Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were the architects of détente between the United States and the Soviet Union. Its purpose was to keep these two superpowers from bringing on World War III. The assumption was that peaceful co-existence is possible and is necessary to avoid a nuclear holocaust. No one really expected that this would end the struggle between capitalism and Communism; the motive was to assure that the war would be fought with political, economic, and social weapons, not with bombs and guns.

Détente has encountered strong opposition from some Americans, such as Senator Henry Jackson and Governor Ronald Reagan. Russians like Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakarov have made plain their opposition to détente in their powerful critiques of the brutal Soviet system. They and many others argue that détente has been a one-way street with the advantages going mainly to the Soviets. They can point to the recent Helsinki meeting, where President Ford signed an agreement interpreted by Leonid Brezhnev as an acceptance of the Soviet conquest of such countries as Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland.

Brezhnev, who like us has his problems, said: “No one should try to dictate to other people, on the basis of foreign policy considerations of one kind or another, the manner in which they ought to manage their internal affairs.” This was almost laughable considering the open or clandestine activities of the Soviets in other countries such as Italy, Portugal, Viet Nam, Chile, Cuba, and the nations of Africa.

We are at a point where economics and politics may intersect. A bad harvest has come to the Soviet Union. The Soviets badly need grain, and they have made substantial purchases in America with more to come. Undoubtedly Brezhnev fears that the grain may come with strings attached. American labor leader George Meany, head of the AFL-CIO, has expressed himself about this and about Communism in general. The appearance of Solzhenitsyn on the labor union’s platform and the wide acceptance of what he said by labor leaders and workers is certain to have caused Brezhnev more concern.

Détente is one form of the continuing war between capitalism and Communism. We can be sure that the Soviet Union is attempting to use détente to further its own purposes in this struggle. Therefore we think that the United States too should employ détente to accomplish certain long-range goals, goals that are in the interest not simply of America but of mankind.

More than anything else the Soviet leaders fear the free movement of persons and ideas. The Soviet Union is a closed society in which dissent is suppressed and the movement of citizens is severely curtailed. Never has the Soviet Union practiced what it committed itself to in signing the Geneva declaration on human rights. Demands for liberalization made by persons within the Soviet Union will have little success. Pressure must come from the West. The refusal of President Ford to invite Solzhenitsyn to the White House when he first came to Washington several weeks ago lost him a chance to promote the cause of freedom in the Soviet Union.

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Why not use the Soviets’ need to purchase grain as an opportunity to extract concessions that will extend human freedom in that closed society? Why not insist on the right of every Soviet Jew to emigrate to Israel or elsewhere? Why not demand that the Soviets cease to harass and persecute its citizens who dare to criticize the Soviet system? Why not demand real religious freedom for Soviet citizens? Why not insist on the free flow of literature—including Bibles—into the Soviet Union for distribution to all who wish to read what the West has to say? Why not require the Soviet Union to intervene on behalf of the missionaries detained in South Viet Nam so that they may come home at once?

The United States will be making a great concession in selling grain to a nation that has made no secret of its hostility to capitalism and its plan to annihilate it. The least we can do is require that some concessions be made in return.

The Beauty Of Détente

Visitors to Washington, D. C., this summer cannot fail to notice the city’s near obsession with things Russian. While detente and the joint Soviet-American space project made political news, the Bolshoi Ballet, the Bolshoi Opera, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, cellist-conductor Mistislav Rostropovich (who has been named the next music director of the National Symphony), and soprano Galina Vishnevskya (his wife) came to town in heady succession.

Then late in July crowds began gathering at the National Gallery of Art for the next course in this magnificent feast: “Master Paintings from the Hermitage and the State Russian Museum, Leningrad.” The exhibition is an official Bicentennial event. From Washington it will travel to New York, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Houston. Thirty of its forty-three paintings are European and were collected by Catherine the Great, and the others are by nineteenth-century Russian painters. None has ever left the Soviet Union before.

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Several of the paintings have specifically Christian subjects. Rembrandt’s “The Condemnation of Haman” or “David and Uriah”—scholars disagree on the title and subject—perhaps depicts Haman’s walk to his execution as told in the book of Esther. The deep, vibrant rust color of Haman’s coat contrasts strikingly with the death apparent in his eyes. If the central figure is David, the contrast brilliantly tells the story of his sin and his agony over it. Old Testament stories cannot be retold any better. “Dead Christ With the Virgin Mary and an Angel” by Veronese draws the viewer’s eyes to the hands of Christ, lifeless, scarred, but still seeming to throb with pain.

The Russian paintings show a zest for life despite hard circumstances and inward tragedy that we recognize from Tolstoy or even Dostoevsky. A tall, full-length portrait of Tolstoy, painted in 1901 by Ilya Efimovich Repin, suggests why the great writer also became a great spiritual leader of the Russian people.

All the paintings in this small exhibition, whether sacred or secular in subject, are cause for gratitude to God, who gives us the desire and the ability to create and enjoy beauty. And the show reminds us again that we are indeed made in the image of the Creator.

No More Whistle-Blowing

Self-discipline is a quality that few of us have in good supply. We often meet up with our lack early in the day: having stayed up late, we get up late. Our watchwords seem to be Late and Behind.

Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore has always believed that encouraging self-discipline was part of its task of education. Students were honor-bound not to cheat and were expected to report on their peers who did. But as in many other places, honor seems to be in short supply at Hopkins these days. Cheating rose to the point that the school felt forced to abandon the honor system, under which it had operated for sixty-one years. From now on cheating will be prevented by policing.

The situation serves as a reminder to us all that when we do not govern ourselves, others must.

For The Bicentennial: A Sermon In ‘Skin’

“I advise you not to think about this play,” Sabina tells the audience. But certainly that is not what Thornton Wilder intended with The Skin of Our Teeth.

The play was chosen by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Xerox Corporation to inaugurate the American Bicentennial Theater. It will be followed by nine other classic American plays as well as six new plays commissioned for the Bicentennial. Each production will travel from Washington across the country.

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Wilder’s play was originally produced in 1942 in New York. Directors of the project think we are ripe for its apocalyptic message. Wilder is writing about us, about every man. He takes his title from Job 19:20, where Job says he has escaped by “the skin of my teeth.” The play moves from the ice age and the story of Cain and Abel to the flood and Noah’s ark to war and famine.

Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus, along with their children Gladys and Henry, symbolize humanity. The family change Henry’s name to Cain after he kills Abel. They can’t change his character, however, and throughout the play he symbolizes man’s violent nature. Sabina is both servant and siren. The fortune-teller, a prophetess and a central figure in the play, intones before the flood, “A new world to make. Think it over.” After the war, Mr. Antrobus provides people with a reason to live: “Now that the war’s over we all have to settle down and be perfect.” But will they? Can they? Can we?

Scripture quotations, primarily from Genesis, keep making their way into the play. Wilder both preaches about man’s sinful nature and conveys a strong sense of God’s providence and graciousness. No matter what the crisis, the thought “God created” predominates. And the Creator gives man chance after chance to repent and rebuild. As one character says, “God has always given us a second chance and rejoices to help us.” To aid man in that task, God provides wise men, a sampling of whom Wilder quotes near the conclusion of the play. But the final quote is from Genesis.

The play ends as it began, with Sabina repeating her opening lines in her original costume. She stops—and tells the audience to go home, since this play goes on and on. “Why, the end … isn’t written yet,” she concludes. Neither is ours.

Mrs. Ford Speaks Her Mind

Mrs. Gerald Ford has talked herself into a situation that has left her open to hard criticism by those who take the Bible seriously. In her recent TV appearance she was asked questions about pre-marital sex in the context of her own daughter.

It is appropriate for us to make clear that Mrs. Ford is entitled to her own opinions on the subject of sex and any other subject for that matter. We admire her candor and forth-rightness. And we agree that she should have the same freedom of speech that we advocate for ourselves. We wish that more people in public life would be as open and honest about what they believe.

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Anyone in public life knows that his or her views will be subjected to examination for their intrinsic worth. We think that Mrs. Ford is dead wrong about sex outside of marriage. We do not know where she got her views although they are quite popular and are being advocated by many people. This one thing we do know. She never got them from the Bible.

We deeply regret that still earlier Mrs. Ford chose to identify herself with the pro-abortionists. There is a dynamic relationship between premarital sex and abortion. Not infrequently premarital sex leads to pregnancy and this in turn leads to abortion. We hope that Mrs. Ford, who is a church member, will go back to Scripture to find out what it teaches on these subjects and then conform her opinions to the biblical demands.

The Fcc Got The Word

The Federal Communications Commission is to be applauded for denying a petition to freeze new broadcasting permits for religious organizations. A pair of broadcasting consultants had asked for the freeze. They also wanted an investigation of whether the great volume of Christian programing violates the U. S. Constitution.

Even more encouraging than the FCC’S decision, is the Christian public’s unparalleled response to the issue. By the time the ruling was announced this month the FCC had received more than 800,000 letters, most of them urging denial. As Dr. Abe C. Van Der Puy, president of National Religious Broadcasters, put it: “This is indicative of what religious broadcasting means to people at the grass-roots level.” We can assume that the message was not lost upon official Washington.

Regrettably, many of those who wrote were hazy about what they were protesting. Still, it is good to know that Christians can be aroused to speak up in great numbers.

Confronting Cults

An alarming number of North American young people are pounding the pavement these days in behalf of strange cults.

Heartsick parents and others may be tempted to mount crusades to repel invaders such as Sun Myung Moon and his Unification Church. Certainly a close watch should be kept for deceptive tactics, and young people who have succumbed should be approached, discreetly and lovingly. But Mr. Moon and other cultists have the right to propagate their faith. Harassment is bound to backfire.

The best long-range way to confront cults is to prepare people ahead of time to withstand their enticement. And the way to do this is to give them a thorough grounding in the Word of God.

Delivered—By Life Or Death

Every Christian sooner or later faces what might be called ambiguities with respect to the will of God. At times it is very difficult to understand why God allows some things to happen and many a Christian has asked: “Why me?” This transpired in the lives of the disciples in an incident which, while it was painful, teaches us something about God’s sovereignty and power.

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Many ministers have preached sermons on the deliverance of Peter from prison when he faced death at the hands of King Herod (Acts 12). The God of sovereign power delivered Peter in miraculous fashion. The church had urgently and persistently interceded on his behalf, and their prayers were wonderfully answered.

When Peter entered the house at last he told them the story of God’s divine deliverance. From that account in Acts 12, every Christian should take courage in the midst of persecution and disastrous circumstances and lift heart and voice to God in expectant supplication for deliverance from his or her particular situation. But it is the other side of the story that we often overlook. Peter was saved from death, but the apostle James was not. He died by the sword of Herod’s soldier. We can be sure that he was prayed for, and that he prayed for himself. Yet he was not rescued as Peter was. Certainly a sovereign God could have delivered him. Certainly God cared for James just as much as he cared for Peter. What then was the difference?

It was the will of God for James to die by the sword. The prayers of God’s people were answered, but not quite the way they expected. James experienced a different kind of deliverance. It put him beyond the reach of all enemies, including death itself. Yet, somehow, for so many of us the rescue of Peter seems so much more real, not to say better, than what happened to James. But this is not true when looked at from God’s perspective. Indeed if James had walked out alive it would have been wrong for one reason. It was not the will of God that he should. God used his supernatural power to save Peter. He withheld that power so James could die. It ill becomes us to second guess God. And while we do not understand why he did it that way for James, triumphant faith rests in the ambiguity that leaves us without a final answer until we get it first hand from God himself in eternity.

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