APPROACH THAT BRINGS REPROACH
by Britt Towery (March 7, 1997)
On February 28, 1997 my wife was impressed to write a former missionary
colleague and needed to know where she lived. The last we knew she and
her husband were in southwest China. To do so she had to phone the
Southern Baptist (SBC) Foreign Mission Board (FMB, soon to become the
International Mission Board, IBC) in Richmond, Virginia, for the
First, the secretary said the address Jody wanted was restricted. She
was not authorized to give it out. Jody asked why? The secretary said
that this individual's work was of a sensitive nature. Finally she went
ahead and gave her the address. But she said that when writing to them
she should not use any church logos, language or Christian symbols;
cannot use words like "prayer" or "God." Instead of the term "church"
she suggested using the word "family." "It is something like a code"
when writing to these "restricted" missionary addresses.
This was the same type code used by our Assembly of God missionary
friend who traveled into China in the early 1980s. Youth With a Mission,
Underground Evangelism, Open Doors and even Dr. Donald Dale and his Jian
Hwa Foundation used the same terms sixteen years ago. That was back when
the world was caught up in a Cold War mentality. We are approaching the
21st century. People as well educated and informed as SBC FMB leaders
are still using nineteenth century methods.
Foreign Mission boards and societies are still targeting China's
minorities (Chinese citizens, remember) saying the Han Chinese churches
have no work among these peoples. [Read The Commission Magazine cover
story on the Tung peoples in the February, 1997 issue where there is
nothing about the work the Chinese do among the minorities -- like
publishing Bibles in their languages, etc.] The foreigner should work
through the local churches that have grown up after one hundred years of
mission work and more years of Chinese people's suffering.
It is as though nothing had happened in China during these years to make
such "codes" obsolete. Churches in houses and huge buildings are
flourishing throughout China and have been since the re-opening began in
1979. The undercover methods only make the local Party authorities
suspicious of Christians. It does not fool anyone as the underground
missionaries seem to think it does.
There is no scripture to support making deception a Christian virture.
Such an approach cannot be justified. The word Bible and smuggling do
not belong in the same sentence. Everytime Christians smuggle Bibles or
Christian literature into China, they are telling the Chinese government
and the Communist Party that Christianity is still a foreign religion
and above Chinese law.
The address the secretary gave was in Chiang Mai, Thailand, not China.
"Oh," she said, "Your mail does not go to them directly. It is picked up
and hand-carried to the CSI personnel in the country where they work."
Still avoiding even the word China.
"They are not missionaries when they get to their field of service." She
continued. "They go where missionaries normally cannot go. I am not
authorized to tell the locations of the CSI personnel."
I coined that phrase in 1984 -- "work in countries where traditional
Western missionaries are no longer needed or desired." It no longer
expressed my original meaning of being open and above board with the
national Christians; seeking to find ways foreign Christians can best
relate to the work in China.
Now the phrase is used as an excuse for doing underground evangelism and
establishing once again Western denominational agendas and ministries.
That was never the original intent. More than just coining a phrase (or
worse, sour grapes), I was in on the ground work to set up CSI and I was
the first China Liaison Director, relating as a "go between" for China
pastors, church-going and non-church going Christians; the China
Christian Council (CCC) national leaders and their American counterparts
in Southern Baptist FMB life. Both sides knew little about each other.
It was an important post that was undermined from the start in the home
office and in the minds of the fundamentalists element in SBC life.
The secretary went on to tell Jody that if more information for such
countries were needed she could contact the East Asia Mission entity of
the FMB that worked more openly with the China Christian Council. This
was recently organized relate "openly" with mainland China.
The FMB works both sides of the street just like a streetwalker. So
Southern Baptists have two programs in China, paid for by the same
American SBC churches and believers. One is covert without integrity
(CSI), and one appears to be open and working with the CCC (East Asia
Mission with offices in the soon to be Special Adminstrative Region of
China called Hong Kong).
Through the centuries the people called Baptists have endured a lot
mud-slinging, most of it uncalled for. But this kind of ethic-bending
cries out for justice for the name Baptist. The old notion that the end
justifies the means never had integrity. "Slipping around" to share your
faith is no different than "slipping around on your spouse." There are
Christians inside and out of the CCC who deserve better than to be, on
one hand ignored, and on the other abused by this forked-tongue mission
approach. Thinking Christians are not amused, and Christ is not honored,
by such double standards.
Christians who go to China with integrity and without their own agenda
are welcomed and needed in China. The secret approach brings reproach
upon Christ and the churches in a given locality. Only as believers
trust one another can friendship and fellowship evolve.
More than once I have felt the agony that Dr. Victor Frankenstein must
have felt in Mary Shelly's novel when he saw his creation turned into a
monster. It was not what he dreamed nor what he hoped for. Strong words,
yes, but there is a definite need for more ethical behavior among those
whose primary emphasis is to build a denomination even though the better
way would be to work together with all Christians. Respect them and
trust them as co-workers and equals.
The above piece, "Approach that Brings Reproach," first appeared on the
Towery home page, March 7, 1997. It was updated May 6, 1997. The date of
May 6, 1997 marks the 40th anniversary of the day Jody and Britt Towery
arrived at the port of Keelung, Taiwan. Some of my former colleagues
might call that "A day that will live in infamy." The "Approach" article
was translated into Chinese in August 1997 by friends in the China
Christian Council, Nanjing, China (People's Republic of China).