Original Posting At http://www.umglobal.org/2018/09/benjamin-l-hartley-on-really-getting.html
Today’s post is by Rev. Dr. Benjamin L. Hartley, Associate Professor of Christian Mission at George Fox University. The post originally appeared on the author’s personal blog, Mission and Methodism, in slightly modified form.
This summer I was once again in the archives researching world Christian leaders in the early part of the twentieth century. In the course of this archival research I occasionally come across letters where the writers are so very blind to the big events that are beginning to happen around them or will shortly happen. They are sometimes astonishing to read. Sometimes they are astonishingly boring in light of what – in historical hindsight – we know was about to happen in their world (like World War 1!).
But for the most part my reaction to these astonishing letters is not one of self-righteous incredulity where I wonder, “How could s/he think or say that?” Quite the contrary. When I come across these letters they frequently give me pause as I wonder to myself, “What am I missing in my own context?” Am I equally blind to critical matters happening in my world where I am doing very little in response?
It seems important to be especially prayerful along these lines following the summer of 2018 which seemed particularly disturbing in the world news events swirling about us. The growth of anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe and the United States, the rise of right-wing nationalist leaders, the separation of immigrant families, the praising of the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un by President Trump… The list goes on. What will happen next? What is happening now in other parts of the world that I am not noticing because these events I just mentioned are either closer to home or are more active in the press I am paying attention to?
It is with all of this in mind that I share an excerpt from a two-page, typewritten letter written by an early twentieth century evangelist named Sherwood Eddy. He was very popular as an evangelist in student circles, and by the late 1920s was getting increasingly intrigued by what was happening in the still-new Soviet Union. He sent an almost syrupy sweet letter to Josef Stalin in 1932. What was happening in 1932 that he was clueless about? Well, here’s a bit of a taste…
In 1932 the first “five-year plan” was wrapping up. Collectivization of Soviet agriculture was moving forward at a break-neck pace and a devastating famine was setting in causing the deaths of millions of people in the Ukraine and elsewhere. Some scholars see this as deliberate and thus worthy of the “genocide” label committed by Stalin.
Now read the letter that Sherwood Eddy wrote to Stalin that I came across in my research at the Yale Divinity School archives. One of the most striking examples of really getting things wrong.
Yes, that’s right. In the midst of a genocidal famine caused, in large part, by Josef Stalin we have this letter giving Comrade Stalin advice on his country’s hospitality industry! Astonishing? Yes.
May we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear what is happening in our world that is at least somewhat better than Sherwood Eddy was able to see in his own day. That is my humble prayer – for all of us.