China's Tragedy and Triumph

President Clinton's recent visit to China has motivated many editors to publish articles on the state of religious freedom in that country. In the blur of ink and paper, the article in the July 13 edition of CHRISTIANITY TODAY—"A Tale of China's Two Churches," by Timothy C. Morgan—afforded your readers one of the best and most comprehensive accounts of the extraordinarily complex mix of tragedy and triumph that characterizes the situation in China today.

As your article correctly noted, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews is at the forefront of the "prodding engagement" approach to China. Our Presidential Appeal for Religious Liberty in China was crafted specifically to show President Clinton that numerous religious leaders nationwide, hailing from a variety of faiths, strongly support a firm yet fruitful dialogue with the Chinese leadership that presses for greater freedom of religion for the Chinese people.

Our course in China is clear. We must provide both carrot and stick to the Chinese if we are to gain even a reasonable hope of effecting change. We must acknowledge and praise the changes that have taken place in regard to religious freedom—and many have—but we must never forget the religious believers who are unjustly serving lengthy prison sentences for the "crime" of following their consciences in worshiping Almighty God.

The policy of "prodding engagement" has already begun to work; now we must continue to pray and work—and give it the time it needs to bear fruit. Articles such as Morgan's provide nurture to the greater cause—care for those persecuted for their faith—and strengthen and inform the broad-based coalition that has been forged, and for that, we thank you.

Christopher Meidl, Executive Director
International Fellowship of Christians and Jews
Chicago, Ill.

* Just read your piece on China. A very good joy indeed! I am a member of the Union Church here in Hong Kong. We have helped build a couple of churches as well as a school, the second school in the country that was handed from the state back to the church. That school is in Bei Wan in Guangdong Province. We also built a dorm as some of the students travel 2-4 hours each way just to get an education.

Mac Overton
Hong Kong

If only our church leaders had the humility and integrity of Dr. Han (p. 36), that they might say: "We also have to confess that we have done some things wrong to our brothers and sisters. A divisive church cannot be very strong for our Lord, especially in America. Yet we fight each other."

Article continues below

I suggest that CT print the names of the top (20? 100?) political leaders of China, so that Christians and churches could covenant to pray daily for one of them, for a year, that God would express Christ's grace, mercy, and peace to and through that person.

Philip W. Gilman
Freehold, N.J.

An Honest Opinion

* I appreciated the article in the July 13 issue of CT entitled "Karla Faye's Final Stop." What I liked most is that it wasn't inflammatory to one side or the other; it was just an honest opinion from someone who wanted to show an inside look.

I have carried a strong opinion to one side of this issue but have backed off in recent months, and it was nice to see the approach Ms. Owens took.

Keep up the good work in supplying thought-provoking articles that are done in good taste.

D. J. Weiss, Associate Minister
St. Louis Church of Christ
St. Louis, Mich.

* Virginia Stem Owens can turn a phrase like few others, but she doesn't have any remote idea what she's talking about. How many years did she serve in solitary? How many serial killers and child rapists and chain-saw murderers has she personally been in prison with?

Gene Neill
Lake Placid, Fla.

* Certainly it is wrong to glory in the execution of someone. But does Virginia Stem Owens need to be "distressed" about application of Genesis 9:6? Too many persons arguing the Karla Faye Tucker case said that she didn't deserve to die but rather that she deserved mercy. Yet by definition, mercy is undeserved.

For the Christian this debate must address the Noahic covenant and the issue of desert. This article did neither.

Robert A. Daniels
Associate Professor of Sociology
Mount Vernon Nazarene College
Mount Vernon, Ohio

* Thank you for such a richly troubling article on capital punishment. As an evangelical and an Episcopal rector, I too have been unable to find a street corner on which I felt I belonged.

In her refreshing refusal to capitulate to the rhetoric of (even Christian) politics, Owens embodies "gospel vulnerability" to the anguish of all parties. By demonstrating a willingness to tolerate intense ethical ambiguity in the midst of an unwavering commitment to Christ, she has given us a model for approaching many other such complex, emotionally wrenching issues.

While I have been unable to determine that the death penalty accomplishes its intended purpose in meting out justice, satisfying victims' families, atoning for crimes, or even serving as a deterrent, Owens's many personal stories from Huntsville brought me to my knees for the arrogance of my own ideas and attitudes.

Article continues below

The biggest thing missing in my personal position on capital punishment? Prayer.

Rev. Hillary R. Bercovici
St. Mary's Church of Scarborough
Scarborough, N.Y.

Refreshing Yet Convicting

* Bravo to Spencer Perkins for telling it like it is! A man of God, a man of grace taking an incredible risk to be honest ["Playing the Grace Card," July 13]. How refreshing, yet convicting.

What person exists who hasn't been hurt by others, and who hasn't hidden behind, "they haven't asked me to forgive them"? We may never voice such feeble excuses, masked as we might be by pleasant demeanor. But the ugliness of a bitter spirit is vivid to the Lord, with whom we have to do and to whom we have to answer. Deep within he tells us as he did the apostle, "My grace is sufficient for you."

Thank you, Brother Perkins. May your legacy be men and women of grace.

Dan Lofgren
Bonney Lake, Wash.

God and Hell

* I have to question the veracity of any Christian who shares the view of the author of "Brimstone for the Broad-Minded" [July 13] and has no problem with the concept of hell. Have you ever looked in the eyes of a loved one suffering from excruciating pain? Have you ever imagined your loved one suffering not for a year, or two years or ten, or even for a lifetime, but for eternity? If mortal human beings with a limited capacity to love can feel such anguish over the pain and suffering of a loved one whose pain will someday come to an end, how is it that the God who defines himself as love can bear the thought of abandoning his own creatures to a state of unbearable torture never to look upon them again? Does God want people driven to him out of fear or drawn to him by his love?

I'm not denying that hell exists, but I will not deny my confusion about it. Hell as it is portrayed in the Bible is much more than righteous indignation. It is hell, and not even the word hell can capture its eternally tormenting furor! I'm sure I am not the only Christian who struggles with this concept. Let's not cover our confusion or dismay with theological cliches. The world does not look to us to provide pat answers to plaguing questions, but to be honest with ourselves about things that just don't make a great deal of sense from our limited human understanding of things.

Bruce L. Thiessen
Sacramento, Calif.

The problem with this article is that it assumes that the view of hell as eternal conscious torment is true. No wonder so many people have a problem with this view; it suggests that God will grant (or already has granted) immortality to sinful people and, after judgment, will subject them to the most perverse and sadistic of punishments: never-ending existence in miserable torment. Although this view may be traditional, anyone who does a thorough, unbiased study on hell will discover that this position is not and never was what the Bible truly teaches.

Article continues below

The true, literal view is not that God will unjustly subject sinners to eternal conscious torture in hell, but rather that he will justly destroy them in hell—with no hope of restoration. Jesus clearly stated this in Matthew 10:28.

Dirk A. Waren
Warren, Ohio

What kind of a God would ask, even command us, to forgive seventy times seven in a day and to go the second mile, while he himself is willing to forgive mankind only in this short span of life?

Richard W. Rundell
Haskell, Okla.

Heavenly Rulers

I agree with nearly all of what Chuck Lowe points out in "Do Demons Have Zip Codes?" (July 13); it provides a needed corrective to much contemporary practice. But I was surprised that a discussion of territorial spirits omits much about Paul's heavenly "rulers and authorities" (Eph. 1:20-21; 6:12), which I think most scholars understand as heavenly authorities behind the earthly ones (similar to Daniel 10). Was this possibly cut short due to space constraints or possibly in the editing process?

Craig Keener
Wynnewood, Pa.

Our Lives Are Not Our Own

The editorial entitled "Lies We've Heard Before" made an extremely vital point concerning the deceptive nature of such issues as abortion and physician-assisted suicide—that we often falsely afford to ourselves more liberty than we have. Where in the world have we come up with the idea that we are autonomous and our lives are ours to do with whatever we please? This article speaks of falsehoods when dealing with this topic. I understand that patients may be in a great deal of pain, a situation in which we all express fear. Regardless of that fact, we do not have a right to do what we may with our lives. Neither do we have the wisdom to make decisions concerning such issues. That is why so much confusion exists around these issues. We are treading in an area in which we do not belong. An era of rights for the individual has made us lose sight of the truth. Our lives are not our own but have been given to us by and belong to God.

Article continues below

Kyle Castens
St. Louis, Mo.

* The fact is that this nation, despite all the intentions of the founders, Supreme Court, People for the American Way, and others, has a national religion of paganism. Included in this national religion is a creation myth taught in the public schools as fact, institutionalized hedonism, sex and fertility cults, sexual obsessions which seek to justify the lowering of the age of consent to preteen ages, polytheistic and pantheistic spirituality, and a mass human sacrifice cult through our escalating violence on the streets, the schoolyards, homes, and abortion/infanticide and pas. These forms of alternative spirituality, violence, and human sacrifice then are presented in the form of entertainment so that the surrounding culture is desensitized and rendered irrelevant in our protests. What used to be "first do no harm" medicine has evolved (or devolved) into "first check the approved provider list in your hmo and then do as much harm as you wish." And of course, call it "choice," a favorite rubric of modern paganism.

Pastor Wm. Drew Mountcastle
Free Methodist Community Church
New Middletown, Ohio

Bill Likely to Die

The concern of CHRISTIANITY TODAY over the new "antimissionary" bill now before the Israeli Knesset is understandable ("New Bill Threatens Freedom of Speech, Religion," July 13). But this new "more punitive bill" is likely to encounter the same fate as its predecessors. Despite appearances to the contrary, this bill, like hundreds of others brought up every year, will die, in all likelihood, in committee and never come up for a vote in the general assembly. Even if that were to happen, it must be voted on three times before becoming law.

Your writer quotes Chuck Kopp, president of the National Council of Churches in Israel, as expressing dismay over the yes vote of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which Kopp says violates Netanyahu's "written commitment to Christian leaders that he would oppose such legislation." Kopp should realize that Netanyahu passed the bill along to the committee as a professional courtesy to a member of his party, which politically savvy readers will recognize as standard policy in political circles and is certainly the tradition in Israel. His actions should not be interpreted as his agreement with the bill.

Christians need to keep in mind the historically justified suspicion among the Jewish people—in Israel and around the world—that their Christian neighbors wish to associate with them for no reason other than to bring about their conversion. Regardless of whether such bills are an appropriate response, sensitive Christians might continue to be mindful to these concerns. Doing so would greatly reduce the likelihood that more "antimissionary" bills will be introduced in the future.

Article continues below

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President
International Fellowship of Christians and Jews
Chicago, Ill.

A Cause for Mourning

Imagine my surprise to see Philip Harmon pilloried for his business failure and loss of millions of his family's and friends' money ["Unsuspecting Christians Bilked of Millions," July 13].

CHRISTIANITY TODAY, I believe, has lost credibility with readers who know the complexity of the truth. A dedicated Christian brother, Harmon has served with distinction on the boards of numerous ministries. His life has been fruitful in many evangelistic endeavors. His fall is a cause for mourning.

After much financial success, Harmon retired in the 1970s. Gradually he was coaxed into new businesses by the needs of his family and friends. By the early 1990s the businesses were experiencing cash flow problems.

As his businesses difficulties grew, he refused to accept failure and borrowed from many who could not afford the risk. He says he was blinded by his pride and in denial, failing to admit to the gravity of his financial situation.

When he could no longer carry the debt burden, he sought help. Some Christians attempted to solve the problem in a scriptural way by taking care of the needy and liquidating the remaining assets. Others decided the matter should be given to the government and contacted the U.S. attorney.

The whole spectrum of human response to a tragedy has been exposed by this situation, from unmerited forgiveness to merited hatred. Unfortunately, CT chose to publish one extreme, ignoring the lessons of grace and forgiveness taught elsewhere in the magazine.

Ted W. Engstrom, President Emeritus
World Vision
Monrovia, Calif.


The North American Scene item "Church Nearly Closed After Lawsuit" (July 13) contained three items that Paul Biegner of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod's Minnesota North District has asked CT to clarify: (1) Daniel Reeb was not fired from a pastorate in the Bahamas but "expelled from the clergy roster of the Missouri Synod as unfit for ministry." (2) Reeb's expulsion occurred before the verdict in the David Samarzia trial after he was confronted with depositions from victims and had admitted to the sexual abuse. (3) Samarzia bought the contents of Redeemer Lutheran Church at a sheriff's auction; however, the congregation refused to deed the building and land to Samarzia. He then offered to "take $200,000 with the congregation's apology that 30 years before leaders of the congregation 'knew or should have known.' "

Article continues below

Brief letters are welcome. They may be edited for space and clarity and must include the writer's name and address if intended for publication. Due to the volume of mail, we cannot respond personally to individual letters. Write to Eutychus, CHRISTIANITY TODAY, 465 Gundersen Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188; fax: 630/260-0114. E-mail: ( * ).

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.