Friday, October 16, 2009

. . . Evangelists . . .

It's been an odd week, one that has led to a lot of thinking about evangelical religion, of all things. Part of me is of the opinion that we just might need more of it.

Start it off with this; a speech delivered by Dallin H. Oaks this Tuesday at BYU-Idaho in Rexburg:

But actually, it starts with this: Jeffrey R. Holland's cracking testimony of the Book of Mormon, one of the most animated speeches I've heard delivered at conference in a very long time. (Sorry, no direct link or embed; go to the Sunday morning session and click on Holland's speech).

So, am I babbling? No, because there's this third thing: The book God's Smuggler, by "Brother Andrew," John Sherrill and Elizabeth Sherrill. Brother Andrew is an evangelical member of the Protestant Church in Holland, born in 1928 (same year as my father, by the way), who spent his life carrying Bibles and the Gospel behind the Iron Curtain, no matter where he found it.

Part of what made reading this book fascinating ties in with current debates about the separation of church and state. Here in this country, we tend to get all riled up about this bit from the Constitution when it comes to replicas of the Ten Commandments on the property of a federal court, or a cross used as a memorial on public property. One side argues that there ought not to be any displays of religion in public. The other side argues -- I believe correctly -- that the Constitution forbids governmental interference in the religious life of its citizens. Reading Brother Andrew's book, you get a glimpse of what state control of religion was like under Communist rule, and shows both sides of the argument here in the US that maybe they ought to be a little more understanding one of the other.

A few excerpts:
As time passed, I came to feel this fear myself. There were police everywhere. They stood at the bridges, at factory entrances, at public buildings -- stopping people at random, searching briefcases, shopping bags, pocketbooks. And no one complained at this arbitrary treatment. No one protested. The lack of protest was part of the dreadful silence that hung over the city [Berlin] like a poison-filled smog.

In sharp contrast to the silence of the people was the loud voice of the government. It was everywhere. On the radio, on loudspeakers, on billboards. Slogans were painted on walls, rooftops, telephone poles; there were posters in the kiosks, in stores, hotels, railway stations. Propaganda everywhere.

I was astonished at the baldness of the line. East Germany was just then going through a devsatating food shortage. The enterprising German farmer had not taken at all kindly to the collective idea' he had quit the land in such large numbers that that fall there had been no one to harvest the crops. The government had pressed production on mechanical harvesters, accompanied by a massive propaganda campaign. There was going to be plenty of bread because socialism was superior to the enterprise of individual farmers.

There was only one trouble. To be harvested by machine, the wheat had to be dry; a coupe of days more sunshine were required than for hand reaping. And of course that year it rained. It rained every day, right at the time of the harvest.

And then suddenly all over the country, posters appeared carrying this little verse:

Gohne Gott and Sonnes schein
Hole Wir Die Ernte ein

Without God and without sun
We will get the harvest done

I could see that this slogan had really shaken the people. It was a brazen duel between the new regime and God himself. The rains continued, and the harvest did not get in. Overnight as suddenly as they had appeared, the posters vanished -- all except for the sodden few that you could still see clinging to lampposts.
Sure, we can look at this both ways. Maybe those who don't believe feel they're having religion thrust in their faces if they have to see a cross on public property. But it's hardly to the point that the state is officially denying God's existence, or that there are sanctioned battle lines drawn by the state in ther pro- or anti-religious stances. People put up a cross in the Mojave Desert, for instance, to honor those who died during World War I. Only later was that property declared public. That the cross remains is hardly state sponsorship of religion -- but that some want it removed isn't evidence that the state ought to sponsor atheism, either.

This brings me to the subject of this post: Evangelism. We've seen a lot of it all of a sudden, in a religion that says it believes in evangelists but typically leaves it to the missionary corps. So it's good to hear the testimonies of Elders Oaks and Holland, because if we don't speak out, this happens (again from God's Smuggler:
The churches' defense against this clever attack (substituting rites such as baptism, marriage, et cetera) with state-sponsored ceremonies) had been to retreat and withdraw, Wilhelm told me. Instead of going out on the aggressive, they were pulling further and further into an attitude of private piety and isolation.
That is something we simply cannot do.

No comments: