A little more than a century ago Livingstone worked his way into the dark interior of Africa to carry the Gospel to the natives. In time came Belgian control of the Congo and with it the domination of Roman Catholicism as the national religion. But Protestants also built a strong missionary work; their program of preaching, teaching, and healing—churches, schools, and hospitals—made the Congo an exemplary mission field.

Many groups cooperated through the years, and today this heritage of missions is symbolized by the Congo Protestant Council. In recent years the missionaries have increasingly emphasized the Congolese church and de-emphasized foreign missions. Behind this transition lay the conviction that the church in the Congo belongs under Christ to the Congolese, and the awareness that the Christians neither understood nor wanted imported divisions. During and after the revolution in June, 1960, the “keys of the church” were hurriedly turned over to the Congolese. Implications of this change of role are still being worked out. Socio-economic and political deterioration in Congo-Leopoldville after the revolution bred many frustrations—waste of money, time, and effort. Many a missionary consoled himself with the possibility that the apostolic church may have faced similar problems and with the awareness that in hundreds of scattered villages real vitality remained in the Congolese church. Beyond all doubt the church was firmly established in the Congo. The Gospel was spreading into new and hitherto unreached areas; noteworthy additions were continually reported.

If the Congolese did not understand the problems that had provoked Western Protestant divisions, neither did they comprehend the problems more recently posed by ecumenical union. Neither the ecumenical pressures at work in the Federated Union of Churches of Leopoldville nor the ecumenical advisor brought from Geneva possessed a magic wand to dissolve multiplicity into unity.

Various patterns of missionary activity continued. Some mission organizations not integrated with the Congolese church nonetheless established indigenous churches as an aid to that church. Others viewed their mission as an aspect of the church in the Congo, not as a separate mission or church. A large mediating group held that while major responsibility must be turned over to the church, a place remains for a separate mission until a reasonable, just, and legal turnover of properties can be made. Leico, the publishing house that provides a united Protestant witness in the Congo, is an interesting example of the problems of ecumenical absorption. Owned by twenty-one different organizations—mostly mission efforts—it desires its autonomy, free of control by any council. Yet four of its eleven full directors are Congolese.

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Important problems remained—the ex-patriate missionaries, for one. The role of missionaries as administrative agents for churches of other countries was complicated by the sensitivities of the “sending Christian communities.” If old denominational rivalries had created this problem at one level, Anglo-Saxon ecumenical ambitions sometimes seemed subtly to perpetuate it at another. Not a few pastors were disturbed because standards for entry into the churches had lowered since independence. Many Congolese viewed the task of witnessing to the Gospel as vastly more important than organizational efficiency. They preferred a preoccupation with biblical questions to burdensome cultural baggage in matters of church union, and considered the distinction between inclusion in the Body of Christ and affiliation with the “organized church” increasingly important.

The unfinished evangelistic task remains the great burden of the lively Congolese churches. Progress in this effort is faced by two major problems.

Will the Gospel overcome deep-seated tribal divisions among the Congolese peoples? How is the Christian to identify himself in the midst of these intense tribal loyalties, which take precedence over loyalty to the government and to one’s geographical situation, and even over loyalty to the church? The implications of tribalism are not merely national but social and religious. Tribal factions exist within the church in the Congo, and some national Christians feel they can do little to stem the tide of tradition. By tribal tradition a wife ceases to remain a member of her tribe but becomes a member of her husband’s tribe. Yet in time of war and conflict she returns to her own tribe. In more than one instance a tribe has destroyed all members of another tribe in certain villages even when some members of both tribes belonged to the same church. How are true Christians—in contrast with those who have simply “taken the white man’s religion”—to identify themselves in the midst of these tensions? What does it mean, in turn, that even among the white missionaries there are “tribal loyalties” of a sort: that Belgian and Swiss and American workers cling together? Do they need to solve the same problem for themselves? By force of circumstance, the white missionaries labor within a single tribe. Natives from various tribes attend the same Bible schools or institutes, but when they graduate they return to witness and work among their own tribes. Nevertheless, native Christians are seeking a way to present Christianity in a super-tribal witness. One Congolese pastor refused to go to tribal war with his blood brethren and thus gave new courage to church members reluctant to participate in such a war. And missionaries are awakening to the extremely important evangelistic significance of the large urban centers with their influx of migrants, among whom tribal loyalties most readily crumble.

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What spiritual and moral influences survive in the lives of the many Congolese whose sole contact with Christianity was their attendance at Protestant mission schools? What of government leaders who are graduates of such schools but who have ceased to be effective Christians in their personal lives as well as in their professional lives? What of those who retain a sentimental and emotional attachment to Protestant Christianity but lack a personal commitment to Christ and to the Bible; or of those who have drifted away from a basic profession of faith? Will they contribute to a paganizing of churches whose future is now in the hands of the Congolese themselves? Will they too, as victims of Communist propagandists and agitators, fall into preoccupation with politics?

Never in the history of Christianity in the Congo have such questions assumed larger import than in the aftermath of the Stanleyville massacres. Our hearts reach out to the suffering Congolese. Some have been deceived by Communists; others have fought against them; still others have watched and waited, not knowing where to turn. We pray for the peace of the Congo, a troubled land. The slaughter of white missionaries by Communist-inspired rebels is a testing-time for Congolese Christians, forcing upon their leaders the urgency of a new vision of mass evangelism and a fresh understanding of Christian vocation. They know that Christianity is not doomed in Africa, and that Africa is indeed doomed without Christ. How to reach the African for Christ remains the task of the church in the Congo.

We’Re Still One Nation Under God

What the Supreme Court did not do last month may indicate what it will do in the future. Its refusal to hear an appeal that sought to eliminate the phrase “under God” in the pledge of allegiance to the United States flag may be a hint that the court is not minded to decide all spiritual claims in public life in terms of absolute negation. This should allay some of the apprehension that many felt after the court struck down Bible reading and prescribed prayers in the public schools. Its recent decision not to adjudicate formally the appeal against the pledge of allegiance may indicate the approach the court will take to cases now pending, or said to be pending, on opening prayer in House and Senate, chaplains in Congress, chapels and chaplains in the military, naval, and air force academies, and the taking of an oath of office by public officials.

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By refusing to hear the appeal, the Supreme Court in effect left intact the pledge with its acknowledgment of “one nation under God.” We believe the court acted wisely in allowing the recognition of God to remain in the pledge of allegiance to the flag. We also believe that it will continue to act wisely if in the cases pending it refuses to move in the direction of a nation that acts in its public life as if God were non-existent. Had the court decided against the phrase “under God” in the official flag salute adopted by Congress in 1954, its position would have rendered impossible any consistent defense of the mention of God in public ceremonies or even on coins.

When the Supreme Court decides not to hear an appeal, it merely announces its decision, giving no reasons and putting nothing down in writing. This leaves the American people to find their own reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with the court’s action. The reasons given by those who uphold the action often confuse the basic issue.

Thus the Washington Post, for example, agreed editorially with the court and then went on to infer the reasons for the court’s action. The Post contended that the flag pledge that we are “one nation under God” is “in no sense an act of worship” and for that matter “not a religious observance.” “Consequently,” the Post declared, “it has nothing to do with … the separation of church and state.” In this approach, the reasons given in defense of the court are more transparently weak than those given by the appellant to the court for an opposite decision. Admittedly, saying the pledge is not praying or engaging in a formal act of worship; but it is a religious act, and no mere verbalism can hide this from parents who know better and who appealed to the Supreme Court because it is a religious act. No acceptable definition of separation of church and state can be achieved if one holds that only formal religious acts are religious acts.

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Similarly, James E. Allen, Jr., New York State Commissioner of Education, defended the inclusion of “under God” by asserting that it is not, in view of the nation’s history, an “essentially religious exercise.” But if the public assertion that this country is one nation under God is not essentially religious, what is it?

As was said, the court gave no reasons for last month’s decision. But when it rendered its prayer decision in 1963, Justice William J. Brennan referred to the pledge of allegiance: “The reference to Divinity in the revised pledge of allegiance, for example, may merely recognize the historical fact that our Nation was believed to have been founded ‘under God.’ ” Even if we ignore the fact that “under God” was added in 1954, the argument is transparently weak. He who recites the pledge is not merely reciting a historical fact. He is declaring his allegiance to his flag and country, and the words “under God” are as much a part of his declaration as anything else contained in the pledge. Should not he who pledges his loyalty mean all of what he says?

The Supreme Court’s decision to leave the official allegiance pledge alone comports with our national history and with the intent of the framers of the First Amendment, who never intended an absolute detachment of the nation from recognition of the Deity in public life. The First Amendment excludes preferential sectarian treatment—for atheists no less than for theists of whatever kind. It protects the plurality of religious denominations from government control, and it protects government from the control of any group that would impose its own concept of religious pluralism or monism on public life. The Supreme Court, to its credit, realized that the best way to perpetuate this heritage is to let things remain as they stand.

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