Should Foreign Missions Go?

» Will the spirit of missions still find a response in the Asia we liberate, or is that a part of the white man’s burden which we can safely entrust to native hands?



AT A recent conference at Columbia on Science, Philosophy, and Religion two delegates voiced the pungent opinion that “the entire missionary movement should be stopped.” They raised a vigorous demurrer to the axiom that “ the post-war world can be built successfully only on the basis of Christianity,” and categorically denied that we are fighting to save “Christian civilization.” Granted that only two of the delegates exploded this bombshell, nevertheless there are persons not delegates to that august conference who would second the motion—both at home and, more understandably, among the nationalists in the nonChristian countries.

It is easy to understand these radical reactions, whether here or in the Orient. As the stage Irishman or Jewish comedian has become accepted as a stock figure of the cheaper theater, so the caricature of “the missionary” has become half-brother to the caricature of the ultra-Puritan reformer with his lantern-jawed, kill-joy face, his baize umbrella and his tight frock coat, and has thus been a convenient straw man for laissez-faire folk to scorn. This caricature of the missionary on the soapbox, plucking brands from the burning, ignores the selflessness of his zeal, and is an exaggeration of the crude evangelism of a small and amateur minority. But modern missionaries, except the burningly sectarian minority, are not like that.

Missionary policy is more statesmanlike, more truly diplomatic, more germane to native life than is often comprehended. With educational institutions equal in their standards, to those at home; with modern hospitals which set the highest norm for medicine and nursing; with agricultural techniques and social service; with responsible, trained, native leadership progressively achieved, modern missions are no inept intrusion into a differing racial field, but a highly selfless contribution.

Noble and powerfully influential missionary institutions such as Dr. Teusler’s St. Luke’s Hospital in Tokyo, which has standardized hospitalization for all Japan, or Albert Schweitzer’s Lamborene, or Yale-in-China, or St. John’s University in China, or the countless orphanages and girls’ schools which have set Chinese womanhood on a new level of opportunity would be affected by the demand that the entire missionary movement must be stopped.

The disdain of broad-minded Protestants for the caricatured missionary is rooted in our steady liberalization of Christian credalism. The liberal Protestant, although he does not hold his own faith any less the truest one, does not consider non-Christian religions as deceits of the devil. Even if he recognizes the demonstrated failings of these alien faiths and the superstitions prevalent among their unthinking masses, he likewise accepts their best doctrines as partial intuitions of the Truth, and with sympathy and charity is ready to take them as the equivalent of Old Testaments deserving a New Testament consummation. He has, therefore, a more human tolerance than his fundamentalist brethren, and a less frenetic zeal to save heathen souls from the brimstone pit of Hell. But what church does not wrestle with the fact that liberalism appears to breed less and less earnestness in this great adventure? To some extent this is even true of Roman Catholicism.

The high-water mark of missions was about 1928, when there were approximately thirty thousand Protestant missionaries in foreign lands and the same number of Roman Catholic missionaries. Annual support reached sixty million dollars from Protestant sources and thirty million from Catholic. Then came the depression, but also the greatest advance of liberalism. Ultra-liberal churchmen now see no justification for continuing Christian missions, and they have the support of many nonchurchmen who comprise half of what is still called “Christendom.”

The fiat that missions must cease which comes from rampant nationalists and racialists in mission lands is even more ominous. Anyone acquainted with world trends is aware of the surge of rebellion found wherever Western folk have taken up “the white man’s burden” — which the nationalists now insist on interpreting as imperialist exploitation. The yellow, brown, and black races are yeasting with rebellion against the implied superiority complex of our “paramount civilizations.”

And in this we must not be blind to the part played by revivified native faiths. There are now a higher Buddhism, a cultured Hinduism, a reborn Mohammedanism, a philosophic Taoism, an assertive Shintoism. Mixed with racial defense, these vigorous reformed or modernist native faiths cannot but leaven the lump of ancient custom.

As an illustration take the Buddhism of Ceylon. It is less fanatic than neighboring Mohammedanism or Shintoism; it is no mere revival of fundamentalist Buddhism, which preaches self-renunciation. Rather is it a form of self-affirming patriotism, envisioning Ceylon as a member of a family of Buddhist countries. Its slogan, “No conquered people can afford to accept the religion of its conquerors,” brands Christian Singhalese as renegades, since they are implicated with the foreign “invader.” “Every Singhalese should be a Buddhist” is the cry. Buddhist dogma is invoked only sufficiently to show that a religion which starts without God (as Buddhism does) makes “God’s help” absurd. Such a movement decisively eliminates the missionary,


JAPAN provides the most extreme example of foreign exclusion. Although we now know few details of Japan’s inner life, we can guess the consequence of the policies already in operation before Pearl Harbor. The Westerner is out.

To be sure, Japan has not quashed Christianity as such. It has only Japanized it by force. The 250,000 Christians are a formidable minority group, even when we subtract the nominal ones who had registered for ulterior motives. They cannot be disregarded by Tojo and Company, but they can be controlled. No money can now be received from outside, but there seem still to be enough funds for skeletal existence. The fifty-odd Protestant communions have been compelled into a single body.

The Roman Catholics are under a Japanese archbishop, and for political reasons a Japanese ambassador is accredited to the Vatican. In both groups this “beaten out” (uttareta) change is avowedly for the purpose of ensuring that there shall be no more alien intrusion or allegiance in Nipponese life.

The Japanese have sometimes asserted that missionaries have been sources of military and naval intelligence. Also the inherited Samurai ideals have made patriots resent the extension of alien denominations, with their Western forms and formularies. If Christianity is to have the slightest chance to survive in a defeated Japan, it must be cast in the Japanese mode and speak in the Japanese psychological idiom.

To do the dictator government of Japan justice, it must be noted that there has been no threat of compulsory dissolution of the Christian Church. Whether or not the intention is ultimately to use every religion as an arm of the government, it is symptomatic at least of the first stage that M. Tomita, the first moderator of the United Protestant Church, has been until his appointment a staunch advocate of the separation of church and state. The Christian Church, Protestant and Catholic together, is now recognized as the third religion of the Empire, taking the place formerly accorded to patently Chinese Confucianism. Interfaith coordination is in process between the three religions. All is “honorable,” according to official pronouncements, We hope they are sincere.

Yet how long the liberties of Christianity will last under a totalitarian dictatorship is anyone’s guess. Since its affiliations are derivatively from outside the nation, it is under strictest watchfulness. If it were not for the Vatican tie, we might speculate on whether the degree of Westernism and its dogmatic history implied in the very names Protestant and Catholic could be permitted. Militant Shintoists are now bound to press their advantage. Christian ministers are given no exemption from military service. Congregations are thereby left leaderless except by old men and by women. The silence of Toyohiko Kagawa, even before censorship clamped down, indicates that his pacifism was considered more subversive than his great coöperatives were considered constructive.

Yet hearteningly we remember the survival of Japanese Christianity through an earlier campaign of hating extermination. It lived a catacomb life underground for the whole period from the Shoguns to Admiral Perry. And emerged smiling. If defeat of Japan comes soon enough, it is probable that a stronger, more autonomous church, unified and purged, will emerge from the present bitter moment, since (as yet) Christianity has been given no command to commit hara-kiri.

Only two alternatives emerge for the Christian Church: either it will become so meekly chameleon on Japanese paganism that it will hardly be distinguishable from it; or, more likely, the very fires of its testing time will so purify it of all dross of secondary motives or foreign ecclesiasticisms that it will be a Gideon’s army, smaller but stronger. A really Japanese Christianity must be given our completely generous faith and perhaps our financial aid again; but with no strings tied to it. Are we magnanimous enough to hope for such an outcome?

As a postscript to the sketch of Japanese missions the developments in Manchuria and North China must also be mentioned. For these indicate the policy and strength of the Japanese Church.

In the longer-occupied areas, missionary work from a Japanese home-base by the Japanese has been well begun by all faiths. And in the Netherlands East Indies and the Philippines, for instance, whence we have reason to hope the invaders will sooner be dislodged, a Hying squadron of rninistrants has been at work. The non-exemption of religious workers from army service has sent them wherever the army goes, and they have not confined their personal activities to the military. Not only Christians but ambassadors of other beliefs have been used by the military authorities to approach resident Christians and to conciliate them. Both Protestant and Catholic Japanese (including some Japanese nuns) are most zealous and, according to their own philosophy, conscientious.

Japan now has some control over more than a hundred million Mohammedans. Mohammedans are difficult to handle because of their fervent tenacity. Japan is tactfully playing up to them, for she hopes to be recognized as backing a United Moslem movement in all Asia. The same policy extends to Christianity.

In Manchuria Japanese Christians have been at work for a quarter century. The East Asia Missionary Society is a branch of the Japanese National Christian Council, and although the majority of its workers are Chinese by blood, they are now Japanese by direction. The information filters through that the properties of the Scottish and Irish Mission in Manchuria, which were purchased by the Japanese government when the former white missionaries bluntly declined to allow their adherents to be registered and supervised by the new overlords, arc now nominally leased to the Japanese Church as its pied-à-terre.

In North China there is a United Christian (Protestant) Church. Its constitution contains the striking statement that the fused church is “to undertake the apostolic commission of preaching the Gospel, according to the spirit of self-government, self-supported propagation, so as to establish a united, indigenous church.” The personnel of its supervisory group is of substantial caliber and influence, mostly Chinese.

This is highly interesting. For it means that the Japanese Church, as completely as it can do so, is adopting the policy of native self-development, eventuating in a flexible and autonomous church of the land. It also indicates something of the potence of second-generation Japanese Christianity, now forcibly free of apron-string tether.


INDIA is a Gordian knot which resists any sword. It will provide the major complications in any postwar settlement and probably, except for Germany, will continue to be the major obstacle to any world peace for at least a half century. Whatever we may think of the technique of administration by the British, who, inheriting imperialism, have done their best to lift India toward something other than a continued Indian Mutiny, we must take as sincere the intention to give India dominion status after the war, not only in plausible legalism but with sympathetic faith.

But that vast, polyglot, multitudinous, casteridden, riven, extremeful land is far from any inner unity. The 275 million Hindus and 90 million Moslems, with 225 dialects and well-nigh that number of psychological strains; the jeweled maharajas and the contorted fakirs; the swarming untouchables (who are so low they are not even included in the caste system); the All-India Congress arid Gandhi; the purdah, the burning ghats, the 700,000 villages, and the universities — what an agglomeration! And in all this the strongest cohesive force is the thought of British withdrawal.

With the more vocal Indians this thought of British withdrawal is hot with rebellion. As Mrs. Sarojini Naidu, the poetess, philosopher, orator, and political leader, once said to me, “I was born a rebel, have lived a rebel, and expect to die a rebel unless I can free India.” Gandhi is a symbol of all non-violent mutiny. But it is mutiny nevertheless.

The Christian Church is inevitably thought of as the church of imperial England. Where England is hated, Christianity shares that hatred. Among those who agitate for release, Christians are accused of treachery to India. No matter how selflessly and expertly Indian missions have been built up to their now established efficiency, even such colleges and hospitals and model villages and agricultural institutes and leprosy sanataria and Y.M.C.A.’s and orphanages as those now justly famous are suspect. Even if these are handed over to all-Indian staffs, the net result is almost the same, for the pattern is labeled as British.

Besides this imputation of imperialistic coloring there are two other facts which increase the nationalists’ animus against missions. The first is that the Christian principle is diametrically opposed to the caste system. The Golden Rule is flatly contrary to Hinduism’s gradations of the “inferior” classes. The Brahmin and the Pharisee are brothers under the skin, equally fine in their culture and equally insulated from the “unclean.” Nor can the Church go back on or soft-pedal its primary postulate of human brotherhood. The caste system is its complete antithesis. And there you are!

The second cause of ire stems from the first. The greatest success of missions is among the untouchables. How could it be otherwise? There are 60 million pariahs. (The name “pariah” is applied both to the untouchable and to the wild, gaunt dog which skulks outside the town.) Outside every village there is a settlement of untouchables — outside its life, forbidden to possess property, to use the village well, to wear clean clothing, to worship in the same temple, to serve in the army. Yet the untouchables themselves may be of as high mentality and alertness as those in the village. They are rightfully indignant against a social system which settled their destiny centuries ago.

Even Gandhi’s labors for the untouchables cannot alleviate their fate. But they respond to Christian missions with eager immediacy. Whole families, villages, tribes, and communities are flocking into the Church. Their lives are transformed. Their inferiority complex disappears. By thousands they have come to self-respect and hope. But the superior classes protest against such a revolutionary surge. Where coöperatives are established, they talk of the spread of Communism. The missionary to the depressed classes is accused of turning the Indian world topsy-turvy.

The Indian Church is mighty. Indeed the whole Protestant world must listen to the South India Plan of Unity, which sets the pace for the home churches. Bishop Azariah of Dornakal is the conspicuous figure of this plan. He is one of the great native pioneers. Give him and his like their heads and something will come of Indian Christianity! Incidentally, as Chairman of the National Christian Council of India and a Vice-Chairman of the International Missionary Council, he says, “With trembling conviction Indian Christians see they must be on the side of India’s freedom. . . . With its millenniums of culture and civilization, with its hoary traditions of wealth and power, with its incorrigible God-consciousness, their dear India, they feel, deserves to be a free India. . . , The Indian Christian, however, has vague fears that the freedom he desires for his country may spell deprivation of his own liberty and his fundamental religious rights. . . . Would India’s freedom mean a return to the old caste tyranny?”

Bishop Azariah doubts the advisability of civil disobedience, of the All-India Congress. “With all the earnestness of his being the Indian Christian pleads with his countrymen not to let themselves go in mad lawlessness. He pleads for an exploration of fresh possibilities of reconciliation of differing views and different political parties. Whatever method be followed, reconciliation and India’s peaceful development are what Indian Christians desire.”


IN CHINA the picture is clearer and more surely hopeful. There’s a silver lining to China’s war cloud. Older centers such as Shanghai, Hong Kong, Hankow have been forced to evacuate their institutions or to surrender them. What may be half of the surviving population of the Eastern provinces has moved or is moving. But the vast hinterland of Western and Southwestern China, hitherto untouched by outside nations and almost entirely unknown to the Eastern Chinese themselves, is now opened up.

The Burma Road is the focus of world attention. Factories, armies, airfields, new cities are springing up. Our own soldiers and airmen are there. Longestablished colleges have simply decamped with their faculties and students, knowing that buildings are not a college but that the people are; now they are starting afresh after weary flight. Hospital staffs and nurses find new habitation, sometimes bringing patients with them and always their medicine kits and surgical instruments. Schools take their pupils out of danger; pastors take their congregations. New shrines are built for all religionists. For the first time in its long history China is a great mixing bowl, and the Chinese are approaching homogeneity. It is a nation more than it has ever been.

What is the place of the Chinese Church in this great uprooting and the dogged battle against the depredator? The answer to that question is a stirring one.

The guidance of China is preponderantly Christian. Although Christians in China were only one in a hundred, in China’s Who’s Who they are one in six, half of them trained in Christian schools, with another one in six, not professedly Christian, trained alongside these others. In the top twenty of China’s greatest, half are Christian. The “ dynasty ” of Sun Yat-sen is of a caliber and integrity any nation might envy. It is not only the Generalissimo and his miraculous wife and the other connections of the Soong family, but Dr. Wang, our former ambassador, Dr. Yen, the former Prime Minister, Mr. Wang Chung-hui, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the much publicized General Feng Yu-hsiang, and others, who make the Chinese government the deeply Christian government it is today. The National Child Welfare Association, the AntiOpium Association, the Famine Relief Committee, the New Life Movement, the Thousand Character project, the social service agencies, the governmentsponsored movement for rural reconstruction — all these were founded and largely led by native Christians. China has lifted the prestige of Christianity everywhere.

The Chinese Church is now almost entirely in the hands of its own membership. Such missionaries as remain or go on with their people are regarded as friends more than as propagandists. In all communions the native church is taking up its selfextension. Bishop Tsu, the “ Bishop of the Burma Road,” has recently been among us here to ask that from now on the supporting church shall give its gifts in totals to be allocated by the Chinese, and that such missionaries as are requested by them shall be placed or moved according to the wisdom of the autonomous Oriental Church. The National Christian Council of China, akin to our Federal Council, is in charge of the assignment of fields for hospitals and schools; and this Council is predominantly Chinese.

Although the staggering demands of post-war China will call for as many volunteers from the Occident as were there ten years ago, more than in the recent past the volunteer helpers will be specialists — colleagues or subordinates beside Chinese superiors. And ultimately their success will be to make themselves easily spared. The Chinese Church will go from strength to strength, particularly if we are generous of spirit and of purse. It is not to belittle the magnitude, the complexity, the severity of the reconstruction days to be sure of this.

“The time would fail to speak” of the church in Russia, whether Protestant missionaries should be allowed in South America, what will be the possibilities of Filipino Christianity, of Liberian fortunes now that West Africa is the base for our air flights, of such problems of domestic missions as the Nisei, the vast Negro field, the Indians of the West, Alaskan development, the isolated rural folk.

Everywhere, nevertheless, one general crescendo is swelling in the Christian churches. The Madras Conference marked the power and glory of the “Younger Churches,” which can no longer be called merely missionary. Our children have come of age. It is a family of churches now, in which the elders somewhat wistfully regard their vigorous offspring and wish they had the verve, the courage, and the enthusiasm of the more youthful ones. It will be necessary for the elders to help their children, now no longer children, to get them well started; but the elders will not dictate, for the youthful have much to teach their parents.

Extraterritoriality has gone for good. There will be no throwback to it, even in the first most difficult years beyond war, when the devastation and unsettlemcnt will be a temptation to religious fascism as a condition of aid. Although many have forgotten it and many Boards of Missions desired it to be forgotten, the startling volume, Re-Thinking Missions, was not all in vain. With united missionary comity now achieved at home among all the substantial Protestant communions, and with the missions organically established, the prospects of true advance are brighter than before the war. There is a stirring in the leaves of Iggsdrasil, the Tree of Life, which is of the wind of the Spirit which blows where it wills. It may well come to pass that “the leaves of the Tree shall be for the healing of the nations” more than we dream.

The Moscow Conference has made its magnificent declaration. The epochal Madras Conference a few years back could have given Moscow further necessary data. The Moscow Declaration agrees on “the necessity of establishing at the earliest practicable date a general international organization, based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all peace-loving states, and open to membership by all such states, large and small, for the maintenance of international peace and security.”

The question of Christian missions in the postwar world is definitely interknit with this stern affirmation.