Minutes after his silvery TU-114 appeared on the blue Maryland horizon, Khrushchev—one of the most celebrated international visitors since the Queen of Sheba—was reflecting his high priority for economics.
“I will be glad to talk with statesmen, representatives of the business world, intellectuals, workers and farmers, and to become familiar with the life of the industrious and enterprising American people,” said Khrushchev in response to President Eisenhower’s initial welcome at Andrews Air Force Base.
“It is true that you are richer than we are at present,” the Red leader told a state dinner in the White House the same evening. “But then tomorrow we will be as rich as you are, and the day after tomorrow we will be even richer.”
The next 12 days bore out clearly what his first utterances hinted at: that Khrushchev was toeing the Marxist line which merges the dialectic with economic determinism as the comprehensive key to reality.
Preoccupation with economics characterized Khrushchev’s entire tour of the United States. Absorption in material things shaped an itinerary, moreover, which raises the question whether he really saw a true cross-section of America.
Khrushchev viewed little during his stay that was distinctively Christian or that would underscore America’s great spiritual heritage. This turn of events could be attributed largely to Khrushchev himself. U. S. State Department spokesmen said the course of the tour depended to a great extent upon decisions of the little man whose country had just placed its coat of arms upon the moon.
It was left to Eisenhower to salvage something for the cause of Christian witness, and many clergymen feel his deeds on the final day of Khrushchev’s stay represented the most devout gesture during his entire term of office. Eisenhower not only broke into top-level talks with Khrushchev to attend a Sunday morning worship service, but invited the Red leader to accompany him. Khrushchev declined, explaining that an acceptance would shock the Russian people. But the impact of the President’s spiritual priorities was firmly registered.
“I am personally an atheist,” Khrushchev had said earlier in Los Angeles. Yet nobody could deny his religion-like devotion to Red materialism. His natural religious inclinations seem diverted wholly to the thesis that man’s basic need is economic, and it was precisely this concern which dominated his interest in America.
Business leaders made up the large bulk of his private dinner guests throughout the trip. In New York it was the Economic Club which got to sponsor a banquet for him. In Washington it was the Journal of Commerce.
Economic interests vitalized many of Khrushchev’s U. S. speeches, too. In his oft-repeated mirnoe soshuschestvovanie—peaceful coexistence—the trade angle was prominent. Even when he spoke of disarmament, the Soviet chief revealed that he was thinking of its significance in channeling Soviet defense funds to consumer goods. He remarked publicly in San Jose, California, that the most amiable contacts of his U. S. tour were with business leaders.
The economic overtones were evident despite Khrushchev’s insistence that he had not come here to beg. “Trade is like a barometer,” he said in New York. “It shows the direction of the development of policy.”
One of the more surprising aspects of Khrushchev’s approach was his use of references to deity. He used far more Christian expressions than he heard from Americans. The fact that this practice contradicted his professed atheism illustrates his willingness to brush aside logic for convenience.
Clergy reaction to Khrushchev’s pious pronouncements dismissed them as (1) a tactic to establish common ground, and (2) Russian expressions which no longer imply belief in their truthfulness.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the visit—widely ignored—was its effect upon the masses who live under Communist domination against their will. Were they losing hope? Reliable reports of reaction were scarce.
Some observers feel that discontent in Iron Curtain countries is diminishing in view of Communist technological improvements. There is speculation that space conquests have stirred national pride to the extent that the government has picked up more respect from the populace.
There were sound arguments, however, for the opposite view. In testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the Khrushchev visit was characterized as a “terrific victory for communism.”
“It amounts to a body blow to the morale of resistance in the Communist world,” said Eugene Lyons, a senior editor of the Reader’s Digest and former correspondent to Russia who has written a biography of Khrushchev. “It’s a betrayal of the hopes of the enemies of communism within that world, and their numbers can be counted by the hundred million.”
Whatever the merits of his visit, many U. S. Christians seized the opportunity to promote special prayers for Khrushchev. And who can say, they will ask, that the Holy Spirit did not deal with his heart?
Some quarters nonetheless lamented the fact that, in the framework of his own preferences, the influences of American Judeo-Christian tradition were not presented in a more favorable light.
Most distressing was the episode at 20th Century Fox studios, where the Khrushchev party was exposed to three “Can-Can” scenes, featuring a wild dance with suggestive skirt-flipping climaxed when a male runs off with a leading lady’s bloomers.
The Russians were detained at the studios beyond time allotted while movie producers, eager for expanded markets, were making their impression. The bid backfired.
“We don’t want our people to see that kind of trash,” Khrushchev was reported to have remarked later. He publicly referred to the dance as “immoral” and called it a form of pornography. The development had played into his hands and Khrushchev had come out as the apparent champion of a high morality.
In a private audience with seven top labor leaders the following evening in San Francisco, Khrushchev was said to have mimicked the dancers by stooping over and flipping his coat tails.
The Press Corps
David E. Kucharsky, News Editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, was the only representative of the religious press to accompany Khrushchev on his U. S. tour.
To cover this significant visit for CHRISTIANITY TODAY readers, Kucharsky joined a press corps of some 250 in traveling with Khrushchev. The correspondents, officially accredited by the U. S. State Department, came from many parts of the world. Among them were 21 newsmen from Communist lands.
• Evangelical Literature Overseas (sponsors of the second annual World Literature Sunday, October 11) is recruiting a corps of “Big Brothers”—Christian printers willing to lend technical assistance in missionary publication work.
• President Eisenhower is reported to be preparing a Thanksgiving Day proclamation based on Psalm 67.
• Alojzije Cardinal Stepinac will be permitted to resume his duties as Primate of the Roman Catholic church in Yugoslavia after completion of his prison term, according to one of the nation’s Communist leaders. The cardinal’s term, imposed for alleged wartime collaboration with German and Italian occupying forces, expires in about two years.
• A special Federal court ruled last month that Pennsylvania’s law requiring Bible reading and recitation of the Lord’s prayer in public schools is unconstitutional. An appeal is pending to the U. S. Supreme Court.
• The National Association of Evangelicals’ theme for its 1959 “NAE Week”—October 18–25—is “Standing for the Changeless Word in a Changing World.”
• Americans this year are spending almost twice as much on cigarettes as they contribute to their churches, according to a U. S. Department of Agriculture report.
• The Unitarian Universalist Church of the Reconciliation was dropped from the Council of Churches of Utica and Oneida County (New York) last month because the congregation would not acknowledge “Jesus Christ as divine Lord and Savior.”
• Simultaneous dinners in Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco launched a $7,500,000 Christian Higher Education Fund campaign last month for the General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches.
• One hundred and fifty-three representatives of major Protestant radio and literature ministries in 23 Latin American countries wound up a six-day “Congress on Evangelical Communications” in Cali, Colombia, last month by forming a new radio-TV organization to be known as DIA (Difusiones Inter-Americanas).
• First portions of a revised version of Martin Luther’s translation of the Old Testament will soon be submitted for approval to member churches of the Evangelical Church in Germany.
• A new law in Manitoba empowers the province to “step in quickly” to provide medical care for children, even if parents protest on religious grounds.
• The Anglican Synod of Sydney plans to probe the “increasing emphasis on sex in Australia.”
• The Church of England has only 9,691,000 confirmed members 13 years and over out of a total of 26,771,000 persons who have been baptized in the church, according to a Religious News Service report based on a new book of Anglican statistics.
• The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia opened a high school in New York last month, its first secondary institution in America.
• International Child Evangelism Fellowship, Inc., is moving its general headquarters from Pacific Palisades, California, to Grand Rapids, Michigan.
• The United Presbyterian Board of Christian Education came out with a new magazine this month. The publication, called Hi Way, is designed for senior high youth.
• The Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, with offices in Washington, is asking its seven supporting national conventions to expand its program and double its annual budget.
• Juvenile delinquency set a grim new record in 1958, according to the FBI. Arrest statistics collected from police departments in 1,558 cities with a population of more than 2,500 showed 480,615 arrests involving persons under 21 years of age.
The labor consultation itself deteriorated into what many correspondents interpreted as the worst row of the trip. Factions within the AFL-CIO appeared to be vying for the distinction of which was the more strongly anti-Communist. One group boycotted the meeting with Khrushchev while the other baited him with questions. Afterward, there was dissension even in the group that met with him over what actually was said.
Khrushchev spent Sunday, September 20, on a train travelling up the California coast and here again he failed to see the real America where some 63 per cent of the population belongs to a church. Morning church hours found hundreds of persons, most wearing leisure togs, lining the tracks for a glimpse of the Red leader. The image of families dressed in Sunday best, Bibles under arm, was conspicuously absent.
It was in San Francisco that the Premier attributed a portion of Communist philosophy to the teachings of Christ. His audience took the remark at face value and applauded him enthusiastically.
The Last Question
Of all questions publicly addressed to Khrushchev during his U. S. visit, the very last was the only one which evoked anything even approaching a serious discussion of religion under communism. It was asked by Edward P. Morgan of the American Broadcasting Company at the end of a news conference held in Washington just a few hours before Khrushchev left to return to Moscow.
MORGAN: “Those of us who went to the U.S.S.R. with Vice President Nixon were surprised at the number of young people in church. If there is an increasing interest in religion, what will be your attitude towards churches?”
KHRUSHCHEV: “Well, first of all I believe the question itself confirms the fact that we do have a full freedom of conscience and religion in our country as we have been saying all along.
“Furthermore, I would like to say that this is partly explained, the large number of young people in churches, perhaps is partly explained by the feeling of curiosity. Young people are curious. I was telling the President the other day that immediately after the war when our Marshal Tolbukhi was returning from Bulgaria, I invited him to my home in Kiev. My grandchildren were very curious to see how a real marshal looked like. They hid and looked from around the corners to see what he was like, what a live marshal was like.
“Many of our young people hear about religion, about God, about saints, about church ceremonies, and they have a curiosity about this. Even if each one of them goes to church only once, they are so numerous that the doors of our churches would never close.
“This feeling of curiosity is very important. For instance, I am sure that many people in this country ran out to see me because they wanted to see a living Communist from the Soviet Union. It is the same way in our country. If a capitalist comes to our country, our people, our young people, want to take a look, to see if he has a tail as an attribute to his person.
“So there is nothing surprising about these things.”
Though gesturing dramatically, Khrushchev replied evasively. He cited what presumably he believes is the reason for the religious interest of Russian young people, but he failed to face up to the heart of the question, which inquired of K’s attitude toward such interest.
Khrushchev, while in San Francisco, visited the Top of the Mark, “probably the world’s most famous bar,” but he made no attempt to view a church there or elsewhere or to meet any of the nation’s religious leaders. Not until he got to Pittsburgh did he hear an invocation (by Dr. Howard C. Scharfe, prominent Presbyterian minister).
Evangelical observers, assessing some of the adverse effects of the Khrushchev visit, expressed the hope that Eisenhower will seek a more objective and realistic view of the citadel of communism when he visits the Soviet Union next spring. Many hope he will press the distinction between religious freedom and religious tolerance. They would like him to take a good look, not only at the Moscow showcase, but at the Siberia so notorious for banishments.
Clergy reaction to Khrushchev’s U. N. disarmament proposal was sparse, with most realizing that the plan contained nothing new, that it was merely the restatement of an ideal with no accompanying explanation as to how it could be achieved. There was some speculation that the four-year time element might have been geared for a climax to take place during the 1964 U. S. election campaign with the Red hope that, for the sake of an issue, some politicians might be willing to pick up the Soviet line.
It was significant that Khrushchev never sought to spell out particulars of Communist philosophy. There is reason to believe that he may have attributed to Americans a lack of conviction about democracy and the Judeo-Christian tradition and felt he could well afford to evade coming to grips with the basic conflicts they have with communism. He failed to demonstrate how the free world could depend upon an agreement with powers which subordinate international commitments to the interests of their own state. There was nothing to indicate that he has changed his mind since last March, when he was reported to have told Communists at a Leipzig fair:
“You should not take too seriously the treaties made with the imperialists. Lenin, too, signed a peace treaty after World War I that remained valid only so long as it proved necessary.”
Among U. S. Air Force personnel who helped Soviet airmen fly Khrushchev’s giant four-engine turboprop to Washington and back to Moscow was Captain Harold Renegar, 35, a veteran pilot who is an active member of the Temple Hills Baptist Church in Washington, D. C.
Renegar, who speaks Russian, was converted at the age of nine in the Evans Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, under the ministry of Dr. Ramsay Pollard, now president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Renegar studied at Baylor University and while there traveled with a male quartet which sang at special church programs and conventions.
Swords into Plowshares
They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
The passage, found in Isaiah 2 and in Micah 4, is inscribed on a stone wall facing the U. N. building in New York, Khrushchev saw a figurative fulfillment of the prophecy when he visited the John Deere factory near Des Moines, Iowa:
The plant was built early in World War II for manufacture of machine-gun bullets. Today it produces farm implements.
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