At age 66, they’re not checking out of the hotel Bible business. But it’s a different movement today, with American classrooms and 71 foreign countries at stake
The Gideons, whose Bible has become a landmark for spiritually hungry Americans, are just as zealous about schoolrooms as hotel rooms. Despite court dictums limiting religion in public schools, Gideons were able to distribute free of charge to the nation’s pupils a record 1.3 million New Testaments in the year ending June 30. The success of the campaign has surprised even the Gideons themselves. So far, they have been the only group to mount such a massive assault.
The hotel heritage hasn’t been forgotten. When Gideons International met in Washington last month, 1,200 Bibles were dedicated for the new $30 million Washington Hilton. Reasoned dapper hotel manager Peter Howard, “Every first-class hotel has Gideon Bibles.”
It used to be a fight to get Bibles into hotels (and still is in most of the seventy-one foreign lands where Gideons work). But today the challenge in America is to meet the need, which is twice the supply.
Perhaps more than any other evangelical cause, the Gideons’ work has won a place in Americana. But the school issue has the potential for jarring this acceptance, and it is pondered at every Gideon cabinet meeting.
The Gideons themselves were a party in a pioneer school case in 1953. The New Jersey Supreme Court decided the Gideons’ New Testament (with Psalms and Proverbs and without helps or commentary) was a “sectarian” book, and barred its distribution through the public school apparatus, even when limited to students who requested Testaments. The idea was later repeated by then Attorney General “Pat” Brown in California and—most recently—last December in Pennsylvania’s Bucks County Court.
It isn’t the law of the land yet, so school projects still abound, particularly in the South and Midwest. But “camps” (Gideonese for local units) are told to shun publicity when they go to school.
Gideons counter the sectarian charge by citing the universality of the Bible and the variety of denominations that supply Gideons. Yet the group is unabashedly Protestant and evangelical, which is no secret in chats with such leading Gideons as:
• Clarence H. Gilkey, Jr., the heavyset, sincere new president, who went to college determined to be a minister. “Shortly after that,” he recounts quietly, “God showed me this was not my calling—in a graphic way. I went blind.” Doctors said that his eyes could not withstand college studies. Now forty-seven and a paint salesman in Butler, Pennsylvania, he can see through thick lenses. The fervor of “a real experience with Christ when I was twelve” has been rechanneled into lay ministries with the Gideons and the American Lutheran Church.
• Jacob Stam, jolly lawyer and leader in a dozen evangelistic causes, who was born in 1899 two months after the Gideons got going. He completed three years as president at this year’s convention and was briskly enlisted as new chairman of the key International Extension Committee. Stam made an unsuccessful bid to get the U. S. Supreme Court to review the New Jersey Supreme Court decision.
• Bill Arey, who in April, 1930, was a thirty-year-old alcoholic bum just out of jail and unable to land a job. He wandered the Atlanta streets for four days in tattered clothes. Then, wallowing in depression, he stole a revolver and sought out an unlocked room in the Piedmont Hotel, bent on suicide. With the gun at his head, he somehow obeyed a last-minute impulse to leave a note for Dad. Unconsciously, he opened a Gideon Bible for something to write on, and these words leaped at him: “God is our refuge and strength.…” Arey says he spent an hour in the room, reading a Bible for the first time, and became a Christian. He is now retired from the vice-presidency of a Southern bonding firm, and despite what doctors consider a terminal case of kidney cancer, he was on hand at street meetings in downtown Washington where various businessmen told of their encounters with God.
The Gideons are as proud of personal evangelism as impersonal witnessing through Bibles strategically planted along the routes of human activity. They say more than 300 persons made professions of faith last year through the work of members. As for Bible placements, files at the new Nashville headquarters are crammed with tales of faith born and death averted.
The keeper of these records is Executive Director M. A. (Joe) Henderson, a silver-tongued Southerner who heads the fulltime staff of twenty-five. This cadre keeps track of nearly two million dollars and four million Scripture placements a year.
Henderson reports that a move from Chicago to Nashville nineteen months ago has whittled administrative costs by $16,000 a year—this despite inflation and a 50 per cent increase in mail. The savings are used to buy more Scriptures.
Though Gideons don’t like to be called a “society,” their very name has a lodge-like air. Rights to that name (taken from the Israelite hero in Judges 6–8) and the flaming-pitcher emblem are guarded jealously.
Like that of a lodge, membership in the Gideons is selective, with strict screening on belief as well as business. The group’s stated aim is “to win men and women for the Lord Jesus Christ,” and members must have received Christ as “their personal Saviour.” Eastern Orthodox and Adventist adherents are kept out, as are all clergymen. Membership is limited to a business elite—owners, salesmen, or those on a list of other allowable professions. The idea is to get men already honed by business to be incisive Gideons.
In recent years, membership growth has been stimulated from the top through the national office’s New Member Plan, a recruiting effort that requires months per city and moves to Boston in September.
The traditional method—old members choosing new—has meant, among other things, that Negroes don’t become Gideons in the South. In the North, apparently, Negroes aren’t interested. Personable John T. Leeson III, former Plan director, said that in the last target city, Detroit, hundreds of churches were asked to provide prospects—liberal and conservative, white and Negro. But of the 100 who finally joined, none were Negroes.
The Southern Gideons’ approach is “common sense,” Leeson explains. Not that they wouldn’t welcome Negroes, but they’re afraid integration would offend local churches. After all, the Gideons depend on church offerings for the bulk of their Bible funds. That is also why members sent to churches to drum up support are coached on such things as wearing shiny shoes and smiles.
Leeson now manages the overseas wing. Fully one-sixth of the 5,500 internationals were signed up in the past year by an expanded version of the domestic Plan. The Gideons’ globe now ranges from New Zealand to the Faeroe Islands (the newest camp, founded in June). One of the most arresting convention attractions was reports from the thirty-one foreign delegates.
Priority is being put on 40,000 New Testaments in Vietnamese for native soldiers. Nguyen Van-My, secretary of the Saigon camp, fought through his halting command of English to tell the convention banquet of “hundreds of soldiers who go into eternity daily without knowing Jesus Christ.” Leonard D. Crimp, former vice-president of H. J. Heinz in Canada and president of Canadian Gideons, added that Van-My and six other “big little men” in Saigon had distributed 13,000 Scriptures in a year. Impressed, the audience of 1,700 contributed $18,500.
From the British Isles, Arthur Rousham, national secretary, reported that government schools are “wide open” to Bibles except for one problem: “Headmasters increasingly want a modern translation.… We need to give the youngsters the Bible in their own language.” But the Britons feel obligated to follow the wishes of their American progenitors. “American Gideons are opposed to modern translations to a remarkable degree,” he laments. “It’s a pity.”
Pioneer Gideons used the American Standard Version, but the King James Bible later become sacrosanct because: (1) it’s cheaper, (2) it’s the most widely used translation, and (3) the Revised Standard Version, the most likely successor, was produced by a team on which some members didn’t believe in word-for-word inspiration of the Scriptures.
Conditions could alter this conservatism, and even force use of a version acceptable to Catholics—a thought that makes many Gideons blanch. The matter could depend on how far the school perimeters shrink.
Stam’s final report as president criticized the courts for reinterpreting the Constitution to fit “their ideas of what should be modern practice.” If schools refuse Testaments, he advises, don’t press the issue, but “withdraw and pray.”
And he has other advice, with an eye cocked to the future: “We should be praying for wisdom to do some planning in advance as to what methods or plans to use if and when the doors may be closed.”
The Gospel Via Opera
The power of sacred opera as an evangelical art form was evident in West Coast performances last month of Jerome Hines’s I Am the Way, which broke all attendance records for forty-one years at the Redlands (California) Bowl. Enthusiasts hope the opera, which also played to capacity crowds in San Diego, will be invited next year to the Los Angeles Music Center with full orchestra.
Although the opera consists of ten half-hour scenes, only four were presented this summer. The conversion of the singer taking the role of Mary Magdalene was a striking development during the Redlands performance. She came to Hines, famous Metropolitan Opera basso, tearfully acknowledging she was not a believer, and they knelt in prayer behind the stage.
Hines’s ambition in composing such operas is to raise the level of Christianity in the arts and of the arts in Christianity. I Am the Way has been performed forty-five times in nine years, with Hines often singing the role of Jesus Christ. Many viewers think it has television possibilities.
The present stage director, Derek De Cambra, was converted in Newark in 1960 during the Last Supper scene. In Farmingdale, Long Island, more recently, a singer cast in the role of Lazarus was converted.
Hines, after his own conversion, ministered part-time for twelve years in Skid Row situations “as an apprenticeship.” His only music study was two years of piano. He then began writing music to Scripture and has now produced a moving operatic masterpiece.
CARL F. H. HENRY
To ‘Highlight’ The Spirit’S Role
United Presbyterians and Roman Catholics held their first formal ecumenical encounter July 27 in Washington and decided that “reform and renewal” should be the theme for future discussions. Chief item on the agenda was the formation of this diffuse agenda for the next meeting. The twenty participants said they wanted to avoid “premature conclusions,” and no details of the closed-door discussions were announced. It was the third in a series of meetings between Catholics and Protestant denominations, but the first to include women.
The clergymen and laymen not only talked but also worshiped together in a small colonial chapel of Georgetown Presbyterian Church. Dr. Marion de Velder, stated clerk of the Reformed Church in America and a “participating observer,” prayed, “Deliver us from sectarianism.” The priests, ministers, and laymen also joined in an enthusiastic rendition of “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
Beaming Bishop Ernest L. Unterkoefler of Charleston, leader of the Catholics, said everyone “felt a bond of friendship and unity.” He said the same delegations might next meet in November, which would mean the Catholics would have to leave the Vatican Council. It was the council’s Decree on Ecumenism of last November that sparked the series of talks and provided the “reform and renewal” slogan prominent at the Washington meeting.
A formal statement after the day-long conference said the two groups are seeking to “highlight … the role of the Holy Spirit, and to search for signs of His activity within the Church … and in a fresh encounter with what He is saying to us through the voice of the secular world.” As an example, spokesman agreed that the Holy Spirit is speaking in the current racial revolution.
The future agendas will encompass “doctrine, worship and social action,” the statement said.
De Velder was joined as an observer by Dr. James A. Millard, Jr., stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. (Southern). Monsignor William W. Baum of Washington, director of the Bishops’ Commission for Ecumenical Affairs, said the Catholics hope next to meet with leaders of Eastern Orthodoxy and the National Council of Churches.
From Headhunter To Soul-Winner
Tariri, Chief of Seven Rivers in the jungles of Peru, admits he has beheaded at least ten chiefs of his own rank and twenty of their warrior followers.
“But now that I follow Christ,” he says, “I no longer kill and hate. I only want to love people and tell them about Jesus.”
The chief was brought from the jungles by Wycliffe Bible Translators to testify to the transforming power of Christ in his life.
He participated in the Wycliffe Day program, which coincided with Peruvian Independence Day, at the New York World’s Fair, and spoke in New York, Philadelphia, Charlotte, and Dallas before returning to Peru August 12.
Wycliffe missionaries introduced Christ to Tariri and his people in the Shapra group of the Candoshi tribe some fifteen years ago, as they learned the Indian dialect and translated the Bible into the native language.
“The ancients told us about a God who sent a great flood to destroy men,” the chief said in an interview in Dallas. “We knew God was good and holy, but we did not know he was coming to earth. We had no idea that we could know God or, even if we could, that we would be able to live good enough to please him.”
The chief accepted Christ about twelve years ago. As the gospel message was unfolded to him, he wondered how he could follow someone who was dead. Then the vital truth of Christ’s resurrection dawned upon him.
One day as he returned from the hunt, having pondered for hours these new revelations, Miss Lorrie Anderson, a Wycliffe missionary, read to him John 1:12, which she had just rendered into the chief’s language.
She asked him: “When are you going to become a child of God?” He answered, “I want to become one now.”
“Now that I love Jesus I can live a good life,” Tariri said after telling of his conversion. The glow on his face outshone his crown of brilliant red and yellow toucan feathers.
Of the 2,000 Shapras, the Wycliffe missionaries, Miss Anderson and Miss Doris Cox, know about 600. Of these, 150 to 200 have been converted, partly as a result of Tariri’s testimony.
The arrival of the Gospel already has had a tremendous influence on life in Tariri’s jungle: there is far less killing and hatred. Still, the chief believes the full impact of Christianity will come in future generations. It is hard for tribesmen to break with ancient customs, he explained, but the young receive Christ more readily.
The chief displayed keen observations about American culture. He perceived that metal was a fundamental difference between his Stone Age world and that of the United States.
He also believes Americans are too preoccupied with pleasure-seeking and material things. “How can they have so much that God has given them and not think about God?” he wondered.
JIMMIE R. COX
Evolution: What Are The Issues?
In the historic English university town of Oxford over a century ago, T. H. Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce debated the scientific and religious implications of Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species. The reverberations have scarcely ceased. This summer, in the shadow of history, scientists with evangelical loyalties met to consider the challenge offered to the Gospel by a modern, secular, science-conditioned culture. Their aim was to formulate positive principles of a Christian philosophy of science and to clear the ground of misconceptions on both sides as to the exact issues.
The sponsoring body was the Research Scientists’ Christian Fellowship, affiliated with British Inter-Varsity Fellowship, and the driving force behind the project a group of professional men in Canada. The program committee was headed by Professor D. M. Mackay of England, known for his competence in physics, information theory, and philosophy. About thirty-five specialists from ten countries were present. Most of them had prepared papers and circulated them among the other participants beforehand. No joint statement was issued, but a compilation of the papers and a distilled version of the discussion will be put into book form by Dr. Malcolm Jeeves at Cambridge. Some of the participants will also be publishing their papers separately.
Fifty hours of discussion over nine days polarized between general principles relating science to theology, and technical issues raised in one or a cluster of disciplines. The range of topics: determinism, cybernetics, cosmology, origins, language analysis, hermeneutics, evolution, religious psychology.
The key problem was how one should conceive of the relation between the sovereign God and the natural creation. The consensus was, in the view of this observer, as follows:
The extremes of deism and a “god-of-the-gaps” on the one hand, and pantheism and naturalism on the other, were studiously avoided. Since the entire space-time universe is the product of God’s creative word and is at every single point upheld in existence by him, Christians cannot hold to a piecemeal conception of sovereignty. A miracle alters the mode but not the factof divine activity. The term “creation” does not describe a mechanism by which our world order reached its present form: it is a relationship rather than a past event. The so called laws of nature are nothing more or less than the principles along which God “wills” the universe to proceed moment by moment. It is the domain of science to explore the mechanisms God has established in his universe. There are no limits to its investigations, and no one may determine in advance the results. The word “creation” should not be applied to gaps in our scientific description of the past. Yet it is important to remain self-critical and cautious in extrapolating theories, especially regarding the remote past which no one observed, and to resist the demonic temptation of worshiping the current idols of the “church scientific.” “Creation” does not offer us explanations in biology, anthropology, or geology. It speaks of a dependency of the natural order upon God, and its ultimate rationality found only in his purposes.
Conference participants accordingly felt that Christians have no stake in particular conclusions reached under the empirical method. For science treats nature from its mechanical and organic phases, and its descriptions are complementary, not competitive, to the theological understanding. There is a Christian manner of teaching geology or biology, but there is no Christian geology or biology. There is no discrepancy between admitting the truth of creation and providing a biological model that explains the origin of life.
Two views came under fire in a discussion on evolution: fundamentalism, which confounds creation with instantaneous appearance and confuses evolution with naturalism, and scientism (as represented, for example, by Julian Huxley and Teilhard de Chardin), which mocks both science and philosophy.
In the quest for a new apologetic to meet the challenge of the technocratic age, members sought a sharp cutting edge. They saw that evolution cannot offer any clue from mere biological development as to the meaning or value of human life. All the bridges humanism attempts to build across the chasm between science and values eventually collapse. The Christian cannot put forward objectively valid proofs for commitment to Jesus Christ. But he can insist that every non-Christian face up honestly to his own commitments, within which so often meaningful life is unsupportable.
The conference closed with discussion on how to tear down false images of scientism and build up a biblical understanding of reality.
CLARK H. PINNOCK
Standing Fast In Freedom
The bells of more than eighty German Evangelical churches rang out last month to welcome the twelfth Kirchentag to Cologne. Said the new president, Dr. Richard von Weizsäcker: “Anyone can take part and listen, praise, criticize and cooperate.… Here every speaker and member of a discussion group speaks for himself.” Referring to the movement’s task in a divided Germany, he said that no other organization had been so much affected by the absolute division of the country in 1961. Where people had before come from both parts of Germany, this was no longer possible. The Kirchentag “can now no more surmount the Wall than we ourselves can.… And the political handling of the German question is not the work of the Kirchentag.”
The president nonetheless urged the necessity for clarifying how this division came about, what it means for Germans today, and what practical possibilities there are for cooperation and help. In this connection it might be added that in 1965 the synod of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKID) had for the first time to have separate meetings in Magdeburg and Frankfurt, for Eastern and Western members respectively.
The Kirchentag, of which the main theme this year was In der Freiheit bestehen (“Stand Fast in Freedom”), offered the customary variegated fare: lectures, Bible studies, sermons, discussions, evening events, an extensive cultural program (including Arthur Miller and Jean-Paul Sartre plays), and what an official press release called “the possibility of private discussion with a priest.” One of the opening services featured jazz-type music.
This was not the only departure from the conventional. In connection with a radical address by Dr. Dorothee Sölle of the University of Cologne (who candidly acknowledged that she stood outside the Church), the working, group discussing church reform circulated to members a series of questions about “unchurchly people.” One query ran: “But don’t they belong to Christ too, since they hope and love?” A young Scot from Glasgow stood up to point out that Paul had in First Corinthians 13 said something about faith, too.
Other impressive things about this Kirchentag included: the increased number of youths in their teens and twenties; sessions and discussions which testified that the haunting concern of Germans regarding the Jewish people is still there as it was at Dortmund in 1963 and at earlier gatherings (the assembly approved what the Vatican Council had done); the absence of representation from East Germany; growing interest in the more intellectual type of meeting, which trend (coupled with an emphasis on higher biblical criticism) may have contributed to the non-appearance of certain more “fundamentalist” sections in West Germany; several joint Protestant-Catholic church services, at one of which Cardinal Frings was present; the references to Protestant Christians as “a vanishing minority,” though Cologne itself has more than doubled its pre-war Protestant population of 200,000.
J. D. DOUGLAS
Harassment In Israel
A mob of young zealots broke into the home of a Hebrew Christian family in Haifa, Israel, this month. They damaged furnishings and threatened the occupants, demanding that they cease propagating the Christian faith.
The father, 62-year-old Peter Gutkind, came from Poland seven years ago. He is a representative of the American Board of Missions to the Jews.
Gutkind said the youths, members of a fanatical Yeshiva religious sect, harassed his family for ten days. Six of the demonstrators were arrested, but Gutkind claimed that police had not given him adequate protection.
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