From The Living Church, January 2, 1949, pp. 12-13.
This editorial from the first issue of The Living Church in 1949 was written ten months before Mao Zedong’s proclamation of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949. At the time of the revolution, The Living Church Annual listed a robust missionary network of non-Chinese Episcopalians and Anglicans working in what are now China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. “The National Council” mentioned here is a predecessor of the Episcopal Church’s current Executive Council.
Should American missionaries in China be evacuated, in view of the increasing menace of Communism in that country? The problem is a grave and immediate one for all Churches having work in that land, and not least for our own Church.
This difficult subject engaged the attention of the National Council throughout one session at its December meeting, and aroused debate over its financial aspects. These are important, but not nearly so important is the question of long-term policy involved—a problem that apparently received little attention from the Council as a whole, though we are sure it has been on the minds of the Presiding Bishop and the Overseas Department for some time. Indeed, we understand that that is the main reason that Bishop Bentley is now in the Orient, studying the situation on the scene.
For the first time in its history, the China mission faces total evacuation. Hitherto, missionaries who wished to take the risks of remaining at their post were allowed by the U. S. Government to do it; but this policy may not be followed at this time. Indeed, it is almost certain not to be. Many missionaries are at ports of embarkation; a few have already been sent home. This extremely critical matter brings another problem to the treasurer and the Department of Finance of the Council. Where is the money to pay the heavy costs of evacuation to be found, and found in time?
Another serious problem is the care of Chinese Christians and Chinese workers. If money cannot be safely sent to them, how will they live?
The problem was left by the National Council to its officers who will act as conditions indicate.
Beyond and above the financial problem is that of policy. The National Council is quite right to arrange to meet the expenses of missionaries who are evacuated, and it has a duty to see that they are duly warned and given every opportunity and facility to return to this country. But we hope and pray that the present crisis, grave though it is, may not lead to the complete abandonment of China by missionaries from our Church. We have previously expressed the view that the Chinese; Holy Catholic Church should be given complete autonomy, and we stand on that view. It would be most unfortunate, however, if Chinese Christians were given the impression that they are being abandoned by the American Church.
An article in China Mission, a journal published in China by the Roman Catholic Church, discussing the pros and cons of evacuation, contains the following significant statement:
“The damage done to the Protestant cause some twenty years ago when they evacuated endangered regions in the face of anti-Christian movements is well known. When they returned after two or three years their members turned away from them on, the pretext that they had left them in time of danger. The superior of one of the missions told me recently that one of his missionaries, finding himself in a region that was directly menaced, asked permission to remain no matter what happened. He said: ‘Twice already in recent years I thought it necessary to leave my station in face of probable trouble. Both times when I returned I found the attitude of my people toward me quite changed. It took a year to repair the damage done by my departure. This time I do not want to leave again. I want to stay no matter what happens.’”
This is a voice from the field, and we think it represents the views of a good many missionaries, Anglican and Protestant as well as Roman Catholic. All honor to them! They are following an illustrious tradition in Christian history, that of faithfulness to the call of Christ even though it may lead to martyrdom.
But it is not for us who sit in editorial chairs or occupy pulpits far from the scene of struggle to issue a call to martyrdom. That is a vocation that must come, as does the call to the priesthood, from God Himself; and it is not for every man, even every missionary.
We admire without reservation the self-sacrifice and heroism of the priests and missionaries, both Chinese and foreign, in the difficult situations that they have had to endure in China during the past twenty years, and in the particularly critical one today. There have been modern martyrs in China, in our own and other Churches, and there may be more. Their self-sacrifice will not be lost; today as always the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.
But the Church must be realistic in its missionary policy, and must temper courage with discretion. There is certainly no stigma to be attached to missionaries who are evacuated; indeed it may well be the part of missionary statesmanship to assign them to another sector of the world-wide Christian front.
Also, as our China correspondent pointed out last week, the support of foreign missionaries, if aid from America were cut off, would be a tremendous burden for the Chinese Church.
We pray that the Church may be wise in its missionary statesmanship in this crisis; and we remember especially in our prayers the devoted bishops, priests, and lay missionaries of our Church in China, faced with the problem of the care of all the churches in these critical days. Finally, we pray that Chinese Christians may be faithful, even when deprived of the ministrations of their clergy, remembering that every baptized man and woman is sealed with the sign of the cross and is himself a missionary and a witness to his Lord and God. May the sufferings of the Chinese nation and Church lead to a spiritual awakening, and to the growth rather than the curtailment of the Christian faith in that great nation, which has potentially such powerful resources for good or evil in the future time of its full awakening.
Richard J. Mammana is Archivist of the Living Church Foundation.