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Controversy at the Bangkok Meeting -- Part One

January 6, 2022

Controversy at the Bangkok Meeting

Rev. Dr. Herbert D. Daughtry Sr.

It had been building from the beginning of the conference. In fact, it had been built for centuries. In the afternoon of January 4, 1973, in the first full plenary session, it began to explode.

Professor Peter Beyerhaus was the precipitating factor. His well-prepared remarks – obviously prepared long before he arrived in Bangkok – criticized Philip Potter and M.M. Thomas for not tackling the question of a theology of mission.

Since Mexico City, 1963, the Commission had drifted away from a Biblically oriented mission. He was very perturbed because the Frankfurt Declaration had not been seriously considered by the Commission and for the way, the conference had treated Arthur Glasser. He felt it was just another example of the way evangelicals were treated in ecumenical gatherings, all of which had widened the growing polarization between evangelicals and ecumenical.

While there were adequate responses from Dr. Potter and Mr. Thomas, the real issues were opened by U. Kyaw Than, Burmese head of the East Asian Christian Conference, Dr. T.B. Simutupong of Indonesia, and Dr. S. A. E. Nababan, Executive Secretary of the Indonesian Council of Churches and others. Dr. Philip Potter was a huge man intellectually and physically. He was Director of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, which sponsored the conference, and is now the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches. M.M. Thomas from Indonesia was Chair of the Board of Directors. They had heard that when German theologians cough American theologians catch a cold. They urged that Europe and America keep the problem of their theological formulations in their respective countries.

It was also pointed out that in South East Asia, the Frankfurt Declaration was slipped to churches without the knowledge of the Christian Councils of those particular countries. They interpreted it as a sneaky attempt to undercut the influence of their councils and they were furious.

Rev. Tu Tu of South Africa pushed the conference further along the line of racist attitudes of so-called Christians. It was he, more than anyone who really brought the conference to the pivotal point and probably was responsible for Philip’s intervention. He told of his experiences in South Africa where the missionaries identified with the racist situations. Then he told how on an occasion a little white girl had addressed his old father as “boy”. He said, “I could have choked that little girl”.

Tu Tu’s whole being was reliving that experience. His voice was throaty, clear, and very emotional. This was for real. This was honesty, anger, pain, and truth at the visceral level. I think that every black in that conference could have said the same thing. Every white there was guilty of the attitude of that little white girl or had seen it manifested without saying a word. Everyone was involved in that incident. No one could escape and it was terrifying.

I sat there pondering Beyehaus. I had sent my name up to the chairman to speak. Cannon Burgess Carr from Liberia refused to recognize me. He probably was trying to be fair. Black people are always trying to be super-fair, to show white folks how nice they really are. It was he who stopped Tu Tu from finishing his speech. He probably saw how uncomfortable white folks were.

For all the world reminded me of Evangelicals in the U.S.A. whose paramount concern is the proper Biblical interpretation. Throughout the racist south, Bible verses leap at you from everywhere – billboards, restaurants, etc. Yet, until a few years ago, a black man couldn’t enter the front door of a dirty diner to get a cup of coffee and church-going, Bull Connor, the renowned police chief of Alabama, used to talk about his faithfulness to Bible classes and prayer meetings and beating niggers heads all in one breath. The same disrespect shown by Rev. Tu Tu’s father is still the prevailing attitude of most good white Christians. That is the tragedy and everyone who heard Rev. Tu Tu knew it.

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