(Correspondents Robert D. Linder and Richard V. Pierard recently visited several European countries, including Poland, where preparations were underway for evangelist Billy Graham’s preaching campaign this month. The pair filed the following background report.)
“This will be the greatest event in Polish religious history since the end of World War II,” declared a member of the Polish Ecumenical Council. Similar sentiments were expressed by others who were present at the recent council meeting, where members gave unanimous endorsement to the ten-day preaching tour of evangelist Billy Graham that was scheduled to begin October 6.
Unlike other Eastern European countries, Poland is characterized by a vital, active, and numerically dominant Roman Catholic Church. The church is the most potent political and social force in the country today. It claims the allegiance of 90 per cent of Poland’s 35 million population, dwarfing the Protestant constituency.
Graham’s visit is framed against a complex religious and political background. To be comprehended, the present state of affairs must be seen in the light of the historical development of Poland, which has alternated between greatness and tragedy.
In the tenth century, Polians and other tribes in the area united, and in A.D. 966 they officially adopted Christianity. The medieval rulers gradually expanded the area under their control, and by the sixteenth century a viable Polish state extended from the Baltic almost to the Black Sea.
Poland became a center of learning and culture, and one of the great universities of Europe, the prestigious Jagiellonian in Krakow, was founded in 1364. The country was also a place of refuge for Jews who were expelled from western Europe during the Middle Ages. With the advent of the Reformation, Protestantism spread rapidly and became the faith of great numbers of the populace. The large-scale Protestant presence, however, was short-lived; the movement was crushed in the last half of the sixteenth century by the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation spearheaded by Jesuits.
While Poland became bogged down in internal political problems, neighboring states kept chipping away until finally in 1795 the country was “partitioned” for a third time in the century, and it vanished from the map. A deep sense of Polish national feeling persisted throughout the nineteenth century, though, despite brutal repression by Russian, Prussian, and Austrian overlords. During this period, Polish nationalism was closely associated with and nurtured by the Polish Catholic Church, especially in opposition to Protestant Prussians and the Orthodox Russians.
Poland was reconstituted at the end of World War I and existed for a short time as an independent republic, only to be partitioned again in 1939 by Germany and the Soviet Union. Under the Nazis, millions of Polish citizens were killed, including an estimated 85 per cent of the Jewish population, which before World War II numbered more than three million. Poland suffered widescale devastation during World War II (90 per cent of Warsaw was destroyed, for instance), and one-fifth of its population was relocated by the Soviets following the conflict.
The Soviet Union in 1945 retained most of the territory it had seized in 1939, and Poland was compensated with land from eastern Germany. By 1948, a new Communist regime—imposed on the Poles by the Soviets—attempted to take total control over all aspects of life. The efforts of the regime were stubbornly resisted by the Catholic hierarchy and the Polish workers and farmers, a pattern that has persisted over the years, resulting in modifications of the plans of the ruling party. For example, after riots broke out in 1956 the authorities were forced to halt the collectivization of agriculture, allow greater religious freedom, and grant more civil liberties to the people. Much of the recent international press coverage of the Polish situation shows that the church has become a major political fact of life.
What official stance, if any, the Polish Catholic Church will take toward the Graham endeavor was still unknown late last month. Church leaders have been friendly to an advance team of Graham aides, and there were plans for private visits between the evangelist and some Roman Catholic officials. For a number of religious and political reasons, most observers regard Catholic neutrality as essential to the success of the campaign. But many individual Catholics were expected to support Graham.
Before Vatican II, any kind of Roman Catholic support for Graham in Poland—official or unofficial—would have been unlikely. Even by international standards today, Catholicism in Poland is conservative and theologically traditional for the most part. A Baptist pastor related in an interview how as a boy in the 1930s he was beaten in school and even by a priest for being “different”; his father once lost his job because of his faith.
Present-day Polish Catholic relations with non-Catholics are more cordial. For instance, there has been growing cooperation with the Polish Bible Society. Many clergy are now purchasing Bibles through the society, and some are providing the society version of the four Gospels to children receiving religious instruction.
Especially interesting is the relatively new Oasis, a youth-oriented movement within the church headed by Father Francisvek Blachnicki. It has strong evangelical overtones and connections with both American Catholic charismatics and Protestant evangelicals. (Blachnicki recently spent two weeks at Campus Crusade for Christ headquarters in California.) An Oasis rally last summer attracted 27,000 people. The hierarchy presently is divided over how to respond to the movement. Many bishops seem uneasy, but the archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, is friendly to it.
Polish Protestantism, meanwhile, is small in comparison to the mammoth Catholic establishment. Virtually wiped out during the Counter-Reformation, it slowly reasserted itself after the eighteenth-century partitions. The Polish branch of the British and Foreign Bible Society, founded in 1816, aided this growth.
During the nineteenth century, there were strong concentrations of Lutherans and Reformed in the German-controlled areas, and numerous other Protestant groups formed congregations through missionary work. The Baptists, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, and a variety of Pentecostals emerged in Poland as the result of such endeavors.
The Bible society has been especially active since World War II. Until the late 1960s it annually distributed an average of 110,000 Scripture portions. Now the figure is appreciably higher, according to society secretary Barbara Enholc-Narzyńska. The society commissioned a new translation and released it in 1975; it was the first Protestant one since the Reformation era. Some 150,000 copies have been printed already. Currently, the society is working on a Polish version of Good News for Modern Man. The Gospels have been completed, and the entire New Testament is slated for publication next year.
Graham’s invitation to visit Poland originated with the Baptist Union of Poland, a small but energetic group with 200 congregations and 6,000 adherents. With roots going back only 120 years, the Baptists numbered more than 70,000 in pre-World War II days, but the churches lost most of their members in the war and in the postwar territorial shifts.
Baptist leaders had earlier approached Graham about holding a meeting as part of the nation’s millennial commemoration in 1966 but things did not work out. One of the Polish organizers for the crusade said in an interview that political reasons lay behind the refusal of the authorities to grant permission then. Polish government officials reportedly were displeased both with the Congress on Evangelism in West Berlin that year and with Graham’s then hawkish stand on the Viet Nam War.
However, encouraged by his reception in Hungary, the Baptists renewed the request for a Graham preaching visit, and last February received formal approval from the State Office for Religious Affairs. Again politics seem to have played a role. As Polish Lutheran pastor Jan Walter put it: “Jimmy Carter’s visit to Poland [last January] is what made Billy Graham’s coming politically possible.”
A committee was formed to coordinate the crusade, and the Polish Ecumenical Council—a body representing eight Orthodox, Old Catholic, and Protestant denominations—joined in the planning. A number of other small Free churches (Protestant) also associated themselves with the campaign.
The meetings are being held in six major cities (see map). Large numbers of visitors are expected to attend from neighboring East Germany and Czechoslovakia. More than 1,000 Czechs attended a Graham meeting in Hungary when Graham preached there last year. A special invitation was sent to Baptist leaders in the Soviet Union, and they were expected to attend. (Negotiations have already begun toward a possible Graham visit to the Soviet Union within the next two years.)
The Polish crusade has been advertised over Trans-World Radio’s Monte Carlo station and in church papers in Poland. In June, the principle Catholic daily published a long article featuring Graham. A planner reports that the committee has been deluged with inquiries about the crusade from throughout Poland and surrounding countries. (When Graham visited Hungary, there had been little advance publicity within the country.)
A Polish translation of How to be Born Again and Peace With God, two bestsellers by Graham, have been prepared for the campaign, and the Bible society has agreed to supply 100,000 copies of the Gospel of John for the meetings. Various churches and public halls are being used for the meetings.
In the view of Michat Stankiewicz, president of the Polish Baptist Union, Graham will have to be aware of behind-the-scene activities and pressures involving both church and state officials but concentrate on his primary task in Poland: “To preach the Gospel of salvation plainly and simply, and to address himself to the great moral needs of the Polish people, especially the youth, who are increasingly finding no meaning in life.” Other Protestant leaders in interviews said that they do not expect a great wave of conversions but they do believe that Graham’s preaching will, as one person put it, “revive and renew the Christian believers so they can go out and evangelize.”
Stepping Down And Moving On
Never an advocate of the status quo, Wallace D. Muhammad has engineered yet another change of character in the Black Muslim movement, otherwise known as the World Community of Al-Islam in the West. Muhammad resigned last month as “chief imam,” or spiritual leader, of the movement after two-and-one-half years in that position. He delegated his authority to a council of six regional imams who will be elected to one-year terms. In doing so, he noted that in Islam “there is no priesthood.”
Muhammad, the 44-year-old son of the founder of the movement, Elijah Muhammad, said he was tired of the “day-to-day” tasks of running the organization. He sees himself as becoming a roving ambassador-evangelist who will still figure prominently in the decision-making process.
Still, Muhammad’s sudden announcement jolted those who heard it during an Atlanta speech that was aired via direct telephone hookup to 200 mosques across the country. Muhammad had been a prime mover in changing the black separatist policies of his father, who once had preached that whites were “the human beast—the serpent, the dragon, the devil, and Satan.”
Wallace Muhammad changed the name of the forty-eight-year-old group to the World Community of Al-Islam in the West to eliminate the term “black.” He believes that use of the terms black and white is racist. Blacks became Bilalians (the name of an ancient Islamic warrior), and whites became Caucasians. Muhammad sees his American religious group as patriotic and nationalistic, though still dedicated to “Koranic purity.” He estimates that there is a national membership of 1.5 million, though outside observers say the total is closer to 100,000, with a large concentration in Chicago.
Muhammad’s innovations have caused a rift in the Muslim community. Many members defected earlier this year with disgruntled Abdul Haleem Farrakhan, once the national spokesman for Elijah Muhammad and minister of the large Harlem mosque (see April 21 issue, p. 47). Farrakhan would not accept Muhammad’s policy of working with whites to solve the problems of blacks. Neither did he and other Black Muslim purists like it when Wallace Muhammad eliminated the strict dress code and the paramilitary unit, the Fruit of Islam, that kept followers and ministers in step with the strict religious line.
Muhammad had emphasized the authenticity of the community’s religious roots. Islamic leaders long have criticized the Black Muslims as being a political party in religious dress. The Community of Al-Islam in the West traditionally has differed in theology from orthodox Islam, but not in matters of ritual and practice. The Black Muslims see Allah more as a Supreme Black Man among a race of divine black men, than as a spirit. They do, however, face Mecca in prayer five times daily, abstain from pork and alcohol, and follow a strict sexual code.
Lone Lawyer Slaps Skin Magazines
Hinson McAuliffe isn’t on a crusade. When this Atlanta prosecutor filed charges in August against the publishers of Playboy, Oui, and Penthouse magazines, he said his action was only the methodical enforcement of Georgia’s obscenity laws, which he helped write.
But the Fulton County solicitor general has a lone ranger struggle ahead if he is to convict the publishers of selling obscene materials in his jurisdictional area. Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner and Penthouse publisher Robert Guccione have scoffed at the arrest warrants. Governors of the publishers’ states aren’t expected to comply if McAuliffe requests their extradition to Georgia.
In a telephone interview, McAuliffe said no organized church support has been given him or the state in this obscenity case, something that he says doesn’t really surprise him. In any case, the 64-year-old McAuliffe said his decision to prosecute “had nothing whatsoever to do with my religion.” McAuliffe is a Baptist deacon with twenty-five years’ Sunday school teaching experience.
As solicitor general, McAuliffe can only prosecute misdemeanors, offenses that have maximum penalties of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine. He has charge of a twenty-seven member staff that prosecutes mostly gambling, liquor, and traffic cases.
McAuliffe said his office also has prosecuted “hundreds” of obscenity cases, and, though he won’t second-guess the outcome of the Playboy-Oui-Penthouse case, he said his office’s conviction rate is higher than that of many others. McAuliffe acknowledged that more sexually explicit magazines may be on the shelves, but he cited Playboy and Penthouse particularly since they often get “into the hands of children.”
The soft-spoken lawyer bases his case on the 1973 Supreme Court decision, California vs. Miller (after which the Georgia law is patterned), that gives local communities the right to set their own standards as to what materials are obscene. Writing for the majority in that decision, Supreme Court justice Warren E. Burger ruled that materials were obscene if the “average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interests.”
McAuliffe, who admits that his religious background can’t help influencing his thinking, has a record of antipornography efforts. He once arrested Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, and the entire cast of the musical “Oh, Calcutta,” and he averaged five obscenity cases against every X-rated bookstore and movie house in Atlanta last year, according to a Chicago Tribune account. To tackle Hefner, Guccione, and Oui copublisher Daniel Filipacchi in the open courtroom (Oui is a Playboy publication), McAuliffe meets heavy opposition—if for no other reason than financial. A recent Forbes magazine description of America’s pornography industry said that the nation’s ten leading sexually-oriented magazines will gross up to $50 million this year. Hefner, himself, is reportedly worth $150 million: Playboy now has a circulation of 5 million. The pornography industry is estimated to generate $4 billion a year and more gross income than the conventional motion picture and record industries combined.
Joe A. Rogers has been named president of World Gospel Crusades; he most recently served with the organization’s parent body, OMS International.
Cleveland Indians first baseman Andre Thornton was named the 1978 winner of the Danny Thompson Memorial Award for “exemplary Christian spirit in baseball.” Named for the late American League infielder who died of leukemia two years ago, the award is presented by Baseball Chapel—an interreligious group that conducts team chapel services before Sunday games.
Pulitzer Prize winning newsman Harold E. Martin has been named executive vice-president of the Southern Baptist Radio and Television Commission. Martin was a newspaper executive in several southern states and won the Pulitzer in 1970 for local reporting.
David L. Rambo has left his post as president of Canadian Bible College/Canadian Theological College to accept another Christian and Missionary Alliance position—head of its international missions program.
Outsiders Dispute Church Priorities
Most churches cancel remodeling plans because of lack of funds. But Church of the Holy Trinity—where the late President Kennedy worshiped—had a different problem. Although members of the Washington. D.C., church had the $350,000 needed for proposed renovations, those plans were shelved after opposition from a social activist group.
On the grounds that the money could be better spent—to help the poor and hungry—members of the Community for Creative Non-Violence conducted a summer-long anti-remodeling campaign. Some members of the eight-year-old group passed out leaflets criticizing the expense of the project. Others stood silently inside the aging Catholic church during masses as a means of protest. Later, some members held a fast outside—and then on—church property.
The fast lasted forty-two days before the parish council of the church produced a compromise early in September that satisfied the protestors: to halt construction plans for thirty days, to increase the memberships of the parish council and the remodeling committee, and to present their renovation plans before the entire Holy Trinity congregation before any final decisions are made. (Besides high cost, the community opposes church financial decisions that are made without the oversight of a majority of the congregation.)
John Minor, a member of the protest group, agrees that some repairs are needed. The church has a leaking roof, and chipped and falling plaster, and certain heating and cooling equipment fails to meet safety requirements. But he, like the group, thinks some costs—like $50,000 for organ repairs—are extravagant.
With roots in the Viet Nam antiwar movement, the Community for Creative Non-Violence since has shifted its focus to social concerns. Living in and maintaining four houses in Washington slum areas, members provide food and shelter for the city’s poor.
Certain Holy Trinity members have donated funds and helped staff the all-volunteer projects of the group. Those church members originally complained to the community about the costly renovations at Holy Trinity, community spokesmen say.
Although the community has no particular spiritual thrust, it describes its membership as ecumenical and its actions as “firmly rooted in the Christian tradition.” None of its members regularly attend Holy Trinity, though some have in the past.
Holy Trinity members endured the three-month protest of the group stoically. Few confrontations occurred. Some of the church members even attended an outdoor liturgy that community members held at the end of their fast.
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