Merging Mission and Unity

Donald T. Black (d. 2013) had a distinguished career in the Presbyterian Church (USA) as a missions administrator. Black was director of the Commission on Ecumenical Mission and Relations (COEMAR) which ended the missionary era of the Presbyterian Church. COEMAR adopted the term “fraternal worker” as a way to express a new era, the era of “mutuality in mission.” This is the subject of Black’s book, Merging Mission and Unity. Donald Black writes that “the term ‘missionary’ was changed to ‘fraternal worker’ as a way to express equality between those serving overseas and those being served.”[1] R. Pierce Beaver said that the Presbyterian Church (USA) shift to “fraternal worker” indicated that their enterprise was

“no longer, in most of its operations, still truly missionary to any great extent. It has relatively little to do with direct confrontation with unbelief and non-belief. A “sending” enterprise has given way to a “lending” operation. What now exists is largely a system of interchurch aid.”[2]

The term “fraternal worker” was accurate; by 1964 all Presbyterian overseas personnel were subordinated to national churches. By design, the Presbyterian Church suddenly had no more missionaries. D. T. Niles of Sri Lanka wrote, “To speak of a missionary is to speak in terms of the world; to speak of a fraternal worker is to speak in terms of the Church.”[3] Later, in South Korea, the Presbyterian Church used the term “fraternal workers” and “missionaries” interchangeably because the Presbyterians there wished to be known as missionaries.[4] By 1964 the General Assembly Minutes no longer listed the number “missionaries,” or “fraternal workers” in its index. In fact, the (COEMAR) report for 1964, writes Scott Sunquist, is

an extensive analysis of the global situation and social shifts, with nothing on the work of our missionaries . . . The report discusses meetings, consultations and ecumenical gatherings in which the church is engaged, but nothing is said of missionary work.[5]

COEMAR established national churches in each country—Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan, Thailand, South Korea, Malawi, Mexico, Chile—and gave or sold all the local church properties, colleges and hospitals to these new national churches. Black and his fellow members of COEMAR referred to this as a “new day in mission.” Black is refreshingly honest:

We controlled the selection of who would give us advice.[6]  . . . Third World church leaders were anxious to select someone who would have the confidence of the Commission[7] . . . We asked the churches to assume certain responsibilities, and these agreements were recorded, but time after time there was no follow-through.”[8]

Church-to-church relationships would be the mission of the Presbyterian Church from this point. We in the United States would begin to respect the national church leaders as equals. That is a good thing, but the reality was that the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America had all the money. This brought into leadership of the national churches some leaders who were quite capable of saying the right things.

Boom Years, Bust Years. In those heady days of budget expansion (1958-1962), the church was commissioning 80-100 new fraternal workers per year. After the end of the missionary era and the beginning of the “fraternal worker” era, mission giving began to crater. Reserve funds were used up until, discouragingly, it was necessary to start bringing overseas personnel home. Two hundred fraternal workers and three N.Y. executives were terminated in 1971. The decrease continued as the graph indicates.

Blincoe. I am not aware of any overseas church which has asked American missionaries to initiate a mission to Muslims. I predict it will never happen. Every national church established by Presbyterians in Muslim countries was / is comprised of non-Muslims:

The Presbyterian Church in Egypt[9] began in the 19th century when Christians from the Coptic church transferred their membership to the Presbyterian church. These are wonderful Christians, but there is no chance that leaders of the Presbyterian Church in Egypt would make any known effort to invite Muslims to become Christians. Initiating mission efforts among Egyptian Muslims has been taken up by independent mission agencies.

The Presbyterian Churches in Lebanon and Syria are comprised entirely of Lebanese and Syrian Christians who transferred their membership from historic Christians churches. In other words, they have never been Muslims. There is not a chance that leaders of the Presbyterian Churches of Lebanon or Syria would risk its existence by asking American missionaries to plant churches among Lebanese Muslims. Mission efforts among Lebanese and Syrian Muslims has been taken up by independent mission agencies.

The membership of the Presbyterian Church in Pakistan is entirely comprised of former Hindus and untouchables. They have never been Muslim. There is not a chance that leaders of the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan would risk everything by asking American missionaries to plant churches among Pakistani Muslims. Mission efforts among Pakistani Muslims has been taken up by independent mission agencies.

A Story. “What About Witness among the Sioux?”

It is hard for Americans to realize that the membership of our fellow Presbyterian Churches in all the countries of Asia and the Middle East are minority peoples who have not been able to initiate a mission among the majority Muslims. Kenneth Bailey offers a parable, called “What about the Sioux?”

Let us imagine that America was not Christian and Japan was. The Japanese then come to the United States and establish a church among the Navajo Indians. After one hundred years it is perceived that the Japanese have too much control over the des­tiny of the Navajo church. The Japanese church leaders then say to the Navajo church leaders, “We are dissolving our Japanese organization in America and turning everything over to you—we will do nothing within the fifty states except at your specific request and under your direct authority.”

After a period of time the following dialogue occurs:

“What about witness and service to the Sioux?” ask the Japanese.

“The Sioux are our traditional enemies, “comes the answer.

“Can we start work in white America?” ask the Japanese.

“White America?” the Navajos reply. “White Americans took our land, killed our grandfathers and shamelessly broke the trea­ties they made with us. White America is not on our agenda!”

“Very well,” continue the Japanese. “Perhaps we can do some­thing for the Eskimos.”

“Eskimos,” counter the Navajos, “are also native Ameri­cans. But our people look on them as inferiors. Our peo­ple will not be able to understand why resources available for the Navajos are being spent on the Eskimos.”

The deeper question then must be put to the Japanese. Is it fair to the Navajo churches leaders to place on them the burden of providing the vision for witness and minis­try for all of America? Vision for all Navajos, yes! But the Navajos also have a constitu­ency that they must take with them. They also live in an ambigu­ous world and real­isti­cally only a certain range of possibilities is open to them. Is it right to say to the Navajo church council, “We Japanese will not send missionaries to the Eskimos unless you, the Navajo church council, invite us to do so.”

Bailey asks, “Would we want a similar burden placed upon us?”

Conclusion: On the positive, the Presbyterian Church USA maintained a successful mission outreach to unreached peoples for a long time. This enduring legacy was administrated by a dedicated, independent board, the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Mission. Donald Black recounts the closing of this era and the opening of an era of church-to-church relationships. I am fine with this. It is what churches do and God bless them. This is not the end of Presbyterian mission. The Holy Spirit continues to send Presbyterian missionaries to “the regions beyond,” through independent agencies such as The Antioch Partners and Frontiers.

[1] Brown, “Structures for a Changing Church.” 72.

[2] R. Pierce Beaver, The Missionary between the Times, 1st ed. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1968). 80

[3] Daniel Thambyrajah Niles, Upon the Earth; the Mission of God and the Missionary Enterprise of the Churches (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1962). 264

[4] Eileen Moffett, “Mission Society! There Remains Very Much Land to Be Possessed!,” Global Church Growth Bulletin 18, no. 1. Jan-Feb. (1981). 81ff

[5] Scott Sunquist and Caroline Becker Long, A History of Presbyterian Missions, 1944-2007, 1st ed. (Louisville: Geneva Press, 2008). 9

[6] Ibid. 74

[7] Ibid. 84

[8] Ibid. 97