"Liberation Play" Challenges Our Prejudices

by Tim Boyle, missionary
Buraku Liberation Center, Osaka

Of the many activities the Buraku Liberation Center engages in to
educate people both in the church and in general society, the
“Liberation Play” is perhaps the most thought-provoking. The latest
play, “Forty Days in the Wilderness,” is the eighth one produced by the
BLC and was first presented at the 36th Kyodan General Assembly in
October 2008. The basic plot of this play revolves around the actions of
a local church pastor as he tries to help the son of a parishioner of
buraku background land a job in a major company. Instead of interacting
with these people as his equals, however, the pastor unconsciously looks
down on them. Thus, his desire to help is actually motivated by feelings
of pity for them and superiority over them. The pivotal line, which he
utters while talking with a contact in the company, is: “He is from the
buraku, but he’s not really a bad person at all.”

The meaning behind these words is that in reality, he too holds the
common perception that buraku people are generally untrustworthy and
lazy, though in his mind this particular young man appears to be an
exception. Because he inadvertently lets the “big secret” slip out, the
net result is that the young man is passed over by the company in spite
of his clear qualifications. When the pastor finally realizes what he
has done, he figuratively goes into the “wilderness” to reflect deeply
on it, repents of his sin, and then embarks on a struggle to lead his
church to grapple honestly with the issues of prejudice and
discrimination. It is a struggle indeed, as some of the “respectable”
members are more concerned about the reputation of the church than about
doing what God is clearly calling them to do. It is a play that makes
those who watch really think about their own subconscious attitudes, and
challenges all to look into their own hearts and face up to their own
prejudices.

In the year and a half since I began working at the Buraku Liberation
Center, I too have thought deeply about my own prejudices as well as
prejudicial attitudes in general. Probably the biggest barrier to
eliminating discriminatory attitudes is the failure of most
people–including those who profess to support “universal human
rights”–to understand the basis of those rights. The Christian gospel
proclaims that it is the “image of God” imparted to each individual
human being that is the guarantee for his or her intrinsic value and is
thus the grounding for the fundamental human rights of all human beings.
The “image of God” concept teaches us that God values us for who we are
and not for what we can do for his kingdom or for any utilitarian
purpose. Any other basis one could think of for grounding fundamental
human rights ends up being utilitarian in orientation.

For instance, the basic assumption underpinning the secular humanist
worldview is that there is no “creator” other than the chance happenings
of the natural world. Thus, according to this view, just as humans
physically evolved from lower animals, the various cultures they
manifest and the ethical value systems embedded within those cultures
likewise evolved naturally, without any external input from a
(non-existing) deity. Right and wrong are totally relative, and there is
no inherent worth in human beings independent of their utilitarian value
(as determined by whoever is in power).

Within such a system of thought, then, there is no ground for any
concept of universal human rights without borrowing the concept from the
biblical worldview. While the United Nations’ “Universal Declaration of
Human Rights” is a secular document in the sense that it does not
mention God or expressly ground its contents in any religious doctrines,
it clearly is based in the Judeo-Christian worldview, since these rights
are based on our intrinsic value as human beings. But there is no
“intrinsic value” unless this value is grounded in something ultimate,
namely the value our Creator has imprinted on each person he creates.

This is why any form of discrimination is an affront to God when is
based on who a person is (as opposed to what a person has done). In one
sense, there is a proper kind of “discrimination” against any particular
individual–namely just treatment for what he or she has done. For
instance, we properly “discriminate” against someone when they are
justly sentenced to prison for harming someone else. Here, of course,
the word “justly” must be emphasized, as the reality is that there are a
considerable number of cases of injustice, where improper discrimination
(based on who a person is) gets in the way of true justice (based on
what that person has done).

One classic example of this in the Japanese context is the case of
Ishikawa Kazuo, a man of buraku descent who was framed by the police for
a murder he clearly had nothing to do with, based solely on the
expediency of finding someone from the local buraku without an airtight
alibi who could serve as a scapegoat. The BLC has been at the forefront
of widespread efforts to first secure his release from prison (he was
finally released on parole after 31 years) and now to get the Japanese
court to reopen the case so that he can clear his name.

After his transformation into an apostle of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
Paul stated in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave
nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” These
are, in fact, the three main categories of discrimination that are
experienced in human society: racial/ethnic, class, and gender
discrimination. Our goal as followers of Christ is to first to be set
free from prejudicial attitudes in each of these areas and then to lead
society in the same direction. May God grant us the grace and courage to
persevere in this great effort. Your prayers and support for the work of
the Buraku Liberation Center are most appreciated.

50 Years of Kyodan Data: Analysis and Proposals

by Suzuki Isao, member
Kyodan Executive Council and
Mejiro Church, Kita Subdistrict, Tokyo District

The report “50 Years of Kyodan Data” is the result of an effort by the
Kyodan’s Commission on Finance to lay out the various trends to help the
Executive Council picture the future. It is hoped that this work will be
a catalyst for both clergy and laity to discuss the issues involved and
to think seriously about where the Kyodan is headed as they make their
own analysis and proposals. The following graphs shows data on Kyodan
finances, membership, baptisms, age distribution, church school
attendance, etc., in comparison with the data of other denominations

Graph 1. The Christian Population in Japan in Three Categories:
1) Total number of Protestants (including the Kyodan),
2) The number of Roman Catholics,
3) The number of Kyodan members

Membership (resident communicant members). These statistics show that in
1948, just three years after the end of World War II, the resident
communicant membership of the Kyodan and the membership of the Roman
Catholic Church were virtually the same, but in the 60 years since then,
the Roman Catholics now outnumber Kyodan members by about 5 to 1,
clearly showing the difference between the continued growth of the one
and the stagnation of the other.

【Table 1】 Kyodan membership in relation to the total population of Japan
Graph 2. Changes in total income of the 1,730 Kyodan churches during the
period 2000 to 2007. The total income during the year 2000 was 13.15
billion yen. Income peaked in 2002 at 13.25 billion, but by 2007 it had
dropped 4.3% to 12.58 billion, a loss of 570 million yen.
Graph 3. A comparison of membership and total income for the period 1990
– 2007, which shows the following points.
1) Surprisingly, for about ten years after the “bubble economy” burst,
income continued to rise. It seems that the Kyodan curve is about ten
years behind that of society as a whole. The peak in income in 2002 was
some nine years after the membership began dropping from the peak
reached in 1993.
2) Two other noteworthy points are:
a) The effects of the bubble economy bust finally appeared here in the
income decrease. This is exactly the same curve that the general economy
experienced, so it is perceivable that the decline in Kyodan income will
continue beyond these ten years.
b) In addition, since peaking in 1993, resident communicant membership
has been steadily declining, which is a clear danger signal. So, what is
the behind this decline in membership? One worrisome trend can be seen
in the decreasing number of baptisms.
Graph 4. This graph shows both the differences in membership and
baptisms in each district between 2000 and 2007. It is a serious
situation all across the country. The gray color indicates a change in
membership; the black color represents the degree of change in the
number of baptisms. The average decline in baptisms during that period
nationwide was 26.6%. The greater the decline in the number of baptisms,
the greater the impact will be on the decline in future membership.
Graph 5. This graph represents an estimated present-day age-range for
lay members, based on the decade in which they received baptism. The
first generation of post-war recipients of baptism, from 1948 to 1958,
totaled 103,442. Almost everyone still remaining among this group are
now over 70 years old. During the next decade, from 1959 to 1968, there
was a total of 60,185 baptisms, so persons in this group are now likely
in their 60s. So it can be surmised, just from these figures, that 63%
of the Kyodan’s membership are 60 years of age or older. This highly
skewed age distribution, together with the decline in new baptisms,
accounts for the decline in membership.
Graph 6. A graph comparing the annual figures for baptisms, resident
communicant members, inactive members, and deaths.
1) During the period from 1952 to 1963, there were numerous pioneer
evangelism programs, such as the Lacour Evangelism program, that were
heavily dependent on overseas financial support.
2) In the 20 years from 1948 to 1968, there were 163,527 baptisms. This
represents a total of 63% of post-war baptisms through 2007, so this
coincides with this period of evangelistic activity.
3) There were 11,386 baptisms in 1948, and the number peaked in 1952,
with 15,765. While there were subsequent ups and downs, by 1968 the
strength to rebound was basically spent, and by 1971 it was definitive.
The 40 years since then has been a period of sparse numbers of baptisms.
4) The “Kyodan Struggle” [internal conflict] began in 1969, but as this
graph shows, danger signals were already present the year before. During
the next ten years, due to the issues involved in the “Kyodan Struggle,”
there was an 11.3% drop in membership, with 12,025 people leaving the
church.
5) The 64,483 persons on the inactive membership roles cannot be
neglected. At the very least, there is a need to focus on pastoral care
and fellowship among the laity so that this figure does not rise any
further.
6) The decline in resident communicant membership since 1994 is
indicative of the fact that since then, the number of members’ deaths
has surpassed the number of new baptisms. During 2007, 2,586 members
passed on to their heavenly reward, while there were only 1,424
baptisms, for a net loss of 1,162 members to that factor alone.
Graph 7. Sunday School. For easy comparison, there are two vertical
scales: one for total population of children 14 and under and the other
for Sunday school attendance.
1) The 50-year decline in total population for persons aged 14 and under
was 40.57%, while during the same period the number of such children
attending Sunday school decreased by 84.05%, showing how serious the
decline has been.
2) One fact should not be overlooked: while the decline was fairly
gradual until 1979, when Sunday school attendance was still 74,229, it
has rapidly declined ever since. This was just a few years after the
loss of evangelistic emphasis and shows that the most severe effect of
the “Kyodan Struggle” has been on the number of children attending
church school.

3) In spite of the fact that Japan is experiencing a very
low birth rate, it is not as though there are no children at all. Only 1
in almost a 1,000 children is being reached by Kyodan churches.

So how are we to view these past 40 years? Whether or not we turn a
corner and put an end to this period of evangelistic stagnation is the
issue we now face. Other denominations have maintained their
evangelistic outreach during this same period and have continued to
grow. So, what is it that interferes with evangelism in our Kyodan
churches? I pray that we will have the courage to come together in
prayer and follow the path God leads us to.
_________
This article is excerpted from “The Kyodan as Viewed through Graphs,” a
report compiled by the Kyodan’s Commission on Finance of which the
author was a former member. (Tr. TB)

150 Years of Evangelism in Japan: "Planting the Word of God for 150 Years"

With the coming of 2009, Protestant Christianity has been preached in
Japan for 150 years. The commemorative events planned for this milestone
were outlined in the article Commemorative Events for the 150th Year of
Evangelism in Japan on page 4 of KNL’s December 2008 issue (#350).

When Protestant evangelism began 150 years ago (1859), Christianity was
still prohibited in Japan by the Edo Shogunate. However, with a strong
love for the souls of the Japanese, the missionaries felt no fear of
persecution and came to plant the word of God in Japan. Through the
prayers and dedication of these missionaries and those yet to come, the
gospel was spread throughout the country as churches, Christian schools,
Christian hospitals, and Christian welfare agencies were founded. The
results were clear: education brought greater status and roles for
women, and higher ideals were brought to society at large. We give
heartfelt thanks for the work of these missionaries across the years.

Of course, we must not forget that part of the background for those
accomplishments was the work of the Roman Catholic Church in Japan
following Francisco Xavier’s visit in 1549, as well as the work of the
Anglican Church in Okinawa.

Certainly there were extreme difficulties at many points in this
history, as well as the sacrifice of many. Today’s reality is that
material prosperity and spiritual disinterest have encumbered evangelism
since the late 20th century. Even within the Christian community, we see
less interaction among Christian organizations and a weakened unity
among denominations. The fact that we are not advancing our evangelistic
efforts is cause for individual Christians and the church at large to
repent.

At this time of commemorating “150 Years of Evangelism in Japan,” we
give God thanks for his grace through Christ and pray that we may come
together in prayer, understanding one another and deepening our
fellowship together for the continued evangelism of Japan. May we give
of ourselves, our talents, and our resources as we strive to be tools
for this task. This is the commitment to which we are being called.

In 1909, when the first 50 years of Protestant evangelism were
celebrated, the Church of Christ in Japan took leadership in planning a
revival at the Tokyo YMCA in Kanda on March 13~14 for the celebration.
Following this, revivals and retreats were held at local churches
throughout Tokyo. The Methodist Church observed a “Revival Month,” the
Congregational Church observed a half year of “Extension Revivals,” and
other special forms of evangelism took place. Then, a joint
commemorative symposium was held at the Tokyo YMCA, Oct. 5~10. During
this time there was a special service of thanksgiving, as well as
symposium topics on Christian education, Christian literature, and
Christian influence as well as other opportunities for study.

With the approach of the 100th Anniversary of Protestant Evangelism in
Japan, plans for commemorative evangelistic events were approved at the
8th General Assembly of Kyodan in 1954. The goals were to double the
overall membership of the Kyodan and to move more deeply into the life
of the general public. The slogan accompanying these goals was “Go
forward with Christ.” These events continued through 1958.

As we enter this 150th Year of Protestant Evangelism in Japan, we feel
that active participation in the following events is a positive response
to our Lord’s invitation.

MAIN SCHEDULED EVENTS (All in 2009)
June 24 (Wednesday)
Commemorative Worship Service for the Founding of the Kyodan
Location: Fujimicho Church, Tokyo

July 8 (Wednesday), July 9 (Thursday)
Commemorative Convention for 150 Years of Protestant Evangelism in Japan
Location: Pacifico Yokohama

November 22 (Sunday)
Kyodan Laity Convention
Location: Tokyo Yamate Church

November 23 (Monday, a national holiday)
Kyodan Celebration: 150 Years of Protestant Evangelism in Japan
Location: Aoyama Gakuin, Tokyo

In preparation for these commemorative events, the Kyodan has set a
fund-raising goal of 5 million yen (about US$50,000). Churches, groups,
and individuals are being asked to support this effort to commemorate
150 Years of Evangelism in Japan. (Tr. JS)

–Katsuyama Ken’ichiro, executive secretary