Politics and the Church – The Hypocrisy of Politics in the Church [Part 19]

Last week we were left with the Soviet forces having invaded Eastern Europe.  Soviet governments were placed in control and thus began the rule of evil by the anti-Christs that some of the church had unintentionally supported in an attempt to avoid war.

     Persecution of Hungary’s Cardinal Jozef Mindszenty by that country’s Communist rulers especially outraged Frederick Brown Harris, pastor of Foundry Methodist Church in Washington, DC, who was also US Senate chaplain. The Roman Catholic prelate’s show trial illustrated how the “battle is drawn between Christ and the anti-Christ,” he proclaimed in 1949.  Mindszenty’s anticommunism was an “unpardonable sin with the present masters of the Kremlin and the puppet police states which they control”, he would preach.  “This fight is not just between Roman Catholicism and Communism,” pastor Harris announced…”It is between a Godless Communism and any type of Christianity worthy of its name.” [“Harris Sees Soviet at War with Christ”, Washington Post (February 7, 1949) Page 4].  Christianity was certainly not welcomed in the Communist world and pastors had to have courage only God could provide to remain under its control and still speak the Word. Still communism continued to spread its influence.  I suppose that just like we see today, communism under the modified name of liberalism, looks good on the surface until the details are uncovered.  I will have much to say about this in future writing. 

     A senior Methodist missions official warned the Methodist Board of Missions in 1949 against “hysterical fear’ of communism as well as a “naive refusal” to admit facts.  He urges statesmanship and diplomacy.  He also predicted that Chinese communism would be no less hostile to religion than East European communism as the pattern of communism is the same throughout the world. [“Church Declared Lax in East Europe”, New York Times (December 8, 1949) Page 31].

     Religious liberty was an especially pertinent issue for Methodism in China, where the church had 300 missionaries as Mao Zedong’s communists were seizing control throughout 1948 and 1949. A government can seize control when the value of life is meaningless as it was in China.  At a 1948 meeting of the Methodist missions board, Philadelphia Bishop Fred Corson warned,”Unless America acts quickly to avert a Communist victory our children will pay a terrible price for our stupidity and indifference.” He predicted that Chinese Communists would eliminate hopes for democracy and would liquidate the churches.  Initially the new communist rulers would feign tolerance for the churches and their missionaries but eventually would expel them, he accurately predicted.  Some had to pay with their heads.  Corson expected the US would have to rearm Japan and strengthen its military presence in the Philippines. [“Bishop Says US Must Rearm Japan If Chinese Reds Win”, Baltimore Sun (December 10, 1948) Page 5].  How pleasant for a church leader to be able to combine his religious training with political savvy. 

     In 1950, Bishop Oxnam warned that “church leaders, to avoid being duped, should be alerted to the world-wide, Communist-instigated, and Communist-directed appeal for peace behind which Communists promote their own propaganda.” [“Beware Partisans of Peace”, Christian Advocate (July 20, 1950) Page 7].  The 1950 Southern California-Arizona Annual Conference rejected banning the hydrogen bomb, with Rev. Bob Shuler of Los Angeles, a renowned evangelical radio broadcaster, calling the very idea a “slap in the face against our government.”  Another delegate complained that the proposed ban was based on “standing in judgement on something on which we were grossly ignorant.” [“Methodists Vote Down Outlaw H-bomb Appeal”, Los Angeles Times (June 21, 1950) Page A11].  But in New York (seems not much has changed) at the East Annual Conference the delegates derided this “appalling weapon” and complained the nation was on the “road to death” while leaders “jockey for position in international politics.”  ( Can you imagine a religious group concerned with politics?)  The Conference denounced the “current hysteria” over communism. [“Methodists Decry Atomic Weapons”, New York Times (May 19, 1950) Page 25].

     Georgia Bishop Arthur Moore complained at a 1950 Council of Bishops meeting in Cleveland that China’s “professed friends” were surrendering her “to a new and more brutal imperialism that she has never known.” Moore implored:”Please do not ask me why America would spend billions to stop the spread of Communism in Europe and then desert the only government in China favorable to democratic ideas and the Christian faith.” [“Accuses US of Surrendering China to Reds”, Chicago Daily Tribune (April 19, 1950) Page 19].  Moore having returned from a tour of the Mid East pronounced:” If Communism succeeds, it will damage the human family more than bad politics or bad economics”, because it “expels value of justice, love and morality, and substitutes injustice, selfishness and deceit.”  He went further to say do not write-off Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan.  He has a modern air force. [“Bishops Pleased by Chiang’s Power”, Baltimore Sun (March 18, 1950) Page 9].  Chiang and his wife Soong May-ling, herself a lifelong Methodist who attended Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, were favorites of US Methodists.

     In the meantime the official Methodist Commission on World Peace in 1950 urged almost immediate US recognition of the new Chinese communist regime. [“Methodist Peace Leader Urges Recognition of Communist China”, Atlanta Daily World (January 27, 1950) Page 1].  Methodist missionary Harry Haines, at an Alexandria, Virginia, church in 1950, claimed Christianity continued to thrive in China under its new rulers.  Communism was just a force that “would destroy the dignity and value of the individual.”  Oh, if only he could see what is going on there now.  He pronounced “the battle for Asia today is the struggle to control men’s minds.  Haines said “misery and poverty” had given victory to Chinese communism. [“Church Thrives in Red China, Minister Says”, Washington Post (February 13, 1950) Page 4].

     In 1951, the Methodist Federation for Social Service (MFSA) in a close vote declined to urge that the US immediately recognize communist China, though it still recommended Red China’s acceptance at the United Nations.  At the same time an invasion of South Korea by Chinese- and Soviet- backed North Korea was taking place.  This invasion was to be joined by Chinese troops. [“Methodist Body Asks UN Admit Red China”, New York Times (September 6, 1951) Page 9].  A Methodist missionary who fled China after two years of imprisonment by the communists declared: “Anyone who says there is any freedom in China doesn’t know what he is talking about.” [“Cleric Home after China Prison Term”, Los Angeles Times (November 27, 1952) Page A2]. Methodists would debate Red China for many more years.  In 1959, the Southern California-Arizona Annual Conference narrowly rejected a resolution for Red China’s acceptance into the UN.  An official from Methodism’s Claremont Seminary argued Red China’s acceptance was “unrealistic” and would “weaken if not sow the seeds for the UN’s destruction. It would inhibit the UN’s ability to settle “brush-fire wars.” [“Methodists Divided on Red China’s UN Plea”, Los Angeles Times (June 18, 1959) Page 11].

     But let us not get ahead of the events taking place in Asia.  The leaders of the Methodist Church had uncovered a whole new political conflict to become involved with.  While I may not agree with some of their proposals I do applaud them for not hypocritically claiming politics and the church had no part in togetherness.  Next week we will backtrack to the early 1950’s where it becomes more and more difficult to justify communism.  Freedom loving peoples will be shedding blood to take a stand against communist tyranny.  Church leadership will find that it must take a political stand…after all, politics is the basis for how people on earth relate.

– Bob Munsey

“A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is right.  A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice.  A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.”  MLJ Jr

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