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NO other American activity in the Near East has been of such extent and consequence as Christian missions. No other has been so long and so earnestly supported by so numerous and so influential a constituency at home. No other has made such persistent claims upon Christian Americans for financial assistance and upon the Government of the United States for diplomatic support. Not a region of the Near East has been neglected. First and foremost in the field were the Congregationalists (represented by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions);[i] during the past sixty years, however, their work has been supplemented in Syria and Persia by the Presbyterians, in the Balkans by the Methodists, and in Egypt by the United Presbyterians; there are also less extensive American missions conducted by the Reformed Church among the Arabs, by Lutherans among the Kurds, and by the Society of Friends in Palestine. The American Bible Society, which has been active in the Near East for a century, has distributed between four and five million volumes of the Scriptures in the several vernaculars. Along with these Protestant missionary organizations and largely under their aegis have gone American schools, American colleges, American hospitals, and American social service organizations -- the whole making an impressive array, involving the expenditure of millions of dollars and the devoted service of thousands of lives. Until recently, American Catholics have shown little interest in the Near East, although Roman Catholic missions under French and Italian auspices have been conspicuous in Syria and elsewhere throughout the former Ottoman Empire.
The past quarter century has been particularly trying for missionaries in the Near East. Following upon a period of annoyance and obstruction under Abdul Hamid II, came the series of events which led to the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire. The old Empire, crazy-quilt though it was, possessed certain advantages to all foreigners operating within its borders: it was an economic, political, and administrative unit; it was founded upon the principle of toleration, if not tolerance, of the several religious and nationalist minorities; it was under the thumb of the Great Powers and would invariably yield to an appropriate amount of diplomatic pressure; its authority over foreigners was curtailed by the Capitulations; it lacked the cohesive force of nationalism -- in short, it was susceptible to the infiltration of Western ideas. But the Young Turk Revolutions of 1908-1909, the Balkan Wars, the Great War, the practical extermination of the Armenian population of Anatolia, the Græco-Turkish war of 1919-1922, the creation of the Class A mandates, the Peace of Lausanne, and the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey produced kaleidoscopic changes. In Soviet Armenia, Persia and Egypt, no less than in Turkey and the Arab world, nationalism and westernization became the controlling forces in politics, economics, and education. Nationalism was hostile to missions and mission-schools because they came from abroad. Westernization reproduced in Near Eastern countries many of the conditions -- such as compulsory secularization of education and rigid separation of Church and State -- which western missionaries have found not altogether agreeable in their homelands. The former Christian constituencies of American missionaries in the Near East have either been wiped out or removed to political jurisdictions which are ill-disposed to evangelism of the old type. No one is more aware than the missionary groups themselves that their program in the Near East must be thoroughly revamped.
When the first American missionaries (accompanied by their tracts and printing presses) arrived in the Near East more than a century ago, Moslems might have felt that the dominions of the Padishah and his neighbors were about to be overrun by a swarm of infidel locusts determined to destroy the true faith. American evangelism, however, carried no immediate menace to Islam. The early missionaries determined that it was the Christian churches within the Ottoman Empire which were most in need of regeneration. The Moslem population had seen "only an impure form of Christianity" practiced by "corrupt Oriental churches" which had "lost the great distinctive principles of Christianity, and were in doctrine and morals no higher than the followers of the false prophet"; therefore the Greek and Armenian orthodox churches were to be evangelized, principally by the introduction of the New Testament in the vernacular languages. Quite apart from the Ottoman law prescribing the death penalty for apostates, conversions from Islam would be difficult because of the "hereditary scorn of Mohammedans for the religion we hold so dear." American missionaries were interested also in the large colonies of Jews at Smyrna, Saloniki and Constantinople. These Jews, whose ancestors had been driven from Western Europe by Christian persecution, were possessed of strong loyalty to their religion and race. Moreover, conversion from Judaism would have involved not only religious apostasy but social disadvantages which the Ottoman Jew hardly could be expected to assume. In 1855, therefore, American missionary work among the Ottoman Jews was abandoned. It is of interest to note, however, that Jews frequently embraced Islam and that the resulting class of Dunmehs has enjoyed a unique position of respect and influence among the Turks.
Having failed to reach the Jews and having decided against work among Moslems, American missionaries proceeded with the task of reforming the ethical and religious concepts, if not the ecclesiastical institutions, of Near Eastern Christians. In the circumstances the Sultan at the outset offered little opposition. Soon after their arrival at Smyrna in 1820 the first American missionaries to Turkey noted that "Christian missionaries may reside in any part of Turkey, so far as appears, without the least apprehension of interference from the Government." Others reported that "in the Turkish Empire may the missionary enter at every point and labor among them, with no Turkish ruler disposed, of himself,[ii] to hinder or make him afraid of so doing. Wherever he finds nominal Christians, he may plant the standard of the Cross, and Moslems, if left to themselves, will look on with indifference. Only from the Christians may opposition be expected." Of Christian opposition, however, there was plenty. American convictions concerning the innate superiority of Calvinism to Eastern Christianity was not shared by Greeks, Armenians, Nestorians, or Maronites. The clergy of the Oriental churches were determined to resist heresy, even though it came in the guise of "regeneration." They had the welfare of their flocks to protect and certain vested interests to maintain. As priests they desired to retain their hold upon their peoples. As politicians they wished to strengthen existing loyalties to the Church, which was the principal cohesive force of the nationalist and religious minorities of the Ottoman Empire. As patriarchs and secular rulers they feared that defections from the communities over which they had jurisdiction might undermine their power and decrease their revenues. They knew heresy when they saw it; American missions must therefore be met with war to the knife.
Greek and Armenian ecclesiastics began systematic persecution of persons suspected of fraternizing with American missionaries. As the Ottoman Government delegated all religious jurisdiction and a measure of secular authority to the respective patriarchs, it was possible for the latter to wreak vengeance upon those who listened to the seductive message of American Protestantism. Merchants "found their shops boycotted; teachers and priests were banished; men and women were stoned in the streets, hung up by the thumbs, spat upon and smitten in the face, tortured with the bastinado, thrown into prison without open charge or trial; spies were everywhere." In Syria the Maronite patriarch pronounced anathema all Protestant missionaries and their converts, enjoining his followers not "to visit them, or employ them, or do them a favor, or give them a salutation, or converse with them in any form or manner, but let them be avoided as a putrid member and as hellish dragons." The Armenian patriarch excommunicated Gregorians suspected of Protestant heresies. As Protestantism had no status before Ottoman law, excommunicants were thereby deprived of important civil as well as ecclesiastical rights and became, in a measure, outlaws. American missionaries were therefore obliged to sponsor the creation of a separate church, with the usual secular authority over marriages, inheritance, educational and philanthropic establishments, community taxation and the like. A Protestant community was created by firman of the Sultan in 1850. But in the minds of Oriental Christians, Protestantism continued a menace alike to religious and nationalist unity. "In the name of patriotism for which both Armenians and Greeks are famous, the Eastern Churches raised repeated protests against such national decomposition" and promised to wage continued war upon heresy inspired from foreign sources. Meanwhile, Moslems looked with bewilderment and good humor upon the unseemly brawl.
The hostility of native ecclesiastical organizations did not cripple American missions. On the contrary, more dollars, more Bibles, more men and women were poured into the Near Eastern field by the American Board and, after 1870, by its Presbyterian allies. Medical missionaries -- that is, students trained in both medicine and divinity -- went to the Near East and established mission-hospitals which were available to millions of people without regard to race, sex or religion; approximately half the patients, in fact, were Moslems who could hardly have come into contact with missionaries in any other way. Robert College and the Syrian Protestant College (now the American University of Beirut) were organized in 1864, and the Home School for Girls, opened in Constantinople in 1872, paved the way for Constantinople Woman's College.[iii] Shortly thereafter the thirty-two American missionaries in Egypt were maintaining nine schools and a thriving college. Throughout the Near East by 1890 were to be found the American preacher, teacher and physician; the American printing press, disseminating the Bible in every important native tongue; and the American dollar, busily engaged in erecting buildings in which to house these diversified institutions. To all of this activity the Greek Government was hostile from the outset. During the eighties the Shah of Persia sharply curtailed the work of Christian missions, prohibited proselytizing among Moslems, and finally in 1889 forbade the establishment of additional foreign schools. The British administration in Egypt was not partial to Christian missions and has sometimes been accused of openly favoring Moslem at the expense of Christian education. But the first real difficulties created by a Near Eastern government for American missions were made by Abdul Hamid II, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire 1876-1909, and apostle of political and social reaction.
An irreconcilable enemy of the printing press, of education, and of everything else that went under the name of progress, Abdul Hamid viewed with alarm the widespread work of American missionaries. He was scornful of the traditional Ottoman policy of religious toleration as well as of all proposals for granting his subjects even a modicum of political, intellectual or religious freedom. Fearing foreign influence in any form, he could not well befriend missionaries who preached Christianity, who conducted schools in a foreign language, and who taught the ideals of the French and American revolutions. Armenians, the special and particular wards of the American missionaries, were the object of his intense hatred. Murder was one of his favorite political devices, and his administration speedily degenerated into grotesque misgovernment by an invisible army of censors, spies, and agents provocateurs. Massacre was simply murder on a large scale; hence without compunction he ordered wholesale killings of Christian Armenians and Moslem Wahabis. This was the kind of man with whom the missionaries had to deal. Since he maltreated his own subjects, he would show to foreigners only such consideration as was rendered imperative by diplomatic pressure and military threats. Much of the record of shame and blood which Americans have written down to the discredit of the Ottoman Empire in the past half-century is not so much Turkish as Hamidian.
In the situation of the American missionaries there were inherent difficulties which Abdul Hamid was not slow to exploit. Native Christian colporteurs, under American auspices, were hawking the Bible, hymn-books, tracts, and other Christian propaganda throughout the Empire. As there was little opportunity for the control of these publications by the censor, how could Abdul Hamid be assured that they were not seditious? American mission authorities occasionally invited governmental interference by evading petty regulations, pushing their work "faster than the slow firmans would sustain them." Abdul Hamid was sensitive on questions involving his sovereign prerogatives; therefore he made it uncomfortable for the foreigner who forgot that there were, after all, some limitations on exterritorial rights. American missionaries tended to demand the protection of the Government of the United States not merely for themselves but also for their converts, for native teachers in their schools, and for other Ottoman nationals whom they incorrectly considered their protégés. Many Armenians, moreover, went from American missionary schools to the United States and subsequently returned with American passports, under the security of which they proceeded, according to the Turkish Government, to propagate sedition.
In the midst of this political situation, loaded with dynamite, American missionaries were carrying on their work. It is denied that they actively encouraged and aided revolutionary activities. That they were in sympathy with Armenian nationalist aspirations cannot be doubted. American missions were an important factor in the political education of the Armenians according to western formulas. From American missionaries and mission schools Armenians learned anew to cherish their language and historical traditions; became acquainted with western ideals of political, social, and economic progress; acquired more active discontent with their lot and developed an acute sense of superiority to their Moslem peasant neighbors. To the American missionary the Armenian national cause owes the education of western public opinion concerning the aspirations of Armenia. No historian of the modern Armenian nation can ignore the rôle of the American missionary in the development of nationalism among this tragic people to whom nationalism has been a pitiless executioner.
None of the foregoing may be said in extenuation of the conduct of Abdul Hamid, who sought by a campaign of premeditated and wholesale murder to wipe out the Armenian people and thereby at one stroke to end Armenian nationalism, to remove the pretext which solicitude for the Armenian cause offered British and Russian imperialism, and to deprive troublesome American missionaries of their principal constituency in the Ottoman Empire. For several years preceding the first organized massacres (1894) the Armenian provinces lived under a reign of terror. Ottoman irregular troops and Armenian revolutionary bands preyed upon the country and added to the suffering occasioned, as usual, by predatory Kurds. Cholera and famine, superimposed upon murder and arson, drove all classes of the population to a state of desperation. American missions and missionaries were attacked with seeming impunity; the usual demands for justice were met by the Porte with evasive and dilatory tactics. Permits for the establishment of additional mission-stations and schools were refused, native teachers and preachers were arrested and otherwise molested, a building in course of construction at Anatolia College, Marsovan, was burned by incendiaries. In vain did Secretary of State Blaine inform the Porte that the United States would insist upon the rights of its citizens " to teach and worship in the dominions of Turkey without interference or molestation." President Harrison in his annual message of 1892 informed Congress that there was a tendency in Turkey "to curtail the toleration which has so beneficially prevailed," that "harassing regulations in regard to schools and churches have been attempted in certain localities," that "irresponsible officials" have violated the domiciles and searched the persons of American citizens, and that "interference with the trading ventures of our citizens in Asia Minor is also reported."
Throughout the dreadful Armenian massacres of 1894-1896 not an American life was lost. But American missionaries were compelled to stand by while an infuriated mob of hooligans and undisciplined soldiers destroyed scores of towns, sending up in smoke American along with Armenian property. They were obliged to witness the murder of some fifty thousand Armenians, of whom a considerable proportion must have been Protestants and the balance of whom were potential constituents of the American missions. They saw devastated the whole region in which they had invested hundreds of thousands of American dollars and the devoted labor of many American lives. They found themselves accused by both sides of being in part responsible for the holocaust -- by the Turks of having incited the Armenians to open insurrection, by the Armenians of having "encouraged sedition and having promised more than they could perform." And when the lust for blood and fire had subsided, they found their diminished facilities overwhelmed by the demands of refugees and orphans for shelter, food, clothing, and the opportunity to begin life anew.
The heroism with which the missionaries met these terrible days was matched only by that with which they faced the new situation confronting them. They coöperated in the distribution of more than a million dollars of supplies for the stricken population of eastern Anatolia. They transformed their schools into orphanages and their mission compounds into hospitals. They substituted manual training for theology as a subject of major interest, in order that a destitute people might be made partly self-supporting. In short, they gave a fine demonstration of Christian charity in the midst of most trying circumstances. Gradually, too, mission work, as such, revived. In 1901, after tedious negotiations in which the Government of the United States was most persistent, the Ottoman treasury compensated the American Board to an amount in excess of eighty thousand dollars for the damage done to American mission and educational properties during the period of the massacres. This indemnity solved the most pressing financial problems and enabled the Board to renew a program which had been interrupted by the tragic events of the nineties.
Inevitably the question arose whether American missions might not insist upon diplomatic support on the part of the Government of the United States to the end that they might maintain and extend their work with freedom and security. This is a serious question, involved, as it is, in the broader question of the right of any American citizen abroad, on whatever errand engaged, to demand the protection of person and property by the Government of the United States. As regards the missionary it is a particularly serious question, inasmuch as he frequently penetrates remote and dangerous regions, where he acquires valuable properties, exposes himself to the most determined prejudices of the local population, and is likely to be careless of his personal safety. A reading of the official correspondence of the United States with the Ottoman Empire and its neighbors indicates that the defence, support, and protection of missions has been the most pressing problem of American diplomacy in the Near East.
In general, the position of the Department of State has been that missionaries were to be protected, not as the adherents or propagandists of any particular faith, but as American citizens. As Lewis Cass, Secretary of State 1857-1860, put it, the purpose of the United States is not merely "to protect a Catholic in a Protestant country, a Protestant in a Catholic country, a Jew in a Christian country, but an American in all countries." Fifty years or so later the Solicitor of the Department summarized the American position as follows:
The policy of the United States is to regard the missionary as a citizen, and, in the absence of specific treaties granting exceptional rights and privileges, to extend to him the protection ordinarily accorded to American citizens in foreign parts; to advance missionary enterprise in so far as it does not raise political questions and interfere with the orderly and constitutional development of the country in which the mission is located; to favor the mission in all proper ways; to protect the missionaries not only in their places of residence but in traveling through the country for the purposes of the mission; to secure for them the right to hold property, without which, in many cases, the efforts of the mission would be frustrated, and to obtain for them the right not merely to exercise in private but to profess in public the doctrines of Christianity, to establish schools for the education of their children and of the native population in whose midst they are situated, and to protect from assault hospitals and other charitable instrumentalities.
In other words, "missionaries and merchants stand upon an equality in the eye of the law; every man, whether he be preacher or man of affairs, is first of all a citizen of the United States, and, as such, entitled to his person and property so far as international law permits, and the right, whether he be tradesman or churchman, to follow his calling."
From the American point of view this position was unexceptionable. But in the minds of Near Easterners, it associated American missionaries with Capitulations and other legal devices of western penetration, against which there was a rapidly rising spirit of resentment. Inasmuch as the missionary depended for success upon popular respect and good-will, the diplomatic protection thus afforded may have been more of a liability than an asset. It was undoubtedly true, as an American ex-Secretary of State said in 1906, that "the resentment of non-Christian countries because of the practice of exterritoriality is more likely to manifest itself against missionaries than other classes of foreigners." For good or ill the American missionary in the Near East claimed and received the protection of his government, and took whatever advantage was obtainable from the system of Capitulations.
It should not be understood, however, that the missionaries exploited American diplomacy or that American diplomacy exploited the missionaries. The claims of American missionaries on the Government of the United States, if more numerous and more insistent, were not different in kind from those which were advanced by American business men.[iv] The United States, on its part, did not utilize the rights of missionaries as a pretext for seeking political or economic preferment, as France consistently made political capital of its Jesuits and Franciscans, and as Germany sought to make use of its Lutheran evangelists. There was no "gunboat policy" in Turkey, as there has been in China. In 1885 the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions officially suggested to the President of the United States that "the occasional presence of our Mediterranean fleet in Turkish waters, or the frequent visit of some of our ships of war at Smyrna, the Dardanelles, or Salonica -- not as a menace, but as a reminder to the Turkish Government of the existence of the United States as one of the Great Powers of the world -- would add very much to the influence of the American Minister, restore the credit and prestige of the American name, and contribute not a little to securing the rights and privileges of American citizens in accordance with treaty stipulations." Fortunately for both the missionaries and the reputation of the United States in the Near East, this suggestion was not adopted in Washington, and American naval forces have been despatched to the eastern Mediterranean only in cases of impelling necessity. Even murders of American missionaries, which occasionally occurred in the mountain fastnesses of Anatolia, were not handled in the Boxer manner. There were no military threats, no demands for excessive indemnities, no temporary occupations of territory by way of compensation for damaged national prestige.
But such claims as were made, however justly, by the American Government on behalf of its missionaries proved increasingly irksome to the Ottoman authorities. Unable to protect his own subjects from brigands, the Sultan was ill-disposed to bear responsibility for itinerant Christian preachers. Nor can it be assumed that there was genuine sorrow at the Sublime Porte at the death of an American missionary, except such regret as was occasioned by the knowledge that the outrage would bring representations from Washington. A Moslem government, aside from the political implications, could not look with complete indifference upon the spread of Christian missions within its jurisdiction.
It is hard to impress upon a westerner that, however firmly convinced Christians may be concerning the inherent superiority of Christianity to Islam, for Moslems there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet. Islam, moreover, like Calvinism, is not merely a religion; it is a social system. An invasion of propagandists of another religious and social system, even though their work be not directly concerned with making converts, is looked upon as a menace to the existing order. As individuals, missionaries in the Near East have been highly respected; as representatives of western society with special privileges under the Capitulations, they have been feared, suspected, even hated. One can imagine the reception which would have been accorded to Moslem missionaries in this country if the situations had been reversed--that is, if New England had been invaded by Moslem missionaries, supplied with adequate funds to erect mosques and Moslem schools, determined to educate young Americans in the ways of the Orient, and protected by treaties of capitulation preventing regulation by American civil authorities. No Near Eastern nation has been obliged, like China, to sign a treaty acknowledging the superiority of Christian principles and agreeing to tolerate their active propagation. But Christian superiority has been assumed from the start by the missionaries, who certainly would not have left America to preach a faith which they considered inferior. The same superiority appears to have been assumed by the Government and people of the United States, to whom the missionaries look for protection and support. As the assumption of superiority of Protestant or Orthodox or Gregorian Christianity embittered the relations to American missionaries with Greeks and Armenians, so the assumption of the superiority of Christianity to Islam was a potent source of misunderstanding throughout the Near East.
Security of the properties which American missions accumulated in the course of several generations of effort in the Near East was another problem. These properties represented the investment of large sums of American capital, which might be said to be as much entitled to protection as any business enterprise. Such was, in fact, the contention of the American Board when its many properties in the Ottoman Empire were menaced and partially destroyed. In a remarkable letter written in 1895, Mr. H. O. Dwight, speaking for the Board, urged upon the Minister of the United States the view that American missions in Turkey were "of sufficient importance to warrant the somewhat persistent demands which we make for protection from the United States Government." He referred to the Christian minorities of Turkey as the "customers" of the American Board, who in future "will patronize our reopened schools and buy our reprinted books." He believed that "under these circumstances the saving of the lives of the American citizens now resident in Turkey in connection with these missions should not be regarded as the only, nor, indeed, as the chief point to be aimed at by the intervention of the United States"; there was also the problem of saving the investment and the clientele which had been built up by sixty-five years of labor.
Mr. Dwight's letter is authoritative and presents so unique a plea for diplomatic and, if need be, military support that it deserves to be quoted at greater length:
During sixty-five years our society has been engaged in its operations in this country [Turkey]. From the point of view of a business enterprise, such as the treaties authorize American citizens to undertake and maintain in this country, the missions must be regarded as a mere association of American citizens which has chosen to invest capital in two main directions: 1. A large educational system. . . . 2. A large publishing and bookselling business.
In order to induce the people of this country to value and pay for the goods which we place before them, Americans, chosen with great care for the purpose, have been sent to live among the people, to cultivate in them understanding of the value both of the education and of the books which we offer. Our aim has been to cultivate in the people not only a desire to buy our wares, but a willingness ultimately to take over the whole financial support and future development of the establishments [thus liquidating the American investment] . . .
By incurring an expense for organization, equipment and maintenance of about $6,000,000, Americans have built up in Asiatic Turkey a business which already makes an appreciable cash return, and which has promised to realize our hope that it will be taken over entirely by the people who are our customers. We have 435 schools of all grades in the various provinces of Asiatic Turkey, and these schools are attended by 19,795 pupils of both sexes. We have also (it should be noted that our publications do not include any copies of the Bible, for this is published by the American Bible Society) a book trade with sales rooms and depots in 25 or more of the principal cities and with a somewhat extensive publishing house in Constantinople, which relies for its markets mainly upon the customers in the interior provinces of the Empire. For the maintenance and further development of our undertaking many thousands of people in the United States, who may be regarded as the stockholders of the concern, pay annually about $150,000 in addition to the revenue from tuition and from the sales of books and newspapers in Turkey, which amounts to about $70,000 a year. The sum of these two amounts may be regarded as the interest on the capital invested in the enterprise, since it is an annual sum put into the business. If we regard this sum of $220,000 as the interest of a capital which annually produces it, we may call that capital $7,000,000. This is a rough way of estimating the money value of the stock, real estate, equipment, and other property provided by Americans for our present operations in Asiatic Turkey.
Surely, even before the days of "dollar diplomacy," seven million dollars was a sum not to be ignored. One must marvel that Christian missions should choose to make such a frankly economic plea for support, even under the stress of the conditions prevailing in Turkey in 1895. But the plea is less a commentary on American missions than on an American public opinion which has permitted itself on only too many occasions to be approached on a dollar-and-cents basis, and which too often insists that benevolent enterprises "pay."
This association of missions with business enterprise took another form as well -- a tendency on the part of missionaries to point out that an indirect effect of their activities was to promote American foreign commerce. It was claimed that mission fields are "the commercial hinterland of Christendom," that the missionary is a pioneer who opens to western economic penetration regions hitherto undeveloped. According to one of the best-known and most authoritative American writers on the subject: "It is the function -- in large part the unconscious function -- of missions to create conditions favorable to commerce. Their tendency to stimulate the mind, to arouse energy, to quicken ambition, to bring native races into a sympathetic attitude toward western civilization, and to widen their knowledge of the world and its wonders, makes them helpful in promoting commercial intercourse." In short, missions offer a "moral subsidy to commerce."
One may well doubt the wisdom of attempting to link missionary endeavor, even by implication, with the development of American foreign commerce. Certainly in the Near East the services of the one to the other seem to have been exaggerated. Of the social influence of the American missions, on the other hand, there can be not the slightest doubt. But the services of the American missionaries in this respect were rendered not so much to the Near East as to the cause of western civilization, to the penetration of the Near East by a system of life and living which was none too well adapted to the Near Eastern peoples. The characteristics of the American economic order -- industry, thrift, energy, ambition, speculation, high-speed production, an impatience concerning the old and a restlessness for the new, sacrifice of craftsmanship to output in quantity, failure to desire and to cultivate leisure -- were for a long time neither admired nor emulated in the Near East. If they have finally overcome inertia and resistance, then the missionaries are partly responsible. But it should be remembered that there is even in the west no mean amount of scepticism concerning the beneficence of our mechanized and regimented society. In the east, the partial introduction of that social system has destroyed much of the color of life, has wiped out an indigenous civilization and erected in its place a hybrid which is neither ours nor theirs. The value of this to the Near East or to the world is yet to be demonstrated.
For the past twenty-five years conditions have compelled continuous introspection concerning American missionary endeavor in the Near East. Revolutionary movements in Turkey and Persia during the first decade of the twentieth century held out high hope that Christian missions might experience unprecedented intensification and expansion; the establishment of constitutional governments in the Ottoman Empire and Persia would, it was anticipated, inaugurate an era of freedom and tolerance. Early phases of the revolutions justified this optimism -- the Young Turks, for example, not only permitted but encouraged the entry of Moslem boys and girls into American schools. But reaction at home and interference from abroad[v] diverted the revolutionary movements from liberal into nationalistic channels. Among Arabs and Egyptians, as well as among Turks and Persians, there were increasing evidences of restlessness. Opposition to Capitulations, antipathy to things foreign, emphasis upon nationalist conformity, and secularization of education, became matters of greater moment than doctrinaire liberalism. The Balkan Wars, heralded throughout the west as a crusade against Islam, made immeasurably more difficult a lasting reconciliation as among the several religious and nationalist groups of the Near East. The pitiable spectacle of hundreds of thousands of Moslem refugees from Macedonia and Thrace trooping through Constantinople en route to misery and exile in Asia Minor chastened the spirit of many American missionaries and led them to question the wisdom of a policy confining their efforts to Christian minorities. Some fine gesture of Christlike charity on behalf of these miserable émigrés -- comparable to the more recent work of the Near East Relief among the Greeks and Armenians -- would have done much to clarify the situation, but it was not forthcoming.
Simultaneously complaints of Near Eastern nationalists against American and other Christian missions became more pointed and more bitter. Educated Moslems, who had no fanatical devotion to Islam, protested that American missionaries came to the Near East with only a limited education; possessed of deep-rooted prejudices against the religions and customs of the country in which they were to work; little disposed to live the life of the people but content to remain in their own little communities, which were as American as America; little inclined to understand the traditions, culture, and ideals of non-Christian peoples. Missionary tracts, it was pointed out, were almost always rhetorical and polemical; the terms "heathen," "infidel," "unspeakable" were sometimes applied to a people with whom the missionary had little acquaintance. The singing of "Onward Christian Soldiers" was considered an affront in Moslem lands. More radical followers of Islam identified Christian missions with the detested system of European imperialism. Furthermore, non-Moslems accused the American missions of winning Christians from one sect to another, thus, in their view, effecting a needless change in religious status while denationalizing the converts and divorcing them from their historical associations.
The Great War threatened to sweep American missions off the map of the Near East. Mission stations in Macedonia, Syria, western Persia, and northeastern Anatolia were directly in the zone of military operations; they soon found their property destroyed or requisitioned for military purposes. Practically every mission hospital was in some degree devoted to army medical service. Where the missions were not actually in the path of marching armies, they faced siege conditions -- in Bulgaria and Turkey the censorship was rigid; entrance, egress, and travel were sharply curtailed; physical discomfort and disease were rampant. In Egypt the presence of vast British armies disorganized the economic life of the country and rendered almost impossible normal peace-time activities. In Asia Minor American missionaries witnessed the greatest tragedy of their long service in the Ottoman Empire: the wholesale massacre and deportation of the Armenian nation, among whom alone of all the Near Eastern peoples evangelical work had been apparently successful. Almost helpless throughout this terrible experience, the missionaries -- particularly the women -- showed marked courage and devotion; few believed that their chief wards were being removed for all time from Turkish soil. By reason of far-sightedness in Washington, the missionaries were spared the consequences of a declaration of war by the United States against Turkey and Bulgaria. Largely for this reason schools and colleges outside the war zone were permitted to continue with a minimum of interference. On the whole, however, war conditions compelled American missionaries throughout the Near East to devote themselves to relief work, to mark time pending the suspension of hostilities, or to leave the region as opportunities presented. When the Armistice came in 1918, the outlook for continued missionary work was indeed dark.
The succeeding five years failed to improve conditions. Violation of pledges made by Great Britain and France to the Arabs; the behavior of Allied troops of occupation in Constantinople; the unhappy Greek military venture in Asia Minor; the desertion of the Armenians to their fate; the bombing of Arab villages in Iraq by the Royal Air Force; the partial destruction of Damascus and the laying waste of large sections of Syria by the French -- these and other post-war events convicted Christianity, in Moslem eyes at least, of moral bankruptcy and developed a marked spirit of cynicism. The precipitate flight of Greeks and Armenians from Anatolia before and after the Smyrna disaster of 1922, and later the formal exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey, stripped Asia Minor of practically the last Christian constituents of the American missionaries in that region. Communism dominated the Soviet Republic of Armenia. In Syria and Greece the refugee problem overshadowed all others. In Turkey, by the Peace of Lausanne (1923), an end was put to the Capitulations, the principal guarantee that missionary work "would not be swept away at the caprice of some new government;" henceforth missionaries could no longer "consider themselves privileged advocates of a justice guaranteed from without." Officially the American Board recognized the new order of things but said: "It is difficult, if not impossible, for some friends of the Board to make this readjustment in their fundamental attitude towards the position of the American missionaries under Turkish rule."[vi] The signing of the treaties of Lausanne, however, restored peace in the Near East and permitted the resumption of missionary activities, which had reached their lowest point in 1922.
Facing widespread hostility, their personnel reduced, their property in part destroyed, American missionary organizations in the Near East were obliged in 1923 to think seriously concerning their future. One decision was taken firmly and promptly -- that, whatever the difficulties, the work of more than a century should not be abandoned. Another decision was taken almost equally firmly and promptly -- that henceforth determined efforts should be made to minister to Moslems as well as Christians; where a direct approach was impracticable, social service, intellectual contacts, medical missions, and education should be utilized to the full. At a memorable conference held at Jerusalem in the spring of 1924 it was decided that there had been "great neglect of Moslems on the part of the Protestant Christian forces of the world" and that there existed "the necessity of a positive, constructive, irenic and sympathetic approach rather than the negative, destructive, polemic and unappreciative." These conclusions were sustained and amplified by the International Missionary Council, assembled at Jerusalem four years later, which repudiated any supposed alliance between missions and imperialism, which condemned non-Christian practices on the part of Christian nations, which expressed sympathetic understanding of Islam and other Near Eastern religions, and which urged the continuance of mission schools "even though there be no adequate opportunity for definite religious teaching." The American Board also showed a new spirit in its relations with the existing Oriental Churches by establishing at Constantinople in 1922 a School of Religion for the training of Christian (not necessarily Protestant) leaders in the Near East; this school, transferred to Athens in 1925, received the coöperation of the Greek Patriarch and others who theretofore had been hostile to American missions.
Gradually order emerged from chaos. The Greek Government -- apparently desirous of antagonizing as little as possible American agencies engaged in refugee settlement -- pursued after the Smyrna disaster a more agreeable policy toward American missionary work in Greece. For example, in 1924 the ban was lifted from the importation of Bibles in the vernacular, and there was no attempt at interference with missionary activities in the refugee camps; the American Board station at Saloniki took a new lease on life. Bulgaria, crushed by defeat in the Great War, welcomed the renewal and expansion of American missionary endeavor, although sharing in the world-wide movement "toward increase in the responsibility and control on the part of the native church and consequent decrease on the part of the mission." The schools at Samakov, furthermore, were transferred from missionary control to independent boards of trustees and became affiliated with the Near East Colleges under the name of the Sofia American Schools. In Persia nationalism and westernization proved to be thorns in the sides of American Presbyterians. Doubt was expressed whether, in view of increased interest of the government in national secular education, the American schools could continue to maintain their position. As for the missionaries themselves, they felt the necessity of the utmost caution, tact and patience -- being, as the Presbyterian Board put it, "as wise as serpents and harmless as doves." In the face of thinly-veiled Moslem hostility only medical missions seemed to proceed with success in Persia. In Syria the refugee problem and the nationalist revolt against French rule prevented any accurate appraisal of conditions. Enrolment in American schools and colleges in Egypt (particularly at Assiut and Cairo), on the other hand, was unprecedented; medical and even evangelical work also was in a prosperous state.
Turkey presented by far the most serious problem. Hopeful signs were the abolition of the Caliphate, the separation of church and state, the closing of reactionary mosque schools, the adoption of constitutional and international guarantees concerning individual religious freedom, the improved status of women, a generally increased religious and intellectual curiosity, an apparent willingness of the best-informed Turkish leaders to retain American schools even under missionary auspices, and a phenomenal increase in the number of Turkish Moslem students in attendance upon foreign-controlled educational institutions. Less hopeful were the nationalistic slogan that Turkey was to be developed for the Turks, the development of secular popular education, the rigid supervision of all schools for the special purpose of preventing religious propaganda, and marked hostility (in part fostered by the Turkish medical profession) to any considerable activity by foreign hospitals and foreign physicians. Evangelistic work continued to be conducted in Constantinople and a few other centers for native Christians; with this there was no interference from Angora, but neither the government nor public opinion would have looked with favor upon open and extensive efforts to convert Moslems to Christianity. The American Board frankly recognized that personal example and friendly contact were the only real hope for the continuance of missionary work in the Turkish Republic.
After a century, what shall be said of American missionary work in the Near East? Imposing statistics could be marshalled concerning the millions of dollars and the thousands of lives which have been given freely in the cause. But these would be inadequate as a tribute to the results which American missions and missionaries have achieved in this key position of the world. Some of the earlier missionaries -- men and women like Cyrus Hamlin, Daniel Bliss, and Mary Mills Patrick -- were scholars and sympathetic liaison officers between East and West. Others have been great teachers and beloved physicians. All have had to be possessed of the patience of Job. All carried with them from America some of that reckless courage of the pioneer without which the Great West of our own country could not have been settled and without which much of the record of American activity in the Near East could never have been written. But courage is not enough. It is too early as yet to pass critical judgment upon missionary achievements as a whole.
There is one aspect of the situation, however, which should not be neglected. For almost a century American public opinion concerning the Near East was formed by the missionaries. If American opinion has been uninformed, misinformed and prejudiced, the missionaries are largely to blame. Interpreting history in terms of the advance of Christianity, they have given an inadequate, distorted, and occasionally a grotesque picture of Moslems and Islam. While consciously preaching good-will, they sometimes have unconsciously sowed the seeds of misunderstanding. In portraying conditions in the old Ottoman Empire, for example, they failed to point out that many of the sufferings of the Christian minorities were shared in toto by their Turkish compatriots. If the Armenian peasant was exposed to raids of Kurdish brigands, so was the Turkish peasant. If the Bulgar peasant was bled white by the tax-gatherer, so was the Turkish peasant. If the Greek merchant was treated with stupidity and cruelty by the vali, so was the Turkish farmer. And, in addition, the Turk alone was condemned until 1909 to compulsory service in the Imperial Ottoman Army, from which the Christian was exempt in return for payment of a small tax. Because the missionary left many of the characters and many of the facts out of his picture, the American people received an incomplete impression of who were sinners and who were sinned against. They were totally unaware that Moslems and Christians suffered almost equally under a rotten imperial rule. In order to raise funds, missionaries, and more recently relief organizations, have often exploited half-truths, with the result that the American mind became closed to the patent fact that all peoples of the Near East, regardless of nationality or religion, have been common victims of common misfortunes. Once the flood-gates are opened, they cannot be closed at will. But the new order means, fortunately, that the missionary must find a new approach not only to his constituents in the Near East but also to his friends and supporters at home; this means much to the cause of good-will and peace.
[i] Hereafter referred to as the "American Board."
[ii] The implication being that Turkish authorities did sometimes interfere after persistent pressure from native Christians.
[iii] The Near East Colleges, including the three institutions here mentioned, have more recently severed missionary connections.
[iv] This ignores for the moment the question whether there ought not to be a different standard of conduct for religious than for economic emissaries of the United States abroad.
[v] Consider the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the declaration of Bulgarian independence, the Turco-Italian War, the Anglo-Russian agreement of 1907, Russian maneuvers to oust Mr. Shuster from Persia, etc.
[vi] The United States Senate did not ratify the Turco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce negotiated at Lausanne in 1923; there is therefore some doubt concerning the legal abolition of Capitulations as they affected Americans. In fact, however, no foreigners now enjoy exterritoriality in Turkey. The Capitulations were also abolished in the Class A mandates, but by treaties with France and Great Britain the United States has secured for its missions and schools specific rights to continue their work unmolested. An exception to this is Iraq, but it is understood that a similar treaty is under negotiation on its behalf. In Syria it is said that France would welcome the transfer of American Protestant missions to French Huguenots.