South Viet Nam held its first really free election September 11. Despite Communist terrorism aimed at voters and boycotts by Buddhist militants, about four-fifths of the eligible voters turned out, and few handed in blank protest ballots. Thousands of others not registered sought to vote in vain.
The vote was to choose the men who will write the war-torn nation’s new constitution. And observers were generally heartened by the results. Voting by religious or ethic blocs seemed minimal.
The winners, who will form a new leadership corps in the nation, included some millionaires, soldiers, and figures under former dictatorships; but most of the 117 seats went “to middle-class professional men with local followings who share a desire for reform, civil government, increased national independence, and victory over the Viet Cong,” the Washington Star said.
The election was the outcome of strong Buddhist demands that shook the nation last spring (see April 29 issue, page 44). But, ironically, the powerful United Buddhist Church boycotted the election. They claimed the war cabinet of Prime Minister Ky had no intention of allowing election of a regular legislature.
The committee setting up the September vote originally wanted the assembly not only to frame a constitution but also to become a legislature. But the government limited it to writing a constitution. There was considerable confusion over procedure.
Although the major Buddhist group campaigned for not voting or turning in blank ballots, two other organizations backed the election: the General Association of Buddhists, largely southern, who backed the regime of the late President Diem; and the Association for Buddhist Studies, a group of southern intellectuals loosely affiliated with the United Buddhist Church.
The Roman Catholics officially had no comment on the vote, but the head bishop announced he would vote. The implication was that the church supported voting but as individual citizens, not as a body.
A small, vocal group active during the campaign was the front formed by Father Hoang Quynh, a former Resistance priest who aided the French against the Viet Cong. Known as an extremist, until recently he headed the Greater Union Forces, a political party within the Roman Catholic structure. He left that to form the Front for Religious Citizens, claimed support from Buddhists, Protestants, and sects as well as Catholics, and opposed the election.
The Protestant Evangelical Church continues to take a stance of official non-participation in politics, although members voted as individuals in the Sunday balloting. A small lay group within the church has recently formed to encourage more interest in the social, political, and economic affairs of the nation among Protestants. They are ready to get involved in politics as individuals, if necessary, and represent a potentially important force.
What does the election mean for the future? The constitution of the Diem era was good but largely ignored, and thus useless. The election may bring some hope to intellectuals who despair about the future of Viet Nam. They feel the United States is largely to blame for the political confusion, have little respect for Ky, and are not confident about what would happen if Saigon won a military victory. The people are weary of war, and many Vietnamese feel time is on the side of the Reds, not the free world.
One unknown factor is the status of the Venerable Tri Quang, who staged a weeks-long hunger strike to protest the election. His colleague the Venerable Thien Hoa said just before the election that the emaciated Quang might not live much longer and that “if he dies, the Buddhists and the Vietnamese people will consider the Americans their enemy. They would have killed our national hero!” A Buddhist leader said that although Quang’s life was important, his death would be even more important. Hoa—who held a meeting with British envoys three days before the vote to lobby for his church’s plan for a negotiated peace—feels the present Saigon government and the United States cannot bring about peace. Quang said in mid-September he was ending his fast.
But the political failure of the Buddhists at the ballot box, even though they have often controlled the streets, indicates that the dynamics of South Viet Nam’s intermeshed religious and ethnic groupings is far different from what some thought or claimed earlier this year.
The United States-based African Methodist Episcopal Church plans to establish a British branch to reach unchurched African, West Indian, and Guianian immigrants.
The Lutheran Council in Canada officially organized at a Winnipeg meeting. It represents 297,000 members in four denominations, constituting 99 per cent of Canada’s Lutherans. Dr. Otto Olson, Jr., was elected first president.
Britain’s Pentecostal Church of Christ voted to join the larger Pentecostal Holiness Church on a two-year trial basis.
Members of an American “Quaker Action Group” joined Canadians to put an initial shipment of medical supplies to North Viet Nam aboard a Soviet liner at Montreal. A similar shipment was mailed to South Viet Nam.
Presbyterians United for Biblical Confession endorsed the revised Confession of 1967 but urged overtures to “strengthen and clarify” proposed subscription questions.
New York City’s new World Journal Tribune, which began publication September 12, is one of the country’s few major metropolitan dailies without a religion specialist. The paper is the result of a three-way merger.
ALFRED JENSEN, 73, President for nearly a quarter of a century of the former Danish-oriented American Evangelical Lutheran Church; in Des Moines, Iowa.
JACOB BLUM, 65, widely known Presbyterian missionary of Jewish origin; in Bethlehem, Israel.
VINCENT JOY, 52, founder and general director of Central Alaskan Missions; in Glenallen, Alaska.
At the meeting of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, reports were made on conversations and cooperative projects with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Christian Reformed Church, and the Reformed Presbyterian Church—Evangelical Synod.
A recommendation at the Northern Province of the Moravian Church in America called for merger with the Southern Province no later than 1968. Last year the southerners approved merger talks.
The evangelism board of the Anglican Church of Canada voted unanimously to ask its General Synod to give full support to Leighton Ford’s 1967 evangelistic crusades.
Reconaissance photographs were reported this month to have shown a church in North Viet Nam ringed with fifty-gallon petroleum drums. Experts speculated whether drums were being stored there merely for convenience or in the hope that U. S. pilots would avoid the target because it involves destruction of a church. A high-level source indicated that the drums made the building a target, church or no church.
Plans to organize associations of evangelicals in Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin were announced by the Rev. Mahlon Macy, new Upper Midwest field director for the National Association of Evangelicals. In Washington, D. C., an organizational meeting was held for an Association of Evangelicals for the greater Washington area.
A target of 100 new churches during 1967, the nation’s centennial year, was set at a biennial convention of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Despite a nationwide rail strike, some 800 delegates attended the Winnipeg sessions.
After protests from several European religious organizations, a Greek military court reduced a death sentence to 4½ years’ imprisonment for Christos Kazanis, 23, a Jehovah’s Witness who refused to bear arms. When the term is up, he faces a probable third trial on the same charge.
In a suit that may provide a precedent against twenty-five dissident congregations, the Maryland and Virginia Eldership of the Churches of God in North America laid legal claim to church property now held by a minister and his church members who have broken all ties with the parent denomination. The court suit contends that under the constitution of the denomination and eldership, church-property ownership automatically reverts to the eldership when a congregation leaves the parent group.
The Rev. Marney Patterson, 39, onetime disc jockey, plans to leave his Anglican rectorship in Toronto this December and become a full-time evangelist without salary from the denomination. Anglicans across Canada have flooded him with invitations, and he is backed by the fast-growing Canadian Evangelical Anglican Fellowship.
Harold M. Koch, 34, a former Roman Catholic priest from Chicago, defected to the Soviet Union this month to protest America’s Viet Nam policy. The Chicago archdiocese said Koch quit after five years in the ministry when his superior asked him to seek psychiatric treatment.
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