Kaunda favors Christian humanism, but appears immobilized.

The new-found political activism of Zambia’s churches is getting on the nerves of one of the country’s most distinguished, loyal, and devoted churchmen: President Kenneth David Kaunda.

The president is a teetotaler who has banned alcohol from his Lusaka State House, even for visiting dignitaries. Each morning he spends time in private Bible reading, meditation, and prayer. The son of a Methodist preacher and himself a lay reader in the church, Kaunda over the years has been a vigorous defender of the cause of Christianity in Zambia. In private sessions with offending high government officials, he is known to reach out frequently for his Bible and turn the meetings into fervent, even tearful, evangelism encounters.

In recent months, however. Kaunda’s official relations with the organized churches have been less than warm. Last month he warned the churches against setting themselves up as an opposition party, singling out the Roman Catholic weekly paper, The Mirror, for particular tongue-lashing. He accused the paper of being consistently and unrelentingly negatively critical of government viewpoints.

The falling out between Kaunda and the churches comes at a particularly trying time for Kaunda’s regime. The country’s economy is bad and deteriorating. Politically, some of the thin threads that bind together its delicate peace-and-stability formula have begun to snap: the military establishment became restive late last year, necessitating sweeping changes; a number of prominent businessmen and former high government officials were rounded up and are soon to stand trial for plotting to overthrow the government; the loyalty of trade unions has been severely shaken by the inept government handling of negotiations with striking miners, bankers, and teachers.

Before independence, the churches of Zambia actively spoke out on behalf of the nationalist movement. The current Catholic-archbishop of Lusaka, Emmanuel Milingo, and the current general secretary of the Christian Council of Zambia, Kingsley Mwenda, were ardent nationalists themselves during the preindependence struggle for national liberation. But once independence was achieved, the churches receded into the background, “leaving politics to the politicians,” as Mwenda once remarked.

That situation suddenly changed two years ago when churches conducted a joint effort to study political trends in the country. The study produced a document entitled “Marxism, Humanism, and Christianity.” signed by leaders of the Roman Catholic Episcopal Conference, the Christian Council of Zambia, and the Zambian Evangelical Fellowship.

Article continues below

The document was issued as a letter to all Christians in Zambia in August 1979. It analyzed and challenged the country’s drift toward scientific socialism. It was hailed around the world as “a striking example of how the Christian voice can be lifted to comment on political affairs in a way that rejects mealy-mouthed generalizations, calls things by their proper names, deals in specifics, and offers a clear-cut view of the difference between right and wrong.”

The church leaders sensed a tendency in official circles to adopt and impose a Marxist-Leninist social order. They declared the churches had a duty to speak out against it, “lest our silence be taken to mean that we agree with what is being said.”

Carefully contrasting the two main strands of socialism, the church leaders explained that “democratic socialism seeks to end exploitation and to protect the people through public ownership of major industries and natural resources … by setting up a welfare state that freely provides all citizens with the necessities of life such as health, education, and social services.” Scientific socialism, on the other hand, is described as progress towards communism and atheism, leading to the suppression of religion, personal freedoms, and the orderly and constitutional processes of government. The leaders advised Zambian Christians to reject this “inhuman doctrine.”

The leaders took the unusual step of referring by name to neighboring countries that offer positive as well as negative examples of socialist development. Tanzania was praised for practicing “nothing to trouble the Christian conscience,” but both Mozambique and Angola came in for severe criticism.

The document cited a resolution of the June 1978 conference of Mozambique’s only party, Frelimo, which declared that “religion is an obstacle to the advancement of the revolutionary process,” and further that “the activity of religious organizations is harmful.” The leaders also quoted at length extracts from a 1977 letter of the Catholic bishops of Angola to their government, urging it to respect the rights of religion and human rights.

Humanism also came under critical review. Congratulating Kaunda for introducing a challenging ideological frame of reference for Zambia’s sociopolitical and economic development, the leaders warned, however, that Zambia is not the first country, and Kaunda not the first person, to use the term humanism. In other contexts it might mean totally different things.

Article continues below

The church leaders warned that they saw in Zambia an emerging and powerful clique of atheistic humanists who say “that there is no God and that we should not live as if there were.” The document contrasted this to Christian humanism which sees men and women as called not only to be fully human, but also to grow as members of God’s family, “to mature personhood, to the measure of the stature of Christ.”

There were two other extremely useful parts to the document: a critique of capitalism, which the church leaders rejected as being unsuitable for Zambia; and a long, Bible-based study of the Christian view of the human person.

The document said in conclusion: “Our first main reason for rejecting scientific socialism is that as a philosophy it denies God. Our second is that this rejection of God necessarily denies man. We differ profoundly from Marxists in our understanding of the human person, so that Marxist humanism is also radically different from Christian humanism.”

The document created a stir in Zambia’s political circles. Reuben Kamanga, a member of the central committee of the country’s only legal political party—The United National Independence Party—lashed out angrily at the church leaders, warning them to “stop dabbling in politics and frightening people unnecessarily.” Kamanga told them to “remain within their spiritual domain rather than venture into politics—a domain for politicians.”

Kaunda, however, was of a different opinion. He ordered members of the party to study the document carefully and to treat it as an important contribution to the ongoing discussion in the country aimed at arriving at appropriate national goals. “Kaunda,” says a British missionary in Lusaka, “held out an olive branch to the churches, but the churches didn’t recognize it.” An official of the Christian Council of Zambia, however, feels maintaining some formal distance is a practical necessity at this time.

In May 1980, Kaunda again tried to close the distance. He used the occasion of the Golden Jubilee Celebration of the Catholic Church in Ndola (on the copper belt) to give a personal appraisal of the past and present role of the church in Zambia. After lavishly praising the rapidly growing “dedicated and wise local leadership” of the church in Zambia, Kaunda said:

“The current history of the struggle and rise of the people of Zambia is not yet fully written. When it will be written, the record will show … that it was never true that the missionary offered us the Bible with his left hand while he used his right hand to steal freedom and resources from us: that it was rather the other man, the one who held out to us no Bible at all, who sought to steal from us not only our resources but to run away with our whole freedom and the Bible itself.”

Article continues below

In this, Kaunda was telling the churchmen of his country that he does not share the viewpoints of his neighbours in Mozambique and Angola, and that he does not share the convictions of the scientific socialists in his own ruling party, UNIP.

Yet the confrontation continues. Both Kaunda and the leaders of the church have been overtaken by events. The recent revolt, which landed a few distinguished citizens in jail on suspicion of planning to topple the government, came from the right wing of Zambia’s new elite. It came cashing in on growing unease with the rising influence of scientific socialists in UNIP, using the very words of protest that church leaders themselves had made popular.

“The churches are in this,” a prominent church leader recently said in Lusaka. “It won’t help anyone to say we have been dragged into it; we played our part in calling attention to some of these trends as no other organized body of concerned citizens would have done. Without the license to meet and discuss these issues, we could very well have been considered subversives too. But we must restrain ourselves now from jumping to conclusions. The state has the responsibility to keep this nation secure and we must urge it to act responsibly and justly, to investigate the charges carefully, and to conduct a fair and open trial in a court of law.”

That leader was also confident that Kaunda knows the heart of the churchmen is in the right place. “Kenneth knows how we all feel about him. Politically there is hardly a replacement for him at this moment, and we gave him our unswerving loyalty and support during the recent elections. He literally stands between Zambia and chaos.”

South Africa
Brotherly Feud Strains Reformed Family Ties

A multiracial organization of Dutch Reformed ministers in South Africa is under fire from several quarters. The Broederkring’s (Circle of Brothers) more than 300 members fervently oppose the government’s apartheid policy (which is staunchly defended by an all-Afrikaner secret organization called the Broederbond [Federation of Brothers]).

The Broederkring is under investigation by the black Dutch Reformed Church and by a committee of the colored Dutch Reformed Mission Church. They charge it with fostering a theology of revolution, and accepting assistance from abroad.

Article continues below

Broederkring president Allan Boesak replies that his organization supports the official declarations of faith, and that overseas funds are used for scholarships for overseas study, freeing the brown and black churches from the financial stranglehold the white church (NGK) exerts on them.

In addition, the minister of justice, L. le Grange, has accused the Broederkring of civil disobedience and refusal to engage in military service. Boesak, currently lecturing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, says he believes these are opening shots in a campaign to have the Broederkring meet the same fate as the Christian Institute of Beyers Naudé: banishment.


Bitterman Slaying Isolates Guerrillas, Bolsters Sil

Edmund K. Gravely, Jr., a reporter for the New York Times, was in Bogotá, Colombia, at the time Chet Bitterman was kidnapped and through the following month. He wrote this report for CHRISTIANITY TODAY:

They came early in the morning. Seven guerrillas, one dressed as a police officer, entered the guest house of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) in Bogotá, Colombia, seeking the director of the organization, Alva Wheeler.

He was not there. But Chet and Brenda Bitterman, both linguists with the institute, and their two children were. The intruders took Bitterman as their victim.

“You know you are fighting against God,” his wife warned them, according to another linguist in the house.

“Yes, we know it,” one replied.

In telephone calls to newspapers and radio stations, the kidnappers demanded that SIL leave Colombia by February 19 in exchange for the 28-year-old linguist’s life. According to its policy of not yielding to terrorists, the institute refused.

Forty-seven days after the abduction, on March 7, the body of Chester Allen Bitterman III was found. He had been shot through the heart with a single bullet.

Police found the body early Saturday morning after an anonymous caller told a local newspaper, El Tiempo, that he was in an abandoned bus in a residential-industrial neighborhood in the southwest part of the city. The bus’s driver had been bound, gagged, and blindfolded by the killers. Bitterman’s body had been wrapped in a flag, on which these words were written in Spanish: “M-19 against imperialism, against the Office of Indian Affairs. For the national sovereignty. War upon the Summer Linguistics Institute. Until victory or death. National Coordination Base M-19.”

Article continues below

Chet Bitterman’s body was buried that same day at the institute’s center, Lomalinda, 85 miles southeast of Bogotá. He had wanted it that way. His wife and their two daughters, Anna Ruth, 3, and Esther Elizabeth, 18 months, flew there with her parents, who are also institute staffers in Colombia, and with the American embassy consul, John Coffman. The next day, Mrs. Bitterman, her daughters, and her parents flew to the United States.

Bitterman’s murder came after surprising twists in events turned negotiations for his release into raw confrontation.

The death outraged the Colombian press, the Colombian and United States governments, and spurred wide police searches and arrests. Within a day, Colombian police arrested more than 50 persons, including the Protestant minister, Alfredo Torres Pachon, who had called himself an intermediary between the kidnappers and the institute. (Torres is communications secretary of the Latin American Council of Churches [CLAI]).

Colombian President Julio Cesar Turbay, who had moved recently to end guerrilla activity in the country by offering amnesty to anyone who would turn himself in, reacted strongly to the murder: “The monstrous assassination of Mr. Bitterman is truly surprising for its cruelty. It has no possible justification.”

The country’s interior minister, German Zea Hernandez, said the kidnappers “reached the worst extremes of barbarity and cowardice.” He seemed to make the translators’ position in the country more secure than ever. “The institute does not have to leave,” he said. “I don’t see any reason for the institute having to leave the country under pressure of an atrocious crime,” said Zea, who is in charge of both the Colombian police and native Indian policy.

In Washington, Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig, Jr., said, “His death is a tragic loss to this country and the people of Colombia he sought to serve. We mourn this loss.

“Chester Bitterman and his family have shown the highest standards of steadfastness and bravery of which all Americans can be proud. They have courageously demonstrated that Americans will not give in to terrorist blackmail.”

In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Bitterman’s mother, Mary, said, “Since we committed Chester to the Lord, we knew whatever the outcome, it would be the Lord’s will.”

“We are not to judge,” she said. “We have seen some encouraging things already from this.” Chester was the oldest of eight children. “We had committed Chet to the Lord’s care a long time ago. We are willing to accept this as His will,” she said. “The Lord doesn’t make mistakes.”

Article continues below

In California, Don Lindholm, associate director of Wycliffe Bible Translators, SIL’s sister organization, said Bitterman’s death “will not cause us to cease our work in Colombia. It will call us to a deeper commitment to our work.” He said the Colombian government was providing police protection for the 250 full-time and temporary workers with the institute.

Last January 19, when Bitterman was taken, it appeared that the kidnappers had seized an issue that might rally the support of the Roman Catholic church, the government, the press, and the populace. But events turned so strongly the other way that the guerrillas were left cornered by their own words and mocked in the press.

The kidnappers, who called themselves a hard-line faction of the M-19 (or April 19 Movement), charged that the institute was really a branch of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, that it had set up a missile base in the plains, and was schooling native Indians to become CIA agents.

While such extreme charges had not been made before, SIL’s work has been a sensitive issue in Colombia. Some Catholic church and government leaders had been calling for the institute’s expulsion. Some said the institute was duplicating work the church had been doing for more than a century. Members of the government and anthropologists said the organization’s translation work was destroying native tribal cultures.

The pressure became so great two years ago that many people expected the institute to be thrown out and confessed wonderment when it was not.

But when Bitterman was taken, the Colombian government immediately declared unconditional support for the translators and for the agreement under which they work. SIL has a formal agreement with the government to put native Indian languages into written form, compile dictionaries, and print Spanish-Indian translations of various material, including the New Testament. Chester Bitterman had commenced study of the Carijona Indian dialect. He had just received the government’s go ahead to begin living among the Indians, in the southern part of the country—after a short trip from Lomalinda to Bogotá for an operation that would alleviate his gall bladder attacks.

Other surprisingly strong support for the institute came from Father Garcia Herrera, the country’s most popular Catholic television broadcaster. He publicly called for release of the translator, declaring that Catholics could not remain indifferent to “the pain of our Protestant brothers,” which, he said, would be converted into “a crown of heroism, sainthood, and martyrdom.”

Article continues below

The situation was also tangled by a split within the guerrilla organization. The main branch of the militant antigovernment group repudiated the kidnapping and said it was the work of a radical offshoot. One faction seized several reporters, took them blindfolded to a secret press conference, and announced it had no part in the kidnapping. It then released the reporters.

The nation’s newspapers and radio stations gave the kidnapping wide coverage. When the reporters investigated the guerrillas’ accusations about Lomalinda, their pictures and articles sarcastically asked where the missiles were.

A final twist came a few days before Bitterman’s death. Brenda was led to believe by her channels to the guerrillas that her husband was about to be released. Accordingly, she had begun packing their suitcases for an anticipated flight to the United States.

All of this seemed to strip the negotiations of the drama that surrounded M-19 a year ago when it held 30 diplomats in the Dominican embassy in Bogotá for 61 days. At that time, guerrillas finally got no more from the Colombian government than free transportation to Cuba and a few admirers.

This time they got no more than blood on their hands.

The kidnappers threatened to kill all institute personnel, including the Colombians, one by one. But instead, the government announced in mid-March that it had killed 19 guerrillas and captured 74 others, including the M-19 leader, Rosemberg Pabón Pabón, who had been known as Commandante Uno.

For their part, SIL personnel all seemed intent on staying despite the threats against them. Their reaction seemed like that of Chester’s 18-year-old brother, Chris: “Chet himself said one life isn’t worth all the hundreds of Indians who would never have heard the Word. This is what he said even before he was kidnapped.”

Anglicans Move Another Step Toward Union Plan

The Church of England general synod gave provisional approval to steps toward union with four other English denominations: the Churches of Christ, and the Methodist, Moravian, and United Reformed churches.

The day-long debate in the synod on covenanting, as it is known in England, was taken up largely by three major issues: that all moderators of the United Reformed church should not be required to become bishops during the first seven years of any proposed union; that the validity of the orders of the other churches’ ministers should be recognized; and that women ministers in those churches should similarly be recognized as presbyters. Decisions on each issue required approval by majority vote in each of the three houses (bishops, clergy, and laity).

Article continues below

The closest result in the nine separate votes was a 144-to-89 acceptance of women ministers by the house of clergy. The plan now goes to the 44 dioceses of the Church of England for their consideration before returning for final action by the synod in June 1982, at which time a two-thirds majority of each house will be required. As of now, those votes are not there.

The Anglo-Catholic wing of the church, led by Graham Leonard, bishop of Truro, has been unhappy about the whole matter. Leonard argued the short-sightedness of trying to separate faith and order. He deftly reminded the synod of its discussions on marriage: “We spoke of how everything that is likely to divide must be dealt with before marriage.” He invited members to look at the two people sitting next to them: would one of them, he asked, be left with a troubled conscience because a synod majority forced this decision through?

The archbishops of Canterbury and York strongly commended the proposals. Robert Runcie pointed out that the divisions among English Christians had been exported all over the world, and that what had started there should finish there. He rejected the stubborn view of God’s grace that permitted action only if nothing in the small print prevented it. Stuart Blanch of York denied that the threefold ministry (bishops, clergy, and laity) could be established as integral to God’s purpose or essential to Catholic order.

Always in the background was the memory of Anglican rejection of the plan for unity with the Methodists in 1969, and the feeling that any rebuff to other churches on this occasion would scuttle prospects for unity for the rest of this century. At least two things are different about the current debate: the final majority demanded is two-thirds, instead of the three-quarters sought in 1969: and the Anglo-Catholic opposition this time is not likely to be joined by weighty evangelical voices—a combination that 12 years ago pulled enough votes to insure an inadequate majority count.

Of the churches involved in the present plan, Methodists have about 470,000 adult members: United Reformed, 165,000; Churches of Christ, 4,000; and Moravians, a few hundred only. An equivalent adult membership figure for the Church of England is commonly assessed at just under two million.

Article continues below


The ‘Doctor’ Is Out
Expositor Lloyd-Jones Ushered Into ‘The Glory’

One of Britain’s greatest Bible expositors, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, died in his sleep at his London home. Appropriately for one whose roots lay in Wales, it happened on Saint David’s Day (March 1). It was in Wales that he had spent his childhood, in the little town of Newcastle Emlyn, and it was there that he was buried last month.

The Presbyterian Chapel was crammed full for the funeral service, conducted by Welsh pastors, partly in their own language—a language in which “the Doctor” was said to have preached even better than he did in English. One of his friends, who described himself as “an ordinary little minister,” spoke simply of what he and many others owed to Lloyd-Jones. He added, “He kept alive in our hearts the flame of revival; now he has gone to the place where revivals come from.”

It was in industrial Wales that Lloyd-Jones began his ministry after he had forsaken a brilliant career as a medical specialist, convinced that many of his patients needed not ordinary medicine, but the gospel of Jesus Christ. The diagnosis was confirmed during those first 11 years in Port Talbot where the common people heard him gladly and a moribund congregation came alive. Chosen in 1938 by G. Campbell Morgan as his colleague at London’s Westminster Chapel (Morgan retired in 1943), the Welshman saw the congregation through difficult wartime years (half the roof was blown off by a German bomb). Under his 32-year ministry, the chapel was established as the foremost evangelical pulpit in England, chiefly because of his conviction that preaching is “the highest and greatest and the most glorious calling.”

He was a man of strong views on controversial subjects (see the interview and editorial, CT. Feb. 8. 1980), but these were always the outcome of keen analytic reasoning. He believed in evangelical unity, and was a warm supporter of interdenominational activity so long as theological principles were not jeopardized. He was suspicious of syncretism in the Church of England, and in 1966 challenged evangelical Anglicans to leave a national church whose witness he felt to be hopelessly compromised. Some did leave, and the result of the ensuing furor was a hardening of attitudes and widening of the gulf between Anglicans and non-Anglican evangelicals.

His son-in-law, Sir Frederick Catherwood, reports that just before the Doctor’s death at the age of 81, he told the family: “Don’t pray for healing, don’t hold me back from the glory.”


Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.