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J. IRWIN MILLER, AN NCC FOUNDING FATHER, DIES AUG. 16 IN INDIANA
August 18, 2004, NEW YORK CITY - J. Irwin Miller of Columbus, Ind., a prominent industrialist, philanthropist, biblical scholar and patron of the arts whose decades of service to the National Council of Churches USA included his term as the NCCs first lay president in 1960-63, died Monday (August 16) at his home at age 95.
"J. Irwin Miller applied his faith to all areas of his life," commented NCC General Secretary Bob Edgar. "He felt the Gospel message had to be relevant, and he worried that a number of Christians and Christian leaders were not as courageous as they should be. He sought to keep the church faithful, relevant and effective."
Miller once said, "I believe there is no area in life which should not be governed by Christian principles. Christianity should speak to labor leaders, business leaders, politicians, doctors, lawyers and bankers."
Combating poverty and racism were especially important to Miller. As Dr. Edgar described him to the Columbus, Ind., newspaper The Republic, "Here was a fairly wealthy individual with a true passion for the poor and a true passion for all people amid the racism of the 1950s and 1960s."
Author James F. Findlay, Jr., in his 1993 book "Church People in the Struggle: The National Council of Churches and the Black Freedom Movement, 1950-1970," wrote that as NCC president, Miller pressed the church not to "miss serving the clear need of our time." That required sensitivity, imagination and excitement, he told the NCCs General Board, for if plans and programs do not "fire the hearts and spirits of men and women" they will "come to nothing."
Under Millers leadership, in 1963, the NCC founded the Commission on Religion and Race, which coordinated organized religions support for strong civil rights legislation, and jointly sponsored the March on Washington.
He led a religious leaders delegation that met with President John F. Kennedy on June 17, 1963, just two days before Kennedy introduced his first major piece of civil rights legislation into Congress, the eventual Civil Rights Act of 1964. Miller chaired that meeting and oversaw follow up at the Presidents request.
Miller met with the newly sworn in Lyndon Johnson Dec. 9, 1963, days after Kennedy's assassination, along with other NCC leaders to reaffirm their support for passage of strong Civil Rights legislation and to discuss with Johnson how the churches might best work for the cause of racial justice.
An alternate delegate from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to the NCCs Constituting Convention in 1950, Miller served on the steering committee for the NCCs 50th Anniversary Celebration in November 1999. Both meetings were held in Cleveland, Ohio.
In between, he represented his denomination as an NCC General Board member (1952ff), serving on the Board's Business and Finance and Policy and Strategy committees. He also served as chair of the Message Committee at the 1957 NCC General Assembly held in St. Louis, and also served as vice-chairman of the general department of United Church Men.
He served as Vice Chairman of the NCC Division of Christian Life and Work, 1957-60. The division dealt with such matters as the Church and Economic Life, International Affairs and Social Welfare. Among accomplishments under his leadership: the launching of the Nationwide Program for Peace in 1959, which included a meeting of 100 church leaders with President Eisenhower at the White House.
The Commission on Religion and Race, founded in June 1963, in its first four months alone participated in anti-segregation demonstrations and interracial services of worship in the Deep South; sent teams of troubleshooters to many specific areas of tension when invited; helped release on bail more than 90 persons; helped induce a national bonding company for the first time to provide bond for civil rights cases in Mississippi, and jointly sponsored the March on Washington with nine other groups.
"In his later years, J. Irwin Miller remained actively interested in the National Council of Churches," commented Dr. Edgar, who talked with Miller in person or by phone periodically since becoming NCC general secretary in January 2000. "He was especially supportive of the NCCs priority work to rebuild burned Black churches, to combat poverty and to revision its own life and mission for the 21st century."
Miller led the Cummins Engine Co. for more than 40 years, overseeing its transformation from a small Indiana firm to a Fortune 500 company with more than 25,000 employees in 131 countries and more than $6 billion in annual sales.
In its statement marking his passing, the Cummins Company said Miller would "be eulogized as a great business leader, social activist and philanthropist whose influence will continue well into the 21st century."
Miller transformed Columbus, Ind., into a city of architectural wonders, attracting prominent architects and earning Columbus the nickname the Athens of the Prairie. For that, the NCCs Department of Worship and the Arts in 1992 presented him with an award celebrating his "lifetime of service to worship and the arts."
An early anti-apartheid activist, Miller shut down the Cummins factory in South Africa to protest apartheid and helped write legislation in 1986 that led to economic sanctions against South Africa, the Indianapolis Star reported. James Joseph, former U.S. ambassador to South Africa and Cummins vice president, told The Republic that Martin Luther King, Jr., mindful of Millers business ethics and anti-racism work, "once called him the most socially responsible businessman in the country."
Miller was a long-time trustee of Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.
The Rev. Dr. Brenda Girton-Mitchell of Washington, D.C., NCC Director of Public Policy, will represent the NCC at the memorial service for Miller, scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 21, at North Christian Church, Columbus, Ind. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the North Christian Church Endowment Fund, 850 Tipton Lane, Columbus, Ind., or to an organization of interest to the donor.
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