’s jumbo 747, and the Concorde supersonic jetliner, dramatically changed air transportation. The book: “The Godfather” made its debut. James Earl Ray was found guilty of murdering Dr. Martin Luther King. Harvard University’s administration building was seized by 300 students, (184 arrested). Sirhan Sirhan was sentenced to death for assassinating Senator Robert F. Kennedy. At Cornell University, 80 armed black militant students took over Willard Straight Hall. Riots continued in: Zap, North Dakota; Berkeley, California; Greensboro, North Carolina; Cairo, Illinois; New York City; York, Pennsylvania; Hartford, Connecticut; and Chicago, Illinois. New York City’s Riverside Church’s Sunday service was abruptly interrupted by James Forman’s 2,500 word “Black Manifesto.” Governor Ronald Reagan imposed martial law at UC Berkeley. “Give Peace a Chance” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono resonated around the world as deadly race riots erupted in Kuala Lumpur.

For many, June 2, 1969 was especially memorable as seventy-four American sailors were killed in Vietnam during NATO maneuvers, and the Christian Science Annual Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts was interrupted at 3PM by fifteen Metropolitan Committee of Black Churchmen, making their angry demands on the platform of the Extension of The Mother Church.

But 1969 was far from over. Judy Garland died, and America watched Cleveland’s polluted Cuyahoga River catch fire — giving rise to the Environmental Protection Agency. June 28, 1969 began the Stonewall riots — (a gay bar in lower Manhattan), followed by four days of riots. Over a thousand revolted against the NYC Police Department — giving birth to the Gay Rights Movement. The Apollo 11 moon landing allowed Neil Armstrong to be the first man to walk on the moon. Charles Manson murdered Sharon Tate and four others.

Robin Williams uttered these memorable words: “If you remember the 60’s, you weren’t there!” August 15-18, 1969 sent a loud message to the world via the Woodstock Music and Art Fair with more than 350,000 in attendance, including — Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Grateful Dead, The Who, The Jefferson Airplane, and Jimi Hendrix. Historic hurricane “Camille” destroyed much of Mississippi. American Indians occupied Alcatraz Island. A TWA flight was hijacked and diverted to Syria. Vietnam Moratorium Day saw the largest anti-war protest — with over half a million people. Lt. William Calley was charged with six counts of murder for the South Vietnam atrocities known to the world as the My Lai Massacre. The Vietnam draft lottery began. 1969 truly redefined our culture…..forever.

June 2, 1969 in Boston, Massachusetts, was an unprecedented, unsettling, unexpected and unimaginable day — I shall never forget, because I was there, right in the middle of it all.

An Important Retrospection

As Hayward Henry and his militant, activist, committeemen proceeded briskly to the platform of the Extension of The Mother Church, (cloaked in large, flowing, back choir robes), the atmosphere was tense, fearful and terrifying.   Who amongst us could have ever imagined the potential, explosive terror in our midst? For a religion based on Love…. this was THE defining moment, the moment where the “rubber met the road,” where “walking the walk” and not “talking the talk” was crucial, decisive, imminent. “God Is Love” had to be demonstrated at that moment because there was so much at stake. This was not a dress rehearsal; this was naked aggressive mental suggestion, unmasked and about to explode, yes, explode!

The man of the hour was my dear friend and then Chairman of the Board of Directors, Inman H. Douglas, CSB from Dallas, Texas. It was Inman Douglas who saved the day and The Mother Church from terror and physical harm.  As the intruders spoke, Inman positioned himself on the readers’ platform at a respectful distance from the podium, standing quietly and stalwartly in front of the soloist’s chair. As the rhetoric became more boisterous and vitriolic; as ire began to overshadow the “atmosphere of love,” Inman began taking imperceptibly small steps toward the speaker, subliminally giving the congregation the appearance of control.

Reflecting back to June 2, 1969, (seated in the center of the fifth row in the Extension of the Mother Church), I find it curious how insignificant incidents can loom larger and have more lasting impact than more crucial events.  What was most disconcerting and unsettling to the congregation wasn’t the actual message; the tenor of the rhetoric, the acerbic message, the ire or the bombastic language, but rather, the desecration of the prominent brass lanterns that project the hymn numbers on the wall. Hanging from the stately brass lantern with one arm, (photographing their speakers and capturing the audience’s reaction), was simply earthshattering. It felt as if our hallowed, revered, platform was being desecrated, disrespected and defiled by rudimentary rabble-rousers. That, in my opinion, is what induced so much fear, disdain and distrust.

When the black Christian Science Practitioner in the upper balcony shouted: “No! Never!” that was the seminal moment that should never be forgotten amid all the turmoil and electricity that permeated the miasma of utter disbelief, uncertainty and fear.

The following year Inman Douglas invited me into his office at 106 Falmouth Street and we sat down for over an hour and had an exhilarating heart-to-heart chat.  He revealed the heart of the matter — which may never have come to light had it not been for our deep, profound friendship and trust …. an abiding trust that I could handle the truth. What Inman told me, was not told to me in confidence, but rather as a matter of historic fact. In retrospect, I sincerely believe Inman wanted the truth to be known at the right time, in context, with proper perspective. Fifty years later, it’s entirely possible I’m the only living eye-witness to the event, with actual knowledge of the potential danger to our Church.

During that extreme historic occurrence in our Church’s history, I don’t think Inman was concerned, or even aware how his imperceptibly tiny steps were being perceived; because he was quite taken back when I verbalized my precise recollection from the previous year. It was exhilarating to relive his God-directed action, the reduction of tension and fear while restoring a sense of calm control, which ultimately saved the edifice of the church extension.

I vividly recall Inman leaning forward in his chair and serenely revealing the immense and immediate potential for mass panic and physical destruction to the edifice. “Each of the intruding militants had concealed underneath their black choir robes, smoke grenades,” he told me. This horrific fact was only known to the Boston Police and The Christian Science Board of Directors, as they made the enormously challenging decision to allow the intruders to enter the Extension of The Mother Church, (against the advice of the Boston Police), to speak directly to Church members.

Acknowledging the gravity and lasting importance of what I had just I learned, I glanced over to the portrait of Mrs. Eddy and said to Inman: “Good thoughts are an impervious armor; clad therewith you are completely shielded from the attacks of error of every sort. And not only yourselves are safe, but all whom your thoughts rest upon are thereby benefited.”

There was warmth and tangible trust between us. Our buoyant and exuberant conversation was deep, rich and rewarding, based solely on trust and truth. We were both so very present in the moment, and we both understood the importance of our conversation. I knew that I was being given a very special gift of inside knowledge … I needed to safeguard.

As we parted, I shared my favorite metaphysical statement: “I am the world, through which I walk.” Inman placed his hand on my shoulder and gave me a knowing smile of agreement.

On page 410 of the Christian Science textbook, Mrs. Eddy says:

Every trial of our faith in God makes us stronger.  The more difficult seems the material condition to be overcome by Spirit, the stronger should be our faith and the purer our love. The apostle John says: “There is no fear in Love, but perfect Love casteth out fear. . . . He that feareth is not made perfect in Love.”  Here is a definite and inspired proclamation of Christian Science.  Christian scientific practice begins with Christ’s keynote of harmony, “Be not afraid!”

No experience ever leaves us where it finds us, and that’s certainly true about the year 1969 with its unforgettable and historic Christian Science Annual Meeting.