The greening of communism’s red flag may leave us wondering who the real enemy is.
Last month, the Soviet Union announced its gulag was free of religious prisoners. And house churches in China have reported less pressure to register. The most obvious enemy of the church for most of this century appears to be changing colors. The red flag of communism appears to be greening as far as the church is concerned, leaving American Christians confused. Has the Marxist experiment failed? If so, can the church expect smooth sailing from now on?
Most observers agree that the easing of tensions between the church and communism is for real. It is a testimony to those believers who withstood severe treatment. According to some estimates, nearly one-third of the population of the Soviet Union practices some form of Christian faith, and the number of believers in China may have stretched to 50,000,000.
While such news should be cause for rejoicing, it also causes some tactical problems for those within the church who have found it necessary to have a well-defined enemy. If Ivan is no longer the bad guy, who is?
First, Ivan may still be a wolf, but dressed like a lamb. In this scenario, churches will continue to be pressured to register, thus providing the government with members’ names. Permission to import Bibles may be a ploy to obtain even more names of believers who will soon get late-night visits from the KGB. If this is true, our very efforts to support these believers may actually target them for further persecution.
Even with that possibility, we must support efforts to bring the church above ground in those restricted nations. If another wave of persecution is swelling, the church will benefit greatly from the current openness. Support groups will be formed, Bibles will prompt spiritual growth, and even those who spy on the church may be won by the fervency of Christian faith.
And if reports of revival in communist nations are true, who is to say the Holy Spirit cannot change the hearts of leaders who plot against the church?
But assuming the communist superpowers have decided they must give the church greater freedom, how should North American Christians respond?
First, we must recognize that one victory does not win a war. The need for active support of Soviet and Chinese Christians is greater now than ever before. Our rejoicing at their gains must be tempered with the knowledge that without Bibles, curriculum materials, adequate discipling, encouragement, and prayer the church will become what Marxism teaches about religious faith: much ado about nothing.
Second, we must understand that some Christians in those nations will not automatically espouse American-style capitalism; that, in fact, they may find ways to be both good Christians and good citizens of their systems. Previously, we have only had to deal with those believers in terms of spiritual kinship. The challenge of the 1990s, then, may be to understand kingdom citizenship in a way that makes room for believers who follow Christ in different systems.
Finally, even if things continue to look rosy in the Soviet Union and China, we must recognize that the true enemy claims no flag, but chooses deceit as a modus operandi. Marxist thought still has no room for the Cross, and we are wise to keep that in mind. But if that enemy is no longer so visible, perhaps we need to guard against complacency.
It would be a shame if not having some bad guys to kick around contributes to our own spiritual demise.
By Lyn Cryderman.
“While I don’t advocate divorce, I think a marriage that is dead should be given a decent burial.” How often we heard that snatch of sixties wisdom as American churches were learning to accommodate to the increasing divorce rate in society at large. Yet the longer we live with the aftermath of divorce, the more we come to realize that no relationship ever fully dies, and that for family members—children, in particular—divorce can feel like burying not the dead, but the terminally ill.
Judith Wallerstein’s recent book, Second Chances, reports her 10-year observation of children of divorce, and the message is disturbing: They don’t easily get over it. Five years after divorce, more than a third of the children studied were clinically depressed and functioning poorly. After ten years, 35 percent had poor relationships with both parents, and 75 percent felt rejected by their fathers. Surprisingly, it was not the vulnerable preschoolers who were hurt the most and longest. It was their older siblings who at first chose to show no signs of disturbance, but by the time a decade passed were afraid to trust people and unable to form the lasting bonds necessary to build families of their own.
One 21-year-old’s weight tumbled from 128 pounds to 94. She experienced deep depression. The precipitating factor? Her first serious love relationship.
Critics have pointed to some of the problems in research design and sample size that make Wallerstein’s conclusions only tentative. Yet there is enough information from the 60 families she studied to make us reflect seriously on the organic interconnectedness of families. When the biblical Adam calls Eve “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh,” when the writer of Genesis says a man and a woman become “one flesh,” when Laban calls his kinsman Jacob “my bone and my flesh,” when we call our own children our “flesh and blood”—when we say these things, we recognize that what Milton called “the link of Nature” binds us, and that cutting ourselves off from a family member can be like the gruesome amputation of a limb. A severed limb can feel phantom pain for years. And a severed family relationship will continue to ache.
Those who have not experienced significant separation often do not understand how slowly loss heals. One survey showed that, in general, people seriously underestimate the time it takes a widow or widower to adjust to a spouse’s death. While major adjustment usually takes two to three years, the “man on the street” estimates it should take about two weeks. Likewise, those who have not experienced divorce do not understand the lingering hurt caused by a parental split. Even when children experience an immediate sense of relief because parental squabbles have been cut off, the sense of abandonment can be crippling. Indeed, we are inevitably connected to our own flesh and blood.
When data such as Wallerstein’s come to our attention, we may be tempted to press for legal reforms to curtail divorce, to turn back the clock to when divorce was severely restricted. Yet although they extract a high price, both amputations and divorces are sometimes necessary. Rather than impose a legal “solution,” we must with renewed fervor teach in our churches about the de facto indissolubility of family relationships; we must, like physicians before the riskiest surgeries, carefully warn of the possible side effects; and then we must stand by, ready to offer understanding and care, not for weeks or months, but for decades and for lifetimes.
By David Neff.
North Carolina, Arizona, and California are only the latest in a long list of states whose school boards are requiring the teaching of religion in the public-school classroom. In the past six months each has made the decision to join a growing number of states reinserting religion into the curriculum.
According to Peter Steinfels, the religion editor of the New York Times, “after decades of shunning classroom discussion of religion, fearing that it was too divisive a subject or that church-state separation might be breached, many American public schools are now moving to incorporate it into their curriculums.”
The trend toward more religion in the classroom is one that is supported by organizations from a broad spectrum of political, religious, and educational views, including the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Christian Legal Society, the National Council of Churches, and the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Even Barry Lynn, a legislative counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union, is not opposed to the program in principle.
Although all of these organizations support the teaching of religion in public school classrooms, different reasons are given for their support. On one thing they agree: Because the teaching of religion has been neglected in the past, a skewed and ultimately false picture of history, particularly American history, has been taught to students. A religion-free history textbook is an inaccurate textbook.
They also agree, however, that the trick will be to teach religion in such a way that it will not be confused with advocating one religion, which would put the courses in danger of violating the principles of the separation of church and state.
If done sensitively, and by teachers well versed in the religions of the world, the teaching of religion in public schools can only be a good thing. It will help conservative Christian students connect the values they are taught at home and church with the subject matter of the secular schoolroom. It will make extracurricular opportunities to discuss their faith with their classmates more natural. And learning about religion in general can only deepen our faith in the truth the gospel proclaims.
By Terry C. Muck.
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