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 address.

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).


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