Even a first-year missiology student might be inclined to write off predominantly Buddhist Thailand as a basket case. After 150 years of Protestant work and more than 450 years of Roman Catholic effort less than one-half of 1 per cent of the 44 million population in the kingdom is Christian. The total Protestant constituency is well below 100,000, according to mission researchers. One published source lists an estimate of just over 600 congregations with about 550 fulltime pastors.

In a rare display of candor, a recent news release by the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF) lamented that twenty-five years of “constant work and witness” by more than 100 OMF missionaries in central Thailand had resulted in only 820 converts. Worse, it noted, fifty-nine people had “turned back from the Christian way” during the past year. (An estimated 700 missionaries from thirty-five agencies are assigned to Thailand.)

Except for some action in northern churches in the early 1970s, most Protestant bodies have shown little growth over the past few decades. Seldom have denominational and mission lines been crossed for fellowship gatherings and cooperative projects. Several church groups, including the 32,000-member Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT)—the largest of the Protestant bodies—have undergone periods of bitter internal dissension recently, adding further to the gloom and isolationism.

“After 150 years of work, our converts are too few,” acknowledged Tongkham Pantupong, 69, moderator and acting general secretary of the CCT (composed largely of churches having Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, Karen Baptist, and Chinese Baptist background). “We have freedom to preach the Gospel in this country,” he said in an interview, “but we have not been taking advantage of the opportunities to evangelize.”

There are signs at last, however, that times—and people—may be changing. Thai believers are celebrating their 150th anniversary this year, and they have designated it as a year of evangelism.

To get things started, five-day evangelistic campaigns were held in February in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, the nation’s second-largest city (area-wide population: 450,000), and in Bangkok (five million population). Attendance ranged from 2,500 to nearly 4,000 at Chiang Mai and from just under 4,000 to more than 5,000 at Bangkok. In both cases, they were the largest crowds in Protestant history in Thailand, say mission observers. And, they point out, never before have so many pastors and churches joined together in such cooperative outreach efforts.

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President Stan Mooneyham of World Vision International was the guest evangelist at both series of meetings, which were billed as “Toward New Life” rallies. Thai musicians and drama teams also performed at the outdoor Chiang Mai meetings. Popular American singers Evie Tournquist and Andrae Crouch helped out in the Bangkok crusade, held in a large auditorium in Lumpini Park. The pair sang solos and spirited duets that met with waves of warm applause. In both cities, local government officials delivered official greetings from the platform.

In all, more than 1,100 persons registered spiritual decisions in the two anniversary campaigns. About one-fourth indicated they were making first-time professions of faith in Christ.

Why an American evangelist? “We needed a neutral outsider for our first meetings in order to get everyone to cooperate,” explained a leader candidly. “The World Vision name is well-known in Thailand,” he added. (World Vision has extensive relief and child-care ministries in Thailand.)

Coordinating the year of evangelistic activity is the Thailand Church Growth Committee (TCGC). Its roots go back to 1969 when seventeen church leaders from Thailand attended the South Pacific Congress on Evangelism in Singapore. Those leaders returned and the following year organized a congress on evangelism that attracted 400 participants. It was held at a seaside resort southeast of Bangkok. The congress planning committee disbanded in 1971; in its place emerged the TCGC, with representatives from the major denominations and missions. World Vision provided much of the committee’s initial funding and underwrote a large share of the crusade expenses. It has three full-time executive staffers.

Also during February, Japanese educator-evangelist Paul Ariga preached to large crowds in northern Thailand—including 2,000 at Nakorn Sawan—in connection with the anniversary observances. Missionary educator James Taylor of Taiwan preached in meetings aimed at reaching the Chinese community in Bangkok. Last month Thai preachers conducted crusades with large crowds in other Thailand cities.

The most significant aspect so far, say leaders, is a new sense of Christian unity. Revival tides may be flowing, suggests Wirachai Kowae, 37, pastor of a 100-constituent Assemblies of God church in Bangkok.

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Protestant missionaries began arriving in Thailand in the late 1820s. It was hard work. American Baptists established in 1837 the first indigenous Protestant church in the Far East, a Chinese one that still exists in Bangkok today. But twenty-two Congregational (American Board) missionaries labored from 1831 to 1849 without converting a single Thai, and the Presbyterians worked from 1840 until 1859 before they were able to baptize the first Thai convert. A number of missionaries contracted tropical diseases and died. Two of the earliest Thai converts were clubbed to death in the Chiang Mai area. (An Edict of Religious Toleration was pronounced in 1878, and every constitution of Thailand since then has provided for religious freedom.)

Many early mission efforts, especially those by Presbyterians, centered on the establishment of hospitals, clinics, and schools. The leprosy hospital and rehabilitation center built by Presbyterian medical missionary James W. McKean near Chiang Mai in 1908 is a world-renowned institution.

The Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT) was formed in 1932, largely the result of Presbyterian missionary labors. In 1957 the United Presbyterian Church integrated its mission work and workers into the CCT. Institutions and properties were handed over to the church. Several other missions acted similarly.

Although many older leaders of the CCT are theologically conservative, a number of the younger leaders are liberal. There is heavy liberal bias at the CCT seminary at Chiang Mai, and some young Thais get their training at liberal seminaries in America. The liberalism is a source of tension in the church. (The president of the CCT school is Mrs. Prakai Nontawasee, reputedly the world’s only woman president of a major seminary.)

There are other sources of tension, too. In 1974 seminary teacher Koson Srisang was elected general secretary of the CCT. A liberal socially and politically as well as theologically, he irritated many people with his outspokenness on controversial issues and with his seeming sympathy for radical groups. At one point he became embroiled in a controversy over his handling of relief money from the Bread for the World organization.

Last summer Srisang—a member of the World Council of Churches Central Committee—wrote a letter to the Thai government on CCT stationery. In it he asked the government to transfer from military to civil court the case of student demonstrators arrested in 1976. He released copies of the letter to the press.

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A storm of protest arose within the church, not over the substance of the letter but over the fact that Srisang wrote it without church approval, involved the church in politics, and invited censure by the public and the government. At a special session of the policy-making CCT General Council in September, more than half of the church’s fourteen districts sent resolutions expressing disapproval and calling for Srisang’s resignation. A special meeting of the CCT’s General Assembly was scheduled for January of this year to deal with the matter. Srisang, however, submitted his resignation, saying he did not want to see the church torn apart. Moderator Pantupong has taken over until a replacement is named. Pantupong is a former pastor and director of the CCT department of evangelism, and he was a delegate at the 1974 Lausanne evangelization congress.

Srisang has left Thailand temporarily to seek cooler climates elsewhere. Back home it is still hot. In January, the Chiang Rai district—the denomination’s largest group of churches—ousted moderator Sompong Athorntip a year before his term was to end. Non-confidence, said the delegates. Athorntip had been a staunch supporter of Srisang. Because of such drastic actions, says a Baptist missionary, many university students have become disillusioned and left the church.

Pantupong, who doubts that many have left, hopes that new leadership can bring the CCT back to its historic position of witness. He believes that the vast majority of the members—including the young people—want the church to be more involved in evangelistic outreach than it has been in the recent past.

Much of the CCT’s present ministry is solidly evangelical. The seventeen-year-old Lamp of Thailand, a correspondence Bible institute, is servicing 8,200 enrollees this year. McCormick Hospital employs a full-time evangelist to visit patients. There are twenty-eight prayer groups among the 478 employees, and these groups have spawned two churches-in the past five years. There is as much emphasis on spiritual ministry as on rehabilitation at the McKean leprosarium, whose current director is a committed evangelical. The president of the 950-student Payap College, Amnuay Tapingkae, indicates that he wants Christ to have a greater place in higher education and in his own life.

Meanwhile, the ranks of evangelicals outside the CCT are astir with activity. The relatively young Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand (EFT) has a membership of twenty-seven foreign missions, eleven Thai organizations, and nearly 100 individual congregations.

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The EFT is chaired by Charan Ratanabutra, 55, pastor of the 700-constituent independent Bangkok Church. Ratanabutra is also chairman of Campus Crusade’s upcoming “Here’s Life” crusade in Thailand (Crusade has six Thai staff members), and he is chairman of World Vision’s Thailand board. He is a good friend of Pantupong and others in the CCT leadership. Some observers see him as a bridge by which evangelical concerns in the CCT can be strengthened and by which the voices of moderation and cooperation in the EFT can be amplified.

Bangkok Bible College, organized in 1971, has forty students. It is a cooperative project of Overseas Missionary Fellowship and the Christian and Missionary Alliance. There are twelve other Bible schools scattered throughout the country, and the Southern Baptists have a seminary in Bangkok.

Voice of Peace in Chiang Mai produces Christian broadcasts beamed at the various tribal people in the hills. Its cassette and audio-visual ministries are expanding substantially.

And so it goes: Thai leaders and tribal workers reaching out hand in hand with missionaries to all of Thailand.

Chulin Toktaeng has been around for a long time. The World Vision public relations man is 74. He was a pastor and evangelist for more than twenty-five years and then an administrator. “The time hasn’t come yet for missionaries to go home,” says he. Moratorium is not a popular concept in Thailand, he says. There is much to do, he suggests, adding that if anything significant is to be accomplished, “We must work together.”

Good and Bad

What’s ahead in television programming?

More of the same, according to an advertising agency’s report on some 150 pilot programs and other shows being developed for next fall. Sex and comedy dominate, according to the report, and the plots will feature a wide variety of themes, including coed dorms and unwed couples living together.

Meanwhile, the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) has released its ratings of the best and worst current TV shows. Topping the “excellent” list is “Little House on the Prairie” (NBC), “Eight is Enough” (ABC), “The Fitzpatricks” (CBS), and “Rafferty” (CBS). (Both CBS shows have been canceled.) “Soap” (ABC) has the poorest PTA rating, followed by “Redd Foxx Show” (ABC), “Maude” (CBS), and “NBC Movies” (NBC). (ABC has canceled the Foxx show.)

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CBS landed the greatest number of programs in the PTA’s list of the twenty best; NBC was rated poorest.

Such ratings apparently don’t bother ABC programming executive Edwin T. Vane. Opposition to “Soap” by the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops, and other religious groups led some advertisers and ABC affiliates to shun the program last fall. Said Vane: “A basic industry principle was at stake, namely, who is going to control what goes on the air—special interest groups who lobby, or the American public?” He said that ABC thought it was a big enough principle to fight for. “In retrospect, it was worth doing,” he added. “Some people,” he said, “feared that kids would become instantly corrupted by ‘Soap,’ but they found out it wasn’t so.”

Meanwhile, radio-TV director Carl Richardson of the one-million-member Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) reports “surprisingly positive” written responses from most of the nearly 300 sponsors of TV programs found offensive in a church-wide survey. As a result, he says, the denomination will examine the sponsors’ actions further before publishing a proposed “Shopper’s Avoidance List.” The list will be a directory of advertisers with bad TV records—as seen through church officials’ eyes—and members will be encouraged to boycott the advertisers’ products.

Executives of many corporations that advertise on TV concurred with Richardson’s concern about the moral state of TV programming. Some said company policy prohibits sponsorship of programs involving excessive violence or explicit sexual material. Others said that they are sympathetic and that they’ve complained to the networks, but that they are at the mercy of broadcasters and program producers.

Not all responses were sympathetic. Volkswagen executive Marvin Gruber said: “Volkswagen will not be put in a position of censoring programs. If you choose not to purchase our products, it should be because of your disregard for the quality of our cars.…”

In the Image …

Is it fiction or non-fiction? That was the question last month as the J. B. Lippincott Company pushed forward the publication date of its controversial new book, In His Image: The Cloning of a Man. Author David Rorvik claimed that he helped arrange the scientific procedure that produced a child asexually. He also claimed that he has seen the boy, now fourteen months old. He named no names. Lippincott could produce no proof, but the publisher labeled the book non-fiction “on the strength of Mr. Rorvik’s credentials.”

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Publication of the volume several months ahead of schedule drew wide media attention. Columnists had a field day, with some taking the story seriously and others considering the whole affair a promotional hoax. Humorist Art Buchwald asked, “Is there a limit on the number of Billy Carters the country will put up with?” Authors Ted Howard and Jeremy Rifkin of Who Should Play God? wrote, “One thing is certain—either it is the hoax of the century, or one of the most important events of recorded history.”

There was little support in the scientific community for Rorvik’s claim that a human had been “engineered” by cloning. Frogs have been cloned, but there have been no documented reports of success with mammals. The process involves the transplanting of the nucleus of a cell from a male donor into a fertile egg cell. The nucleus of the egg cell is then removed or inactivated so that the progeny develops as a genetically identical copy of the individual that supplied the donor cell. In the book, a millionaire gets a science writer to assemble a team to produce a new person identical to him. An Asian woman is found to carry the embryo, and she delivers a baby who looks like the American donor. Although some scientists said that the feat might be possible, others refused even to comment lest they help publicize the book. All were awaiting proof. The author, a free-lance writer, did not promise it.

Minnesota Poll

A vast majority of Minnesota residents (87 per cent) believe in heaven, and most think that they are headed there, according to a poll conducted by the Minneapolis Tribune. More than 70 per cent of the state’s people believe in hell, and 20 per cent say they know someone who is a sure bet to be an occupant, but only one in twenty-five believe he or she deserves to go there, the survey showed.

Another Tribune survey disclosed that when it comes to love and marriage, most students at the University of Minnesota endorse premarital sex (64 per cent) but disapprove of extramarital sex (83 per cent). The study was based on interviews with 300 students.

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Christ commanded it (in Matthew 10:8), so he has been trying to be obedient. That’s what tent evangelist Daniel Aaron Rogers, 41, has been telling those who ask why he has tried to bring his mother back to life. Eighty-year-old Gladys Rogers died in Harrison, Arkansas, on February 2. The evangelist had her body frozen, and he became involved in widely publicized “resurrection” attempts for more than a month. When nothing happened, he tried to get an Indonesian faith-healer to resurrect her. None, however, showed up.

Rogers, who identifies himself as a minister of the “Church of Christ with the Elijah Message,” packed the corpse in dry ice instead of embalming it and kept it in a house trailer until moving it to a church in Deer, Arkansas, for a memorial service. That move brought authorities into the case: taking an unembalmed body across county lines is prohibited in the state. Boone County officials, with the help of an undertaker and a hospital, enabled Rogers to bring the body back to Harrison, but they would not allow him to put it on display or otherwise use it in a public meeting. It was transferred to an upright freezer. Rogers found an undertaker in Missouri who would cooperate, but then he had to get permission from Arkansas authorities to move the corpse to the state line. It was transferred to a chest-type freezer, and the convoy was accompanied to the Missouri border by a deputy sheriff.

Rogers called in other evangelists to pray at a service in the funeral home in Reeds Spring, Missouri. One of them said he saw movement in the dead woman’s eyes, but her son said he could not confirm the claim. About 100 persons sang and prayed in an adjoining room. Some had come seeking healing. Rogers maintained that his mother would return to life to give a sign that “the end of the age” is near.

Authorities were expected to order the corpse’s burial late last month.

Rogers has preached in some main-line churches in the Ozarks as an interdenominational evangelist. He told reporters that his Church of Christ with the Elijah Message is the “original remnant of the church that [Mormon forefather] Joseph Smith founded.” It was “established anew” in a 1929 break from the Latter Day Saints and the Reorganized LDS, he said.

The Disputed Lutheran Hour(s)

Fifty radio station managers had to make a hard choice this month about one of their most popular religious programs. The affiliates of the NBC network who receive the Lutheran Hour “on the wire” from the network were faced with the decision to use the broadcast prepared for April 9 by Oswald Hoffman or to use a substitute offered by NBC. (The replacement was a re-broadcast of a 1972 Lutheran Hour Easter show, with an announcement to explain why it was being run again.)

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NBC refused to carry the April 9 program on the grounds that it presents “one side of a controversial issue” and that NBC policy forbids sale of time “for the presentation of views on controversial public issues.” In this case, the issue is abortion. The sermon, entitled “The Sanctity of Life,” calls abortion one of the “basic issues of life now before people all over the world.” Hoffman’s message says, “When people make a decision regarding abortion, regardless of what the law permits, they are making a moral and spiritual decision.… That’s where God comes in, and the Word of God speaks to us about that.”

The network’s decision is a “clear violation of our rights under the first amendment of the U.S. constitution,” declared Tommy Thompson, manager of domestic radio for the Lutheran Layman’s League. “They’re saying, in effect, that it’s fine to have religion on the air as long as it doesn’t say anything controversial.”

Ben Armstrong of National Religious Broadcasters said that it is hard to understand why NBC had decided to censor this one program out of all that the Lutheran Hour had broadcast. “There is hardly any aspect of religion or ethics or morality that is not controversial to someone,” he asserted.

Thompson said the Lutheran Hour’s primary purpose is to “preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to treat controversial issues only in order to apply the Gospel to those issues.” The program has been on the air since 1930 and on NBC since 1956. It is carried on about 1,000 stations in the United States alone, with only about fifty of that number picking it up through NBC. Other stations that are affiliated with NBC receive it directly from the program’s production facilities instead of by a network feed. The Mutual radio network also carries it.

Within about ten days after the dispute became public, three NBC affiliates notified Thompson that they would run discs of the original April 9 program instead of taking the show offered through the network. Among them was WBAL in Baltimore, one of the major radio markets. The program is broadcast in some of the other major markets (such as Chicago) by stations owned and operated by the network, and Thompson was watching to see if any of their managers would make decisions to use the edition refused by NBC. The nation’s communications law makes station licensees (not networks) responsible for programming. Thompson and his colleagues publicized their dispute with NBC in the hope that it would focus attention on this responsibility of the stations. Every station that normally receives the program through NBC was reminded of that provision of the law and offered a disc to play on April 9.

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The public notice has brought a variety of expressions of concern and offers of help, Thompson noted. Several law firms have offered their services free to fight the case through the Federal Communications Commission and the courts. Such an appeal could take as much as $250,000 and ten years, but the Lutheran organization does not plan to go that route even with free legal services. “That just isn’t the ministry that we have seen as ours,” Thompson explained.

One of the first to come to the defense of Hoffman was the Roman Catholic archbishop of St. Louis, Cardinal John J. Carberry. His archdiocesan newspaper editorialized against the NBC decision, and in a personal statement the archbishop said Hoffman continually “proclaims a controversial doctrine: ‘Jesus Christ is Lord.’ ”


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