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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 9. 1965.

NZ Churches on Vietnam

NZ Churches on Vietnam

ALL the religious leaders I spoke to in Wellington about the Vietnam conflict believe that it involves moral issues. Ideas as to the nature of these issues differed from person to person, but all were agreed as to the individual's obligation to develop an informed point of view. They expressed their own opinions, not as spokesmen for their churches, but as individuals making decisions in the light of Christian principles.

Bishop Baines

In suggesting a perspective towards this problem, Bishop Baines, of the Anglican Church, outlined several goals at which the individual should aim. Firstly, he should seek to learn the facts: institutions such as the Government, the universities, and the churches have a responsibility to pass on as much information as they possess. In this connection his Lordship expressed approval of the idea of a "teach-in."

Secondly, the individual should discuss the facts, form an opinion, and contribute towards public opinion by participating in the general debate. This derives from the Christian obligation to be involved. All possible avenues of solution should continue to be explored, even if government action has favoured a particular line. A responsible citizen should support his government, but if he disagrees with its decisions then he should use all the constitutional means within his power to change those decisions.

Efforts should he made to maintain personal contacts within the countries involved to prevent the situation from freezing up. This can be done especially through students studying in this country, and through them to their families and friends, convincing Asian peoples that Christians here are vitally concerned about their welfare.

As a final goal, his Lordship suggested that every possible effort should be made to increase relief aid simultaneously with any form of military assistance.

The first and most fundamental need of the Vietnamese people, the Bishop believes, is freedom to frame their own constitution. This is not possible while they are subject to Communist infiltration, which creates a pattern of terror and ruthlessness in an attempt to promote revolution.

The Bishop witnessed this same pattern in Malaya, and feels that anyone who has seen it and lived under its threat will know what the South Vietnamese need to be saved from, and why they asked for assistance. However, his Lordship recognises that military means alone cannot achieve a settlement, and New Zealand must use its influence with the United States to press for negotiation and free settlement.

The progress of Malaya since the defeat of terrorism is evidence to Bishop Baines that there IS a way of life free from Communism in which the Asian peoples can find satisfaction, in the same way that European nations can.

Archbishop McKeefry

His Grace Archbishop McKeefry, of the Roman Catholic Church, sees the situation in Vietnam as part of a Chinese policy to extend control over the whole of South-east Asia, India and Africa. He believes that there is definite proof of Communist aggression in Vietnam, and only those favouring Red China's policy could deny this.

His Grace feels that the invasion of Tibet was the first step in a plan to isolate India, and that the collapse of Vietnam with subsequent invasions of Thailand, Burma and Malaysia would complete the process. Were success to attend China's efforts (and those being made in Africa, Latin America and elsewhere), the West would find itself dominated by a Communist Asiatic mainland. Where would Australia and New Zealand be in such a situation?

These statements, Archbishop McKeefry contends, involve issues of morality and so the Christian must concern himself about them. His Grace points to the fact that Peking, Hanoi and Moscow have rejected the British Prime Minister's proposals for negotiation, showing that the Communist powers wish the war to continue.

"No sane person wants war," the Archbishop said, "but equally no sane person wants a bogus peace. Those who have pledged themselves to resist aggression have no choice but to resist, especially when they seek to defend values that derive their validity from Christianity, and without it would cease to exist."

Mr. Norman Perry

Few people are aware of the work that has been done by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, Mr. Norman Perry. Mr. Perry recently made a trip to Asia, supported by the New Zealand Christian Churches and sanctioned by the New Zealand Government, to initiate channels of discussion into North and South Vietnam through the East Asia Christian Conference. Our country is a member of this regional branch of the World Council of Churches. Speaking of these efforts, now being carried on by Asian leaders, the Rev. J. E. Simpson told me:

"New Zealand is greatly in debt to Mr. Perry, who has taken a most enlightened initiative in this matter and who has met Asian leaders to promote discussion between the two sections of Vietnam."

This move was made in the belief that ultimately a solution of the Vietnamese problem must come from the Vietnamese themselves, not imposed from the outside. Hence the EACC aims at creating channels of communication. Unfortunately, at present neither North nor South Vietnam belong to the Conference.

As far as Mr. Perry could ascertain, New Zealand's image in Asia has not been unduly tarnished by the decision to send troops, because of the fact that it appeared to be made after quite some deliberation (like that of the Philippines and South Korea, and unlike that of Australia).

Rev. Mr. Simpson

Rev. Mr. Simpson, a leader of the Baptist Church, believes that a parallel exists between the situation in Asia now and that in Europe in 1939. He feels that Russian Communism has ceased to be what it was and is now more a form of national socialism: but Chinese Communism may have international aspirations. Mr. Simpson believes that Asians must at some point be left free to work out their own salvation —and that freedom does not exist at present in Vietnam. But Chinese intervention would make it even more unlikely.

"I share the American fear that if Vietnam is not saved from Chinese Communist intervention we shall have been guilty of conniving at a grave injustice, just as we did when we failed to save Austria from Hitler's clutches."

Rev. Mr. Thornley

In the opinion of Rev. R. Thornley, of the Methodist Church, however, the European situation in 1939 provides no parallel with Asia in 1965. He believes it is likely that the United States policies in Vietnam will produce the opposite of what is aimed at: it will destroy cooperative relationships, drive the North Vietnamese into the Chinese camp, and sow for future generations a harvest of hatred and resentment against the West.

Mr. Thornley said that contact with Asian Christian leaders has shown that people in that part of the world are in a period of of rapid social and revolutionary change. Their chief drive is towards an increase of justice and self-determination, combined with the objective of lifting their material standard of living.

Asian countries cannot, Mr. Thornley believes, formulate their policies in terms of a simply negative approach to Communism. Bringing military action against infiltration and subversion is bound to prove futile, and presents a serious danger of all-out war. He stressed that we must never stop seeking action to end the fighting and open the door for negotiation.

"This way of peacemaking will call for costly sacrifices, possibly of pride and material standards of living. But it is a way forward that offers hope and progress for mankind."—Michael King.