As troubled Ethiopia’s military junta moves closer to Marxist ideology, Christians are encountering adversity. Meanwhile, despite difficulties of a different nature, a remarkable people’s movement in the Christian faith is growing in the southern part of the nation.
The National Democratic Revolution Program announced by Major Mengistu Haile-Mariam, first vice-chairman of the Provincial Military Administrative Council (PMAC), is being implemented to establish the Peoples Democratic Republic of Ethiopia as a socialist state. In a speech to the nation last April, the leader listed missionaries as the number-one source of imperialist infiltration in the past. Teachers were listed second. Later, a popular radio program alleged that Ethiopian teachers in church schools were really “black missionaries” exploiting the people.
Newspapers and radio broadcasts have increasingly named missionaries and churches as agents working against the interests of the state. Missionaries, pastors, and priests have been harangued by local “workers’ revolutionary forums” that hold indoctrination and self-criticism meetings. All organizations, including missions, must give their Ethiopian staff two hours per week off to attend these forums.
While much of the PMAC’s effort is aimed at breaking the stranglehold that Amharic landlords and the Orthodox Church had on the nation, the result has been a vacuum of power. Local committees have taken power to enforce their policies, even if they are contrary to PMAC directives. Students and peasants have taken the law into their own hands to settle grievances, real or imaginary.
Christians have also been infected with the revolutionary spirit of the day. For example, some students—whipped into hostility by a revolutionary—accused their missionary benefactors of exploiting them, and forcibly confined them to their houses. Hospital staffers placed missionaries under house arrest when exorbitant demands could not be met. A group of revolution-minded young people marched a church leader barefoot at gunpoint more than eight miles and then forced him to ox-plow a field for an hour before releasing him.
In spite of such problems, some of the revolutionary changes have spurred evangelism in the south of the country, where 23,000 conversions over a four-month period have recently been reported among animistic people in one tribe.
One major factor in this new response has been the breaking down of fear of the all-powerful Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which used to persecute evangelicals and imprison evangelists virtually at will. Its power, steadily eroding since the revolution began, was dealt a final blow when the PMAC removed its patriarch allegedly for mismanaging $2 million of church funds. A southerner was elected to replace him (see following story).
The abolition of the feudal landlord system means that Christian peasants, once held in serfdom, are now able to use the proceeds of their harvests to support evangelists. (Farther north, where farmers’ cooperatives are dominated by Marxists, the contributions of Christian farmers are not available for Christian work.)
A third impetus has come from a course in personal evangelism given to pastors and evangelists. Stirred with a sense of urgency to spread the Gospel, evangelists have moved across the mountainous countryside with little other than their Bibles and a bag of millet and leaves for food.
This remarkable response after twenty years of fairly uneventful work has challenged church leaders to absorb thousands of new believers. Elders observe the lives of new converts to see if they are genuine before taking them in to baptismal classes.
Since Ethiopian policy before the revolution banned Scripture translation in tribal vernaculars, and since few can read the Amharic lingua franca, church leaders are planning a crash program of printing “key Scriptures” in the local language. Plans also call for a cassette player for each of the 2,300 churches, with cassettes containing New Life for All discipling material.
Although removed from the strong Marxism of other districts, southern believers still face their own difficulties. Most animist relatives strongly oppose their conversion. The anti-feudal laws, while commendable in many aspects, make it compulsory for a farmer to reside on his farm. Permission must be obtained to leave for even a few days. As a result, some evangelists have had to choose between retaining their ancestral lot of land or losing it in order to take the Gospel to others.
Changes In Ethiopia
For the first time in its 1,600-year history, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church chose a patriarch by election. Selection previously was by appointment of the emperor or the Egyptian Coptic Church. It was the first time any institution has elected its leaders since the military seized power two years ago and later deposed the late Emperor Haile Selassie, according to Washington Post reporter David Ottoway.
The winner from among five candidates was southerner Malaku Wolde-Michael, 58, credited with the conversion of 300,000 animists and the building of eighty-five churches and twenty-four schools in his home province. Electors from all over the country met in the Trinity Cathedral of Addis Ababa and chose the relatively unknown candidate over several establishment candidates in the hierarchy.
Relations between the church and the government have been strained. The military has assumed a socialist stance and established a policy of separation of church and state, taking away a lot of church property and power in the process. Leaders of the church, which claims the allegiance of between 12 and 14 million, are worried about finances. There are 18,000 churches, nineteen important monasteries, and 200,000 clergy to care for.
Early this year the government announced that Patriarch Theophilus had been arrested and replaced by Acting Patriarch Yohannes. A number of church organizations, including the National Council of Churches in the United States, have requested information about Theophilus’s welfare and whereabouts—but to no avail as of last month.
On another front, Ethiopia announced the nationalization of the 135-bed Empress Zauditu Memorial Hospital, a Seventh-day Adventist institution in Addis Ababa. There are thirty-nine Adventist churches with more than 25,000 members in Ethiopia.
A Dutch priest in Mexico has warned Mexican Catholics to reject a proposed Billy Graham crusade in Mexico City on grounds that it is a front for an ideological invasion of the country. The attack by Francisco Vanderhoff, director of an ecumenical study center, appeared in an interview article on page one of the Mexico City daily Novedades.
“They use the path of religion to reach the people with political ideas, glorifying and defending the North American system,” the priest charged. He also repeated many of the accusations that have been hurled by Graham critics over the years, and he added a new one: that Graham has ties with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
Upon hearing of the press attack, Graham expressed surprise at the priest’s attack in light of the fact that members of the Catholic hierarchy have welcomed him to many nations. He denied the charge of CIA links as well as the other accusations.
Mexico City evangelicals who invited the evangelist wrote letters of protest to the paper. In pointing out inaccuracies, they noted that the December, 1976, date for the crusade listed in the article was wrong. Graham is considering 1977 or 1978 dates.
Tragedy Along The Thompson
Among the dead and missing after a freak downpour sent a ten-foot wall of water coursing through the Thompson River canyon in Colorado were seven Campus Crusade for Christ staff women. Nearly two dozen others, including Vonette Bright—wife of Crusade’s founder-president Bill Bright—escaped by only seconds.
The women—national staffers and wives of top staffers—were at a weekend retreat at Sylvandale Ranch along U. S. highway 34, east of Estes Park. Fifteen miles away, some 2,500 young people were gathering that Saturday, July 31, on the Colorado State University campus at Fort Collins for Crusade’s annual staff training conference. The thirty women were expected later.
That night a siren interrupted the women’s conference. A highway patrol car roared into the area. Using a loudspeaker, the patrolman instructed everyone to move to higher ground at once. The women rushed to their cars, and several drove up into a field behind the ranch. But two drivers, one of them Marilyn Henderson, drove out onto the highway and headed downstream, apparently to follow the patrolman.
Ms. Henderson was found the next morning lodged in the branches of a tree. Melanie Alquist, who had been with her in the front seat, was found further downstream. Both were taken to Loveland Hospital where early this month they were reported to be in good condition, with Ms. Henderson recovering from pneumonia. The three in the back seat of the car were found dead as was one from the other vehicle.
The dead: Rae Ann Johnston of Crystal, North Dakota; Cathie Loomis of Seattle; Carol Rhoad of Grantsville, Pennsylvania; and Pressy Manongdo of the Philippines. Missing and presumed dead were Barbara Leydon of Washington, D. C.; Terri Bissing of Kansas City; and June Fujiwara of Hawaii. Also dead was a patrolman, possibly the one who had warned of the danger.
On Sunday the survivors began arriving at Fort Collins. Bill Bright led in memorial services for the dead, and there were prayers for the missing.
At Last, A Schwenkfelder
It may never happen again: millions of Americans now know of the Schwenkfelders, thanks to Ronald Reagan’s announcement of Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania as his running mate weeks before the Republican convention.
Schweiker is one of only 2,690 members of the Schwenkfelder Church. His membership, like that of about half the others, is in the Central Schwenkfelder Church of Worcester in southeastern Pennsylvania. There are only four other congregations, all in Pennsylvania. Three have voted to affiliate with the United Church of Christ, from whom most of the Schwenkfelders’ ministers have come.
The group is named for Kaspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig, a sixteenth-century Silesian reformer who emphasized a somewhat mystical inner life rather than doctrine, ritual, or organization. The first immigrant Schwenkfelders arrived in Pennsylvania in the 1730s, but the group did not get around to organizing a church until 1910. Before that, members simply banded together family-style, and laymen were appointed to lead them.
In Washington, Schweiker attends St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, and his wife teaches a Bible class there.
A Year Off From Work
Cult “deprogrammer” Ted Patrick, 46, of San Diego was sentenced to jail for one year by a judge in Fullerton, California. The sentence was handed down for his conviction last year in a kidnap and attempted deprogramming case involving a 19-year-old member of the Hare Krishna (Krishna Consciousness) sect. That conviction, said the judge, also amounted to a violation of a one-year probation set by a Denver judge in an earlier case there. Therefore Patrick was given a sixty-day sentence for the Fullerton incident and a one-year term for probation violation, to be served concurrently.
“I am going to jail for an honorable cause.” Patrick announced after the sententing, and he vowed he would keep up the fight against cults that “psychologically kidnap” people. His lawyer said he will appeal.
Shortly before his sentencing in Fullerton. Patrick was arrested with several others in Long Beach. New Jersey, The case involved the seizure and attempted deprogramming of two brothers (ages 23 and 26) from Guru Maharaj Ji’s Divine Light Mission. One of the youths escaped through a bathroom window and called police. The brothers’ parents and four of Patrick’s assistants were all charged with false imprisonment. Bail was set at $25,000 each. All were released on personal recognizance bonds.
Although often in trouble with the law, Patrick had spent only two weeks in jail before the Fullerton sentence, and that was in Denver, where he was released on $25,000 bail and probation.
There are bound to be some eyebrows raised at a position paper released by the board of directors of the Massachusetts Council of Churches. In the paper, the board calls for the establishment of experimental heroin-maintenance programs. The board members say that a well-run program under which addicts are given heroin legally will result in fewer health risks and more rehabilitative possibilities for the addict, in lower crime rates, and in reduced pressures on the legal system. The paper acknowledges that the idea might prove unworkable. “If so,” it states, “we hope that critics of such an approach will not only show its flaws, but will propose better alternatives for confronting the crises of drug addiction and its attendant crime.”
The findings of a recent Gallup Poll offer a “positive outlook for religion in America as we enter the third century of our existence.” The poll found that 94 per cent of the American people believe in God and 69 per cent believe in life after death, percentages that have remained fairly constant since 1948. But the percentage who believe religion is “increasing its influence on American society,” a figure that dropped from 69 per cent in 1957 to 14 per cent in 1970, rose to 39 per cent last year. In other words, more and more people are finding reasons to believe that religious faith is having an impact on national life.
The declines that began in the sixties have bottomed out, the study concludes, and America may be in the first stages of spiritual renewal.
OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF
Family-life specialists Delmer W. Holbrook and his wife have been lecturing and conducting surveys for Seventh-day Adventists across America. In a survey of hundreds of children, the Holbrooks came up with the three things fathers say most in responding to their kids.
“I’m too tired,” takes first place. “We don’t have enough money,” is second. And “keep quiet” is third.
Freeze In Colombia
Colombia has put a freeze on all new missionary visas pending the introduction of new regulations, including some sort of quota system, according to mission sources. President Luciano Jaramillo of the Confederation of Evangelical Churches of Colombia (CEDEC) says the government wants to update information on which missionaries are presently in Colombia. CEDEC has been directed to collect the information and to serve as an intermediary between the government and the various missions, adds Jaramillo. Details of the quota system have not been spelled out yet.
Government officials have said they are tired of dealing with forty or fifty religious organizations with different representatives and systems of government that frequently change. There is speculation that all future missionary visa requests by Protestants will have to be cleared through CEDEC.
The charismatic movement, the ecumenical movement, and the movement to endorse the ordination of homosexuals and women all received some harsh words at the annual meeting of the one-million-member American Baptist Association, headquartered in Texarkana, Texas.
At the annual conference of the 180,000-member Church of the Brethren, the 900 delegates approved a 10,000-word policy statement on alcohol use. It upholds abstinence as the church’s official position but does not call for the censure of those in the church who drink.
Delegates to the 221,500-member National Association of Free Will Baptists convention voted to make ineligible for church office elders (ministers) and deacons who have been divorced and remarried, regardless of their innocence or guilt in the divorce. Homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, and humanism in public schools were criticized. A dress-code proposal was voted down, apparently because it was not strong or specific enough.
Highlights of other meetings:
Evangelical Covenant Church of America. Some 640 delegates from 308 member churches, representing nearly 73,000 ECCA members in North America, approved “on principle” the ordination of women and an important statement on divorce and remarriage at the ECCA’s ninety-first annual meeting, held at Tacoma, Washington. The statement attempts to deal with the reality of divorce while upholding the sanctity of marriage and unity of the family. When there is repentance, forgiveness, and an attempt to understand why the marriage failed, a divorced person may consider the possibility of remarriage, according to the ECCA position. The door was left open for divorced pastors to continue their ministries.
Conservative Baptists. More than 1,200 pastors, missionaries, and laypersons assembled at Valley Forge for their thirty-third annual meeting and passed resolutions calling for stronger family life (especially through an emphasis on family worship) and opposing Transcendental Meditation as a religious cult. Thirty-six missionaries were added to the CB force of nearly 700 workers serving in twenty-two nations. There are 1,120 CB congregations in the United States with 300,000 members.
General Association of Regular Baptist Churches. Nearly 1,500 messengers (delegates) at the forty-fifth annual GARBC conference in Seattle heard that forty-nine new churches had been accepted into the fellowship the past year, bringing the total number of congregations to 1,528. The missions committee reported that the five GARBC-approved agencies now have 1,915 missionaries at work in more than fifty countries. The messengers pledged to champion “biblical separation while rejecting a bitter, caustic spirit” but disavowed “any fellowship with neoevangelicals,” mentioning the National Association of Evangelicals by name. They criticized the women’s liberation movement and condemned the Equal Rights Amendment. They also condemned immorality on the part of government leaders. Reaffirmed was the GARBC’s belief in the pre-tribulation rapture of the Church, a de facto test of fellowship.
The Wesleyan Church. Meeting in Wichita, Kansas, delegates from twenty nations, representing a worldwide membership of 137,000 (85,000 of them in the United States), heard glowing reports of growth and effective outreach spanning the past quadrennium. In an important action, the delegates by a vote of 280 to 99 adopted a recommendation of the denomination’s administrative board to end merger talks with the Free Methodist Church, which had been going on for six years (see May 10, 1974, issue, page 50). There had been uneasiness at the grass-roots level over the looser approach to Scripture by some Free Methodists, over a projected compromise that would leave Free Methodist schools free of tight denominational control in a merger, and over the Free Methodists’ failure to vote on a merger plan in 1974. Other issues also figured in the action. Delegates agreed, however, to maintain cooperative programs with the Free Methodists (printing, Christian education, youth work).
African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Meeting in Atlanta for the AMEC’s quadrennial convention, 1,400 delegates of the 2.5-million-member body came out against abortion on demand, homosexual marriages, and capital punishment. Support was voiced for black liberation movements in South Africa and Rhodesia and for women’s equality. Clergyman Richard Allen Chappelle of Jacksonville, Florida, was elected as the denomination’s general conference secretary (chief executive) to succeed Russell S. Brown, 78, who is retiring after thirty years in the post.
Religion In Transit
Missouri voters defeated a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have authorized some $10 million annually in state aid to parochial and private schools.
Not only is there no “general religious revival” occurring today among high school youth, as widely believed, but the trend is in the opposite direction, according to Catholic sociologist Dean Hoge. Basing his remarks on studies by Purdue University and a research unit of the Catholic University of America, he concludes that religious faith among teen-agers has decreased by 15 to 20 per cent since the 1950s.
After Macmillan publishing company of Canada was tried and acquitted on obscenity charges in connection with its sex education book, Show Me, the book became a sellout in a number of Canadian stores. It shows nude children exploring one another’s bodies and illustrates sex acts between teen-agers. Marshall McLuhan testified against the book; rabbi W. Gunter Plaut and United Church of Canada clergyman Barry Brooks endorsed its use.
Christian radio executive David L. Hofer of Dinuba, California, a Mennonite Brethren member, was reelected president of Gideons International at the group’s 77th convention in San Francisco. World membership is 51,151 (33,741 in the United States), an all-time high, he says. The Gideons place Bibles (in forty-three languages) in hotel rooms, prisons, and hospitals in 109 countries.
Six people were arrested during a police raid of a bingo operation at the storefront Church of All Faiths of Pomona, California. Patrons were required to buy a Bible for $ 10.60 in return for game cards. Investigators say the church grossed $16,000 a month on the scheme.
OLIVER BOYCE GREENE, 61, fundamentalist Baptist radio preacher; in Greenville, South Carolina, during heart surgery.
Hundreds of Vietnamese Catholic priests have been arrested throughout what was formerly South Viet Nam, say church sources, and all foreign clergy have been asked to leave. Few remained as of last month.
Because of political tension, many missionaries have left Uganda. Some say they will stay in Kenya indefinitely. More than thirty Anglican missionaries, however, were still on the job this month.
Former U. S. Army chaplain James Hutchens, 41, a well-known evangelical, is seeking to have Israel’s Supreme Court reverse its decision denying him and his family immigrant status. The court’s action was in connection with a complaint that Hutchens still retained his belief in Jesus despite his ritual conversion to Judaism under an Orthodox rabbi in the United States.
After East Timor declared its independence from Portugal last December, Indonesian forces invaded the 7,400-square-mile island enclave, and the Indonesian government annexed it as its twenty-seventh province. East Timorese exiles claim 60,000 of their 670,000 countrymen were killed and 100,000 were imprisoned. A third of the population is Catholic; the rest is mostly animist. The World Council of Churches months ago called on Indonesia to withdraw. In the mid-sixties, revival swept the western side of the island, long a part of Indonesia.
Some 125 Nigerian missionary couples are serving under the Evangelical Missionary Society, the mission arm of the Evangelical Churches of West Africa (ECWA). The missionaries serve in neighboring Benin and Nigeria as well as in remote areas of Nigeria. ECWA is an outgrowth of Sudan Interior Mission work.
Israeli officials say 6,000 Jews have emigrated from the Soviet Union since January. Half have gone to Israel.
Alcoholism among Britain’s teen-agers has risen sharply, according to the National Council on Alcoholism.
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