Understandably, Soviet Protestant leader Georgi Vins has been showered with attention in Christian circles in the West. His surprise release from a Siberian work camp and deportation to the U.S. in late April following years of imprisonment and harassment was received as a welcome answer to prayer. Vins, however, has mixed feelings about what happened, and so do we.

Vins was stripped of his citizenship, ousted from the land he loved, and removed from direct contact with the churches he ably served. He belongs in his own country, where his ministry is needed—but with his rights intact. He was hounded and jailed by Soviet authorities solely for his religious activities, an appalling violation of the Soviet Union’s own constitution.

Sadly, a number of others like Vins—no one, including Vins, knows how many—are still in jail. Continual pressure must be placed upon the Soviet government; there can be no letup until Soviet believers are permitted to exercise their God-ordained rights.

In the months ahead, Vins and his family will need assistance in starting a new life. He will need protection from would-be exploiters while seeking new opportunities for Christian service. He may wish to reassess his position regarding the dispute that split the Protestants in the Soviet Union in the 1960s. Basically, that dispute was over government interference in church affairs: Vins and some other leaders argued that any intrusion ought to be resisted at all costs; but the majority of the Protestant leadership, deeming it best for the survival of the churches, chose to cooperate with the government in hopes that significant rights could be retained or gained. The widespread closure for decades of churches in Albania, China, and North Korea, where once they flourished, is evidence that governments that really want to can virtually eliminate organized Christian activity.

During Vins’s last five years in prison, a thaw developed between the main Protestant group and the Vins reform group. Additionally, the estimated 300,000 Pentecostals outside the officially recognized Protestant body became friendlier toward their “compromising” brethren. All of this is good news. Vins was shut off from these developments for the most part, though, and he emerged from prison still convinced that congregations must practice a rigid separation of church and state—even when the state declines to go along with the idea.

We, of course, sympathize with Vins’s views. But we also understand the political realities surrounding the decisions of the majority of Protestant leaders. The last thing Christians in an atheist state need is disunity. We hope that for the sake of Christian witness some way can be found for Soviet believers inside and outside the U.S.S.R. to surmount their differences. Georgi Vins may be able to help lead the way.

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The Travail Of Northern Ireland

One of the more bizarre features of the recent general election campaign in Britain was a moment of harmony between the two major parties. It has truly been said that nothing unites people more than a common antagonism. In this case the warring Labour and Conservative factions joined together to repudiate a remark made in Dublin by the the U.S. Speaker of the House, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill. He must have pleased his hosts in the Irish Republic by saying of Northern Ireland, “The problem has been treated as a political football in London or has otherwise been given a low priority.”

But O’Neill’s musing was mild compared with written remarks by Hugh Carey, governor of New York. “The impending British elections,” he declared, “offer the opportunity to focus international attention on England’s continued failure to solve its most terrible problem, the damnable Irish question.”

Northern Irish terrorists were delighted by what they hailed as assistance for their cause. During the election campaign and the ensuing few days they murdered twenty people in Northern Ireland. In the Netherlands they assassinated the British ambassador. They also killed Airey Neave, one of Britain’s most respected members of Parliament and the man who would have been Secretary of State for Ireland in the new Thatcher administration. Irish-American politicians, almost all of whom profess to be devoutly Christian, should hold their tongues rather than try to pick up votes with seeming indifference to the cost in British blood.

There is no simple solution to the Northern Ireland problem. Thankfully it is an issue which neither of the two major British political parties has tried to exploit. But the tragedy is definitely not “low priority.”

Nowhere is there a greater work for Jesus Christ to be done today than in this unquiet land among the bereaved, the incorrigible, the mutilated, the vicious, the terrified, the lonely, the deranged, and the misguided. Desperately needed is a purged memory so that peace can be understood not just as the absence of conflict, but as the presence of God.

The Pope In Poland

Pope John Paul II’s visit to his native Poland (see News, page 50) was a triumphant homecoming in many ways. We can easily understand the joyful pride of millions of Poles, including, we suspect, some Communist functionaries. After all, this Pope is carving a notable niche in history for himself and his country. He is the first Polish Pope in the nation’s 1,000-plus years of existence, and he seems to be doing well at what it is that Popes do.

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Because of him, the world is sitting up and taking note of Poland. Its 35,000,000 citizens—more than 90 percent of them Roman Catholics—constitute the most church-going people in the world. They enjoy a greater measure of religious freedom than the people of any other Eastern European nation—though there still is a long way to go, as John Paul II courageously pointed out during his visit.

Among other things, Polish Catholics want more paper and less censorship for their publications, more building permits for new churches, less state interference in church affairs, less discrimination in employment, and the right to establish religious education programs for their children. We hope negotiations on these points will be pursued with dispatch as a result of the Pope’s visit.

Understandably, Protestants and non-Christians, especially older ones, are somewhat less than enthusiastic about backing the Catholic church in its quest for greater freedom. They can remember pre-World War II days when the church had considerable political clout and denied the rights of non-Catholics. To a degree, such conditions still exist in scattered communities elsewhere in the world, and Pope John Paul II should use his influence to clean house where necessary.

We should realize, however, that by and large we are in a new age. Increasingly, there is appreciation of Protestants by Catholics. The Bible is an open book in Catholic circles, and strong tides of spiritual renewal are flowing through the church.

The Pope himself has played a part in this reversal. For example, as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, he led the Polish bishops to adopt an evangelical youth movement as the official youth organization of the church in order to shelter it from unrestrained government harassment. His excessive references to Mary notwithstanding, the evidence indicates that Pope John Paul II is Christ-centered in his thinking. He gave a bold witness for Christ in Poland and for that, we applaud him.

Taking A Costly Stand

For the second consecutive year, singer Anita Bryant placed first in the Good Housekeeping Most Admired Woman poll. And perhaps her popularity surprised those who mistakenly assumed that Miss Bryant’s campaign against the homosexual rights movement had placed her in general disfavor.

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Many pro-Bryant voters explained that while they might not always agree with her views, they do admire her courage in expressing those views. The magazine’s readers, it seems, respect an honest, clearly defined stand on a controversial issue.

Perhaps there is a lesson here for evangelicals, many of whom have given Miss Bryant less than “Admired Woman” status. On many issues—abortion, pornography, racial justice—evangelicals have taken a middle ground approach. We avoid identifying ourselves too closely with an issue or movement that might jerk us from the shelter of anonymity in America’s mainstream. We often leave unfashionable campaigns for righteousness to “extremists” of the left or right.

Of course, there may be keenly perceived reasons for not getting publicly involved in each new crusade. In Miss Bryant’s case, some evangelicals say she has placed inordinate emphasis upon one particular sin.

More likely, however, evangelicals back off from involvement in the gay rights controversy and from taking other strong stands against pervasive sins because of the risks and personal sacrifices that may be involved. Bryant’s involvement, for example, has cost her considerable income as an entertainer; she and her family have received threats and a degree of social ostracism.

In a recent survey in this magazine (Jan. 5 issue, p. 16), church leaders assessed the status of the church in 1979. A number of them complained of a church that was compromised by culture. Former Wittenburg Door editor Denny Rydberg, for instance, said, “The church seems almost indistinguishable from any other organization in society. You can’t tell the Christians from anyone else.”

Evangelicals do not need to take public stands just for the sake of argument. Neither should we bludgeon society with harsh judgments that are not based in love. But the long-run benefits of speaking may outweigh the short-term risks. Apparently one substantial portion of society, the readers of Good Housekeeping, respect a Christian such as Anita Bryant, whose beliefs are expressed forthrightly.

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