Money, Markets, And Missionaries
The United States dollar has been officially devalued twice in fifteen months (it has also been devalued de facto, by the actions of other countries, an additional three times within the past three years). The problem is simple. With the highest wage scales in the world, America finds its products are being squeezed out of world markets—and even out of the American home market—by goods of comparable quality produced by other nations more cheaply. In consequence, we have a rapidly increasing excess of imports over exports to aggravate the one-way outflow of dollars caused by military and other foreign aid, in both public and voluntary sectors.
Mr. Nixon chose (if he really had a choice) to devalue the dollar by increasing the official price of gold. This will presumably have little effect on our internal economy, but it will theoretically make imported goods more expensive here and American goods cheaper overseas, thus improving our competitive position in world markets. As the London-based Financial Times points out, devaluation came despite improvements in America’s internal economic situation, proving once again that there are economic realities operating on a world-wide scale that even the strongest nations cannot disregard.
The immediate consequences of the dollar’s shrinkage will be felt by those traveling and living abroad, and perhaps most painfully by American missionaries, whose resources, never great, have thus been significantly curtailed by a stroke of the pen. We urge all churches and missionary agencies, and of course the givers who support them, to act promptly to bring the purchasing power of their missionaries’ allowance back up to the pre-devaluation level. In practical terms, this means we must increase our dollar giving to equal the value lost through devaluation—that is, by approximately 10 per cent.
What Price Abortion?
The basic issue in the abortion controversy is when the fetus is to be regarded as a human being, for it is axiomatic that the rights of all human beings to life must be protected. Yet an astonishingly high number of those who have commented on the Supreme Court’s January 22 decision refused to address themselves to that issue. Indeed, the court’s majority opinion itself showed confusion at this point by saying, “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins.” (See also “Abortion and the Court,” an editorial in the February 16 issue of CHRISTIANITY TODAY.) Can it be that the seven justices concurring in the decision actually do not realize that by evading the question they in effect give their answer, namely, that life does not begin until, at the earliest, six months after conception?
Many arguments on abortion assume that the fetus is not a human being but give no grounds for this questionable assumption. Typical of these was the baffling news analysis by W. Barry Garrett, Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press. “Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision,” he wrote. Advanced for whom? Certainly not the fetus! To say this is to reject without consideration the fundamental issue of its humanity and the rights that would derive therefrom. Why the silence about liberty, equality, and justice for the fetus? The fact that minority religious groups (e.g., Roman Catholics, Mormons) oppose abortion does not make easy abortion a triumph for “religious liberty.” To say so is not analysis but sophistry.
Amnesty, Forgiveness, And Mercy
Little is said about the most honorable among all those who opposed the Viet Nam War, namely, those who stood up to the government, refused to obey its summons, and went to jail. When amnesty is being considered, such people ought to be honored for their integrity; certainly they should not have to bear a criminal record for standing up for their convictions and taking the consequences instead of fleeing.
The time to decide that one is a conscientious objector is before entering the service. In the case of a serviceman who believes it morally impossible to carry out a particular mission and faces the music, there is no dishonor. But the serviceman who flees to another country and asks asylum, only to seek to return home when the fighting is over, is in a different category. Such persons could be given a chance to convince competent and reasonable judges that their action was motivated by a moral necessity strong enough to override their sworn obligations and to dispense them from the more honorable course of refusing to obey and taking the consequences. To suggest that the armed services might follow a counsel of mercy in some cases would not invalidate the general principle that desertion is a crime deserving punishment and dishonor.
Christianity Today Reprints
Copies of “Tests For the Tongues Movement” by Harold Lindsell” (December 8, 1972) and “From Communism to Christianity” with B. P. Dotsenko (January 5, 1973) are available postage-paid at 10c each in quantities of fewer than 100 and each for 100 or more. Order from Reprints, Christianity Today, 1014 Washington Building, Washington, D.C. 20005.
Many churchmen, prominent among them United Church of Christ president Robert Moss, want total and unconditional amnesty for deserters and draft-evaders. Dr. Moss is in error when he attributes earnest motives of conscience to all evaders; often their motives are mixed. Months or years after the fact it is virtually impossible to establish what a particular evader’s true motivation may have been. Thus a general policy for all evaders, not a board or commission to examine each man’s motives, is needed. Any exile who wishes to renounce his country and make his home elsewhere will have no difficulty doing so; nor should he experience any problems if he later wishes to return as a Swedish or Canadian citizen. But what Dr. Moss wants is action that will in effect admit that we do not know “whether those who waged war or those who refused to participate were right.” Truly, we cannot judge the conscience of either soldiers or evaders. But all Christians, except for pacifists, teach that the individual is not called upon to answer for the justice of a war: that decision must be made by the rulers. The men who carried out the rulers’ decision to wage this war were objectively blameless, and even if historians subsequently decide that the rulers were in the wrong, no blame will attach to the individual soldiers. What the deserters did—to the extent that they did not intend to go into permanent exile—was objectively wrong.
President Nixon has said that amnesty means “forgiveness,” and that no forgiveness is possible: those who fled must “pay the penalty” if they wish to return. Perhaps the Vice-President should have advised him that amnesty in fact means not forgiveness but forgetting (from the Greek amnesia). It is hard to forget what the evaders have done, and impossible to do so without insulting those who heeded the call to arms and dishonoring the memory of those who died. But, contrary to what the President seemed to imply, forgiveness is possible. Christian moral teaching—and sound psychological insight as well—holds that there is little (for the Christian, nothing) that cannot be forgiven, provided the offender admits his guilt and makes restitution or pays the penalty. Restitution and punishment are not inconsistent with forgiveness, although they are inconsistent with amnesty.
To those who are willing to make restitution, we feel that a more reasonable and conciliatory opportunity of alternate service should be given than the jail term that the President seems to presuppose. In the other cases, it would seem impossible to offer “forgetfulness.”
The state, for its part, should recognize that ten years of undeclared war fought under mysterious conditions and for by no means fully convincing reasons have placed countless young men in a situation of great moral ambiguity. Therefore it should be willing to practice a good measure of mercy—as the President suggested before the November election that he would do—rather than impose the full penalties of the law in a position in which its own moral rectitude is not beyond question.
A Book For All Christians
More and more, the differences that separate Christians are revealing themselves within rather than between the major branches of Christendom—Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox. Internal differences between Protestant and Protestant, for instance, are assuming greater importance than the historical differences that have separated Protestants from Catholics and Orthodox. In view of this, we welcome the new ecumenical edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, to be published in the United States April 2. Used by Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox who believe the Bible is God’s unique revelation to man, it will foster understanding among those who truly seek to respond to that revelation in obedience. It may also strengthen the bonds of fellowship among true believers, whatever their ecclesiastical tradition and upbringing, as well as encourage interdenominational Bible-study groups.
The term “Common Bible” (which appears on the cover of the new edition but not on the title page) should be used with discretion. The volume contains the Apocrypha and the deutero-canonical books and passages, all 223 pages of which are placed between the Old and New Testaments. Evangelicals do not consider these texts to be canonical. This is not strictly speaking a common Bible, therefore, since Protestants cannot accept it in toto.
Besides being one of the world’s great journalists, David Lawrence had the distinctive among well-known news analysts of speaking often from an explicitly Judeo-Christian framework. He strongly believed that spiritual principles should be brought to bear on contemporary issues. In one of the last columns he wrote before his death last month at the age of eighty-four, Lawrence talked about how people in government gather for weekly prayer meetings, and he went on to suggest that if this was legal perhaps students in public schools could hold similar gatherings. He himself attended the Senate prayer breakfast group for many years and was in fact the only non-senator who did so regularly.
Lawrence was a member of a Reform Jewish congregation in Washington, but he was more unabashedly supportive of Christian ideals than many who say they are Christians. He said in a 1945 editorial:
There seems, curiously enough, … a tendency to apologize for Christianity or at least to narrow its scope so that it shall not apply to everyday controversies.… Christianity is not an easy philosophy to practice if one’s mind is closed to its tenets. It is a philosophy often inconvenient and perhaps even annoying to those who prefer the “might-makes-right” or “wealth-makes-right” doctrines of autocracy. There are in America plenty of little Hitlers who dominate the social and economic life of our communities. The paradox they inadvertently express every day is: “I am a Christian but—I am not a Christian.”
The founding editors of CHRISTIANITY TODAY held Lawrence in special esteem because of the advice he gave them prior to the start of this enterprise. They recall a meeting with him in which he called in two of his top managers at U. S. News and World Report and conveyed sound counsel. Without doubt, his advice helped CHRISTIANITY TODAY get started on the right track.
The Pistol Proscription
The January 30 robbery and shooting of Senator John C. Stennis in front of his house was not an unusual type of crime; in 1971, the most recent year for which complete figures are available, there were 3,972 incidents of aggravated assault in the city of Washington and approximately 364,000 in the nation as a whole. But because the victim was an aged, revered, and distinguished member of the United States Senate, the incident has once again focused national and especially congressional attention on the general problem of crime and on the particular issue of firearms abuse and gun control. In this case, as in 25.1 per cent of the incidents nationwide, a firearm was used (in most of those cases, the firearm was presumably a pistol). There were 275 murders in 1971 in Washington, and approximately 17,630 nationwide; pistols were used in approximately 51 per cent of the nation’s reported murders.
Following the assault on Stennis, a number of voices, led by that of the President himself, called for federal legislation banning cheap and easy-to-get pistols, somewhat imprecisely called “Saturday night specials” (apparently the cheapest new pistol available in Washington area stores costs from fifty to sixty dollars). Senator Birch Bayh (D.-Ind.) put a new gun-control bill, aimed at Saturday-night specials, through the Senate in August, 1972. The loosely drawn bill, which would have also banned a variety of expensive sporting handguns, was not voted in the House and so fell. Now Representative John D. Dingell (D.-Mich.) has proposed a more precisely worded bill in the House, one that would prohibit the manufacture and sale of cheaply fabricated pistols, explicitly defined as to composition and melting point of the metal used.
CHRISTIANITY TODAY has already gone on record in favor of more effective gun-control legislation, specifically for a uniform nation-wide licensing procedure for gun owners and users, but one that—unlike New York’s Sullivan Act—would permit the law-abiding citizen to own weapons. Beyond this we would only caution against enacting broad prohibitive or restrictive legislation without giving sufficient thought to its long-range consequences for individual freedom.
Flies In The Ointment
Musk oil, a perfume as old as Cleopatra, has been reissued to aid in the quest for seductive sexuality. Advertisers claim it changes scent with each wearer, and gullible consumers, not realizing that all perfume has that characteristic, make supplies short. Nor do consumers realize that many perfumes—the more expensive ones—contain genuine musk, a secretion of the musk deer, which is related to human sex hormones and considered highly provocative. The musk-oil ads lead consumers to suppose that musk is exotically related to Polynesian flowers, rather than an animal’s sexual secretions: an odd twist by marketers who promote the perfume as the ultimate in physically alluring scents. Ecclesiastes reminds us that true motives will reveal themselves: “Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off an evil odor; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.”
Not Even In Israel
The military officials of an occupying power are seldom popular among the subjugated population. When Jewish elders approached Jesus on behalf of a Roman centurion whose slave was deathly ill (Luke 7:1–10; also Matthew 8:5–10), they told him only, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue.” From this, the inference is often made that the centurion was a Jewish proselyte or at least a “God-fearer.” Even if he was neither, he seems to have known a great deal about the Jews and their religion.
In fact, it would seem that the centurion (perhaps because of his worldly experience) had a broader vision and was able to understand Jesus and his power in a way that most first-century Jews did not. They recognized Jesus’ evident power to heal, but they could not put it in the larger perspective. The woman with the chronic hemorrhage touched the hem of his robe. And the Jewish elders also asked Jesus to go to the centurion’s house. But they did not recognize the universal implications of such power, and so it remained for this foreign oppressor to see them. The centurion apparently realized, at least subconsciously, that if Jesus could heal at all, it was because of the power of God, and if healing was a matter of the power of God; then it could hardly be limited by the distance of a walk. The centurion was used to promptly executing orders given by a human lord in the far-off imperial capital; he knew what human authority was, and he could surmise that divine authority could not be less powerful. In both Matthew and Luke, then, an unwelcome stranger in the land of the Jews is among the very first to recognize the universal implications of the appearance of the Jews’ longed-for-Messiah.
And thus it often happens, even today, that people who are strangers or at least relative newcomers to the “household of faith” are quicker to see the implications of Christian belief and to act on them than are the “native born.” What was the attitude of the Jewish elders on hearing the centurion’s remarkable expression of absolute confidence in Jesus? Or the Lord’s embarrassing comment to them, “Not even in Israel—traditionally a folk which took God’s power and promise seriously—have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9)? Were they resentful, or did they recognize—as Peter did in an encounter with another centurion—that the old faithful may have something to learn from new arrivals on the scene of faith? A novice in faith may err in the direction of conceit, but when he does not, he can often bring the “old hands” more wisdom than they expect.
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