Whether larger liberties emerge swiftly or slowly for Spanish Protestants now seems contingent on which of two viewpoints carries the day in government circles. Some government leaders favor immediate enactment of constitutional guarantees to improve Spain’s image on the European scene, while others contend that it would be easier to implement Protestant liberties if they were proclaimed after the Vatican Council’s next session and had the benefit of Pope Paul’s encouragement.
Spanish Protestants now consider the development of a new religious situation inevitable. But their enthusiasm is limited by the fact that the content of the proposed law has not been made known publicly. The phrasing reportedly has been subject to two types of restrictive pressure by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. The Evangelical Council for Spain will meet in Barcelona, strongest center of evangelical activity, April 28–29, and will consider a national meeting of Spanish Protestant leaders to face aspects of religious intolerance.
Some Catholic churchmen have urged that Protestant privileges be approved in the form, not of constitutional law, but rather of government decree. Such a decree is inferior to law, since it must respect former laws and depends upon their interpretation. The present law accords Protestants only the right of private worship; it gives them no assured legal standing. For that reason such a development in effect would suspend the opening of Protestant churches and schools and the publication and distribution of Protestant literature upon the discretion of politically powerful local bishops. Protestant leaders, however, think this maneuver has failed. Pope John XXIII reportedly approved constitutional guarantees for Spanish Protestants before his death, and Pope Paul’s concurrence is widely taken for granted.
Under the Spanish concordat with the Vatican, Roman Catholicism is the only recognized religion, is state-supported, and is wholly responsible for primary education in Spain. Up to now Protestants have carried on their work in Spain by government tolerance. Despite periodic harassment and opposition, they now have two seminaries, a Bible school, a half dozen day schools, and more than 400 churches. Although church membership numbers 30,000, attendance runs 50,000. Last year alone twelve new chapels were opened.
If the pressures for government decree rather than law have failed, a second line of ecclesiastical influence is giving evangelicals more concern. Usually reliable sources report that the proposed law is now so worded that it may automatically take away half of what it seems to offer. Article XVIII, drawn up last year, not only proposes liberties for Spanish Protestants but reportedly also prohibits “proselyting”—an undefined term that might become a weapon to exclude evangelism.
Even the half-way proposal would find a Protestant welcome, however, since the present law makes no room whatever for any public religious manifestation other than Roman Catholic. “Any change can only be an improvement,” comments Jose Cardona, secretary of the Evangelical Defense Commission. “We shall press the cause of religious liberty step by step, until every measure of intolerance is defeated.”
The situation of Spanish Protestants has received increasing publicity in the European press since the visit to Madrid on February 24 of Eugen Gerstenmaier, president of the West German Bundestag, while on a political mission concerning the Common Market. Gerstenmaier requested a meeting with Protestant leaders, then told journalists that the treatment of the problems of Protestants in Spain is “the touchstone of Spain’s earnestness” in joining other European nations in efforts like the Common Market. As Gerstenmaier posed it, the issue is whether Spain really intends to share in the transformation of modern Europe or to remain in the Middle Ages. This critique evoked considerable comment in the Continental press outside Spain. Editorial writers asked whether Spain might at long last see the dawn of a new religious freedom in which Protestants would be accorded the same liberties that Catholics enjoy in other European nations.
Spanish Protestants are heartened by increasing interest in their predicament shown by German and British spokesmen. They have been disappointed and even dismayed by the silence of the U. S. State Department, which seems to pursue a hands-off policy.
Gerstenmaier’s thrust in behalf of the Spanish Protestants did not stop at this point. Sharing the anxieties over any restriction on Protestant missionary effort, he stressed that evangelism is part of the very soul of Protestantism and that a denial of evangelistic opportunity infringes on Christian liberty.
In the background of these developments touching Protestants some observers detect aspects of a church-state tug-of-war. There are signs of a new anti-Protestant crusade in regional Catholic publications. But some government leaders clearly resent hierarchical pressures and show a growing interest in the Protestant situation. Madrid authorities have just approved the public listing by hotels of the time and place of Protestant services. Recently the Supreme Court ruled against a 1961 government edict that barred a Protestant group in Valencia from establishing a church, declaring that edict null and void. Yet in Chiclana de Sigura, in central Spain, a Protestant (independent) church remains closed. For many months local civil authorities refused to answer the Madrid government’s request for an explanation, after Protestants filed an appeal. In response to government insistence, local authorities sent a list of fifty names—mostly of local reprobates with police records, socialists, and Communists—representing these as the church members. Protestants then informed Madrid that there were only twenty-five members of the church and that the civil guard had falsified the list. Madrid authorities now face a situation in which local Protestants have been officially defamed by regional officials.
Story Of A Book
Some forty years ago, poor health forced Dr. Henry H. Halley out of the pastorate. He began to use his spare moments to memorize portions of the Bible. One Sunday morning, in a guest pulpit appearance, he decided to recite Scripture rather than preach, and that was the start of a wide ministry in which he merely quoted from the Bible from memory. But to help his audience understand, he would preface his recitations with background instruction. The instruction became somewhat standardized, and he compiled it into a sixteen-page booklet, Suggestions for Bible Study. The booklet had popular appeal, and he continued to add material to it. By this week, during which Halley celebrates his ninetieth birthday, the work had gone into its twenty-third edition. Long known as Halley’s Bible Handbook, the 968-page volume is one of the few religious books that have sold more than a million copies.
An Undawning Twilight
Undeterred by a furor of controversy with protests from the Anglican Primate and the former Prime Minister of Canada, which doubtless drove countless television viewers to their sets, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s production, “Open Grave,” was shown on schedule during Easter week. It purported to be a modern coverage—with press, TV cameras, and all—of the discovery in a Toronto cemetery of a mysteriously uncovered coffin, subsequently found empty, in which the body of Joshua Corbett had been enclosed. Head of the Peace and Action group, which had been responsible for the shutdown by peaceful strikes of numerous arms plants across Canada, he had been hanged in a local jail some forty-eight hours earlier. From the commentator at the crowded graveside, filling in until the police chief received permission to open the coffin, to the studio, where a résumé of the circumstances leading to the dead man’s framed conviction for capital murder was interspersed by shots of his past, his boyhood farm home, previously televised interviews with former acquaintances, the man on the street with a mike shoved at him, the conclusion of the trial, and the jailyard during the execution, every detail follows the now familiar pattern of such events.
To those ignorant of Scripture, it could be just another CBC hour, with a gimmick of a bizarre fictional happening made real by familiar TV personalities. To the initiate there was the stimulus of recognizing labored and not-so-obvious parallels: The betrayal of Joshua by his follower, Jerome Ingram (Judas Iscariot); his refusal to speak in his own defense at his trial; the discovery of the open grave by ex-prostitute Marion Morrison (Mary Magdalene); the testimony of Martin Linden (Matthew Levi) and of Jeffrey Benson, who had been at the execution and the funeral (John Ben Zebedee?); an urbane attorney general (Pontius Pilate).
No one could criticize the respectful earnestness of the treatment, the artistry of direction, the competence of acting. But the biblical student will query the following departures from the elaborately drawn parallel. In view of Pilate’s statement, “I find no fault in Him,” why was J. C. depicted as convicted for the shooting of a policeman? The obvious answer—that the charges of sabotage which were to be laid against him would not bring the death penalty—lends color to the strong suggestion that the entire plot against Christ was engineered by vested interests, an implication that is true but by no means the whole truth. Why was the traitor made to shoot himself after seeing on TV the opening of the grave? Why were all the disciples portrayed as openly demonstrating with placards (HE DIES FOR US, LOVE NOT HATE) at the moment of execution, when on the historical occasion there is no record of their presence? Especially, why did Mary Magdalene’s story, “I told a man who works there; he was nice, though” (that was obviously the gardener), stop there with no suggestion of having seen Joshua Corbett alive, of having told the disciples; indeed with no suggestion at all of the resurrection, apart from the vague answer, “Oh he’ll come back”? And why was Mary Magdalene portrayed as a neurotic of limited mentality with Zasu Pitts’s gestures, whose identification as a “call girl” strikes the only humorous note in the production?
But for the Christian the play falls with a dull thud. The delineation of Joshua Corbett as an idealistic pacifist with faith-healing powers, the omission in any context of a single mention of God, drastically limit its impact. There is only one pregnant moment of emotional depth, when the camera flashes from one to the other grief-stricken face, as the jail bell tolls the execution and the black-jacket boys drive their noisy motorcycles around and around the disciples in calloused curiosity. Yet from the comments of those who knew him, from uncomprehending villagers to a once-skeptical physician, no Person emerges. Only a vague unsatisfactory figure, beside whom the scriptural account and experiential reality of our risen Lord stand in glorious relief. These were among the reflections on J. C.:
“A strange lonesome boy,” fighting temptation to suicide; “Used to sneak up behind you, that’s what I didn’t like about him” (a man in the village).
“He was just a good man who helped everybody, liked people to be good, to be clean, if you know what I mean. He could make people well, too” (Mary Magdalene).
“A very humble, deeply sincere man opposed to violence in any form. He made me understand the urgency of peace and the need of fighting for it” (physician).
The healing darkness of Good Friday, the radiance of Easter, are intensified by the depressive, undawning twilight of this play’s atmosphere. Yet from this elaborate $60,000 production, as from the older sacrilege of such books as The Brook Kidron and The Man Who Lived Again, one note of cheer emerges: the world cannot leave Him alone; it cannot ignore the empty grave.
Persecution: Twentieth-Century Style
A trio of disgruntled young people in Minneapolis admitted last month that they had subjected a noted evangelical scholar and Ids family to a nine-week campaign of harassment. Their complaint was that the scholar, Dr. Timothy L. Smith, was “religiously bigoted” because he uttered a prayer in his history class at the University of Minnesota. For that the Smiths were made victims of recurrent false alarms, fake deliveries, obscene letters, and abusive telephone calls.
On one occasion, police said, the trio convinced the Smiths’ 13-year-old daughter that her father was dead. Another time a Roman Catholic priest was directed to the Smith home to administer last rites. In still another instance an anonymous midnight caller told Minneapolis police that there had been a killing at the Smith address.
Smith and his family are members of the Church of the Nazarene. He is author of a classic study, Revivalism and Social Reform, which was one of the books chosen last year to be placed in the White House Library.
Among those who admitted planning the campaign of harassment was a 21-year-old woman who had taken a course under Smith and earned an ‘A’ in it. Also implicated were the woman’s 20-year-old former roommate and a 23-year-old student announcer at the university radio station.
The young people said they ended the abuse because it did not seem to be having any effect.
Setbacks In Missionary Aviation
A newly purchased plane of the Bolivian Indian Mission crashed in the Andes Mountains last month, killing four persons. Among the victims was Walter Herron, 53, veteran missionary pilot who was at the controls of the single-engine Cessna 180.
It was the fourth fatal accident in missionary aviation within a year. In each case the plane was an American-built Cessna 180, a model which until now has been regarded as especially suitable for rigorous missionary use.
Also killed with Herron was a Cessna employee and his two children. They were traveling from the Bolivian capital of La paz to Cochabamba, where the North American-supported BIM has its main headquarters. Cause of the crash was not determined.
Herron, a native of Australia, had served as a missionary in Bolivia for thirty years. The new plane was to have been used by his 24-year-old son, Robert, also a missionary pilot.
‘Perturbed And Pained’
The International Council of Christian Churches lost its British Consultative Committee last month. The committee severed its connection with ICCC in a dramatic announcement charging that its officers and members “have been gravely perturbed and pained these last eighteen months by certain developments emanating in the first instance from the action of some of the officials and committees of the ICCC.”
The British committee said it made representations to ICCC leaders, “but although the British brethren surely have a fuller knowledge and a better understanding of the religious situation in their own United Kingdom than have nationals of other lands, these representations were not heeded.”
A resolution passed by the British committee also noted that “it has become evident through recent events that the administration of the ICCC has overridden the Committee with respect to the testimony and activity in Great Britain.”
The ICCC is headed by Dr. Carl McIntire. Its headquarters are located at Collingswood, New Jersey.
Ties were broken with “deepest regret,” the British committee’s statement said. The committee declared that its action was accomplished “after much discussion and prayer” and “with the utmost Christian love to its brethren within the ICCC.” The committee added that “in no respect whatsoever does it change its position of loyalty to the Scriptural Doctrines of the historic Christian Faith or its protest against the apostate Ecumenical Movement.”
Refugees In Distress
Protestant church groups have undertaken the resettlement of 8,000 refugee-squatters in the Sealdah railway station of Calcutta, India, Religious News Service reported. The situation there has been described as the worst refugee problem in the world.
Since the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, several million Hindu refugees crowded into India from the Muslim state of Pakistan. Calcutta, less than a hundred miles from the East Pakistan border, was almost overwhelmed. Living wherever they could, more than 1,200 families set up “housekeeping” in Sealdah station. On the platforms, in the booking offices, at the entrances, and in the spaces around the bidding a vast shantytown of dirty thatched huts has grown up.
The daily Le Monde of Paris reported recently that thousands of Christians of the Garo tribe also have sought refuge in India.
Meanwhile, in northeastern India, bloody clashes between Hindus and Muslims were continuing. Many hundreds have already been killed this year in riots in Calcutta and in Dacca, East Pakistan.
The Bengal Refugee Service, an agency of the National Christian Council of India, has embarked on a relocation program for refugees in cooperation with the state. The West Bengal government has provided a plot of land near Calcutta in an area where some industries are beginning to develop. Several hundred families have already been relocated. Plans call for 1,200 to be out by June.
Dialogue in Belfast has its limits. Two Protestant ministers invited Roman Catholic priests to address young people’s meetings. But protests became so pronounced (one group even threatened to picket) that both meetings were canceled.
Nevertheless, the ministers of Fisherwick Presbyterian and University Road Methodist Churches in Belfast both got votes of confidence from their boards.
Elsewhere, the incident caused considerable alarm, One presbytery passed a resolution in which it affirms its “steadfast loyalty to those great Scriptural truths which form the basis of the doctrine of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and declares that it will do everything within its power to preserve this Church’s Reformed and Protestant heritage.”
Catholics And Apartheid
A rift in the Roman Catholic hierarchy of South Africa became apparent when Archbishop William P. Whelan of Bloemfontein issued a statement condoning the government’s racial segregation policies. Two other South African archbishops have branded apartheid as “morally indefensible.” Whelan subsequently announced he had issued the statement on his own behalf and not for the entire hierarchy.
Graham In Britain
“About a third of what Sonny Liston got the other night for being beaten by Cassius Clay,” said Billy Graham last month in London, replying to a newsman’s question about the cost of another British crusade. The evangelist had been invited by seventy lay leaders to return next year for another major crusade in Britain and had come to London to discuss the possibility.
During his six-day visit he had talks with the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Prime Minister, and the Leader of the Opposition. Asked how he found morality in Britain, he said he had met only religious and civil leaders, and their moral standards seemed to be very high. (Graham had got into trouble on a previous visit for some forthright statements on the subject.) Addressing some 2,500 at a ministers’ meeting in Westminster, he said that today’s young people are seeking “a flag to follow, a song to sing, a creed to believe.” Their current crazes are ephemeral, he suggested, and he ventured the prophecy that the Beatles would soon get a haircut.
Lord Luke, chairman of the British committee of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, gave a dinner in his honor in Piccadilly’s Criterion Hotel to more than 300, representing the influential in all walks of life. In a brisk speech, General Wilson-Haffenden, who was chairman of Graham’s 1954 British crusade, said the decision to come in 1965 or 1966 was dependent partly on the availability of Earls Court, which has an indoor seating capacity of 27,000. Identifying a fellow general at the dinner who was responsible for hiring out Earls Court, Wilson-Haffenden said: “I don’t know whether he knows what it is to be surrounded by a volume of prayer, but he soon will.”
Although the secular press reported Graham’s visit with little of the hostility so apparent a decade ago, one religious weekly asserted that there was “not the slightest doubt that the majority of thinking churchmen are against a further crusade.” It adduced no evidence for this, however, and one evangelical scholar commented, “Judging from the recently published works and public pronouncements of the ‘thinking churchmen’ this journal evidently has in mind, I am not suprised that they would find Billy Graham’s message unacceptable.”
J. D. DOUGLAS
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