Four centuries ago, European priests staked a Vatican claim along the lush green shores of the South China Sea. They overcame occasional hostility and before long were counting converts by hundreds and thousands. Then, as noted religious historian Kenneth Scott Latourette puts it, “Roman Catholic missions became a means for extending European political control over Indo-China.”

In modern times, religious interests have again figured prominently in the land now known as Viet Nam. And 1960 may even see the Vatican playing a decisive role in the effort to bring peace to Southeast Asia.

Pope Paul VI showed new initiative as a peacemaker in year-end pleas addressed to the major powers, especially those now involved militarily in Viet Nam. His public appeals for peace and the consequent effect on world public opinion exerted considerable pressure on East and West to settle the Vietnamese war at the conference table. Vatican diplomats were also reported working behind the scenes to set up negotiations.

(Cardinal Spellman, who is known for globe-girdling missions to American service-men, spent Christmas celebrating masses in Viet Nam and expressing satisfaction over a temporary truce. He told troops, however, that “your service is necessary here.… Our failure to stand firm here would lead to strife on other battlefields.”)

As early as last February, Pope Paul had issued a plea for peace in Viet Nam. He made special cease-fire appeals during the week before Christmas, after the Viet Cong had offered a twelve-hour truce beginning Christmas Eve. As it turned out, U. S. and South Vietnamese units silenced their guns for thirty hours and suspended indefinitely their bombing of North Viet Nam.

Pope Paul also made public requests for a New Year’s truce, but these were unsuccessful. The United States started a peace drive of its own with visits by top-ranking diplomats to major world capitals, including a visit to the Pope by the American ambassador to the United Nations, Arthur Cold berg.

Is it appropriate that religious interests be so closely involved in the Vietnamese political and military situation? Many non-Catholic observers would say no, but the recent history of Viet Nam is interlaced with religious turmoil.

There is no general agreement on key developments in Viet Nam in 1963, and a basic dispute continues over what part religion played in the internal strife of South Viet Nam. The issues are now being widely publicized in book-length interpretations that conflict on what really happened.

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The two key figures in the 1963 crisis were Ngo Dinh Diem, lifelong Roman Catholic and Confucian scholar who ruled South Viet Nam for nearly a decade, and Thich Tri Quang, the most prominent and aggressive Buddhist monk in Viet Nam. Which man was the hero and which the villain in Western eyes is a question historians will ponder for years.

Diem was born January 3, 1901, north of the seventeenth parallel, in the same province that produced Ho Chi Minh, the North Vietnamese Communist leader who tried to get Diem to collaborate with him back in 1946. Diem took over the south following the defeat of the French and the Geneva conference in 1954.

He surprised almost everyone by weathering the initial political storms following independence, but his government came under increasing fire for favoritism toward Roman Catholics and persecution of non-Catholics. The fire came mainly from Buddhists, but Protestant missionaries in Viet Nam also complained.

Ironically for Protestants, however, it was under Ngo Dinh Diem that their missionary activity blossomed. The Geneva agreement sealed off North Viet Nam to outside religious influence. But big areas of the south that had been out of bounds to Protestants under the French were thrown open. The Christian and Missionary Alliance. whose work in Viet Nam dates back to 1911. assigned it top priority and built up the missionary task force there to more than 100.

Meanwhile, however, the feeling against Catholics was being intensified. Part of the cause was a big influx of Roman Catholic refugees from the North, which upset the religious balance.

Diem, a product of the mandarin system, had little in his background to equip him to placate critics. He was greatly influenced by a brother and a sister-in-law, the celebrated Madame Nhu. During his younger days Diem toyed with the idea of going into the priesthood. Though he ultimately chose to remain a layman, his life had distinctly monastic overtones, and he never married. His experiences in the United States were colored by a two-year stay at the Maryknoll Seminary in Ossining, New York. He also managed to meet such personages as Cardinal Spellman, Senator John Kennedy, and Senator Mike Mansfield.

One unresolved religious question in Viet Nam (under Diem, as now) is: How many Buddhists are there? The reason the question cannot be answered is that no one can adequately define a Buddhist. South Viet Nam has the problem not only of a pluralistic society but also of one in which individuals share allegiance between two or more major religious faiths. Buddhism is generally considered to be numerically dominant, but the statistics of its followers vary anywhere from 15 per cent to 90 per cent of the population.

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Viet Nam Chroniclers

Marguerite Higgins, a key chronicler of the religious and political tensions in Viet Nam, died January 3. Death was attributed to complications of a tropical disease.

Miss Higgins, who was 45, visited Viet Nam a number of times as a correspondent for the New York Herald-Tribune and Newsday. Her dispatches set off a major press controversy with several Saigon-based U.S. correspondents over how the war was going and who was to blame for the problems. She had previously won a Pulitzer Prize for her reports on the Korean War.

One of her targets was David Halberstam, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his work as a New York Times correspondent in Viet Nam. Halberstam, 31, has more recently been assigned lo Warsaw, but was evicted by the Polish government this month.

Roman Catholics are said to number about 1,500,000. There are also about 1,000,000 animists, mostly among mountain tribesmen, who have traditionally been at odds with the rest of the population. In addition, there are undetermined numbers who are Hindus, Muslims, Taoists, and followers of Confucianism. Two relatively novel religious mixtures known as the Cao Dai and the Hoa Hao also claim significant numbers.

Protestants of varying theological persuasions who were familiar with the situation under Diem shared with Buddhists an anxiety over Roman Catholic domination and, to a lesser extent, over persecution. Some Protestant liberals in the United States were among the first to protest by adding their names to paid advertisements that called upon the United States to deal firmly with Diem.

It was the Vatican flag, however, that coincidentally served to bring on Diem’s first big crisis of 1963. In May of that year Ngo Dinh Thuc, Diem’s oldest brother, celebrated, in the city of Hue, his twenty-fifth year as a Roman Catholic bishop. Diem attended the festivities and subsequently issued a statement saying it had been unlawful to raise the Vatican flag outside a building. Several days later Buddha’s birthday was celebrated in Hue, and there was a similar crackdown against the flying of Buddhist flags. Crowds gathered in protest, violence ensued, and eight or nine persons died.

To this day, however, there is considerable argument over whether they were felled by government troops or whether a bomb had been planted, perhaps by the Viet Cong. Marguerite Higgins, who considered the Buddhist monk Thich Tri Quang a clever anti-American political demagogue, charged in Our Vietnam Nightmare that he created the crisis deliberately.

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What brought the Vietnamese religious tensions to world attention were the immolations (Madame Nhu called them barbeques) of Buddhist monks that summer. Miss Higgins was cynical about those, too, suggesting that at least some of the monks had been drugged. She cited Thich Tri Quang, who is still alive, as the foremost authority on the immolations. Mainstream Buddhism does not condone suicide or violence as a means to a good end.

For the Buddhists, the crisis command post was in the three-story Xa Loi Pagoda in Saigon, where Thich Tri Quang held forth with a battery of propaganda-dispensing mimeograph machines humming day and night. Tensions kept building up until one night in August government troops raided the Xa Loi and other pagodas.

David Halberstam of the New York Times contends in The Making of a Quagmire that had the government wanted to arrest the Buddhist leaders “it could have been accomplished in a few moments, but these troops were enacting a passion play of revenge and terror.” Miss Higgins disputed this view, insisting there was a minimum of bloodshed.

The pagoda raids represented a turning point in the struggle, setting off a wave of new reaction against Diem from within the administration of President Kennedy. Diem was overthrown on November 1, 1963, and, with his brother, was presumed to be killed. Following those events came the escalation of the war against the Viet Cong and de-emphasis on religious problems.

Orthodoxy Asunder

Russian Orthodoxy in Western Europe has declared itself independent of Greek Orthodox control. In 1931, the western churches transferred allegiance from Moscow to Istanbul to counter confusion following the mass exodus from Russia. But the Russian émigré aura has now dissolved. Another explanation for independence is that the Moscow church is no longer seen as free.

Meanwhile, the second-ranking leader of that church, Leningrad’s Metropolitan Nikodim, hinted that the recent end of old excommunications between the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches is not accepted by the Russian church.

Nikodim told the Soviet news agency, “This has been a gesture addressed to the Roman church only from one local Orthodox church, and not the whole of Eastern Orthodoxy. Unity between Eastern and Western churches can be achieved only through profound research and mutual cooperation.” Both the Greek and Russian churches cooperate in the World Council of Churches. Nikodim also took a guarded view of the Vatican Council as not meeting expectations.

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Anglican Aggiornamento

The Church of England is setting out on the task of liturgical reform. Although called “Prayer Book Revision,” the plan at the moment is not to revise services but to provide alternatives to them. The Prayer Book (Alternative and Other Services) Measure, passed by the Church Assembly in 1964, provides for the experimental use of these alternatives.

For the first time since 1662, services will be used legally in the Church of England that will be alternative to those in the Book of Common Prayer. No past suggestions for revised services have ever had any legal force.

The services to be revised? The new material comprises, it seems, revised Morning and Evening Prayer, Occasional Prayers, Burial Service, and Churching of Women. The text of a revised Communion service is also to be published.

Reasons for the coming changes are that since 1662 language has changed and the meanings of words are different, and it is considered that the present services are imperfect vehicles of worship today.

The worship forms will be discussed at the February 17–18 Church Assembly, assuming the Queen has approved new parliamentary bills. Many non-Anglicans in many lands who love the prayer-book language will watch with interest.

The Anglican updating extends also to the touchy subject of abortion. A seventy-page church committee report recently approved abortion when the birth of a child would threaten the life or health of the mother. Current law permits abortion only to save a mother’s life. The special committee set up by the Church Assembly’s Board for Social Responsibility thus is more limited in its view than Lord Silkin, whose bill, given a second reading in Lords last month, would make abortion legal for women who became pregnant through rape or criminal act. The report states: “The fact that a child ought not in law or morals to exist affords no justification for depriving it of its right to live.”

The report does not represent official Church of England thinking, but the committee feels that the Church of England should “take its part through some accredited body in the discussion of a legitimate national concern.” It is estimated that about 100,000 illegal abortions are performed in Britain every year.

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Norway: Easier To Stay Joined

It seemed a harmless enough resolution to come from the Voluntary Church Assembly, a representative but unofficial body within the Church of Norway (Lutheran). The quadrennial meeting in Oslo had strayed from the agenda into a discussion on church reform “so that the church can better fulfill its task among our people.” Finally it was resolved to appoint a commission to “examine the position of the church in society today.”

That this was really a hot potato became clear afterwards in a press interview held by Bjarne Hareide, director of Oslo’s Institute for Christian Education, who was elected to succeed Bishop Per Juvkam as chairman of this influential gathering.

Hareide cited two points stressed during the discussion: (1) For the national church to be autonomous in internal, spiritual matters—“in questions concerning religion”—it must have an official national supreme assembly of its own, or at least a council with official status. (2) “Much more than before, the church must assign responsibility to the state and to society for external matters and tasks which are their duty.” This involves concerns such as church finance, maintenance of rectories, and settlement of ministers.

The Storting (Parliament) hitherto has refused to give churchmen any degree of autonomy in this land where church membership is reckoned at 96 per cent; Norwegians virtually have to make an official declaration of opting out before they can “unjoin.” It has been estimated that the total seating capacity of the nation’s churches is 300,000—less than 10 per cent of the membership. This, says one wit, is a calculated figure of ecclesiastical actuaries, indicating the low average “church attendance risk.” Actual attendance is about 3 per cent on a normal Sunday.

All nine Norwegian bishops are ex-officio members of the Voluntary Church Assembly, which describes itself as “a forum for exchange of religious opinions and for consideration of topical problems.” It has now asked for consideration of the ordination of “persons without theological training.” The wording might be significant in view of the burning controversy about ordaining women. The assembly heard also a call made for a revision of the Norwegian church’s books of public worship (revision is carried out periodically). Commented a theological professor good-humoredly, “We are unlike the English people, who like archaic language.”

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Serving Without Saving

Sixteen U. S. cities have some sort of training center for inner-city ministries. The newest and in some ways most radical is taking shape in New York City.

Cute abbreviations seem to be a must for action groups, and this one is MUST (Metropolitan Urban Service Training). Since MUST’s birth in a $600,000 Methodist gift last fall,$500,000 from the Board of Missions’ National Division, and $100,000 from the Methodist Women’s Division. Syracuse Bishop W. Ralph Ward is chairman of MUST’s tvventy-three-member board. the four staff members, operating from rented quarters at Biblical Seminary, have been talking to hundreds of people who have ideas about what should be done in cities.

The talking continues, but the Rev. George (Bill) Webber, executive director, has three definite student projects in mind for next fall.

The first, a city intern plan for seminary students, grows out of a joint venture carried on for the past two years by Union Theological Seminary, where Webber teaches part-time, and the experimental East Harlem Protestant Parish, which Webber headed before joining MUST. Forty prospective ministers will take secular jobs, live in tenements, work to help the poor, and reflect on “what the Church will be” in cities.

Webber contends that men come from seminaries “disequipped” to be “worldly men in Christ” and that the reforming impact of the internships will be “sensational.” He hopes to draw not only students in accord with his own liberal theology but also students from conservative seminaries.

In a second plan, twenty college graduates who want to help humanity but have no goals will enter similar internships under the wing of another key New York liberal, the Rev. Howard Moody of Judson Memorial Church, who, like Webber, is a minister in the United Church of Christ.

A third program will place five white seminarians as staff members in Negro churches, and five Negroes in white churches.

These programs will consume only a tenth of MUST’s budget, Webber said, and more will come later. “We don’t have a clue as to the shape of the entire program,” said the gray-haired, 45-year-old innovator. “We will throw ten balls in the air, and see how they bounce. We will try quite a few things. The Church’s traditional pattern has been to put all its money on one horse.”

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Webber said his center will differ significantly from the 16-month-old Urban Training Center in Chicago, which has regular courses, a student body, and, in Webber’s words, is “in the difficult, threatening battle with the denominations.” The UTC’s $225,000 annual budget comes from thirteen denominations and foundation grants.

Webber said his project is moving “from saving people to serving the world.” He doesn’t object to the saving of souls, Webber said, but his job is to “help churches face their serving function.”

Webber’s colleagues are two Methodist ministers—Randolph Nugent, 31, and Hooker Davis, 47 (on six-month leave from the Southern New Jersey Conference)—and Mrs. Alfred J. Lurie, a Jewish specialist in community action and school problems.

Negroes As Neighbors

About seventy of the students at Malone College in Canton, Ohio, have signed up to tutor Negroes, paint houses in the local ghetto, and in other ways show their neighbors that they care.

Such direct action by so many is unusual among evangelical colleges, where political conservatism often produces distrust of anything liberals do, even if it is good. Many evangelical colleges are also rural or suburban. But Malone, a Quaker school, resettled in 1957 in Canton, an industrial center loaded with problems typical of a big city.

The major impetus to action was a two-day seminar on “Christians and the Negro Revolution,” held at Malone last month. In this first fruit of a plan for annual seminars on social problems, participants attempted to relate the Christian imperative, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” to the civil rights struggle.

The main speaker was the Rev. William Pannell, a Negro evangelist from Detroit who is on the staff of Youth for Christ. Speaking on the “love” theme in his first chapel talk, Pannell said, “Don’t ted me you love me ‘in the Lord’ while you’ve got your foot on my neck!” The question, he declared, is not “Who is my neighbor?” but “Whose neighbor am I?”

Those who claim scriptural grounds for their opposition to direct action often misunderstand the Bible, Panned said. Reference to Romans 13:1 and the Christian’s responsibility to obey authority, he contended, sidesteps the real issue: What is the law of the land? Is it federal laws backed by the Constitution, or the words of local policemen?

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The civil-disobedience discussion continued at a bud session where two Malone professors played devil’s advocate and argued against ad civil rights activity. They were countered by Panned and the Rev. Vern Miller, a Cleveland Mennonite whose church is integrated. The situation was artificial, but some students needed answers to the questions raised and admitted it was the first time they had contemplated what the Christian’s role in civil rights should be.

In another session, Panned said white men’s fears rest on two false presuppositions: (1) that there are separate, distinct races, a theory dismissed by contemporary anthropologists, and (2) that every Negro man is “panting for a white woman.”

Panned was articulate, honest, and occasionally (and unintentionally) bitter. He had blunt criticism of evangelicalism for “dragging its heels” in fighting prejudice. Although the churches’ “White Only” signs are down, “11 o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week,” he said, in a phrase made familiar by such diverse spokesmen as Billy Graham and Bishop James Pike.

Panned impressed many students who had never met a well-educated Christian Negro. Others said they wanted to walk out of the sessions. Comments from this camp included: “Why, he was even trying to talk like a white man!” and “Long live Dixie!” Many students were apathetic.

The seminar did not reach all of Malone’s students and did not stir up sensational demonstrations. But it did stimulate thought and prod some to act. And it also illuminated the feelings of the few Negroes on campus.


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