Reading Christian history in Taiwan

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Image from The Saints of Formosa (in the public domain)

This month I’ve been reading Campbell Moody’s The Saints of Formosa (1912), which is available on the internet archive.  Moody’s an interesting figure. H. Daniel Beeby, a former Taiwan missionary, has a short entry on Moody in the Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity. A historian colleague, Cheng Yang-en, has been working on a biography of Moody for some years.I asked Yang-en a while back how his work was going and he said that he’s hit a wall on research–there are archives that are available but are not catalogued.

Moody’s a lively writer and discusses a period that is pretty interesting.Moody is at the mid-point between the pioneers (George Mackay in the north, James Maxell in the south) and some of the institution builders (notably James Mackay). While he devotes some energy to the missionary apparatus, his writing is almost all about Christians: about pastors and helpers and converts; about travels, conflicts, and questions. He’s writing in the early years of the Japanese period, and also within a church that is growing. In class this week we’d been discussing contextual theology and my students were talking about how for first generation Christians signs and healings often matter a great deal. Moody wrote in this type of context, when medical missions and evangelism went hand-in-hand and for many people Christianity was still very new.

Moody was an exemplar of the mission station ideal. The station operated as a point out of which churches were launched and travels begun. Moody himself itinerated widely in the Changhwa region. Beeby says he visited 900 villages in ten years. Moody has some ideas about Christianization that reflect his period, and he still stands in the period when part of the goal was the Christianization of culture. I don’t foresee doing a lot of work in this direction, but as I’ve read through his book I’ve been checking names and locations against things I’ve seen and heard here. I still find that gaining even a basic sense of church history takes some time.

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Along similar lines, I was excited to have our campus minister, Rev. Juan chieh-min阮介民 (Taiwanese: Ng Kaibin) share with our class. Rev. Juan is writing a D.Min. on one of the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan’s evangelism movements. The PCT, according to Rev. Juan, has had eight evangelism movements in the last sixty years:

  • The Church Doubling Movement (1954-1965)
  • The New Century Mission Movement (1966-1971)
  • The Loyal Servant Movement (1971-1976)
  • Independent Mutual Aid Movement (1977-1978)
  • The believers’ Growth Movement
  • AD2000 Gospel Movement (1991-1999)
  • 21st Century Taiwan Mission Movement (2000-2010)
  • The One Leads One Doubling Movement (2011-2015)

The original Church Doubling Movement was launched to coincide with PCT’s centennial, and the most recent “One Leads One” movement coincides with the 150th anniversary effort. The first doubling movement really did lead to a doubling in the size of the church. I’ve been realizing that statistically this is not quite as impressive at it sounds. The church had actually been growing more rapidly up to that point (from around 2000 members in 1910 to 20,000 c. WW2, to around 50,000 at the start of the movement). Other churches also grew quite rapidly during this period. This period also saw a rising population and the rapid growth of aborigine churches, many of which came into the PCT.

This isn’t to disparage the genuine achievements. The original doubling movement probably was one of the few movements to set and meet goals, and it coincided with rapid changes in society. It was a period of urbanization and industrialization and rising education, and the church held its own against a very challenging context. Rev. Juan was helpful in letting us see how this was reflected in the church. There was a rapid need for pastors and so two training institutes were created. Presbyteries struggled to adjust and expand. The denomination itself was still quite new and there was a growth in institutions. This also coincided with the arrival of missionaries who had come from mainland China and worked in aborigine ministries, campus ministries, and theological education. It is a period with a mixed legacy, analogous in many regards to the rapid growth of the church in the US immediately after WW2.

There’s still a lot I don’t understand from this period. I don’t know how widely promoted or deeply accepted the other movements were. Rev. Juan focused on the Loyal Servant Movement, which had some ambiguous successes. PCT is currently in the middle of a growth campaign with pretty clear goals that will be a challenge to meet. It’s very helpful to know more about the context and to have a sense of why this movement exists.

 

Lee Teng-hui at PCT General Assembly Office

10345557_903628073003413_5676185215347238318_nLee shakes hands with PCT’s retired General Secretary Kao Chun-ming (from PCT News) 

LEE Teng-hui is Taiwan’s former president (now almost 92). He was vice-president to Chiang Ching-kuo and led Taiwan to democratization and multiparty elections. Lee didn’t come from overseas Chinese ranks and has a fairly distinctive biography (speaks Taiwanese, Japanese, and I think Hakka; PhD in agricultural economics from Cornell; pushed the process for democratization more strongly than others might have; favors independence). Lee attended the Presbyterian middle school in Tamsui, Tamkiang, where he was a star student. He’s held in understandably high regard by Presbyterians. He became a Presbyterianism as an adult and many people I know have stories of meeting him.

I’ve heard him speak a number of times before and my first time preaching in Taiwan Seminary’s chapel he was there on a visit. I briefly helped the English translation committee prepare a quick translation of a speech he gave on human rights at Aleithia University in 2010. It wasn’t my best work, but really gave me a line-by-line sense of his own path and of how philosophically he connected faith and human rights.  He described his own seeking, his growing discipline as a student, and why he became a Christian. He seems to accept  the narratives that of a knowable God and a universe with laws leads to modernization and human rights. I remember then that part of his speech dealt with the individual and the importance of self-development.

Today a new friend of mine, Mark Lu, told me he’d be speaking at our General Assembly, so I hopped the bus over a bit early and made it to the second floor. Today Lee was there for the launch of PCT’s 150th anniversary year program. December 10 is also “International Human Rights Day,” which may explain the flurry of speeches recently.

Lee is a figure I wish I could learn more about. It’s fairly shocking how much Christian hagiography was written about Chiang Kai-shek’s faith, and how little in English is available on figures like Lee Teng-hui or the other modern presidents.

Seven Stars Presbytery

In the Presbyterian system, there tend to be four levels of decision-making bodies (sometimes these actually function as church courts): (1) the local church council, session, or consistory; (2) the regional body, presbytery, or classis, (3) the synod or gathering of regional bodies; and (4) the General Assembly or General Synod. In Chinese these are 小會,中會,大會, 總會.

In my home denomination, we tend to place a lot of the decision-making authority at the regional level, with the regional body or presbytery. This is the group that accepts or rejects candidates for ministry or pastors who transfer in, organizes much of the shared mission, and (traditionally) funded a fair amount of common activity. In Taiwan, the church pushes more of this authority up to General Assembly, but presbyteries are still very important. Emily and I had inquired about joining a presbytery a few years ago and were recently placed in Seven Stars Presbytery 七星中會.  I have seen the “seven stars” refer to the Big Dipper, to a mountain range, and to a beach, so I’m not totally sure of the source. For us it is a good presbytery, because it is the home of the place we live, the church we attend, and a good number of alumni and local pastors related to my Seminary. Because Emily was ordained as an elder at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Trenton, she is also a member of the Presbytery now (she was listed as the one hundredth elder on the form today).

The meeting are similar to those in the US. Presbytery meets only three times a year: in December, in January, and again in July. These are basically all-day meetings. Like PCT General Assembly, it has a General Secretary and then four elected offices (vice secretary, secretary, vice moderator, moderator) that in PCT go to clergy and one (treasurer) that goes to an elder. They also elect representatives from regions within the presbytery to serve at General Assembly. I don’t know the exact statistics, but the presbytery seemed to be 70-80% men and all the elected officers were men. Elders must first serve as deacons and then are elders for life. This means the office of elder is treated as a higher calling with a matching level of commitment, but also reinforces the traditionalist (and, honestly, paternalistic) tendencies of the church. For me the voting was a little strange. There is no background information or nominations for votes. Instead, you simply begin voting. On the first ballot the results might be split between a dozen people and eventually through subsequent ballots this is narrowed to a single choice. The oddness for me comes from the fact that choosing candidates is almost entirely a matter of reputation and word-of-mouth campaigning. I sort of miss getting a page about why so-and-so wishes to be moderator and what they would like to do if elected.

There were things that were fun about the meeting. I saw students from eight or nine years ago, as well as the recent crop. We sat next to Rev. Peng from our home church and saw a dozen pastors we know. The meeting was nearly 100% in Taiwanese. Most PCT gatherings are now a mix. Our judicial committee is probably 90% Mandarin and General Assembly is 50-50, but since the presbyteries reflect ethnicity, it means that groups like this are all Taiwanese. My Taiwanese is not that great, but this was an incentive to keep studying. It also was a good reminder of where students will serve and what our base constituency looks like.

I enjoyed seeing local humor and hearing reports from schools, hospitals and the like. There’s a lot of excitement throughout the church now because the PCT is approaching its 150th anniversary. The meeting today talked some about that and introduced t-shirts that people can buy. It was a good opportunity to learn more about the local church. I’m kind of glad that presbyteries only meet three times a year but am also grateful for this opportunity to see what 80+ congregations in the Taipei region are up to.

Human Rights

Last Thursday one of our faculty members, CHIU Kaili, spoke on human rights and Christianity for a Thursday lecture series. Kaili just finished her PhD in Religion and Society at Princeton Seminary and studied with Mark Taylor, who writes on things like incarceration, globalization, and other issues of faith and culture. Kaili’s lecture talked a bit about the human rights as an idea and how Christians relate to it. I was grateful that her presentation was a bit less deterministic than some I hear (Christian faith => human rights). It was also interesting to see her interact with students. She’d earlier worked with the Church Press and had a background in sociology. I actually haven’t talked to her much since she came back, but knew her when I came to Taiwan during PhD and when she studied her first year at PTS. Students seem to appreciate her introduction of new (for Taiwan) theories. She also mentioned gender-inclusive language in prayer, which I believe is the first time I’ve heard this in Taiwan.

For me the human rights discussion is a quite interesting one. Taiwan has a very vibrant public sphere, a fairly rich democratic life, and a commitment to human rights as an ideal. Christians like Lee Teng-hui have sometimes advocated for these ideals, and much of the Presbyterian Church’s identity is staked to a series of public pronouncements it made in the 1970s and a confession that was written in 1985 (one of our professors, Yang-en, said that the Chrisological section of the confession had been revised from the original, which I hadn’t known). Many of the most interesting themes in East Asian studies, theology and the social sciences revolve around these topics: the nature of the nation, the development of civic culture, and the relationship between faith and public life.

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《人權與信仰》 Human Rights and Faith

Cub Scout Thanksgiving

cubscout thanksgiving

We’ve had some eclectic Thanksgivings over the years. During my first year of seminary a half dozen international students joined me at my parents’ house (1999). In our first year married, Emily was a secretary at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and we had some guests from the UK and China (2001); it was a fun time but we were pretty clueless cooks and things came out in batches. At one point we went to take the pie out of the oven, and since it hadn’t set, it simply folded in half! There was also “dumpling thanskgiving” (2005) when coworker John McCall’s friend, an elderly dentist, invited us to a thanksgiving meal at a dumpling restaurant. We also had a thanksgiving with language students (2009), one where Emily’s family was visiting and we couldn’t get the turkey done (2010), a gathering of neighbors (2011?), Em’s family visiting us in Princeton (2012) and a surprise family gathering where Emily’s brother Alan managed to get leave from Okinawa and was able to get a direct flight to Taiwan (2013). Pretty interesting years… This year there was a potluck at church (I missed it to stay home with Eli, who was sick), and we decided to have Sam’s Tiger Scout Den over (more on that another time). It was a very fun group. All kids with connections to the States, but also a nice mix of English and Mandarin and playing and talking and drawing. We did turkey by tracing hands, something some of the kids hadn’t done, and one of the moms did balloons. There’s something about Thanksgiving’s mythology that makes me really enjoy these mixed gatherings.

Christianity in Taiwan

Christian Faith in TaiwanToday we had a guest lecturer, Professor 蘇國賢 SU Kuo-Hsien, for our Thursday chapel series. The topic was Christianity in Taiwan. Su is a National Taiwan University professor in sociology (and a Presbyterian elder at Songshan “Pine Mountain” Presbyterian Church). I was only able to stay for part of the lecture, which described a fairly large-scale, high-response phone survey given to Christians and non-Christians. Christians were then split into a variety of groups by category (Catholic, Presbyterian, traditional, charismatic, etc.) and the answers were compared.

There were a few things I found interesting. Christians are 4.9-5.6 of the population. Catholics are a fairly tiny .7 percent of the population (which surprised me). I think he put Presbyterians at 28% of the Protestant or total Christian population, which means they (we?) are still the largest Protestant body in Taiwan by a fairly substantial margin. About 60+% of Christians attend church weekly and about one in ten go only once a year or not at all; there was not great variation between denominations here. Many of the US trends (“nones and dones”) don’t appear in Taiwan in a notable way.

Students later pointed out some aspects of the research which are a challenge. For instance, the survey didn’t ask about ethnicity, and both aborigines and immigrants probably have a higher rate of Christianity. Immigrants and others (those without phones or who don’t speak Mandarin) would not have been included. This is also, as far as I know, a unique “one shot” survey, without earlier surveys that can be used for direct comparisons. Every study requires limits, so none of these are intended as criticisms. The scale of the work was very impressive to me and raises a lot of interesting questions.

The speaker briefly addressed themes like secularization and competing theories on Christian responses (i.e. growth of diversity of opinion or isolation from mainstream society). I wish I’d been able to stay for the rest of the discussion. Often the questions that are most compelling for me are about conduct. How/does faith influence actions? To what degree are Christians similar or different to the larger population? How much diversity of belief and practice is there among Christians? The survey also offered some findings on broader religious trends in Taiwan. I’m bogged down in other work now, but hope to eventually read the full study.

DSC_0606Professor Su speaks to gathered teachers and students

Office life

When we moved off campus into the city, I knew one of the things I would miss would be the wild life and the patches of green on the mountain. Our seminary is on Yangming Mtn., about half way up to Chinese Culture University. In our time there I’ve seen a half dozen snakes as well as a variety of mammals, birds, and insects.

Luckly, my office is in just about the quietist, greenest corner of campus, on the side of the Centre for the Study of Chinese Christian Thought 基督教研究中心. It looks out on a plot of wild land that rumor says was once or is still a graveyard (the plot doesn’t belong to the Seminary).

DSC_0602The picture above is a panaroma view. It’s hard to make out but there’s a patio over to the left, Papaya trees left of center, and some really nice flowering trees.  On the right is the wooden walkway that leads to offices for non-admin faculty (it’s slightly terrifying in the dark at night). I’m now the longest-lived faculty member in this area. For many years, this property had belonged to Presbyterian Church US, but was traded c. 2000 to help the Seminary.

Today’s a warm November day and I sat on the patio with a cup of coffee–almost perfection. In about five minutes I saw a gargantuan wasp, a half-dozen butterflies, and some spiders and grasshoppers. Below is a moth caterpillar I found on my door frame:

caterpillar

It’s not uncommon to see giant spiders, beetles, or lizards. I’ve seen a large turtle before and on one afternoon a golden serpent-crested eagle perched in a limb nearby. It’s not exactly a backyard, but something like it, wilder and more beautiful.

When Sam was two or three, we’d often go outside and look at bugs for a while before going to school. He’s now an amateur bug collector, and has a beetle (“Roxanne”). I saw a quote once–I can’t find it now–attributed to Thoreau, about how a backyard is a microcosm of the universe. It’s true: in a few meters of overgrown land it’s amazing how many creatures can burrow, crawl, hop, fly, or nest. I’m a happy urbanite now, but also grateful for my plot of green.

Six Seminaries

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Communion Gathering of Six Seminaries: Weishen and Taishen presidents

Today was the annual gathering of Taipei’s seminaries. Some years back there was a partnership between Taiwan Seminary (where I teach) and China Evangelical Seminary, an evangelical Fuller-type seminary in Taipei. The Baptists joined after a few years, and then the Methodists followed. Last year Logos Seminary (a Taiwanese-founded seminary located in California but with a branch in Taiwan) joined in, and then this year the historic (almost 50) China Lutheran Seminary in Hsinchu joined in.

The seminaries are known by abbreviations: 台神 Taishen,浸神 Jinshen, 華神 Huashen, 衛神 Weishen, 證神 Zhengshen, 信神 Xinshen.

The gathering felt pretty smooth in implementation. The Methodist president kindly limited his sermon to seven or eight minutes, and communion and gift-giving went off without a hitch. The Methodists have a much higher liturgy. For those who have seen A River Runs Through It and remember the line “Methodists are Baptists who can read,” in Taiwan things work differently. Here the Methodists are a quite small but elite denomination, the denomination of the Chiang family. The liturgy included four readings, a confession of sin, a confession of faith, and a responsive communion liturgy (these things are all pretty rare in Presbyterian churches).

It was also interesting to learn more about the other churches. The Baptist Seminary sent the most teachers this time. I’d learned that they are independent and hold connections to both the Southern Baptist Confession and also the broader world Baptist communion. I had a good conversation with one of their Old Testament profs. They’d homeschooled their kids and the oldest did a lot of AP credits and tested out of a year of college in the US. I also know their mission professor fairly well (he retires next year). I’d been a second reader for one of their MDiv thesis students. (Our family is now geographically closest to the Baptist Seminary and they are an interesting group.) The student who wrote her thesis had actually written on a Korean Presbyterian sending agency (GMS). Both of the teachers I’ve mentioned also have family members in PCT (father or brothers), so there are still a surprising number of connections across church lines.

I was happy to see a friend of mine, Jukka, who teaches systematic theology at the Lutheran Seminary. Jukka is Finnish, but grew up in Taiwan and did most of his studies in the US. His seminary has the highest rate of mission workers and a very strong Lutheran identity. In the US it has a connection to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and hosts professors every year from Concordia.

My seminary had the most women, which made me happy. The Taiwanese church culture is pretty conservative. At the same time, changes are happening. The only female president today was of China Evangelical Seminary, and I read she’d also taught at Logos.

One of the courses I enjoy teaching is ecumenics. I’m always fascinated by how to make sense of the denominational imprint on churches in Taiwan. To what degree is their formation a product of missionary identity, of confessional traditions, or of national identity?  My seminary has most clearly staked out its identity in terms of Taiwanese language and culture. “Taiwanese” is often contrasted to “Chinese,” in ethnic, national, and theological terms. Several of the other seminaries contain the word “Chinese” in their titles. Gatherings like this don’t really get into the nitty-gritty, but hopefully they help build some friendships so that serious conversations can happen later, or so that when there is conflict churches have some basis for communication. It was pretty impressive to me that the six seminaries’ students could share in communion. That they all may be one…

PCUSA PCT Consultation

PCUSA PCT Consultation*adapted from a recent newsletter*

In October,  PCUSA and the PCT (Presbyterian Church of Taiwan) hosted a joint consultation, the first in about a decade. The event was marked by shared meals, multilingual worship, and gift giving. We were grateful for the chance to see friends and leaders from PCUSA, including David Shinn (a member of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board), the regional liaison for East Asia (Choon Lim), the Area Coordinator for Asia and the Pacific (Mienda Uriarte), the program associate from Presbyterian Women who directs global exchange (Kathy Reeves), the director of PCUSA World Mission (Hunter Farrell), and the Associate Executive Director for Mission (Roger Dermody). [See articles on the visit in the Presbyterian Outlook and on the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan site.]

One of the great things about the gathering was the chance to share information, ideas, and experiences. We split into visitation groups that went to sites throughout Taiwan to see PCT’s ministry in action. My group was in Tainan visiting a young adult service and regular Sunday worship. When we returned together we met and planned. One afternoon I moderated discussions over evangelism and social justice led by Roger and Mienda and also by PCT evangelism secretary Tsai Nan-Hsin and PCT social witness secretary Lin Wei-lian.

At the conclusion of the gathering the groups identified five areas for future work: (mission/evangelism, social justice, women’s ministry, minority partnerships, and youth and young adult work). At the end of our time together, a working groups was put together to plan specific future partnerships, such as exchanges between minority leaders, development of ministries related to land justice and human rights, and presbytery and other partnerships.

One of the more interesting conversations at the consultation was over PCUSA’s 1001 Worshipping Communities and PCT’s “101” Evangelism movement (or “1 leads 1”). There are some interesting resonances between the two movements. PCUSA hasn’t undertaken something like this in many years, and for PCT the outreach movement is more intentional and growth-focused than in the past. PCUSA’s campaign focuses on creative worship and innovation in mission, while PCT’s approach has been more on developing training and resources for individual and congregational invitation to the community. Tomorrow the evangelism secretary is coming to my class to talk more about 101.

For me, the two denominations are interesting mirrors for each other. PCUSA has been (more or less) slowly shedding members for decades, and PCT has stalled at the same size for the last generation. I know there are a million theories on why denominations grow or decline. Some are macro (the context, the culture) and others specific to the institution (in PCUSA, we simply haven’t had a campaign like this in a generation, and in PCT there have been a secession of plans that haven’t shown clear results). Churches also struggle over how to relate to the rising generation. There are analogies between the “worship wars” in the States and the competing language services in Taiwan (Taiwanese for the older generation, Mandarin for the younger). It can also be hard to balance calls for integration (of ages, ethnicities and generations) and community formation (which often relies on exactly these commonalities). Both denominations are a source of joy and challenge to me and I hope that we’ll find some ways to continue our discussions.

 

Retreat

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A CWM student hoists the three…

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Butterfly? Moth? (Photo by Sam)

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Sam and Eli by scenic windmill

Every year Presbyterian Church of Taiwan hosts international students, resident mission workers, and some guests for a retreat. I’ve gone 4/7 possible years (we were in the US a year ago and I was travelling two years ago, and the babies came a couple of weeks before the retreat one year). In the past it has been in Kenting, Tainan, or Nantou. I like these retreats because I get to be around a host of people with similar experiences. At the retreat this year there were several pastors working in ethnic churches (Korean, Thai), there were several people attached to seminaries, and then there were a number of people from the General Assembly, including the ecumenical secretary who is around my age and with whom I share some interests.

This was probably our best retreat in a long time. The kids were just too little before, and this one was in nearby(ish) Wanli, along the northern coast. Travel was not taxing and we had chances to rest. In fact, we’d been to the hotel some years back, when the twins were less than a year old. This time the kids enjoyed playing in the sand and swimming in the pool and frolicking on a playground. Sam made friends with the Thai PK (pastor’s kid), who is in second grade. We always like learning what other parents are doing. In this case, the Korean family in Hsinchu had come here from China and their children are close to taking exams for high school here. The Thai boy does the extra “cram school” program and had very good Chinese; he did say it’s a lot of homework and his mother agreed.

I had more chances for one-on-one conversations, and got to know some of the international students, who are here via a Council for World Mission (= Presbyterisn related to the English church in some fashion) program at Tainan Seminary (our sister seminary/rival in the south).

I’m always grateful for the General Assembly office here. I often say I have three employers (PCUSA, PCT, Taiwan Seminary). PCUSA sent us and employs us. We’re here at the invitation of PCT (Presbyterian Church of Taiwan). I teach at Taiwan Seminary. PCUSA and Taiwan Seminary supervise me more closely. I fill out paperwork for them and they oversee me fairly directly. These institutions also have faced more transitions. In this equation, PCT is a bit more like a fairy godmother. They’ve often talked things through with us when we are struggling, they have a breadth of experience in Taiwan that the other institutions lack, and they have the capacity to pull us out of the fires if things are ever too intense.

Even though it’s the middle of the semester (because it’s the middle of the semester?) this was a pretty nice break. The next retreat is a year away, but I’m already looking forward to it…