Let Bygones Be Bygones?

In the wake of Leonid Brezhnev’s visit to the United States, a large question demands attention: Has the Soviet Union discarded some of the basic tenets of Marxism-Leninism, or are Brezhnev and company assuming an expediency role temporarily until such time as they can once again perform as true heirs of Marx and Lenin?

Regarding “present-day society,” i.e., capitalistic society, Lenin said: “… we must make it our business to stimulate in the minds of those who are dissatisfied only with [particular] … conditions the idea that the whole political system is worthless” (Lenin, Selected Works, 1943, II, 103). “… In capitalist society we have a democracy that is curtailed, wretched, false …” (ibid., VII, 130). “… For us the issue cannot be the alteration of private property, but only its annihilation …” (Marx and Engels, Selected Works, 1955, I, 110).

According to Lenin it is legitimate to use “all sorts of strategems, manoeuvres and illegal methods, to evasions and subterfuges …” (Selected Works, II, 62). “… Loyalty to the ideas of Communism must be combined with the ability to make all the necessary practical compromises, to ‘tack,’ to make agreements, zigzags, retreats and so on to accelerate … the inevitable friction, quarrels, conflicts and complete disintegration …” (ibid., X, 138).

The Communist Manifesto says: “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution” (Marx and Engels, Selected Works, I, 65). “A Marxist,” says Lenin, “is one who extends the acceptance of the class struggle to the acceptance of the dictatorship of the proletariat” (Lenin, Selected Works, VII, 33). And Stalin in his book The Foundation of Leninism (Moscow, 1953, p. 51) says: “… The dictatorship of the proletariat is the rule—unrestricted and based on force—of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie.…”

These few quotations from the founding fathers of Communism need to be weighed against the agreements signed by Brezhnev and his televised speech to the American people. It is quite clear that either Brezhnev is an arch deceiver and a very dangerous enemy of the whole civilized world, or Soviet Communism has renounced in fact if not by statement the cardinal principles that underlie Marxism-Leninism.

We would like to think, and indeed we pray, that the Soviet Communists have really changed their thinking and that their actions are a literal repudiation of Marxism even if they cannot say this for the record. Time alone will give us the answer to this question. The Chinese have consistently accused the Soviets of betraying Marxist principles, and we know from experience that people often pay lip service to beliefs that they no longer take seriously.

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While we wait to see if the leopard has changed his spots, we had better not let down our guard. We should be prepared for the possibility that Brezhnev may be using all of this as a strategem until the time comes to make the kill.

We should not expect more of Brezhnev than we expect and often do not get from Christian leaders. Need we remind ourselves that New England Congregationalism was decimated in the Unitarian defection of the nineteenth century, when hundreds of trinitarian churches were subverted and stolen by apostates. Moreover, every great denomination has in it ministers who do not believe their historic creeds and who yet remain in their pulpits to subvert and to destroy what their ordination vows bind them to support. If these deceivers were ethical they would give up their churches and their seminary chairs.

The United States is gambling that Brezhnev is sincere and is telling the truth. If he isn’t, there will be no enduring peace in our time.

Help That Isn’T

In decisions handed down last month, the U. S. Supreme Court seems to have upheld quite firmly the principle that prohibits direct appropriation of public funds for parochial education at the elementary and secondary levels. This is a principle that has served well the interests of the American people, both religious and nonreligious. The churches of the United States have certainly been none the worse for it; indeed, there is reason to think their prosperity has stemmed at least in part from their having to depend entirely upon private financial undergirding (unlike churches in many other countries that are subsidized in one way or another by the government).

With the cost of education rising so rapidly, there is a great temptation for churches to appeal to the government for help. Such aid could temporarily ease cash-flow problems, but the long-term effects in church-state entanglements would do far more harm than good.

These latest court rulings struck down several parochaid programs in New York and Pennsylvania, including those that provided tax benefits and tuition reimbursement for parents of parochial school children. The rulings represent an especially gratifying victory for Glenn Archer and C. Stanley Lowell of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who have labored diligently for more than a generation.

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Little Things

Several months ago, handicapped people from many parts of the United States descended on Washington to air grievances and to demand more consideration from social planners. The government took little official notice of their mini-march at the time, but within the last few weeks there has been action that they will welcome. As streets are rebuilt atop the national capital’s forthcoming subway, curbs are being beveled at pedestrian crossings, making wheelchair travel much easier. Curbs are also being altered in front of large buildings, and ramps erected where there are steps. These are the sort of things that should have been done long ago. Why do they require street demonstrations to initiate? Perhaps if the churches of America had shown the way in their own architecture, progress would have come sooner.

Sauce For The Goose

For a year now many Jews have been exercised about Key 73 and its program of “calling our continent to Christ.” To the extent that they fear Key 73 will put Jews under pressure to conform to Christianity, we have tried to reassure them, reiterating our conviction that the Gospel should be freely and clearly proclaimed, but not aggressively “sold” and certainly not imposed by force. But to the extent that they object to the very principle that Jews, as well as Gentiles, must be converted and believe the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah, we can only reply, lovingly but firmly, that conversion to Christ is of the essence of biblical Christianity, and that to object to the possibility of conversion is to deny both the religious freedom of the individual and the nature of Christianity itself.

Now we learn that the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing Reform (i.e., the most liberal branch) Judaism, is sharpening its policies on mixed marriages, and demanding as a minimum that children of a mixed marriage be brought up as Jews and that efforts be made to convert the non-Jewish spouse. If even the most liberal Jews feel obliged to try to convert a non-Jewish spouse and to require a Jewish upbringing for children—a situation that necessarily involves a certain amount of emotional pressure—they ought to recognize the right of Christians to appeal to them.

Returned POW: How We Overcame

When one is dying from starvation, a bowl of sewer greens is a gift from God. Before every meal during my captivity, I offered a prayer of thanks. In the past, when others prayed my mind wandered over the day’s events or simply waited impatiently for the prayer to end. But in prison, grace was not a routine endured out of habit, guilt, or pressure. To thank God for life seemed the natural thing to do.
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During those long periods of enforced reflection, it became so much easier to separate the important from the trivial, the worthwhile from the waste. For example, in the past, I usually worked or played hard on Sundays and had no time for church. For years Phyllis encouraged me to join the family at church. She never nagged or scolded—she just kept hoping. But I was too busy, too preoccupied, to spend one or two short hours a week thinking about the really important things.
Now the sights and sounds and smells of death were all around me. My hunger for spiritual food soon outdid my hunger for a steak. Now I wanted to know about that part of me that will never die. Now I wanted to talk about God and Christ and the church. But in Heartbreak solitary confinement there was no pastor, no Sunday-school teacher, no Bible, no hymn-book, no community of believers to guide and sustain me. I had completely neglected the spiritual dimension of my life. It took prison to show me how empty life is without God, and so I had to go back in my memory to those Sunday-school days in the Nogales Avenue Baptist Church, Tulsa, Oklahoma. If I couldn’t have a Bible and hymn-book, I would try to rebuild them in my mind.
I tried desperately to recall snatches of Scripture, sermons, the gospel choruses from childhood, and the hymns we sang in church. The first three dozen songs were relatively easy. Every day I’d try to recall another verse or a new song. One night there was a huge thunderstorm—it was the season of the monsoon rains—and a bolt of lightning knocked out the lights and plunged the entire prison into darkness. I had been going over hymn tunes in my mind and stopped to lie down and sleep when the rains began to fall. The darkened prison echoed with wave after wave of water. Suddenly, I was humming my thirty-seventh song, one I had entirely forgotten since childhood.

Showers of blessings,

Showers of blessing we need!

Mercy drops round us are falling,

But for the showers we plead.

I no sooner had recalled those words than another song popped into my mind, the theme song of a radio program my mother listened to when I was just a kid.
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Heavenly sunshine, heavenly sunshine

Flooding my soul with glory divine.

Heavenly sunshine, heavenly sunshine.

Hallelujah! Jesus is mine!

Most of my fellow prisoners were struggling like me to rediscover faith, to reconstruct workable value systems. Harry Jenkins lived in a cell nearby during much of my captivity. Often we would use those priceless seconds of communication in a day to help one another recall Scripture verses and stories.
One day I heard him whistle. When the cell block was clear, I waited for his communication, thinking it to be some important news. “I got a new one,” he said. “I don’t know where it comes from or why I remember it, but it’s a story about Ruth and Naomi.” He then went on to tell that ancient story of Ruth following Naomi into a hostile new land and finding God’s presence and protection there. Harry’s urgent news was two thousand years old. It may not seem important to prison life, but we lived off that story for days, rebuilding it, thinking about what it meant, and applying God’s ancient words to our predicament.
Everyone knew the Lord’s Prayer and the Twenty-Third Psalm, but the camp favorite verse that everyone recalled first and quoted most often is found in the Book of John, third chapter, sixteenth verse: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” With Harry’s help I even reconstructed the seventeenth and eighteenth verses: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
How I struggled to recall those Scriptures and hymns! I had spent my first eighteen years in a Southern Baptist Sunday school, and I was amazed at how much I could recall; regrettably, I had not seen then the importance of memorizing verses from the Bible or learning gospel songs. Now, when I needed them, it was too late. I never dreamed that I would spend almost seven years (five of them in solitary confinement) in a prison in North Vietnam or that thinking about one memorized verse could have made a whole day bearable. One portion of a verse I did remember was, “Thy word have I hid in my heart.” How often I wished I had really worked to hide God’s Word in my heart. I put my mind to work. Every day I planned to accomplish certain tasks. I woke early, did my physical exercises, cleaned up as best I could, then began a period of devotional prayer and meditation. I would pray, hum hymns silently, quote Scripture, and think about what the verses meant to me.
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Remember, we weren’t playing games. The enemy knew that the best way to break a man’s resistance was to crush his spirit in a lonely cell. In other wars, some of our POWs after solitary confinement lay down in a fetal position and died. All this talk of Scripture and hymns may seem boring to some, but it was the way we conquered our enemy and overcame the power of death around us.—From In the Presence of Mine Enemies by Howard and Phyllis Rutledge with Mel and Lyla White. Copyright © 1973 by Fleming H. Revell Company. Used by permission.
The ‘Principle’ Of Relativity

For years some supposedly “enlightened” members of our society have ridiculed “fundamentalists,” “traditionalists,” and “obscurantists” who believe in moral absolutes. Everything depends on the circumstances, they say: the time, the place, the people involved, and so on. But now that the United States Supreme Court—wisely, we believe—has ruled that producers and promoters of pornography do not enjoy an absolute right to make and market their wares but must be subject to the (relative!) community standards of decency and taste, there is suddenly a great hue and cry about the “absolute” principle of freedom of speech. How strange it is that people who have spent so much energy telling us there are no absolutes suddenly feel themselves threatened by a little relativism in the wrong place! An absolute, it seems, has crept in unawares and is not so outrageous after all.

Christians are committed to the principle that there are moral absolutes, although we know that our human institutions, both secular and religious, will never be able to exemplify them perfectly. The Supreme Court’s decision—although certainly not made on a religious basis—allows communities in America to restrict some of the grosser forms of exploitation of human sexuality through pornography. It would seem that local governments are being given authority to evaluate the relative merits of certain forms of entertainment and weigh them against possible social harm they may cause. What could be more reasonable to a moral relativist? Coming from the quarters it does, the uproar about the violated “absolute” of free expression sounds more contrived than convincing.

Feast Or Famine?

In his June 13 allocution on inflation, President Nixon stated, inter alia: “One of the major reasons for the rise in food prices at home is that there is now an unprecedented demand abroad.… In allocating the products of America’s farms … we must put the American consumer first. Therefore, I have decided that a new system for export controls on food products is needed.”

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The President refrained from mentioning the fact—perhaps irrelevant to his major concern—that one big reason foreigners are buying more is that two official devaluations and continuing deterioration of the U. S. dollar enable foreign countries to purchase more of our food for the same expenditure of their money. Somewhat more relevant to the domestic situation is a second fact, which the President also left unmentioned: since foreign purchasers tend to spurn many of our industrial products, unless we sell them more, not less, food, we will have drastically less foreign exchange with which to pay for the imports we have come to expect, and in some cases to need. But over and above the problem created by foreigners who are able to buy more and more food from us (for less and less money) there is the problem faced by those nations that have no food and no money.

Americans everywhere—including the staff of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, we hasten to admit—grumble at the price of beef. But Americans are consuming per capita twice as much beef as they did in 1953 (today, over one hundred pounds a year, or over four ounces per person per day), and in 1953 Americans were by no means underfed. Moreover, in 1930 Americans spent 23.4 per cent of their incomes on food. Until recently the figure was 15.7 per cent.

Despite all the grumbling, in the industrialized nations of the West we eat far more than we need; overindulgence in food and drink, combined with a lack of physical activity, condemns millions of Americans to a sluggish and unhealthy existence. But there are countries, indeed, whole subcontinents, where hardly the barest minimum of food necessary to sustain life is available, and where there are no funds to purchase it from abroad. Maharashtra State in India has been in the midst of a terrible drought and famine, and even the onset of the monsoon will not bring immediate relief, as too many destitute farmers have forsaken their lands. In West Africa, an even more acute crisis has developed.

Americans are troubled—and justly so—at the increasingly bad image of the United States in the world at large: that of an affluent, self-indulgent, and fundamentally corrupt society. Of course, much in this stereotype is false and inaccurate. But defending the righteousness of America’s actions or pointing out that others are as bad or worse will not impress many in the world at large.

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In his concluding peroration, President Nixon declared: “We are the best-clothed, best-fed, best-housed people in the world.” If that is true, and evidently it is, what justification—other than selfishness, or, more tactfully, enlightened self-interest—can we offer for continuing to “put the American consumer first”? One of the most familiar mandates in the Bible is the command to feed the hungry. Only a few Americans are hungry in the true meaning of the word—and some of those, because they are trying to reduce. But much of the rest of the world is hungry. The rest of the world certainly will not respect America for taking stern measures intended only to protect its current affluence.

This is a time for America and its leaders to look beyond their own immediate concerns, and create a new priority: not feeding the well-fed with quality meats, but feeding the hungry of the world. If the world is too big a challenge, then take a smaller portion of it. There will be problems of all kinds, of course—administrative, economic, and political. But if the attempt is made, they will be the problems of obedience, rather than of selfishness. And America will show that it has given thought to the prophet Micah’s warning: “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Christians And Others

To what extent should Christians be associated with the practices of other religions? The most common reply among our readers would probably be, “Not at all.” But the question merits some reflection.

The Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians firmly asserts that Christians are not to participate in the religious ceremonies of others (10:14–22). But what about attending religious weddings or funerals of adherents of other faiths? Or, for that matter, attending such ceremonies in professing Christian bodies that one deems heretical? What about visiting a Hindu or Mormon temple, a Buddhist shrine, a Muslim mosque? (Many North Americans are not aware of the perplexity that Christians in other lands may feel when their visiting co-religionists seemingly honor non-Christian religions by their tourist practices.) And to what extent, if any, can a Christian read about or observe occult and psychic phenomena without seeming to endorse some form of paganism?

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After making his strong statement warning Christians to stay clear of religious entanglements, Paul immediately writes against an overly rigoristic application of this command. Much of the meat that people in Corinth ate had been, however perfunctorily, offered to idols before being sold. Paul says that when one buys from a butcher or goes to a non-believer’s for dinner, he is not to raise questions about whether the food has been through some pagan ceremony. Eat it and enjoy it, he says (10:25–27). Paul distinguishes between participation in pagan worship and incidental contact, in a nonreligious setting, with pagan cultural practices.

Quakers traditionally tried to avoid paganism more rigorously than other evangelicals. For example, they refused to speak of days of the Sun and the Moon and of the gods Saturn and Thor, using instead First Day, Second Day, and so on. It is hard to imagine that Paul would be as rigorous on this point.

Of course, Christians differ on what is a religious and what is a secular observance. Ancestor honor (or worship; the choice of terms is crucial) in China, emperor worship (or is it patriotism?) in Japan—these are but two major examples from our own time. Missionaries to China who lambasted anything they considered compromise with idolatrous cultural patterns by Chinese were offended when these same Chinese questioned the missionaries’ celebration of Christmas. Jehovah’s Witnesses say that saluting one’s national flag is idolatry. Orthodox Christians disagree, though undoubtedly the distinction between proper patriotism and idolatry of one’s country is not always so clearly made as it should be.

Though Christians cannot construct hard and fast rules as to which contacts with other religions are forbidden and which are permitted, they should be aware of the problem, sensitive to the feelings of their fellow Christians (10:23), and constantly open to God for light to distinguish, as Paul did, between communion with what is false and participation in secular practices that happen to have pagan antecedents.

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