My last lecture mission to Asia—a round-the-world mission involving seventy-five meetings in ten countries in ten weeks—brought me once again in touch with the evangelical vanguard on many twentieth-century frontiers. One noteworthy impression is that almost everywhere today conservative evangelicals, committed to personal evangelism and the missionary cause, are also probing a larger role in socio-political concerns.
The remarkable response of New Zealanders and Australians to the challenge of World Vision International, with its accelerated interest both short-and long-range for the famine areas of the globe, indicates the appeal of an agency that combines evangelical witness and social compassion. A work supported by voluntary gifts, World Vision is active in thirty countries. In a few countries—notably Cambodia and South Viet Nam—where U.S.I.A. funds intended for relief of urgent human needs were bottled up by political middlemen, the American government channeled certain programs through established and trusted voluntary agencies like World Vision so funds would swiftly reach their proper destination. It is lamentable that a spokesman for the World Council of Churches then used the Asian press to malign World Vision as an arm of Western imperialism and of U. S. government policy.
Mounting concern for participation in public affairs expresses itself in other ways as well. In Melbourne, Australia, for example, I met with a group of evangelicals who, though aligned with different parties and causes, all shared a strong Christian motivation toward political involvement and dedication to biblical perspectives.
Sharing in this stimulating dialogue—arranged by Dirk Bakker of Mission Enterprises—were Kenneth Mason, insurance executive and precinct president of the Liberal party; Ken Gregg, a medical doctor and leader in the Australian Labor party; Hugh Jeffrey, music teacher and state convenor of the Australia party; Cliff Wilson, lecturer in psycholinguistics at Monash University; Leon Dale, senior lecturer in geography on the same campus; Principal Jim Ridgway of the Wesleyan Methodist Bible College; Tony Webster, marketing director of Cadbury-Schweppes; and John Smith, of Truth and Liberation. The entire conversation concentrated on how Christian conviction is authentically and properly expressed in public affairs.
In South Korea, as we know, the matter of human rights has been thrust upon the Christian community through the restrictive measures of the present regime, whose concern to reinforce national solidarity in the face of the North Korean menace expresses itself at times in ways that seem oppressive. As the Christian community uncompromisingly champions the justice God requires, along with its energetic program of evangelism, it finds itself faced with the delicate task of avoiding commitments that are hostile to the government. If the regime’s present abolition of the right of dissent is not lifted, there will probably be no sure indication until President Park’s current term expires of whether the restrictions are intended as much to guarantee self-perpetuation in office as to ready the country for any military contingency.
In India, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi used emergency powers—granted by parliament for very different reasons—to choke democratic processes that might have unseated her after conviction for campaign violations. This turn of events affects economic and social burdens that were already heavily straining India’s twenty-eight-year-old democracy, and labels all demonstration and protest as subversive.
In Bombay, this development-came at a particularly unfortunate moment, for it slapped down a rising sense of social concern among numbers of evangelical young people. During a short stay in that teeming city, I was asked to address 125 persons, gathered by the Association for Christian Thoughtfulness, on reconciling the tensions between personal evangelism and social concern. Many of these Christians are perturbed by the callousness of Bombay authorities who plan to evict some 70,000 residents of the Janata Colony and usurp the land for recreational facilities for nuclear scientists and administrators of the nearby atomic research center.
Janata Colony was established in 1951 when city officials razed a slum area and trucked its residents forcibly to their present location to survive as best they could on a barren space of less than sixty acres. The thousands of homes and 250 sweat shops “serviced” by open stagnant wells into which water seeps from nearby latrine sheds are only a small part of unbelievable exploitation and deprivation.
Once again these hapless masses face eviction, this time to an even smaller piece of land. A champion of their cause is Mary Matthew, a twenty-two-year-old psychiatric social worker identified with the Mar Thoma Church, and graduate of the oldest social-science institute in Asia, the Tata School of Social Science. That the 70,000 inhabitants of Janata Colony with evangelical Christians at their side might march on Bombay to dramatize their plight seems unlikely now because of the restrictions imposed by Mrs. Gandhi.
A socialist government in Sri Lanka has altered the opportunities for humanitarian effort by taking over various agencies. Christians and churches there are probing their role in nationbuilding. While the New Testament underwrites patriotism, it supplies no basis for nationalism, and in any land Christians have a duty to help identify and contribute what is for the national good. For three days, eight hours each day, we met in the attractive new Anglican Cathedral with 140 Christian leaders gathered by the Bible Society of Ceylon to consider church revival and reform, home life, and nation-building.
Many countries are discovering that persons are a nation’s most important and valuable resource and that the place God occupies in the lives of citizens decides both individual and national values and life-styles. Sri Lanka has no delusions of grandeur, no aspirations to join or top the world powers. But Christians envision it nonetheless as a gem among the nations and hope to show to the world an interracial church that at one and the same time is devoted to personal evangelism and concern for man’s physical needs.
CARL F. H. HENRY
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