The unprecedented unity of 237 Protestant churches that participated in the Singapore Billy Graham Crusade in December 1978 has now resulted in the formation of the Evangelical Fellowship of Singapore (EFOS). EFOS shows an apparent decline of the strong liberal influence of the 1950s and 1960s in this island republic, as well as significant progress made by evangelicals since the mid-1970s.

“Things were still pretty bad even in the early 1970s,” said Benjamin Chew, honorary chairman of both the Graham Crusade and EFOS. “Then we had a steady evangelical shift.”

Chew attributed the shift to sound evangelical teaching and the work of parachurch organizations, especially in the University of Singapore. More than 10 young evangelicals who became pastors during the last decade were converted at the university level. Another factor was the renewal movement of the 1970s. “We had men like Bishop Doraisamy,” said Chew, “who shifted from a semiliberal to a dedicated evangelical position.”

Two congresses on evangelism in 1978 gave additional impetus to evangelical fevor. “The Graham Crusade was really the peak,” Chew said. “I definitely see a greater evangelical influence in Singapore in the ’80s.”

Earlier this year, a front-page report in the secular newspaper highlighted the appointment of two laymen active in evangelical churches to cabinet positions in the government. They were Minister of Foreign Affairs S. Dhanabalan, a Brethren church elder, and Minister of Education Tony Tan, an Anglican.

EFOS drew its 29 Central Council members from 14 denominations. Of these, 13 also participated on the executive committee of the Graham crusade. This is natural since EFOS was first discussed at length by the crusade committee. Especially significant is the inclusion of a Bible Presbyterian church leader, since this fundamentalist group (with 20 churches in Singapore) actively opposed the Graham Crusade.

A month after EFOS launched its recruitment drive, 15 churches and seven parachurch organizations joined the fellowship. Administrator Liew Kee Kok (who was crusade manager) said it is still too early to accurately gauge response. “Most churches say they need to discuss membership implications before giving an answer.”

Thus far, the only objections to the formation of EFOS have come from representatives of the National Council of Churches of Singapore. They said EFOS is redundant since the NCCS already functions as a national church body. NCCS, which has its roots in the defunct Malayan Christian Council formed in 1948, now draws its membership from six denominations. Two of them, the Mar Thoma Church and Syrian Orthodox Church, have only one congregation each.

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Most evangelical churches, however, declined joining the NCCS because of its ties with the World Council of Churches. In a recent interview, NCCS general secretary James Wong objected to the liberal tag. “Singapore has changed so much in its religious scene over the last 20 years,” Wong said. “For people to harp over what happened in the ’40s and ’50s, they must believe that history is linear and not progressive. This to me shows the small-mindedness of Christian leaders. But the NCCS leadership has changed radically.” He said the NCCS debated the issue of WCC ties in early 1970 and had decided not to be a WCC member. Since then, Wong said, “we send them no donations and receive no funds from them, and do not support any of their projects.”

This assurance, however, ran contrary to the minutes of an NCCS general committee meeting held on August 16, 1979, which stated: “The honorary treasurer reported that the NCCS received a check for $1,112 from the WCC in aid of Program of Projects. The money was given for administrative purposes.”

Wong, one of four EFOS vice-chairmen, nonetheless hopes that NCCS and EFOS will complement each other. So far, there has been no tangible evidence of such relationship.

Commenting on the radical change in NCCS leadership, a member of the EFOS Central Council, Alfred Yeo, said “The evangelical witness in the NCCS is not always guaranteed.” This is because representatives appointed to the NCCS council serve a four-year-term, and office holders are elected annually.

Yeo then charged that the NCCS is supposed to represent the Chinese and English churches, “but in practice, all the activities so far are in English.” Anticipating such a weakness, EFOS appointed Kao Keng Tai as its associate general secretary. Kao is expected to act as liaison between English-speaking and Chinese-speaking churches. He has for the last seven years served as secretary of the executive council of the Union of the Chinese-speaking Christian Churches of Singapore. Its current membership stands at 53 Chinese-speaking churches and parachurch organizations out of about 120 Chinese churches and organizations in Singapore.

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EFOS intends, moreover, to avoid a structural weakness of NCCS. While NCCS is meant only for denominations, EFOS membership is open to all local churches, parachurch organizations, and individuals who subscribe to its statement of faith and constitution. The NCCS does not have a statement of faith, Chew said.

Beyond this tension between liberals and evangelicals lies the more crucial matter of the EFOS mandate. Lawyer William Wan, general secretary of EFOS, said EFOS “ought to be a representative voice, not only nationally but internationally.” While saying EFOS should stay out of politics, he stressed, members must be “bold and courageous enough to address ourselves to the government if it infringes upon Christian principles.” He stated the need to study social issues and present the government with a united, credible Christian platform. Late last year, the government invited views on its proposed amendments to the divorce law contained in the women’s charter bill, including divorce by consent. It appears that the government decided not to proceed with legalizing divorce by consent because of several written statements against it by evangelical bodies such as the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship.

On the international level, Wan said EFOS should be an information resource center for more accurate dissemination of news on Singapore to other countries. In addition, he said, “Our movement should be in fellowship with the World Evangelical Fellowship and have more direct links with other national fellowships in our region.” Such links will help Singaporeans “understand problems affecting Asian churches because we are part of Asia, and keep us informed of developments in the West.”

A graduate of Regent College, Vancouver, Wan said he would explore the possibility of setting up a theological commission. “Our concern,” he said, “is to have national theologians coming together from different denominations, different types of schools, to study pressing theological problems.” For starters, he wanted to examine the charismatic movement.

Finally, Wan stressed that EFOS is a coordinating body that will work toward evangelical cooperation among churches and parachurch organizations. “We can play the mediating role, defusing hard feelings and misunderstanding,” he said.

Wan confessed that such objectives are “ambitious.” “But since we represent a national group of evangelicals,” he said, “we have the resources and, we hope, the finances to carry them out.”

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West Bank Relief: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Israel’s West Bank military authorities are blocking some of the welfare and development projects of religious and charitable organizations working with Palestinians there. Reporter David K. Shipler observes that the authorities tend to approve projects for towns that are submissive to occupation and to disapprove them for towns with pro-PLO leanings. Also, he notes, social welfare programs get the nod, while those aimed at raising the level of economic productivity or producing highly skilled workers are vetoed.

Aid agencies are caught in a bind: they must cooperate with the authorities to operate on the West Bank, but if they appear to be adjuncts of Israeli authority they lose credibility with the Palestinians they seek to help. Protestant agencies involved include the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), the American Friends Service Committee, the Lutheran World Federation, and the Middle East Council of Churches.

The latest casualty of the tension is MCC worker Paul K. Quiring and his family. They left Israel in September after being denied permission to work there; they earlier had served a four-year term on the West Bank. Quiring evidently displeased the authorities by making a carefully researched statement before a U.S. congressional committee describing the encroachment of Jewish settlements on Palestinian farmland and water supplies.

What Next? White Bibles on the Black Market

Bibles for promised brides are a hot item in Ghana, whose economy has long been a shambles. Many distributors are making illegal profits by selling the popular engagement gift for the exorbitant price of $90 (at the official exchange rate for the grossly overvalued Ghanaian cedi).

The public has turned bitter over the soaring cost of Bibles and has started pointing an accusing finger—probably unfairly—at the Bible Society of Ghana.

Maxwell Dzunu, general secretary of the Bible society, acknowledged in an interview that Scripture supplies are scarce. Dzunu explained that for the last four years the society has been prohibited from transferring funds to overseas printing facilities and therefore has not received fresh stocks of Scriptures.

(During his first year in office, Ghanaian President Hilla Limann is widely credited for imposing austere economic measures that conserved enough foreign exchange to pay the nation’s short-term debts. His management teams shaped up major enterprises that grew inefficient and corrupt during years of military rule. Still, his efforts have been undercut by the decline in world prices for cocoa—the main prop of Ghana’s economy. Ghanians thus have yet to experience relief from bare store shelves and an inflation rate exceeding 50 percent a year.)

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Dzunu deplored the attitudes of distributors who exploit the Ghanaians’ desire for Bibles. To counteract overpricing, he announced that the price for all standard binding Bibles had been set at $5.50. He also asked that churches urge their members to use local language Bibles for their marriages in place of the traditional English-language Bibles that are in short supply. “After all,” he said, “most of the so-called engagement Bibles are not read by their recipients. They are treasured so much that, instead of reading them, they are neatly tucked in the bottom of trunks.”

Understandably, given the state of the economy, Ghana’s churches have failed to meet their assigned 12 percent share of the society’s $910,000 budget. Local church contributions last year amounted to only $35,500—less than 4 percent of the society’s budget.

In spite of these fiscal constraints, the society is proceeding with translation of the Old Testament into the Dangme language, and of the New Testament into the Nzewo and Fante tongues. The government also has approved the society’s proposed unified orthography for the Akan language.


The American Lutheran Church
Complementary Counsel and Contrary Conviction

Convention delegates of the American Lutheran Church (ALC) tackled some hot issues in the cool northlands of Minneapolis last month. The abortion issue was so complex that it warranted not one, but two position statements. A question remained whether the statements are contradictory.

Delegates first approved a strong statement, prepared by the ALC Church Council, deploring “the absence of any legal protection for human life from the time of conception to birth” and the “alarming increase of induced abortions since the 1973 Supreme Court decision.”

But a second, much longer statement, drafted by a 14-member task force appointed two years ago, illustrated the complexities of the abortion issue. It placed the responsibility on individuals “to make the best possible decision they are capable of making in light of the information available to them and their sense of accountability to God, neighbor, and self.”

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Some ALC officials criticized the task force report as lacking in biblical foundations, and in effect supporting elective abortion. Task force supporters disagreed. David W. Preus, who was reelected at the biennial meeting to a six-year term as president of the 2.3-million-member denomination, denied that the statements contradicted each other. He noted that the first was approved as a statement of “judgment and conviction” (or a public stand), while the second statement was approved for the “comment and counsel” of ALC congregations.

Convention delegates disregarded Preus’s advice when they asked for the sale of all the denomination’s stock in firms doing business in South Africa as the best strategy to oppose government-imposed segregation, or apartheid. Preus had argued that divestiture takes away church representation at company stockholder meetings, and thereby removes a stronger witness than the protest withdrawal provides.

A black South African bishop also opposed a stock sale. L. E. Dlamini, bishop of the Southeastern Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa, told delegates that while his church opposes apartheid, divestiture would hurt “the very people you intend to help and liberate.”

About half of the ALC’s 18 districts supported divestiture in resolutions. The ALC has already sold holdings in three firms doing business in South Africa, and reportedly still holds $24.8 million in stock in 18 corporations doing business there. The approved resolution calls divestiture “the most legitimate strategy in opposing apartheid,” and requests that ALC trustees divest in “a prudent manner” that does not place “undue risk” on ALC investments.

The convention turned down a recommendation that the church support the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. It also voted to authorize a study on whether the ALC should join the National Council of Churches.

By a nearly unanimous vote, the delegates approved a process possibly leading in two years to a vote on merger options between the ALC and two other Lutheran bodies. Four proposals, ranging from close cooperation with no merger to a full merger, are being considered by the ALC, the Lutheran Church in America, and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches. A new single church would have more than 5 million members.

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Outgoing president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Jacob A. O. Preus, showed the improbability of any future merger between his LCMS and the ALC. In an address to the ALC convention, Preus said the LCMS basically feels uncomfortable with the diversity of doctrine and practice allowed in the ALC. He said the LCMS believes it necessary that “a confessional church … be in agreement in doctrine and practice.” In 1977, the LCMS declared its fellowship with the ALC “in protest” because of disagreements with the more liberal ALC on scriptural interpretation, women’s ordination, and other issues.

Elementary Religious Education
Judge’s Gavel Dismisses Chattanooga Bible Classes

For the first time in 58 years, grade school students in Chattanooga, Tennessee, aren’t studying the Bible—at least, not in the public school classroom.

A September 5 U.S. District Court ruling severely curtailed the program, begun in 1922 by the Public School Bible Study Committee. It operates at present in both the Chattanooga and Hamilton County school systems. Specifically, Judge Frank Wilson, a respected United Methodist Sunday school teacher, ruled that Bible classes taught in the Hamilton County elementary school system violated constitutional provisions against state establishment of religion.

Judge Wilson had listened to several tape-recorded lessons, and concluded the intent and purpose was to convey a religious message rather than a literary or historic message. Because of that, the lessons violated guidelines he established a year ago for maintaining the constitutionality of the program. He established these after parents of several students filed suit against the program, and he declared it unconstitutional. The Bible study committee then revamped the program, and felt it satisfied the judge’s guidelines. The committee gave jurisdiction of the program to the two school systems, but still provided financing.

However, the parents again filed suit with the active support of the American Civil Liberties Union. They had vocal backing from Thor Hall, religion professor at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga. They specifically challenged Bible classes in the elementary schools, but not in the junior and senior high schools.

Ironically, the judge upheld the constitutionality of the Bible classes taught in the Chattanooga elementary schools. However, the Bible study commmittee dropped its funding of the Chattanooga elementary program, so classes stopped there as well.

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Committee vice-chairman John Stophel, a Chattanooga lawyer, explained that since each school system used the same curriculum, “It was foolish to think that we could permanently sustain the program in the city schools.” The committee could explain the judge’s mixed ruling only in that he had studied separate groups of lessons from each school system before making his decision.

The committee, composed of 45 of the area’s most prominent business, political, and religious leaders, continued its funding of the junior and senior high school programs in both school systems. The committee decided not to appeal the judge’s ruling or make further attempts to revise the elementary program. Insurance executive and committee chairman Hugh O. Maclellan told a reporter that a continuing program apparently would “require distortion or omission of events recorded in the Bible,” so that funding for it would “constitute betrayal of the generous donors who have supported the program.”

Critics said recent events show the tyranny of the minority. Elementary students needed a signed slip from their parents to participate in the voluntary program; even then, participation was 95 to 100 percent, said Stophel. To prevent embarrassing those not taking part, elementary schools conducted the semester-long classes for no more than half the class at one time. This way, nonparticipants would join at least half the class in some other activity and not be isolated.

Churches Find State Less Prying but Mere Taxing

Religious organizations in California are now less likely to be investigated but more likely to lose their tax-exempt status. That is the result of two recent legislative measures: one that passed, another that didn’t.

The first one, signed into law by Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr., severely trimmed the power of the state attorney general to investigate alleged financial abuses by religious organizations. A California law that came into effect early in 1980 had given the attorney general broad powers to investigate and correct any “wrongful activity” discovered for such controversial groups as the Worldwide Church of God and its founder, Herbert W. Armstrong, Synanon, and Eugene Scott’s Faith Center (Apr. 18 issue, p. 48).

The bill, authored by State Senator Nicholas Petris (D-Oakland), received backing from a coalition of civil-rights and religious groups that said state intrusion into the affairs of even one unorthodox religious group threatened First and Fourth Amendment rights and freedom of worship of all religious groups. The measure was opposed mostly by groups of parents of children in religious cults and by some psychologists.

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The new law bars the attorney general from looking into the affairs of religious organizations, except for criminal matters and a few narrowly defined civil complaints. Amendments added during the bill’s passage through senate and assembly committees allow the attorney general to: “make inquiry” concerning funds solicited from the general public for specific purposes, make destruction or unauthorized altering of financial records a criminal offense, and instruct the courts to consider requiring financial restitution in the criminal conviction of any individual.

Attorney General George Deukmejian said the new law “puts in serious jeopardy” the state’s suits against the Worldwide Church of God and Synanon, both accused of widescale diversion of funds. He did not say whether these suits would now be dropped, but acknowledged that all such pending cases “must … now be reexamined.”

Governor Brown vetoed a second measure, which would have prohibited state tax officials from denying a church its tax-exempt status for making political statements in keeping with its religious faith. This bill also had passed overwhelmingly in the legislature; it was sponsored by Republican State Senator H. L. Richardson. It could still be enacted over Brown’s veto by a two-thirds majority of both houses of the legislature, but that was considered unlikely.

Richardson branded the veto “a pagan assault against the churches of California.” But increasing public concern about politically outspoken churches and ministers appeared to buttress the governor’s veto.

The Richardson bill also would have simplified tax filing by churches. It was backed, therefore, by two interest groups: those who sought the liberty to preach and mail information about their positions on moral issues having political ramifications—such as abortion and homosexual rights; and churches with connected Christian schools that would have been relieved of detailed tax reporting. These churches considered release of such information a government encroachment on religious freedom; they have resisted court efforts to define what is and what is not an integral part of a church.

Churches in California still can lose their tax exempt status if they engage in “substantial” propaganda campaigns, attempt to influence legislation, or campaign for political candidates. And as many as 70 churches that stopped filing the appropriate IRS forms in the last year or two, expecting the bill to pass, now find themselves in a bind. At least one—Calvary Baptist Church in Fairfield—has had a lien placed against its property because of delinquent property taxes.

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