As the last American prisoners of war headed home from North Viet Nam, those who had preceded them confirmed and expanded reports of a spiritual movement in the prison camps (see March 2 issue, page 50). Details about life in the prisons are sketchy—the military POWs were maintaining a strict “code of silence” until the last prisoner was freed—but the returnees talked quietly and forcefully about their faith and the part it played in sustaining them through captivity.

In San Diego, California, Navy Captain Howard Rutledge, shot down seven years ago, credits his faith and the prayers of “Christian people” for his release in relatively good health. A church dropout and self-described “backslider,” Rutledge said he made several promises to God while in prison. One of them, a promise to join his family’s church, was fulfilled on his first Sunday back in the United States when, before more than 700 worshipers, he joined the First Baptist Church of Clairemont in suburban San Diego. He also gave a testimony and, says pastor Charles Foley, five persons were converted because of it.

Rutledge and other prisoners told of church services that were led by appointed cell-block chaplains. There was even a choir of from four to sixteen voices. The services were organized as treatment improved in later stages of confinement. When guards disrupted the meeting, the men sang louder. Favorite songs included “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “In the Garden” (especially the chorus: “And he walks with me and he talks with me …”), and “God Bless America.” Sermons and devotional talks followed, sometimes with members of different denominations discussing their faiths and the reasons for the various doctrines.

The men also collaborated on a Bible made up of memorized portions. (One returnee dubbed it the “Revised Prison Version.”) A major project, said Captain James E. Ray, a Texas Baptist, was memorization of the Sermon on the Mount from a Bible that guards allowed them to see and copy one hour a week. At one point, Ray said, each man given the opportunity to see the Bible memorized a different passage, and then all shared with fellow prisoners. “We had our own ‘living Bible’ walking around the room,” Ray told the Baptist Standard shortly after his return.

One Easter, the men pieced together enough Scripture on the Last Supper to hold a communion service using oranges and rice wine for the elements. Thanksgiving and Christmas services were “the most meaningful services I’ve ever been a part of,” said Ray. Among Scripture passages cited by returnees as favorites were Psalm 23 and Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”)

Other prisoners told debriefing authorities at Clark Air Base in the Philippines that God appeared to them as they parachuted from destroyed planes. One, a senior officer and one of the longest held prisoners, told of seeing Jesus Christ as he was taken to the prison camp. “As I walked up and down those muddy hills,” he told debriefers, “I would look up and see Christ and he’d say ‘Larry, you’ll make it.’ ”

Another flier, shot down and imprisoned by the Germans in the last months of World War II and later imprisoned for seven years by the North Vietnamese, said that when he landed, he felt God was beside him telling him he could make it—“if you believe in me.” Said the pilot: “I believed and had great faith and I shared that faith within our camp.”

Until the latter years of captivity, the prisoners said, treatment was harsh, and they were often kept in solitary confinement. As world attention focused on their plight, however, conditions improved, and there was greater religious freedom.

“No individual can tell everything that went on,” said Captain Rutledge. “We were never all together. We were in different cells and prisons. Spiritual activities varied widely in each cell block. But each man depended on his own religion and personal experience.” He added: “Generally, we came out better Christians and better men than when we went in.”

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Catholics and Protestants worshiped together. One exception was Christmas Eve in 1969, when several Catholic prisoners were taken to a church in downtown Hanoi. Colonel Tom Sima, one of the men attending the “showcase” service, called it one of the highlights of his stay despite the lights and cameras of reporters, who were apparently used by the North Vietnamese to show the world their “humane” treatment of POWs.

Sima told the Catholic Star Herald, a New Jersey diocesan newspaper, that he wasn’t a “particularly devout Catholic” prior to his capture. The imprisonment, however, deepened his faith. Prisoners would repeat the Lord’s Prayer while in groups, he said, and several Catholics in his cell block also met once a week to repeat the rosary. Sima participated in the choir—which, he said, guards repeatedly tried to drown out. “They’d do their best to discourage us by yelling at us during the services, or screaming at us to shut up. Usually, the louder they shouted, the louder we sang.”

The spiritual activities were not limited to the military captives. Michael Benge, 37, a civilian working with the Agency for International Development (AID), was captured by the Viet Cong outside Ban Me Thuot during the 1968 Tet offensive. Also captured were missionaries Betty Olsen and Henry Blood.

In a press conference and later in discussions with Christian and Missionary Alliance personnel, Benge told a horror tale of untreated diseases, rat-infested cells, and forced marches of hundreds of miles. Choking back tears, he told of the friendship of CMA missionary Betty Olsen and Wycliffe Bible translator Henry Blood, and of how the two died painfully, untreated by their captors. According to Benge, Blood died of malnutrition and pneumonia in July, 1968. Miss Olsen conducted a simple funeral for him in the South Vietnamese jungle. (North. Viet Nam listed Blood as having died in prison in October, 1972.) Benge then described the painful death from malnutrition and dysentery of Miss Olsen. “It took Betty about five days to die, and the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese refused to give her any medication at all,” he told reporters.

Benge said he too would have died had it not been for almost constant nursing care provided by Miss Olsen. At one point she encouraged him to eat while he suffered thirty-five days of delirium.

In a letter to Alliance churches, CMA president Nathan Bailey said Benge told church officials “that he came to a personal faith in Jesus Christ because of the radiant and unfailing demonstration of Christian faith and love that Betty and Henry showed during mistreatment, suffering, and death.”

Benge said he inquired many times about missionaries Archie Mitchell, Eleanor Vietti, and Dan Gerber, captured during 1962. However, he said the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese provided no information on their fate. Among the last POW’s released were nine held by Laotian communists, including two Plymouth Brethren, missionaries—Samuel A. Mattix, 20, of Centralia, Washington, and Lloyd Oppel, 20, of Courtenay, British Columbia.

On The Docket

Parochaid, prayer in public buildings (including schools), and the tax-exempt status of religious organizations are among the issues facing the United States Supreme Court and Congress.

Thirty-seven parochaid cases pending in state and federal courts could be affected by Supreme Court decisions expected during the current session. Eighteen other religion-related cases, such as prayer in public schools, religious symbols on public property, and tax exemptions for religious organizations, are on the docket. Also awaiting Supreme Court action are matters involving alleged government interference with religion. Cited are cases involving selective conscientious objection, job rights of Sabbath observers, Indian use of the peyote drug for religious rites, the theory of evolution, and sex education.

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Meanwhile, nine bills calling for prayer in public schools or buildings were introduced in the first two weeks of the new Congress. One of them calls for a constitutional amendment to allow “voluntary nondenominational prayer” in public places. It was introduced by Senators Hugh Scott and Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania.

Three bills calling for removal of tax-exempt status from organizations that fail to file returns, carry on propaganda activities, attempt to influence legislation, or engage in litigation for third parties have been submitted in the House of Representatives.

Backing Their Man

With the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) heading for a theological showdown in New Orleans in July, backers of incumbent president J. A. O. Preus are intensifying efforts to have their man re-elected and continue the crackdown on what Preus and the denomination’s conservatives feel is unbiblical teaching at the church’s leading seminary, Concordia in St. Louis. At the same time, Preus’s opposition is gearing up around radio preacher Oswald Hoffmann, described as a “moderate,” despite Hoffmann’s denial that he is a candidate for the top job.

A pro-Preus group of laymen and clergy under the name “Crossroads” is circulating a petition among churches and leaders calling for endorsement of Preus. Six of the forty LCMS district presidents signed the petition before the majority of their colleagues on the Council of Presidents came out against circulation of the petition.

A leading Preus critic and Hoffmann backer, Illinois pastor Dean Lueking, took a poll within his own church—and Preus won by a single vote. Angered, and calling the vote a “power play by conservatives” in the congregation, Leuking ordered but later canceled a second vote.

Meanwhile, the Concordia Seminary Board of Control, after a fact-finding committee’s report, voted to “commend” the seminary’s professors, in effect stating they were not guilty of theological error. Preus reportedly had told the board earlier it should either commend or correct the professors where necessary.

Robins(On) In Richmond

The advent of spring at the University of Richmond brought not only robins on the lawn but Robinson in the lecture hall. Students and faculty at the Southern Baptist school last month got a personal preview of a new book by controversial British churchman John A. T. Robinson in a three-part lecture. The book, The Human Face of God, is due for release in May.

Robinson contends that Christ offers “the clue to, though not the exclusive embodiment of, God.… The Christ is God with a human face.” The virgin birth is described as “one possibility” of the origin of Jesus. “If the virgin birth story throws doubts on the humanity of Jesus, then it is very much better that you shouldn’t believe it.” While he was in Virginia’s capital city, the former Anglican bishop of Woolwich (now dean of the chapel at Trinity College, Cambridge) was honored at a reception marking the tenth anniversary of the book that brought him theological notoriety, Honest to God. Dean Thomas A. Langford of Duke University Divinity School was the speaker.

The University of Richmond first came to appreciate Robins in 1969 when an industrialist by that name presented the school with a $50 million gift ($40 million outright plus a $10 million challenge grant). The gift is still said to be the largest in American history to an educational institution.

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Religion In Transit

The Religious Public Relations Council bestowed a Merit Award for outstanding religious journalism on the Washington, D. C., Evening Star and Daily News (religion editor: William Willoughby); Dallas Morning News (Helen Parmley); and the Wooster, Massachusetts, Telegram (George Labonte).

On the third night of a week’s crusade at the First Baptist Church in Nederland, Texas, conducted by student evangelist David Stockwell of Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth, there were 398 professions of faith.

Unhappiness over the politics and liberal theology of the Canadian Council of Churches has led the Union of French Baptist Churches of Canada to disavow any affiliation it may have had with the CCC through the Baptist Federation of Canada.

An executive staffer of the Maryland Catholic Conference warned that Catholic legislators of that state may risk excommunication if they vote for an abortion bill that has been introduced in the legislature.

The eight-denomination Evangelical Council of Puerto Rico (ECPR) protested the manner of selection of island delegates for a recent World Council of Churches meeting on development. ECPR spokesmen say the ten delegates were leftists and did not accurately represent the majority viewpoint of Puerto Rican churchmen.

The biggest block of stock ever traded on the American Stock Exchange—714,000 shares worth about $16.8 million—involved the Vatican, which sold 427,000 of its shares in Vetco Offshore Industries, apparently in response to a Securities and Exchange Commission crackdown on alleged law violations in speculative transactions.

At a luncheon in a Washington, D.C., Baptist church, press attaché Alexander P. Eustafiev of the Soviet embassy acknowledged there were “believers” among his older relatives but not among the younger ones. He estimated that between 10 and 15 per cent of the people in the Soviet Union attend religious services.

A reduction and shakeup of chaplains is apparently under way following the ceasefire in South Viet Nam.

Southern Baptists passed the 12-million membership mark in 34,500 churches in 1972, set a record number of nearly 446,000 baptisms, and reached the billion-dollarlevel in total receipts for the first time. The $1.07 billion represented an increase of $96.2 million over 1971.

Personalia

Dr. Victor Adrian moved from the presidency of Mennonite Brethren Bible College in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to an executive position at Ontario Bible College in Toronto.

Mennonite churchman-author Frank H. Epp will assume the presidency of his denomination’s Conrad Grebel College in Waterloo, Ontario, in August.

Michigan Episcopal bishop Richard S. M. Emrich, 63, born in Turkey of missionary parents, has retired; his successor is H. Coleman McGehee.

Presbyterian minister Hugh McHenry Miller of Dover, New Jersey, was elected chairman of the General Commission on Chaplains and Armed Forces Personnel, a civilian agency in Washington maintained by forty-one affiliated religious bodies.

Miss America, Terry Ann Meeuwsen, 23, who used to sing with the New Christy Minstrels, says she received Christ two years ago while reading Campus Crusade’s “Four Spiritual Laws” before a concert. Later, five of the other eight Minstrels became Christians, she adds.

Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle, 77, of Washington, D. C., a central figure in the world’s most sensational fight over Pope Paul’s 1968 encyclical reaffirming the ban on artificial contraception (O’Boyle put down a revolt by fifty-four of his priests), retired. His successor: Bishop William W. Baum of a Missouri diocese, an ecumenical-affairs specialist.

World Scene

The dollar devaluation has placed the World Council of Churches in “an acute financial situation.” The WCC Central Committee meeting set for Helsinki in August has been shifted to Geneva, and WCC general secretary Philip A. Potter is on tour apprising U. S. churches of the crisis.

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A high-level court in London awarded custody of a divorcee’s three children to her ex-husband because she is a Jehovah’s Witness. Her beliefs would tend to isolate the children from mainstream society, the court ruled.

A proposed new constitution for Syria calls for a socialist state and freedom of religion. Serious disorders, resulting in scores of injuries and deaths, erupted as Muslim militants demonstrated for a declaration that Islam be the state religion, according to Lebanese press reports.

Members of Hungary’s “free churches” (Baptists, Methodists, Moravians, and Pentecostals) fear new government restrictions are ahead. A pastor and treasurer of a Budapest Pentecostal church were arrested recently on assembly-without-permission charges.

The new Vatican yearbook ($170 per copy) estimates there were 659 million Catholics throughout the world at the end of 1970, an increase of 26 million over the previous year.

Publication of the New Testament in Pidgin (1969) has made such an impact that Pidgin may become the official language when Papua New Guinea (population: 2.3 million) becomes independent, say some Lutheran observers. The Evangelical Lutheran Church is the country’s largest religious body.

The ecumenical movement should study the Pentecostal movement, declares a World Council of Churches study document written by Franciscan monk Emmanuel Sullivan. He cites spiritual growth, prayer, love, service, faith, and experience as “essential ingredients” the ecumenists need to emphasize “on the journey to rediscovering … full visible unity in Christ.”

The respected Catholic fortnightly Glas Koncila in Yugoslavia editorially accused the government of open and direct attacks against the believers’ faith. There have been trials of clerics, bans of religious publications, and increased anti-Christian criticism and propaganda in the secular press.

Since the invention of printing, at least one complete book of the Bible has been published in 1,500 languages and dialects, according to the United Bible Societies, an increase of forty-three languages during last year. Complete Bibles appear in only 255 languages.

Church of England clergymen against whom a divorce decree for adultery has been pronounced no longer will be automatically subjected to loss of office and disqualified; their cases will now be handled by their archbishops.

The Polish Baptist Union reported that evangelistic meetings were held in all churches and missions last year, and eighty-nine were baptized. Evangelistic programs were broadcast weekly. The state gave the union fourteen church buildings that had been rented from the government.

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