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Vietnam Mission Program: Positivity and Collaboration to Negativity and Sectarianism

For six of the eight years USA troops were in Vietnam during the American War, the Vietnam Mission Program (VNMP) was also present. The VNMP was the joint effort of eighty-four Church of Christ congregations from the USA and Vietnam. Together, these congregations served the Vietnamese people and American soldiers through a range of evangelistic outreach and benevolence programs. The VNMP had five primary missionaries who served in Saigon and the surrounding areas. At the start, there was evidence of ecumenical efforts by these missionaries and reports of positive attitudes about the work and Vietnamese people. However, over time sectarian and hostile attitudes emerged. This article provides an in-depth look at the work, mindsets, and attitudes of VNMP missionaries in Vietnam during the American War, along with speculations about the changes in these mindsets and attitudes over the years.

Mission work often inspires cooperation, be it with locals or other missionaries.1 The willingness to cooperate in missions was a development of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and is part of ecumenism: the ability and willingness of different denominations to work together. For example, at the 1910 Edinburgh World Missionary Conference, Protestant mission agencies in Britain, Europe, and the United States of America, including churches of the Stone-Campbell movement, came together and called for “denominational bodies to avoid duplication of efforts and unite in evangelizing the non-Christian world. Many associates within the Stone-Campbell mission organizations embraced this ecumenical vision, but others did not, producing new missions ‘independent’ of missionary societies and separate from missions of the US Church of Christ.”2 Thus, there is a historical pattern of some Churches of Christ participating in ecumenism and others holding onto sectarian attitudes.

Sectarianism is an extreme attachment to a sect.3 Commonly within the Churches of Christ, sectarianism refers to the belief that only Churches of Christ members will go to heaven. A lesser extreme of this attitude is manifest in the unwillingness to work with other denominations and judging them for what they consider to be incorrect beliefs.

The tension between sectarian and ecumenical efforts was evident among Churches of Christ missionaries in Vietnam during the American War.4 In this mission field, Churches of Christ congregations did not officially join with other Protestant denominations, like the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA), which was working in Vietnam simultaneously.5 Rather, American Churches of Christ created their own mission effort, the Vietnam Mission Program (VNMP).6

The VNMP was a joint project, starting in 1964, with multiple Churches of Christ around the United States. By the program’s end in 1972, sixty-eight stateside congregations and sixteen congregations and service members in Vietnam were recorded as participating in the program.7 The idea came at the request of Z. R. Daniel, William H. Oliver, and John Young, elders of the Royal Oak CoC in Royal Oak, Michigan. Royal Oak Church of Christ sent Maurice and Marie Hall, former missionaries to Germany and France who also taught at Michigan Christian Junior College,8 to investigate the missionary potential in Vietnam in 1962. The program started in 1964 with the Hall family and Phil Carpenter moving to Saigon to begin mission work.9 Phil Carpenter graduated from Michigan Christian College in 1963, and he was supported by Averill Avenue Church of Christ in Flint, Michigan.10 Wayne Briggs was the VNMP official missionary from 1966 to 1969, and Ray Cox replaced him and served until the program’s end in 1972. Shortly before Briggs returned to the USA, the program transitioned from the leadership of Royal Oak Church of Christ to Lennon Road Church of Christ (Flint, Michigan) in 1968, which ran the program until its close in 1972.11

Literature Comparison

Before exploring the VNMP more, one literary source needs to be discussed: The Stone-Campbell Movement: A Global History’s summary of “Operation Saigon.” According to The Stone-Campbell Movement, Operation Saigon started with Maurice Hall, Marie Hall, and Phil Carpenter in 1964. Two years later, thirteen more missionaries joined the original three in Saigon. The highlight of the mission work was a world radio program under Phil Nhon, and humanitarian relief, done with the help of military congregations. Additionally, the operation built an American-Vietnamese International School and had homes for orphans under the care of The Village Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, OK. The Stone-Campbell Movement claims there were seventeen Churches of Christ congregations by 1968. Unfortunately, that was the year that many missionaries left due to war escalations, and the number of missionaries dwindled by 1972 to only a few people. All the missionaries had left by April 25, 1975, when the North Vietnamese Army captured Saigon.

Is Operation Saigon the same as the VNMP? Possibly. Within the Christian Chronicle archives, there is only one reference to Operation Saigon in a recruiting article published on October 15, 1965. The article reported that missionaries Maurice C. Mall, Leonard Seake, Phil Carpenter, Lynn D. Yocum, and Gene Conner had laid “the foundations for ‘Operation Saigon,’” which other missionaries could join.12 With the notation that “Mall” was a misprint of “Hall,” the time frame and names would match the VNMP.

There is a further crossover with the mentioned radio program under Phil Nhon, the American-Vietnamese International School, and the Village Church of Christ orphan programs. According to this research, these programs are connected to or are part of the VNMP. For example, in an evaluation report, Maurice Hall discussed the start of the radio program, describing how Vietnamese Christian Phil Nhon is the right choice for the program due to his MA from the University of Saigon and his work as a translator, Bible scholar, and preacher. He had been part of Vietnam’s CMA (National Evangelical Church) but switched and was baptized and accepted into a Churches of Christ congregation.13

The mailbox addresses for the two groups are another potential connection between Operation Saigon and the VNMP. According to the Christian Chronicle, applications to join the operation could be sent to Church of Christ Mission, Operation Saigon, APO, San Francisco, California 96243. The “Saturate Saigon” program said their address was: Maurice C. Hall, Box 100, APO, San Francisco, 96243.14 While Operation Saigon did not give a box number, and the two had mail sent to different names, they shared a similar location. Of course, various overseas mission works may have used the same system due to convenience or other factors. Regardless, it is another connection between the two names.

Despite these similarities, differences between the VNMP and Operation Saigon are evident. One point of difference is in numbers. The Stone-Campbell Movement reported seventeen congregations created by 1968.15 However, according to a letter from the elders and staff of the VNMP in 1972, there were twenty-two congregations in 1968.16

Another interesting point of difference between Operation Saigon and VNMP regards their attitudes toward safety. Regarding Operation Saigon, The Stone-Campbell Movement notes, “The US Churches of Christ that supported the work in Vietnam recognized that it was a very dangerous place,” after which it goes on to describe the bombing of the US Embassy in Saigon in 1965.17 Yet, the “Saturate Saigon” program, connected to the VNMP through the missionary Lynn D. Yocum, encouraged people to sign up for the short-term mission trip to Saigon in May of 1966. Yocum, whom the Christian Chronicle also identified as an Operation Saigon missionary, described the situation: “The truth is that we go about our daily tasks without a great deal of concern or worried of threat to our safety. Some people have a picture of constant chaos present in the streets of Saigon, complete with the rapid fire of machine guns. This, however true in the past—both in Saigon and Los Angeles—, is not true now. If it were true, certainly the hundreds of tourist visas to Vietnam would not have been approved by the US government.”18 Thus, at least in one case, there was a difference in attitudes between that recorded by Williams, Foster, and Blowers and the missionary’s reports.

The most significant evidence for the connection between Operation Saigon and the VNMP comes from a letter from the leaders of the VNMP in 1972, who state that the VNMP began with the Orphan Care program, which Royal Oak Church of Christ, the Village Church of Christ, and others participated in during early 1966.19 The Stone-Campbell Movement claims the Village Church of Christ’s orphan homes for Vietnamese children were a part of Operation Saigon. If true, at least part of Operation Saigon became the VNMP.

In conclusion, it is possible that Operation Saigon was the work’s initial name and evolved into the VNMP. Alternatively, perhaps Operation Saigon was the popular name, and by 1966, VNMP became the official name. It is equally possible that part of Operation Saigon became the VNMP while other parts remained separate. Given the clear overlap but some differences, I claim the third possibility is more likely than the other possibilities. Regardless, there is more to the mission work done in Vietnam during the American war than The Stone-Campbell Movement reports.

Purpose and Importance

Five paragraphs are the extent of the The Stone-Campbell Movement’s coverage of Churches of Christ mission work during the American War. This short description could be considered relatively long, as the textbook describes the entire Stone-Campbell movement from its conception and development in 1830s to the late 1990s. However, there is an opportunity to add more depth to those paragraphs and learn more about mission work in Vietnam during the American War, not only about whom the missionaries helped and how many converted but about the missionaries themselves—their attitudes, thoughts, and work processes.

In this article, I pull out a magnifying glass and examine a specific area and time. It allows readers to consider the less studied human elements of mission work—the attitudes and collaboration efforts—of missionaries. It also provides a case study of historical accuracy about the tension between sectarian and ecumenical work in the Stone-Campbell Movement. I have found that the VNMP was characterized by shifting tensions between ecumenism and sectarianism, as well as missionaries’ positive and negative attitudes as the war progressed. Although the VNMP started in 1964, the Center for Restoration Studies at Abilene Christian University has records starting in 1966, which is this article’s point of departure.

Beginning: Hope and Collaboration (1966–1967)

War Dates: In 1966, the USA increased their troops in Viet Nam, and in 1967 they invaded the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

Between 1966 and 1967, two years after the VNMP started in 1964, over twenty-nine missionaries arrived in Vietnam, including Wayne Briggs, the VNMP-appointed missionary.20 Among those arriving and those stateside, there was an attitude of positivity and possibility about missions in Vietnam. For example, missionary Ralph Burcham wrote, “The Vietnamese are most receptive, and the time is ripe for a harvest of souls.”21 Similarly, Ira Y. Rice Jr., a missionary to the “Far East,” shared in his newsletter, “I had the distinct feeling that we were witnessing of [sic] the best-conceived and best-set-up missionary efforts in the entire history of our brotherhood.”22 Churches of Christ missionaries during this time appeared to be organized and filled with zeal to serve those in Vietnam.

Service in Vietnam occurred in various forms. In 1966, Maurice Hall reported programs involving Christian education, orphan care, and radio work. Vietnamese evangelism was done in prisons and through children’s classes. Churches of Christ missionary Lynn D. Yocum organized one evangelism program called “Saturation Saigon,” a short-term mission trip to preach to the local people in Saigon.23 Like Yocum’s advertisement, most newsletters noted little stress regarding the war and more concern over the work in Vietnam.

Besides evangelism, there was also a good amount of benevolent work occurring. The focus of the Churches of Christ benevolent programs between 1966 and 1967 appeared to be on orphans. According to Briggs, the Orphan Program encouraged participation from stateside congregations, who sent clothing, money, gifts, and candy for the children. Perhaps too much candy was sent, he reported in one newsletter. In 1967, a reported on hundred seventy-three orphans were being cared for in the Saigon area, Central Vietnam, and Da Nang. The Orphan Program had a 70% growth in six months.24

However, the missionaries did not do all this work alone but collaborated with others. Yocum noted working in his community with a Chinese man who spoke nine languages. He also had the support of military brethren. His classes included military, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Montagnard people.25 Mission and outreach efforts included all people.

While the newsletters reported no military-specific mission work or outreach, there were examples of service members working with missionaries to serve the Vietnamese. One of the best examples of this was with the Hieu-Duc Vietnamese Christians. A war attack destroyed their church building, and the congregation in Saigon, with the USA Marines, helped them rebuild their meeting place afterward.26 The Vietnamese Christians were also involved in evangelism efforts, going where foreigners were not welcome. For example, Burcham wrote about a Mr. Bao, who moved to Bien Hoa to minister to his fellow Vietnamese there. He had baptized five people at the time of Burcham’s report, and one of the new believers was a former Buddhist monk.27

The sincere desire to serve and minister to the Vietnamese and others in Vietnam was evident in newsletters, particularly through prayer requests. Wayne Briggs even included prayer requests for the Viet Cong (northern communist Vietnamese soldiers), their lost souls, service members, and Vietnamese people.28 There was hope that the gospel and their work could reach every soul they came into contact with in Vietnam.

The mission efforts brought new growth among various people groups in Vietnam. By 1967, new congregations were reported, including one in the Nha Trang base with service members and one in Cholon with Chinese residents. In addition, there were twelve reported congregations among the Vietnamese, two of which were confirmed to be new, and four of which were in Saigon.29 Programs expanded, and evangelism and collaborative efforts between Vietnamese, US servicemen,30 and Churches of Christ missionaries were proving fruitful.

Transition: Shift in Ministry Focus (1968–1969)

War Dates:1968 began with the Tet Offensive as the Viet Cong launched attacks around Saigon, Hue, and Khe Sanh. Two months later, the My Lai Massacre by US troops occurred, and by May, peace talks started. In November, the US halted the bombing. Then by September of 1969, President Nixon withdrew 550,000 US troops, and Ho Chi Minh died and was succeeded by Ton Duc Thang. In the USA, there were widespread anti-war demonstrations in November and December.

Between 1968 and 1969, the VNMP was in transition. The program shifted from the management of the Royal Oak Church of Christ to Lennon Road Church of Christ, and the Orphan Care program was entrusted entirely to The Village Church of Christ.31 Additionally, the primary missionary of the program, Wayne Briggs, returned to the USA and was replaced by Ray Cox.32 Lastly, before the end of 1969, the mission work became solely military-focused.33 In a newsletter, Lennon Road Church of Christ described its desire for the VNMP to center on sharing the gospel by establishing congregations, urging worship, providing counseling, and performing hospital visits.34

During the transitions, there were still signs of positive attitudes and collaboration. However, there were also signs of judgment, negativity, and sectarianism. For example, a former missionary, Maurice Hall, wrote a scathing article for Contact magazine about the laziness of new preachers who stopped at the sign of “red tape” in countries including Vietnam. He said, “The trouble with preachers and elders and other Christians is that they are too often concerned about the invisible barriers.”35 However, one newsletter spoke of Vietnam’s problems as a lack of well-trained workers and steady support,36 which contrasts with Hall’s blaming of people’s trepidation. Still, both signaled a negative view of their current situation.

Negative and positive themes were also evident in the mission work. While the Orphan Care program closed, evangelistic outreach persisted. For example, a new missionary, Dan Skaggs, arrived in Vietnam focused on evangelizing and training Vietnamese leaders; attendance in Saigon doubled with his arrival and work.37 Also, in 1968, Briggs started a popular cookie program for service members. The program, which involved stateside Christians mailing cookies and Bible tracts to hospital service members, aligned well with the VNMP’s new mission focus and continued after he returned to the USA.38

Even with the structural change brought about by Lennon Road Church of Christ taking over the VNMP, there was increased military and Vietnamese collaboration. One example of this collaboration came from military congregations financially supporting Vietnamese preachers’ education. For example, thanks to the military congregations’ support, Vo Thanh Duc became the first Vietnamese minister to attend Philippine Bible College (PBC). The same congregations supported Nguyen Dan Bao, who was scheduled to return from PBC a few months after Vo Thanh Duc.39 Y Kre Mlo, a Rhade Tribesmen evangelist who worked with missionary Lynn Yocum, was also enrolled in the PBC—supported by a combination of various Christians in Vietnam.40 Both Da Nang Airbase and Bien Hoa Airbase also supported other Vietnamese pastors.

Meanwhile, Vietnamese outreach continued. For example, the Duc Pho base requested more Vietnamese Bibles in a newsletter update, while Da Nang base noted they were the Vietnamese Hu Duc congregation.41 In Saigon, Nha Trang and Da Nang, there were joint worship services between Filipinos, Koreans, Americans, and Vietnamese.42 Therefore, even though official mission work shifted to the military, there was an ongoing collaboration between the Vietnamese and the military personnel.

Despite positive work between servicemen and Vietnamese, collaboration with non-Churches of Christ members or groups varied. For example, there was one episode where the missionaries struggled to deal with military authorities. Believers at Tay Ninh wrote that the military authorities threatened to close the congregation unless official endorsements from the USA came immediately. However, they reported that they were able to use their personal contacts to get the needed paperwork in time.43 This struggle against the military authorities contrasted with Briggs writing a few months later for people to trust the military-assigned chaplains and use them to spread information about Churches of Christ gatherings.44 Thus, in some places, there could be collaboration, but in others not so much.

Additionally, during these transitional years, the sectarian trait of fear of judgment began to show. For example, in one of Brigg’s later newsletters, he shared the sign on a church vestibule saying, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” While this sign was on the newsletter, thus likely read by other church members and not used in propaganda against other denominations, it is still an example of judgmentalism and fear being used as a tactic for repentance, a standard sectarian tool. However, Briggs also showed some ecumenical characteristics. For instance, he republished an article on baptism written by the CMA, giving it a positive endorsement.45 Both of these things occurred in the same newsletter, demonstrating that even though Briggs had some level of a judgmental attitude, he also had ecumenical tendencies.

By contrast, Cox’s newsletters were heavily sectarian.46 His writing highlighted the belief that only Churches of Christ members went to heaven and an unwillingness to work with other denominations. For example, in his newsletter a few months after Briggs’s vestibule-sign article, Cox wrote negatively about Catholicism, from which Christ of Christ members had saved another soul.47 Such evidence suggests that the staffing change contributed to the shift toward sectarianism.

Despite the end of some programs and structural changes in the VNMP, the mission work progressed. Between 1968 and 1969, there was a one hundred percent increase in the Vietnamese church, as reported by Briggs. Hieu Duc had the most growth as its Vietnamese congregation doubled in membership and had eight baptisms in three months.48 Additionally, newsletters reported progress among military personnel. For example, according to the 1969 March newsletter, there were ten baptisms since October in Tay Ninh. Furthermore, the American Vietnamese International School, which Churches of Christ newsletters viewed as a mission effort, increased its enrollment to over 300 students.49 Also, a new congregation started in Chu Chu.50 In sum, despite transitions and shifting attitudes, people still came to know Christ as the war continued.

Ending: Negativity (1970–1972)

War Dates: In 1970, peace talks ceased, the fight against communism spread to Cambodia, and South Vietnamese forces joined in the conflict in Laos. A major North Vietnamese offensive in 1972 was halted by US bombing. By January 1973, there was a ceasefire agreement, and USA forces withdrew. Then in 1975, Saigon was captured, and the war ended.

Between 1970 and 1972, the work of the VNMP had shifted entirely to the military. The work included the following: contacting Christians and placing them in contact with other Christians in Vietnam; encouraging Christians to teach others; assisting military Churches of Christ congregations; assisting families and chaplains; counseling, special visits to individuals upon request; periodic visits to units and bases; endorsements; newsletter to armed forces members; the Herald of Truth’ religious retreats and special preaching series; hospital visits and cookie distribution; weekly fellowship and devotionals in Saigon; lodging in Saigon for visiting service members and missionaries; audio-visual material and publication; sermon tapes; college information; and R&R and leave information.51 The congregations at military bases continued to hold services and other events during these years. The Tan Son Nhut Airbase hosted classes every night of the week in 1970. The newsletters offered tracts for servicemen to give out and Bible correspondence courses.52

There were reports of mission work with the Vietnamese done by base congregations who self-reported their work. Cox printed their reports in his newsletters, which may have indicated his approval or simply been following a policy to share what others reported to him. The Tan Son Nhut Airbase provided money to Lynn Yocum and Y Kre Mlo for a car to do mission work with the Rhade Tribe.53 The Da Nang base started a new project in Hieu Duc, helping a Vietnamese Christian man care for orphanages; they added another room to the existing orphanage and gave him Vietnamese Bibles.54 Additionally, Long Binh supported a Mr. Bao in his mission work.55 As none of Cox’s newsletters contained evidence of him working with Vietnamese members—which was not his job as the VNMP focused on the military—the newsletters highlighted his espoused sectarian views. Given those two things, he likely did not inspire the little work done by servicemen and Vietnamese people or other missionaries.

Cox’s newsletters demonstrated a struggle to relate to and work with Vietnamese people. In one newsletter, Cox asked for prayers for the Christians, US service members, and missionaries in Vietnam but left off prayers for any of the Vietnamese people themselves.56 The idea that missionaries forgot the Vietnamese was echoed in a later newsletter by a Christian, John E. Rogin, from the Phu Cat base. He wrote, “Viet Nam has tremendous growth possibilities if those of us who are sent over here have the proper teaching and are given the faith to take with us. . . . I feel too many times they [Vietnamese people] are overlooked and forgotten by the people back home.” After that article, Cox began to request prayer for the Vietnamese people and peace in Vietnam.57

Two years later, the extreme negativity and dislike towards the Vietnamese was evident in Cox’s January 1972 newsletter, where he wrote an article titled, “Viet Nam Mission Work, Anyone?” He described the Vietnamese as being poor, constantly jealous, having disgusting ways, and wanting money. Unfortunately, though, his dislike was not contained only to the Vietnamese. In the same newsletter, he published an article about an American lying to him about attending a photography school and how terrible it was that the Mormons had more converts than Churches of Christ.58

It is possible that Cox was not alone in his negative opinions of the Vietnamese. Nguyen Dan Bao, a Vietnamese evangelist, published an article in Cox’s newsletters about the evil bewitching Vietnamese women who wanted American money. “America is honest,” he wrote, “Vietnamese women is plenty [sic] of ruse.”59 While this paper cannot prove that Cox’s and Bao’s negativity about the Vietnamese people was widespread, since there are few newsletters from others available to analyze, the fact that Cox published the article could be taken as evidence of his agreement with Bao, and therefore, further evidence of his negative opinion of the Vietnamese people. More so, the fact that Cox saw the news of withdrawing troops positively, which he published in his 1972 March newsletter, demonstrates how pessimistic he was about his work in Vietnam—he was happy about the troops withdrawing even though it meant his work ending. Alternatively, he was happy about the withdrawal because his work was almost ending.60

The newsletters also focused more on traditional Churches of Christ elements. For example, Cox wrote a page-and-a-half article about why communion must be done every Sunday.61 In addition, there were articles on why Churches of Christ members should not worship with other Protestants and how not all worship was acceptable.62 These articles were followed by another titled “What Not To Teach Service Members Going Overseas.” In Cox’s words, people should not teach service members that “God loves them and will be with them, no matter what circumstances.” Rather, they should be taught to read the Bible and go to church when possible.63 There is no doubt that in his article he meant they should go to a Churches of Christ congregation.

A level of judgment and fear also underlined most of the newsletters. For example, in two newsletters, there was a cartoon with a judge wearing glasses. Beneath the cartoon judge, it read, “No one will be excused from God’s judgment; and no one will be too busy to be there.”64 Additionally, there were short questions about testing Bible knowledge with the declaration that if someone missed one question, they needed to go and study their Bible more because the questions were from the sixth-grade curriculum.65 Another example of judgmentalism included Cox writing, in response to a few service members/missionaries going home, “We find almost all should be leaving with their heads downcast having brought shame and reproach to the precious name of our Lord. It would be far better if they would not indicate Christian or Churches of Christ on their personnel data forms than to be a disgrace to the Lord’s body.”66 Cox had no issue using fear and judgment in his newsletters, letters which, due to their nature, were likely used to raise support and bring awareness of his work.

Besides judgmentalism, the outlook on congregational work became increasingly negative, although there were some positive reports from congregations. Base congregations increased and decreased in numbers based on rotation.67 The Pleiku base struggled with finding a permanent location.68 Nevertheless, there was a new congregation in Chu Lai in 1970 and a few baptisms in 1971.69 The cookie program was often praised and utilized. Interestingly, while previous newsletters provided information on how to donate to the mission work, his newsletters now specifically requested financial donations.70 By March of 1972, only two congregations were noted as sending in money to the VNMP, and only six base congregations were listed, compared to the fifteen mentioned in January.71 Thus, while the number of congregations decreased and membership fluctuated, there were still things to praise amongst the bases. Without much fanfare, the VNMP ended in 1972.72


Why the shift toward negativity and the increase in sectarianism? One possibility is that the worsening of the war caused an increase in military mission focus, sectarianism, and negativity; evidence of this comes from comparing military dates with events in newsletters. For example, the VNMP’s transition to Lennon Road Church coincided with the 1968 Tet Offensive, which saw many missionaries leave. After this, the VNMP employed Ray Cox, and newsletters became increasingly hostile the longer he served, and as he served, the war worsened.73 Thus, perhaps the stress and struggle of serving overseas “got to him” and darkened his attitude. Unfortunately, there is no way to confirm this save for an interview with him or reading his journal if he had kept one at that time.

Another explanation for the increased negativity and sectarianism in the newsletters is that they reflected Churches of Christ sentiment in the USA.74 Firm Foundation articles from 1964 to 1971 followed similar feelings and themes as the VNMP newsletters. The January 1964 article was filled with positivity; the editorial wrote about a “spirit of aggressive optimism” for church planting and building. There was a focus on living spiritually and a call for unity over “bickering and strife.”75 By January 1969, however, the magazine presented the world more negatively. An editorial claimed that forces were at work to stop the truth, and preaching had lost its power. Most Christians reportedly did not live for Christ and argued about titles like “reverend” being unscriptural.76 The following year, in January 1970, this critique of the world and other Christians continued. One article discussed how it was the “Devil’s Decade.”77 January of 1971, the editorial discussed the spiritual depression that might be at an end but critiqued the World Council of Churches and spoke against all ecumenicalism, modernism, and liberalism. According to the author, the only thing to do was fight back by preaching the Bible.78 Thus, if the Firm Foundation indicates American Churches of Christ attitudes, then there was an increase in sectarianism matching Cox’s attitudes in his newsletters.79

More Research

As with any research, more questions arose from the work. Besides the questions surrounding sectarianism and negativity, there are questions about other missionaries. For example, what were the attitudes of other VNMP missionaries, like Maurice and Marie Hall or Phil Carpenter, whose newsletters were not in the archives for me to analyze? Outside of the program, other mission work by Churches of Christ missionaries in Vietnam was likely occurring at the same time. Was this the case? If so, did they overlap at all or interact with each other? How did they compare?

Additionally, it would be valuable to compare this research to other historiographies like The Stone Campbell Movement: A Global History. Finally, there is need to evaluate Churches of Christ mission work alongside other Protestant mission work, like the CMA, which was also active in Vietnam at the same time. How did the CMA compare with the VNMP or other Churches of Christ missionaries? Where were the overlaps? Did CMA or other groups struggle with sectarian or negative attitudes like Churches of Christ missionaries? More research might form a more precise image of historical mission work in Vietnam, which is valuable for its own sake and for the lessons that it might offer to current and future missionaries.


This article has offered an in-depth look at the work, mindset, and attitudes of Churches of Christ missionaries connected to the VNMP during the American war. At the program’s start, there was a collaboration between various denominations and groups. At this time, the newsletters rang with positivity about what God was doing in the country. Shifts in attitudes began between 1968 and 1969, during transitions with the VNMP.80 Various programs closed. Wayne Briggs, the VNMP missionary, returned home and was replaced by Ray Cox.81 At this time, the ministry switched from the care of the Vietnamese to military mission work.82 Between 1970 and 1972, the newsletters and documents became increasingly hostile, evincing a rise in sectarianism and judgmentalism. Despite the attitudes expressed by VNMP missionaries, the military congregations and the Vietnamese were still collaborating at the local level. As the US involvement ended in the war, so did the VNMP’s work.

Overall, the mission work of the VNMP experienced highs and lows. Some months saw baptisms, and others saw congregational membership decreasing. Some programs ended, and others persisted. Through it all, there was a tug-a-war between ecumenicalism and sectarianism among the missionaries and their attitudes surrounding the work.

Ariel Bloomer lived and did mission work in Vietnam between 2017–2019 while teaching ESL. Previously a social worker and ESL teacher, she has moved into ministry full-time. She recently graduated from the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University with a Master of Divinity and Masters of Arts in Modern and American Christianity. Her thesis, “Tính Thống Nhất Trong Sự Đa Dạng: Hanoi International Fellowship Ethnography,” (master’s thesis, Abilene Christian University, 2023),, is focused on her church in Vietnam and the concept of unity in diversity versus unity and diversity.

1 I claim this based on my own observations from being in the mission field and talking with missionaries.

2 D. Newell Williams, Douglas A. Foster, and Paul M. Blowers, eds., The Stone-Campbell Movement: A Global History (St. Louis, Missouri: Chalice Press, 2013), 115.

3 See Jutta Jokiranta, “Sects, Sectarians,” The New Interpreter’s Dictionary Of The Bible S-Z, vol. 5 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2009), 151, 152; Cambridge Dictionary, s.v. “Sectarianism,”; Roger Scruton, “Sectarianism,” Palgrave Macmillan Dictionary of Political Thought, 3rd ed., (Credo Reference: Macmillan Publisher Ltd, 2007). Sect refers to a group that as has split from the main group because joint membership is impossible due to differences. These differences can be related to schools of opinion and/or customs. There is a negative connotation with this term. Sects hold various degrees of tension with their environments and counterparts.

4 Vietnamese people refer to the 1955–1975 war with America as the American War. Americans refer to this conflict as the Vietnam War.

5 Williams, Foster, and Blowers, The Stone-Campbell Movement, 254. The Churches of Christ missionaries were aware and interacted to some extent with these mission organizations. For example, one newsletter notes that CMA had been working with five tribes in the Rhad Tribe of Montagnards in the Central Highlands of Vietnam for the past twenty years (Lennon Road Church of Christ, “Viet-Nam Newsletter,” Michigan, n.d., VF—World Churches – 59700.A Vietnam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX. Based on dates within the newsletter, the estimated date is 1969).

6 The newsletters, conference reports, and other material on the VNMP were found in the Center for Restoration Studies archives at Abilene Christian University. Without their staff’s assistance, especially director Mac Ice, and access to the archive, this research would not have been possible.

7 Elders and Staff of Viet Nam Mission Program to Brethren, San Francisco, CA, n.d., F–World Churches–59700.D Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX. Based on the dates within the newsletter, the estimated date is 1972.

8 Z. R. Daniel, William H. Oliver, and John Young, Vietnam: A Report (Abilene, TX, 1966), 9, Stone-Campbell Books, 387,

9 “Report On Viet Nam Mission Conference,” Memphis, TN, 1966, VF–World Churches–59700.D, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

10 Daniel, Oliver, and Young, Vietnam: A Report, 10.

11 Amos Ponder to Contributor, March 19, 1968, VF–World Churches–59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX; Elders and Staff of Viet Nam Mission Program to Brethren, San Francisco, CA, San Francisco, CA, San Francisco, CA, n.d., F–World Churches–59700.D Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

12 James W. Nicholas, “American Young People Urged to Take Mission to Vietnam,” Christian Chronicle, October 15, 1965.

13 Maurice Hall, “Maurice Halls Resign Work in Saigon—Gives Evaluation Report,” 1966, VF–World Churches–59700.A Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

14 Lynn D. Yocum, “Saturation Saigon Information” (n.d.), VF–World Churches– 59700.D Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX. Based on the dates within the newsletter, the estimated date is 1966.

15 Williams, Foster, and Blowers, The Stone-Campbell Movement, 281–82.

16 Elders and Staff of Viet Nam Mission Program to Brethren.

17 Williams, Foster, and Blowers, The Stone-Campbell Movement, 282.

18 Yocum, “Saturation Saigon Information.”

19 Elders and Staff of Viet Nam Mission Program to Brethren.

20 Lynn D. Yocum, “News and Notes from Viet Nam,” Nha-Trang, Viet Nam, n.d.), VF—World Churches—59700.D Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.; Ralph Burcham, “Don’t You Be in the Dark about VIETNAM,” n.d., VF—World Churches—59700.A Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX. The connection of the other 28 missionaries to the program is unknown. Based on dates within, the estimated date for “News and Notes from Viet Nam” is 1966, and “Don’t You Be in the Dark about VIETNAM” is 1967.

21 Burcham, “Don’t You Be in the Dark about VIETNAM.”

22 Ira Y Rice Jr., “Far East Newsletter,” Hamden, CT, 1966, VF—World Churches—59700.A Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

23 Yocum, “Saturation Saigon Information.”

24 Burcham, “Don’t You Be in the Dark about VIETNAM.”

25 Yocum, “News and Notes from Viet Nam.”

26 Wayne Briggs, “Saigon, Viet Nam—November/December, 1967,” Royal Oak Church of Christ, Royal Oak, Michigan, January 19, 1968), VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

27 Burcham, “Don’t You Be in the Dark about VIETNAM.”

28 Briggs, “Saigon, Viet Nam.”

29 Burcham, “Don’t You Be in the Dark about VIETNAM.”

30 Servicemen is used here in keeping with the language reflected in the reference materials.

31 Wm. H. Oliver, “Viet Nam for Christians,” Royal Oak Church of Christ, Royal Oak, Michigan, January 19, 1968, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

32 Wayne Briggs, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, March 1969, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX; idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, April 1969, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

33 Ray Cox, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, December 1969, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

34 Elders and Staff of Viet Nam Mission Program to Brethren.

35 Maurice Hall, “Faith, Red-Tape, and Conflict,” Contact 15, no. 2, (1968), p. 9-15, VF—World Churches—59700.A Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

36 Lennon Road Church of Christ, “Viet-Nam Newsletter.”

37 Wayne Briggs, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, May/June 1969, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

38 Briggs, “Saigon, Viet Nam—November/December, 1967.”

39 Lennon Road Church of Christ, “Viet-Nam Newsletter.”

40 Ray Cox, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, September 1969, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

41 Idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, March 1970, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

42 Cox, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” September 1969.

43 Briggs, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” March 1969.

44 Wayne Briggs, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, May/June 1969, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

45 Idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” May/June 1969.

46 Idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” March 1969.

47 Cox, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” December 1969.

48 Briggs, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” May/June 1969.

49 Lennon Road Church of Christ, “Viet-Nam Newsletter.”

50 Briggs, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” April 1969.

51 Elders and Staff of Viet Nam Mission Program to Brethren.

52 Ray Cox, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, May 1970, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX; idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, September 1970, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

53 Idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” May 1970.

54 Idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, August 1970, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

55 Idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, October 1971, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

56 Idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” May 1970.

57 Idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, June 1970, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

58 Idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, January 1972, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

59 Idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” March 1972. A brief moment should be given here to better understand the context into which Bao writes about Vietnamese woman. The socioeconomic impact of the US soldiers in Viet Nam should not be underestimated. Amanda Boczar, An American Brothel (Ithaca, London: Cornell University Press, 2022), looks explicitly at this context from the view of the US administration, the Vietnamese administration, and sex. The book describes the relationship between Vietnamese women and US servicemen: “Through the close contact of wartime employment, instances of intercultural dating, marriage, prostitution, and rape became regular occurrences between service members and local women” (1). Early on, there was an “enforcement of morality,”(18) but that soon fell to the demand for sex from soldiers. The Johnson administration “swept the issue aside” (19). In comparison, the Nixon administration made laws to smooth out the transactions and friction between servicemen and the South Vietnamese government. When the soldiers left, the economy collapsed since their presence had caused a spike in the black market. Involved Vietnamese women and mixed children received terrible treatment and re-education at the hands of the new administration (191, 194). Therefore, one could argue that women were acting as Bao describes them because of the impact of American servicemen, making them less of the valiant force he portrays in his letter.

60 Idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, March 1972, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

61 Ray Cox, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, April 1970, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

62 Idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, July 1970, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX; idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, August 1970, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

63 Idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, November 1970, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

64 Idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” July 1970.

65 Ibid.

66 Idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, August 1971, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

67 Idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, August 1970, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX; idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, December 1970, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

68 Idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, April 1971, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

69 Idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, September 1970, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX; idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, June 1971, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX; idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, August 1971, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

70 Idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” April 1971.

71 Idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, January 1972, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX; idem, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” Lennon Road Church of Christ, San Francisco, March 1972, VF—World Churches—59700.B Viet Nam, Center for Restoration Studies, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX.

72 Elders and Staff of Viet Nam Mission Program to Brethren.

73 Lennon Road Church of Christ, “Viet-Nam Newsletter.”

74 The changes came from those of the leading churches. Perhaps Royal Oak Church of Christ had more of an ecumenical spirit and was more positive about mission work than Lennon Road Church of Christ. This could explain why the missionary chosen by Lennon Road Church of Christ, Cox, was more sectarian and negative than his predecessor Wayne Briggs. I made an attempt to contact Lennon Road Church of Christ in Michigan, but the church currently residing at their old address had no knowledge of the Church of Christ or what became of it. Nor is there a Lennon Road Church of Christ in the area. Therefore, while I was able to locate Royal Oak Church of Christ in Michigan, no comparison could be made.

75 “January 1964,” Firm Foundation 91, no. 1 (1964): 3280–86.

76 “January 1969,” Firm Foundation 86, no. 1 (1969): 7401–8.

77 “January 1970,” Firm Foundation 87, no. 1 (1970): 2–8.

78 “January 1971,” Firm Foundation 88, no. 1 (1971): 2–8.

79 I was able to access copies of 1969 and 1970 Spiritual Sword editions. These were overtly sectarian. Because only a two-year period was accessible, I do not use them as evidence for the correlation discussed above.

80 Oliver, “Viet Nam for Christians.”

81 Briggs, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” March 1969; ibid, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” April 1969.

82 Cox, “Viet Nam For Christ Newsletter,” December 1969.

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Resistance, Redemption, and “the Powers”: Applying the Sermon on the Mount to Corruption and Racism

In order for the church to flourish, disciples of Jesus must be trained to resist the evil “powers that be.” This is a challenge, though, because the people of God experience different cultural obstacles, and even their ability to resist is distorted by the powers themselves. The authors first explore ways of framing our understanding of the powers before presenting the Sermon on the Mount as a “resistance text.” Finally, they investigate the effects of the fallen powers in both Mozambique (specifically corruption) and in the United States (specifically racism), showing how Jesus’s teachings can help name the powers and provide practical strategies for resisting them in those contexts.

A discouraged Mozambican church leader opened up about his frustration: “It sure seems like evil is winning. And it’s not just the evil out there in the world—there is evil within the church, too. A fellow church leader is taking money that belongs to the Body of Christ and some church members are letting him get away with it! How is it that greed has possessed him and others in our community? How good is our good news if we can’t find a way to resist what is bad?” I (Alan) have heard many similar laments among the Makua-Metto people of Mozambique. But these conversations are certainly not unique to that part of Africa. Cries for a solution to the power of darkness in our lives can be heard all across the globe.

In Paul’s letters, he uses the language of the “principalities” and “powers” to describe what the body of Christ was up against (Eph 6:12). The Apostle uses this language to help the church see the ways that the good news of Jesus is at work in addressing the problem of evil and darkness. In short, the “powers” are divinely created spiritual forces at work in the world. They are “at one and the same time visible and invisible, earthly and heavenly, spiritual and institutional.”1 Like human beings, they too are fallen. And, though it may surprise us at first, the bigger story of redemption to which Paul bears witness includes how God is working to redeem all of creation—even the powers that be. As N. T. Wright explains in reference to Col 1:15–20:

So where do the “powers” come in? . . . First, in the great poem . . . we find the vital starting point. All things were made in Christ, through Christ, and for Christ. All things—including the “powers”! . . . God intended his world to be ordered, not random; to be structured, not chaotic. . . . What went wrong was that human beings gave up their responsibility for God’s world, and handed them over to the powers. . . . On the cross, Christ has defeated these rebel powers and stripped them of their ultimate power. Now he seeks to reconcile them, to create a new world, ordered by the power of the love of God.2

In this article, we will explore ways that the church should understand and engage the fallen powers. We believe that a first step is finding language to talk about the powers, learning to unpack a vocabulary unfamiliar to many. Although Paul’s letters are certainly helpful for this task, we suggest that the Sermon on the Mount interpreted as a “resistance text” against the powers is an underappreciated resource in framing the discussion. In the Sermon, Jesus gives us both language and strategies to help us flourish, even in enemy-occupied territory. In the second and third sections of the article, we will look at the effects of the fallen powers in two places: the problem of corruption in Mozambique and the challenge of racism in the United States. We will see how the Sermon on the Mount can help name the powers and provide practical strategies for resisting them in those contexts.3

Understanding the Powers and Unmasking their Strategies

Though many readers of the New Testament only consider two active entities within its pages, Fleming Rutledge reminds us that there are in fact three: “God the creator of the world, the Enemy who has invaded and occupied the world, and the human beings and other creatures who are held in captivity by the demonic occupier. Those are the three agencies in the New Testament scenario.”4 One significant problem, however, is that many Christians today are not sufficiently familiar with language about the powers to appreciate and understand the agency of the Enemy in the world today. For example, Westerners sometimes talk about “team spirit” or about a corporation that has been taken captive by (the power of) greed, but we rarely articulate the agency at play in such instances that works against the kingdom of God. To aid us in our exploration, we will rely on N. T. Wright, Walter Wink, Marva Dawn, and Charles Campbell as conversation partners before turning our attention to the Sermon on the Mount, setting the stage for the rest of the article.

Wright provides three guideposts for discussing the problem of evil using powers language. First, we need to remember the holistic nature of God’s justice.5 God is concerned with more than individual salvation; God wants the whole world to become the place it was intended to be when God formed it in the beginning and called it “good” (Gen 1:31). Second, we must recall that the line between good and evil runs right through every human heart. It would be inappropriate to think of good and evil as merely “us vs. them.” Instead, we must recognize the brokenness in each of us.6 Third, it is helpful to see the atonement as an event. God deals with the problem of sin, death, and Satan through decisive action.7 Wright notes, “What the Gospels offer is not a philosophical explanation of evil, what it is or why it’s there, not a set of suggestions for how we might adjust our lifestyles so that evil will mysteriously disappear from the world, but the story of an event in which the living God deals with it.”8 These three guideposts allow us to find our bearings as we begin the journey of understanding and engaging the powers.

It is hard to overstate Walter Wink’s influence in introducing and shaping the way “powers language” is used today to speak about the problem of evil.9 Wink asserts that the powers “are at once good and evil, though to varying degrees, and they are capable of improvement. Put in stark simplicity: ‘The Powers are good. The Powers are fallen. The Powers must be redeemed.’ ”10 Evil, then, is not merely a personal issue; it is both “structural and spiritual” as individual actions are linked to massive systems that take on a life of their own.11 Wink calls this “overarching network” of fallen powers the “Domination System,” a web of corruption that is “characterized by unjust economic relations, oppressive political relations, biased race relations, patriarchal gender relations, hierarchical powers relations, and the use of violence to maintain them all.”12 The “demonic character” of these powers “rests not so much in their transcendent nature or personal agency, as in their capacity to control the imaginations and behavior of human beings, individually and communally.”13 Our goal, then, becomes even more ambitious than becoming “free from the Powers.” Instead, life in the Kingdom of God aims “to free the Powers.”14

Despite her misgivings about some of Wink’s conclusions,15 Dawn draws from his work and offers deeper insight into the nature of the powers in relation to the people of God. She observes that because human beings comprise the church, and because the line between good and evil cuts right through every human heart, even churches, who were made to have a “unique role” in redeeming the powers, can be impacted or hijacked by evil spiritual forces.16 She writes, “Our churches operate as fallen powers when the gospel is no longer a stumbling block, when the ‘foolishness’ and ‘weakness’ of God outlined in 1 Cor 1–2 are discarded in favor of status, position, wealth, popularity, acceptability to the modern or postmodern minds, or power.”17 Dawn suggests “the overwhelming pressures on church leaders to be successful” and the “reduction of the gospel for the sake of marketing” as two examples of this phenomenon by which congregations might participate in the Domination System.18 Tragically, we can also add examples of more systematic corruption in congregational leadership that have led to the exclusion and abuse of women, children, people of color, the poor, and the disabled. Indeed, until Jesus returns, even the body of Christ is not immune to the evil grasp of fallen powers. Though this reality could lead us to despair, Dawn believes that the church still has significant reason to hold onto hope. First, God continues to tabernacle among God’s people by the power of the Spirit, despite human weakness.19 Second, as she so confidently reminds us: “Always we must remember that the powers can be changed . . . because Jesus Christ already is Lord over them.”20

Our survey thus far has remained mostly theoretical. Perhaps the best way for us to grasp the nature of the fallen powers’ work in the world is to take note of their various tactics. Charles Campbell describes nine different strategies that the powers have used throughout human history to sow seeds of corruption and disunity:

  1. Negative Sanctions
  2. [Supposed] Rewards and Promises
  3. Isolation and Division
  4. Demoralization
  5. Diversion
  6. Public Rituals
  7. Surveillance
  8. Language and Image
  9. Secrecy21

One could identify additional tactics that the powers use, but Campbell casts a wide net. Much of the evil we see in the world today is connected to one or more of these nine strategies. Although the powers have implemented their strategies in new ways over time, the underlying principles of corruption remain the same—from Jesus’s day until now. In the first century, the Roman Empire publicly scourged and crucified anyone who defied Caesar’s dominion (Negative Sanctions, Public Rituals).22 In the colonial era, Europeans removed African peoples from their homelands and isolated them from their family members in order to keep them enslaved in the Americas (Isolation and Division).23 In the digital age, corporations distract consumers with entertainment and advertisements, keeping the masses blissfully unaware of the unfair business practices to which their spending contributes (Diversion, Language and Image).24 We could list many more examples. The centuries of success that the fallen powers have had using these nine tactics are overwhelming. Such continuity, however, also means that the most powerful methods of resistance throughout church history can be effective against the Domination System today. We can, therefore, look to the New Testament for guidance on how the twenty-first-century church might work to overturn systems of corruption and injustice.

The bedrock of Christian ethics—of how disciples of Jesus ought to live in a fallen world and resist the powers that be—is the Sermon on the Mount.25 These chapters (Matt 5–7) form the most comprehensive block of moral teaching in the Gospels. As we will show, the Sermon itself is a resistance text (a point amplified once we take note of the narrative context in which the Sermon is placed).26

Claiming divine authority, Jesus calls his hearers in the Sermon on the Mount to a way of living that is, as Jonathan Pennington puts it, “topsy-turvy and dissonance creating . . . Jesus’ wisdom and way for human flourishing are not portrayed as the natural outflow of human thinking and reflection. It is an irruption into this world.”27 Jesus’s sermon is an affront to the powers and systems of this world; he presents a yoke of flourishing that stands in contrast to the yoke of oppression that the powers have to offer.28 Wink reminds us that Jesus “repudiated the very premises of the Domination System: the right of some to lord it over others by means of power, wealth, shaming, or titles.”29 Jesus’s yoke empowers his disciples to reject the world’s binary of choosing between participating in violence or passively accepting it as one’s fate, and he calls us to embrace a non-violent “third way.” For example, Jesus’s exhortation to go the second mile is not encouraged “in order to build up merit in heaven, or to be pious, or to kill the soldier with kindness. He is helping an oppressed people find a way to protest and neutralize an onerous practice despised throughout the empire,” offering a way “in which the people at the bottom of society or under the thumb of imperial power learn to recover their humanity.”30 Jesus’s instructions for contextualized resistance “are, of course, not rules to be followed legalistically, but examples to spark an infinite variety of creative responses in new and changing circumstances.”31 He trains his followers to resist the powers in ways that reveal their brokenness (shining light on their strategies) and open up the possibility of their future redemption. Interestingly, after Campbell describes the powers’ nine corrupt strategies, he also moves to the Sermon on the Mount.32 In the next two sections, we will explore how the Sermon on the Mount provides alternative strategies for resisting the fallen powers in two places: the problem of corruption in Mozambique and the challenge of racism in the United States.

The Powers and the Makua-Metto People:
Naming and Resisting Corruption in Mozambique

In Mozambique, conversations about power dynamics are salted with the word aproveitar (Portuguese for “take advantage of”). People at every level of leadership or power assume that they should aproveitar their position for personal gain. This kind of corruption severely limits development. It was not uncommon for my [Alan’s] Makua-Metto friends to express frustration because attending nurses at the hospital might refuse to treat a sick child unless they were given a “tip.” Bus drivers would have cash on hand for traffic officers in order to keep themselves from being held up at road stops. We also knew high school students whose teachers would expect a “gift” in order for a student to pass their class, regardless of the quality of their schoolwork. How should disciples of Jesus respond to everyday experiences of corruption and abuse of power?

The Sermon on the Mount includes some of Jesus’s most practical teachings on the way that disciples ought to deal with everyday expressions of the problem of evil.33 His most challenging instruction, though, may be that of “nonviolent resistance.”34 Jesus’s teaching in Matt 5:38–42, given to a people living under an oppressive Roman regime, also speaks to the situation of abuse and corruption in which the Makua-Metto people find themselves.

Although a full cultural and rhetorical analysis of this passage is outside the scope of this article, a few observations about this text should be noted before we address its application. First, Craig Keener notes that “turning the other cheek summons disciples to neglect their honor and let God vindicate them when he wills.”35 Jesus does not instruct his disciples to become the proverbial “doormat;”rather, he provides a radical example of openhanded generosity to teach the principle of active nonresistance and non-retaliation in response to the backhanded blows and insults from those enslaved to the powers of evil.36

Second, in societies shaped by honor and shame, like the Mediterranean world of the New Testament as well as the Makua-Metto context,37 “a disciple must be so secure in his or her status before God that he or she can dispense with human honor. Such a person need not avenge lost honor because this person seeks God’s honor rather than his or her own (5:16; 6:1–18). If their lives are forfeit when they begin to follow Jesus (16:24–27), they have no honor of their own to lose.”38 Although the Roman soldier uses power and “forces” one into service, “ ‘going the extra mile’ is not only a case of submitting to unjust demands but also of exceeding them—showing love to one’s oppressor, although one’s associates may wrongly view this love as collaboration with the enemy occupation. It is bending over backward to show that one loves and takes no offense.”39 Jesus put this Kingdom ethic of engagement with evil into practice as he “supremely modeled this attitude in the passion narrative.”40

Third, Keener summarizes the rhetorical flow of Jesus’s argument this way: “If nonresistance means disdaining one’s right to one’s own honor (5:38–39), one’s most basic possessions (5:40), and one’s labor and time (5:41) when others seek them by force, one must also disdain these things in view of the needs of the poor (5:42).”41 Keener’s point about generosity to the poor is certainly applicable, but what if v. 42 is normative for the way disciples of Jesus should engage everyone on the socioeconomic spectrum: not only the powerless, but also in dealings with the powerful?42 Hagner states that this verse furthers “the line of thought in the preceding verses by teaching a charitable response to all who may ask for something or who may ask to borrow. In these illustrations, it is no longer a matter of response to mistreatment, or even to forced conduct, but to straightforward requests.” Jesus’s ethic applies to both justifiable and unjustifiable requests; in either case, we are called to respond with radical generosity in a way that is “alien to the perspective of the world.”43

Though the Makua-Metto people do not have to deal with the exact same ethical cases that Jesus references, they do need the same kingdom imagination to map a response to everyday evil in their own context.44 The history of Mozambique in general and the province of Cabo Delgado in particular has been shaped by communist ideology.45 Following the trends of other nations, this means that “top-level corruption . . . [and] lower-level corruption, which occurs in the daily encounters between lower-rank functionaries and the rest of society is not only extremely wide-spread, but appears to be inevitable.”46 Corruption is a problem in Mozambique, an expression of evil that severely limits development and impacts everyday life.47

In order to understand that from the Mozambican perspective, I (Alan) conducted individual interviews (20–40 minutes) with four church leaders and then discussed these findings with small groups or classes of mostly men (thirty-seven participants total). After conducting qualitative interviews about engaging the evils of corruption in this context and triangulation of the principles gleaned from the data in small groups, it was clear that Jesus’s instructions in the Sermon on the Mount provided a helpful resource for navigating the problem of corruption. Our interviews began by summarizing Jesus’s teaching in Matt 5:38–42 and asking participants to analyze its application to the ethics of gift-giving, bribery, and extortion. Out of those conversations a flowchart was developed and presented to groups of church leaders as a potential framework (see below).

Interviewees appreciated how Jesus’s instruction deals practically with life under a corrupt rule, offering direction for people who are on the underside of power. We discussed different scenarios and how various areas of life are shaped by these dynamics—from police stops, to processing documents with the local government, to getting treatment at the hospital, to dealing with school teachers and administrators. We discussed the struggle to do Christian ethics and appropriately distinguish between different exchanges:

  • Bribery – “any gift or services given or promised by a client to a certain ‘power holder’ . . . in order to encourage him or her to violate a duty or moral obligation”
  • Extortion – “the power holder’s intention of obtaining any pecuniary gift from a client as a condition to dispense duty or services”
  • Gift-giving – Since, “prior to this modern bureaucratic system, most of the world operated on a gift economy that relied upon reciprocity and patronage, in countries where . . . officials are not properly compensated, there is a general understanding that they are permitted to look for compensation elsewhere, and the practice of what Western missionaries call ‘bribe’ is actually understood as part of their commission or a ‘tip in advance.’ . . . In reality, these . . . payments for services . . . do not fall under the category of bribes since in most cases they do not coerce officials to violate a duty (such as giving a visa without proper documentation), but only to ensure service.”48

Interviewees and participants agreed that starting the interaction as friends opened doors for proper exchanges between the powerful and powerless, as gift giving is appropriate under the right circumstances.49 Asking, then, is in the mode of friendship. But when the powerful use force and manipulation to get what they want, that is extortion—an evil perpetrated by the powerful on the powerless. Bribery, on the other hand, is manipulation of the powerless. Here both parties are complicit—this is also a distortion of God’s image and is a reflection of the image of the corrupt power, Mammon. In practice, the difficulty comes in distinguishing well among these three in everyday life, as the lines between them are often blurred. We also discussed the role of the conscience and determined that certain interactions may leave us feeling “icky” because we have not done the right thing or because we have been abused. Our reading of Matt 5:38–42 speaks to those distinctions and provides a map or guidelines for Christian ethics and the powers among the Makua-Metto—giving to those who ask of you (treating them in friendly terms)50 and turning the cheek when the powerful have taken an abusive stance.51

Mozambique’s problems with corruption have arisen because the powers have overstepped their boundaries and human leaders have not reflected God’s glory. The struggle to discern appropriate strategies of engagement and proper use of power should be done with wisdom.52 In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:38–41), Jesus gives people who were under the corruption and abuse of Herod and the Roman powers a way to respond to gift-giving, bribery, and extortion that also fits this African context. His teaching is helpful for the Makua-Metto church’s work of naming and disarming the powers of evil today.

The Powers and Generation Z:
Naming and Resisting Racial Injustice in Memphis, Tennessee

In order to resist fallen powers, followers of Jesus must first name them. If the truth goes unspoken, then all of the fallen powers’ strategies remain at their disposal. For the church to expose the corrupt ways of the powers is to disarm them; this is the first step in tipping the scales and reversing the status quo for the downtrodden. Though truth-speaking is only the beginning of the long path toward justice, the journey cannot begin without it. After all, it is the belt of truth that holds the armor of God together.53

In the late spring of 2020, as the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd came to light, racial injustice came to the forefront of white Americans’ consciousness once again.54 Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by a white father-and-son duo after they pursued Arbery, having suspected him of committing some crime.55 Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was murdered while she was asleep in her own home: several white police officers, searching for another suspect, forced their way into her residence and shot her eight times.56 George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed when a white police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes after arresting Floyd for allegedly passing a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill.57 Neither Arbery, Taylor, nor Floyd were proven guilty of any wrongdoing before their lives were cut short. In the wake of these killings, millions of Americans participated in marches and other demonstrations across the country in order to protest racial inequality and police brutality in the United States.58 The community of Harding University (our alma mater) was directly affected by such racial injustice in 2018 when Botham Jean, an alumnus of the school and a native of Saint Lucia, was murdered by a white police officer in his apartment in Dallas, Texas.59 Many Americans at the time expressed their outrage over the unjust slaying of Jean, but the nation’s response surged to a new level following the murders of Arbery, Taylor, and Floyd.60

During the summer of 2020, at the height of these mass protests against racial injustice in America, I (Logan) was serving as a youth minister in Memphis, Tennessee—a city long-acquainted with the fallen power of racism and the hard work of racial reconciliation. Though current events should not commandeer the ministry of the church, its ministers must always follow the Spirit’s leading as their congregations seek to navigate the cultural storms stirred up by the powers that be. Thus, the squall of Arbery’s, Taylor’s, and Floyd’s deaths, which sparked millions of social media posts and nearly as many opinions,61 necessitated a response from our youth ministry leaders. What were American youth ministers called to do in order to guide teenagers through the cultural tumult around them?

Speaking the truth sheds light on corruption. It is vital for redeeming the powers, and it is the first step in living a virtuous life. Jesus makes this clear in Matt 6:1–21, the heart of the Sermon on the Mount.62 In this well-known section of the Sermon, Jesus lays out three scenarios in which hypocrites—who Matthew later identifies in ch. 23 as the powerful first-century Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees—abuse their privileged position as interpreters of Torah by corrupting the true intent of the Law and using it to their own advantage. In the first, the Pharisees announce their giving to the needy with trumpets in order to boast of their generosity (vv. 2–4). In the second, they pray loudly in public to put their supposed piety on display for others to see (vv. 5–7). In the third, Jesus describes Pharisees who fast and let it be known by their sunken faces (v. 16). All three scenarios show how, just as church leaders today can become co-opted by fallen powers, the Pharisees had become corrupted by the power of legalism.63 The Law, given by God to instill wholeness through humble righteousness, had been hollowed out by the Pharisees’ lust for power and the communicable disease of hypocrisy. Jesus condemns such behavior, not because the Pharisees “really do not give alms, pray, and fast, but because they do so without a whole heart.”64 Jesus condemned them as a cemetery full of whitewashed tombs (see Matt 23:27–28).

The good news of the gospel is that virtue, too, is viral.65 Just as Jesus sparks creativity in responding to corruption in the secular world (Matt 5:38–42), so too does he open up opportunities for redeeming the powers within the community of God’s people. In Matt 6:1–21, he sheds light on the void within the hypocritical heart and offers ways to cultivate a fruit-bearing life defined instead by humility and integrity: giving, praying, and fasting in order to gain treasure in heaven, not the fading reward of earthly praise (vv. 19–21).66 When disciples of Jesus name the work of fallen powers in the world and resist their corruption by together practicing the righteousness and justice they preach with integrity and Spirit-filled creativity, restoration begins to take place.67

Like the Pharisees’ hypocrisy in Jesus’s day, racism in the United States will continue to exist so long as corrupt power structures remain hidden behind façades of righteousness and equality. As Jemar Tisby writes, “The festering wound of racism in the American church must be exposed to the oxygen of truth in order to be healed.”68 Of course, no single action will completely reverse racism in Memphis or in any other community today.69 Still, in the cultural moment that my co-minister (Fawn Taylor) and I (Logan) faced in the summer of 2020, we recognized that we had the responsibility to address racial injustice with our youth group in order to shed light on the powers that be. As two white youth ministers, our aim was to facilitate a conversation—to speak the truth by naming the fallen power of racism—and then to set an example by listening to the voices of students of color in our youth group. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic70 put obstacles in our path, but we found a way to gather together in the same room—masked and physically distanced from each other—with a small group of students. We invited everyone else in our youth ministry to join the conversation via online video conferencing. Fawn started the discussion by naming aloud the racial injustices so prominent in our culture: “Yes,” she said, “even fifty years after the changes brought about by the civil rights movement, people of color experience racism in the United States today.”71 For the next half-hour, we listened to students speak about how they had witnessed or experienced the power of racism at work in the world. Our conversation was sobering, as our truth-speaking revealed the ways in which injustice lurks, even among the students we love so deeply. Yet, because of our gathering that night, our youth group went home having been reminded of the Christian hope of redemption—even in the face of the fallen powers. Together, we made a mutual commitment to resist racism together: by listening to the experiences of women and men who face injustice due to the color of their skin, by working to educate ourselves and others on the history and ongoing reality of racism in the United States, and by publicly denouncing the fallen power of racism whenever it rears its ugly head in our churches or in our communities.72 The problem of racism in America is far from eradicated, but interpersonal commitments like these—in which Christ followers strive to be salt and light in their local communities—are necessary steps in exposing, disarming, and redeeming this fallen power.73

Historical instances of Jesus-followers engaging the fallen powers by living out the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are helpful for Christians today. The work of Reverend James Lawson during the Civil Rights Era stands as an inspirational example of fallen power resistance. Lawson was an activist who played a pivotal role in the nonviolent protests of the 1960s. He recognized the importance of Christ-like radical resistance in the face of the fallen power of racism. The racial injustices in the United States at that time were clear to Lawson from his own experience as a Black American. He became a pacifist at an early age because of his mother, who encouraged that his every action be guided by love.74 After he spent three years in India learning Gandhi’s principles of nonviolent resistance, Lawson returned to the United States and implemented these countermeasures against the strategies of the fallen powers in the American south.75 In 1959, Lawson began conducting workshops on non-violence, training protestors to resist racial injustice in creative ways: “In his workshops, small groups of students, [both black and white], engaged in role-playing exercises. Some played angry white racists pounding on protesters while calling them racist epithets. Lawson taught them to withstand the taunts, slurs, and blows of the segregationists and to protect themselves without retaliating.”76

In 1962, Lawson moved to Memphis, Tennessee, to become the pastor at Centenary Methodist Church, where he continued his civil rights efforts.77 Six years later, he led a committee focused on improving the unequal working conditions of Black sanitation workers in the city.78 The mayor at the time, Henry Loeb, refused to cooperate; as a result, the sanitation workers went on strike. Lawson organized nonviolent protests, including a sit-in at City Hall, where union members, ministers, and other justice-seekers were met with brutality by police officers who clubbed and maced the nonviolent protesters.79 Lawson then invited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to come to Memphis and speak in order to shed light on the injustice that the sanitation workers faced.80 It would be Dr. King’s last speech before his assassination on April 4, 1968.

Two weeks later, after pressure from President Lyndon Johnson, the Memphis City Council approved a measure recognizing the labor union, increasing the sanitation workers’ wages, and improving their working conditions. Union leader Jerry Wurf, reflecting on James Lawson’s role in the civil rights movement in Memphis, said, “What Lawson never understood was the degree to which he was hated in Memphis. They feared [him] for the most interesting of all reasons—he was a totally moral man, and totally moral men you can’t manipulate and you can’t buy and you can’t hustle.”81 In the heat of the moment, James Lawson never backed down from his commitment to nonviolence and creative forms of resistance. His integrity provided the necessary foundation for his church and his community to redeem the fallen powers that be. Just as salt and light transform the spaces they inhabit, Lawson brought about significant change in Memphis through his creative methods of resistance—from inequality toward justice, from racism toward kinship, from fallenness toward restoration. In following Lawson’s example, the church can live out its calling to be driven not by a spirit of fear, but by the spirit of Christ’s love.


We must remember the ultimate hope of the church’s resistance: redemption. As Paul writes in Eph 6:12, “Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh.” Therefore, our aim is never to vanquish. With Spirit-filled discernment and integrity, the church works to create opportunities for the fallen powers and those whom they have co-opted to repent and to “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). We are called to have, as St. Isaac of Nineveh writes, “merciful hearts,” that are, like God, aflame for all of creation: for humankind, birds, beasts, even demons—a list to which we may also add the fallen powers.82 The powers were created good; they have fallen; they must be redeemed. In their redemption is their transformation: from racism to kinship, from corruption to friendship.

A few years ago, the network of churches with which my (Alan) mission team worked in northern Mozambique experienced conflict centered around the behavior of a toxic church leader. After multiple attempts using a variety of strategies to address the issue, my colleague decided to try a different approach. He took a basin of water and a towel with him to a regional gathering, and there in the presence of many church members, he approached the man at the center of the conflict and offered to wash his feet. This church leader publicly refused to have his feet washed and, by all accounts, something in his authority and influence broke in that moment. His pride and commitment to retaining his own power at all costs were put on display for all to see. I was not present for this meeting, but in several interviews and conversations, the story was told in the same way. No one could explain the details of this power encounter or describe exactly what took place, but everyone was certain that something had happened at the spiritual level, impacting the dynamics of the group. A creative form of nonviolent resistance revealed the allegiance of this church leader to the fallen powers and opened up an opportunity for redemption and change within the corrupted system.83

The Sermon on the Mount has been and should remain an impetus for resisting and redeeming the powers that be. For example, the Golden Rule (Matt 7:12) has played a powerful role in the history of Christian opposition of racism,84 and Jesus’s third way of creative, nonviolent resistance in first-century Rome charted a path for dealing with the oppressive power of corruption.85 Christ’s Sermon, his kingdom manifesto, is a survival guide for disciples living in enemy-occupied territory. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’s “Rules for Radicals,” his “Rules for Rebels,” and a text that needs to be seen as our “Real Rules of Order.”86 By creatively applying Jesus’s teaching in ministry contexts like Memphis and Mozambique, God’s power is at work, even in our weakness—even when our best, most faithful efforts seem to fail and may end up costing us, like Jesus, our very lives.87 Even in death we can, like Jesus, be successful in naming and resisting the strategies of the powers, disarming them and working for their redemption in our churches and communities.

Alan Howell, his wife Rachel, and their three daughters resided in Mozambique from 2003 to 2018 as part of a team working among the Makua-Metto people. Alan (MDiv) served as the Visiting Professor of Missions at Harding University from 2019 to 2023 (Searcy, AR) teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in the areas of biblical studies, cultural competency, theology, and strategy. He is the Director of Church Relations at Mission Resource Network (

Logan Thompson (MDiv) has worked in full-time youth ministry since 2015. He is the youth minister at the Mansfield Church of Christ in Mansfield, TX, where he lives with his wife, Maryn, and their two daughters, Joanna and Noah Beth.

1 Walter Wink, The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium (New York: Galilee, 1999), 24.

2 N. T. Wright, Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 17–20.

3 In a previous article, we looked at how the lens of honor and shame allows us to see more clearly the multi-dimensional solution that Christ’s atonement provides. In this article we will zoom out in order to gain perspective on the scope of the problem created by sin, death and Satan working together. For more on the implications of honor and shame for theology, specifically the doctrine of the atonement, see Alan B. Howell and Logan T. Thompson, “From Mozambique to Millennials: Shame, Frontier Peoples, and the Search for Open Atonement Paths,” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 33, no. 4 (2017): 157–65.

4 Fleming Rutledge, Advent: The Once & Future Coming of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018), 18.

5 See N. T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 64.

6 See ibid., 38–39. Wink, The Powers, 165, notes, “As we begin to love the enemy within, we develop the compassion we need to love the enemy without.”

7 “[The last supper] wasn’t a theory, we note, but an action (a warning to all atonement theorists ever since, and perhaps an indication of why the church has never incorporated a specific defining clause about the atonement in its great creeds). Perhaps, after all, atonement is at its deepest level something that happens, so that to reduce not to a proposition to which one can give mental assent is a mistake at a deep level” (Wright, Evil, 91).

8 Ibid., 93.

9 See D. Seiple and Frederick W. Weidmann, ed. Enigmas and Powers: Engaging the Work of Walter Wink for Classroom, Church and World, Princeton Theological Monograph Series 79 (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2008), xviii.

10 Wink, The Powers, 31.

11 “Evil is not just personal but structural and spiritual. It is not simply the result of human actions, but the consequence of huge systems over which no individual has full control” (ibid., 31).

12 Ibid., 39.

13 Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld, Ephesians, Believers Church Bible Commentary, (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2002), 356. See Marva J. Dawn, Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God, Schaff Lectures at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 2.

14 Wink, The Powers, 199.

15 Wink’s work, though foundational, has been met with criticism. Dawn moves past Wink’s tendency to demythologize in order to build off of his helpful, core observations. She writes that “Wink is insightfully on target when he summarizes the church’s task in relation to the powers as this: ‘to unmask their idolatrous pretensions, to identify their dehumanizing values, to strip from them the mantle of respectability, and to disenthrall their victims’ (though he fails to mention the Church’s primary role in proclaiming Christ’s victory over the powers)” (Dawn, Powers, 16). “Ultimately,” Dawn notes, “Wink seems to have reduced the powers to the problem of violence (which is, of course, partly what they are), but the way of Jesus is much more than nonviolence, and the battle against the powers includes exposing many more diabolical methods and much larger forces. Wink’s collapse of the supernatural world of evil makes one wonder how much he has collapsed good and God” (ibid., 17).

16 Ibid., 120.

17 Ibid., 91.

18 Ibid., 75.

19 See Dawn, Powers, 44–45.

20 Ibid., 88.

21 See Charles Campbell, The Word Before the Powers: An Ethic of Preaching (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 33–43.

22 See ibid., 33, 37–39.

23 See Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019), 32–35; cf. 90–91. Tisby notes, “Of the more than 600,000 interstate sales [of enslaved people] that occurred in the decades prior to the Civil War, 25 percent destroyed a first marriage, and 50 percent broke up a nuclear family” (60). See also Campbell, The Word, 34–35.

24 See Campbell, The Word, 37; 40–42.

25 For an exploration of ethics rooted in the Sermon on the Mount see, Glen H. Stassen and David P. Gushee, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2018).

26 Lindsey Paris-Lopez notes, “The Sermon on the Mount is a call to resistance. It has always been subversive and counter-cultural” (“The Sermon on the Mount: A Theology of Resistance,” Sojourner, February 10, 2017, The Sermon on the Mount is surrounded by language of power and authority. In the preceding chapter, Jesus successfully passes a power encounter with the devil (4:1–11), he begins to preach after John’s imprisonment (v. 12), and Matthew describes Jesus’s ministry as a fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision for addressing the powers of darkness and death (vv. 13–17), Jesus calls disciples to join him in this resistance (v. 18–22), and then Jesus heals many people, including some who are demon possessed (vv. 23–25). After the Sermon on the Mount, the people are amazed at Jesus’s powerful, authoritative teaching (7:28). This is followed by three healing stories. The first one is about navigating Jewish social spaces and authority structures (8:1–4), while the second healing story deals with power and authority in Gentile spaces (8:5–13). The third healing story is personal for the disciples as Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, followed by more healings of the demon possessed and concluding with another reference to the prophet Isaiah (8:14–17). Even within the Sermon on the Mount itself, we see powers language present at the center of Jesus’s discourse—the Lord’s Prayer—in which disciples are taught to petition for deliverance from evil (5:37).

27 Jonathan T. Pennington, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 270–71.

28 It is interesting to note the similarities between Matthew and the Didache, as well as the fact that the word teleios shows up in the Didache only twice. “In the first instance (Did. 1.4), it describes one who behaves in a way that accords with Matthew 5:39-42,” the part of the Sermon on the Mount we will look at in the next section of this paper. “In the second instance (Did. 6.2a) it is ascribed to the one who is able to carry ‘the whole yoke of the Lord’” (Pennington, The Sermon, 78n28).

29 Wink, The Powers, 65.

30 Ibid., 108.

31 Ibid., 110.

32 See Campbell, The Word, 48–51.

33 For more on the Sermon on the Mount and the topic of Jesus as teacher in Makua-Metto culture see Alan Howell and Robert Andrew Montgomery, “Jesus as Mwalimu: Christology and the Gospel of Matthew in an African Folk Islamic Context” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 35, no. 2 ( 2018), 79–87. Although a full discussion of the relationship between Torah interpretation and the Sermon on the Mount is beyond the scope of this article, it seems clear that Jesus was contextualizing Torah for his disciples to learn to live the good life even under Roman oppression. In this article, our attempt is to continue that trajectory and find pathways for wise discernment and creative resistance in relation to expressions of the “powers that be” today.

34 Wink, The Powers, 99–100, also makes this distinction.

35 Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 197. This trust means that disciples are relying on God as the divine Patron. See Alan Howell and Robert Andrew Montgomery, “God as Patron and Proprietor: God the Father and the Gospel of Matthew in an African Folk Islamic Context,” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 36, no. 3 (Fall 2019), 129–36.

36 “A backhanded blow to the right cheek did not imply shattered teeth (‘tooth for tooth’ was a separate statement); it was an insult, the severest public affront to a person’s dignity” (Keener, Gospel of Matthew, 197).

37 See Andrew Mbuvi, “African Theology from the Perspective of Honor and Shame,” in The Urban Face of Mission: Ministering the Gospel in a Diverse and Changing World, ed. Harvie M. Conn, Manuel Ortiz, Susan S. Baker (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002), 281. While power-fear dynamics are rightly understood as important in shaping the Sub-Saharan African context, that should not “hinder us from seeing the significant presence and interrelationship” of honor-shame (Sandra Freeman, “Honor-Shame Dynamics in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Mission Frontiers 37, no. 1 [2015]: 32–33). For more on honor and shame in Africa, see Ruth Lienhard, “A ‘Good Conscience’: Differences between Honor and Justice Orientation,” Missiology 29, no. 2 (2001): 131–41. Her descriptions of how Jesus “played the game” of honor and shame are especially interesting (138). See also Alan Howell, “ ‘Old Man” as Cipher: Humor and Honor-Shame Rhetoric for Reading Philemon in Mozambique,” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Practice 11 (2020):

38 Keener, The Gospel, 198.

39 Ibid., 199–200.

40 Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1–13, Word Biblical Commentary 33a (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1993), 131.

41 Keener, The Gospel, 202.

42 “The last verse of the pericope (v 42), although somewhat similar in form to v 40, seems to broaden the application beyond the initial statement not to resist evil. Here we seem to move to a general spirit of charity to anyone who asks or who wishes to borrow, not simply behavior toward those who have treated one unjustly or in an evil matter” (Hagner, Matthew 1–13, 130).

43 Ibid., 131.

44 Pennington refers to the need for “localized wisdom” as the principles Jesus offers to live by in the Sermon on the Mount must be applied to the realities of that context (Pennington, The Sermon, 197–98).

45 The province of Cabo Delgado, where most of the Makua-Metto people are located, is one of the more complicated political regions of the country. It, along with the neighboring province of Niassa, was the location of the post-independence government’s highest concentration of certain communist experiments. Sarah LeFanu, S is for Samora: A Lexical Biography of Samora Machel and the Mozambican Dream (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 6.

46 Maria Łoś, Communist Ideology, Law and Crime (London: MacMillan Press, 1998), 167.

47 According to the Mozambique Corruption Rank 1999–2021, Trading Economics, 2023,, “Mozambique is the 147 least corrupt nation out of 180 countries, according to the 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International.” The Mozambique Corruption Report states that, “Forms of corruption range from petty bribes to deeply entrenched clientelistic and patronage systems. . . . Corruption is particularly prominent in public procurement and the tax and customs administrations. Even though a relatively well-established legal framework is in place, many loopholes exist. For instance, the Anti-Corruption Law does not cover all forms of corruption (e.g., embezzlement is not covered). The judiciary is generally considered corrupt and is subject to political influence, impeding the effective enforcement of the law. Gifts and facilitation payments are common when dealing with officials.” (GAN Integrity, accessed January 2, 2023,

48 Following Jason Richard Tan, “Missionary Ethics and the Practice of Bribery,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 47, no. 3 (2011), 278–82.

49 We are indebted to Asante Manu for this observation.

50 This then could be linked to the way of the Kingdom (asking, seeking and knocking) in Matt 7:7–8.

51 The messy process of doing theology and ethics is not a “once for all time” solution. As the dynamics and culture change, the church in Mozambique must continue to assess how to be faithful to God in resisting the powers in culturally appropriate ways.

52 For a helpful exploration of power and powerlessness in rural development, see Deborah Ajulu, Holism in Development: An African Perspective on Empowering Communities (Monrovia, CA: MARC, 2001), 99–134.

53 As Dawn, Powers, 138, observes in her exegesis of the divine panoply in Eph 6, Paul “lists truth first because it affects everything.”

54 For many or most Black Americans, racial injustice is always at the fore.

55 Tyler Olson, “Georgia Shooting of Ahmaud Arbery Spurs Outcry,” Fox News, May 7, 2020,

56 Kay Jones, “A Kentucky EMT was shot and killed during a police raid of her home. The family is suing for wrongful death,” CNN, May 13, 2020,

57 George Fitz-Gibbon, “Here’s Everything We Know About the Death of George Floyd,” New York Post, May 28, 2020,

58 Larry Buchanan, Quoctrung Bui, and Jugal K. Patel, “Black Lives Matter May be the Largest Movement in U.S. History,” The New York Times, July 3, 2020, We should note, however, that despite the magnitude of the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests following the death of George Floyd, civil unrest over racial injustice is not a new phenomenon in American culture.

59 “Harding University Dedicates Memorial in Honor of Botham Jean,” KATV News, September 29, 2021,

60 Buchanan, Bui, Patel, “Black Lives Matter.”

61 Monica Anderson, Michael Barthel, Andrew Perrin, and Emily A. Vogels, “#BlackLivesMatter surges on Twitter after George Floyd’s death,” Pew Research Center, June 10, 2020,

62 As Pennington, The Sermon, 222, observes, the Lord’s Prayer is at the very center of the Sermon, and “we should expect that [it] has much to teach us about the whole.” In light of the reality of fallen powers in the world, the prayer’s opening petition in v. 10 (“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”) takes on even greater meaning.

63 Some readers may wonder whether every sin is one of the powers. Although all individual sins or sinful attitudes are not powers, per se, they are influenced by the powers to some degree. In this instance, the power of the Law has been corrupted into the power of legalism.

64 Ibid., 236.

65 As Wink, The Powers, 75 notes, “Jesus regarded holiness/wholeness as contagious.”

66 As Pennington, The Sermon, 211, notes, throughout this section of the Sermon “the invitation to heart-deep righteousness is based on the appeal to gaining a lasting reward from the heavenly Father.”

67 At the end of the Sermon, Jesus highlights the priority of the interior life by offering the image of a healthy tree that bears good fruit (Matt 7:15–20). Visible evidence of the redemption of fallen powers always begins with the inward virtue of Jesus’s followers, flowering into expression and action in their communities.

68 Tisby, The Color of Compromise, 15. Erin Dufault-Hunter uses a “Screwtape Letters” approach, leveraging the language of the demonic to help highlight the seriousness and the nature of the problem of racism in American churches. Erin Dufault-Hunter, “A Letter from the Arch-Demon of Racialization to her Angels in the Churches of the United States: How Whiteness Secures our Success in Overcoming the Enemy,” in Can “White” People be Saved? Triangulating Race, Theology, and Mission, ed. Love L. Sechrest, Johnny Ramirez-Johnson, and Amos Yong (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2018), 318–25.

69 The fallen power of racism has spun a monstrous web in the United States, implementing myriad strategies to do so (see Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America [New York: Nation Books], 2016). Throughout American history, the powers have utilized all nine strategies to uphold a status quo based on the color of one’s skin. Many of these tactics come together in the phenomenon of scapegoating, in which people in power place undeserved blame on a powerless group or individuals in order to maintain a false sense of order (Negative Sanctions, Isolation and Division, Demoralization, Diversion, Public Rituals, Language and Image). For more on this concept, see René Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, trans. James G. Williams, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001), 154–60. Scapegoating and the associated strategies listed here are particularly evident during reconstruction and the Jim Crow era (see Tisby, The Color, 88–110).

70 The fallen power of disease is undoubtedly part of the Domination System, too. See Wink, The Powers that Be, 39ff.

71 Tisby, The Color, 19, observes, “History demonstrates that racism never goes away; it just adapts.”

72 Tisby, The Color, 192–212, suggests these paths of resistance and more in the conclusion of his book.

73 In his immensely practical book, How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Reflective, 2021), Jemar Tisby lays out three ongoing practices that are vital in reversing the effects of racism in our society—Awareness, Relationships, and Commitment—which together form the acronym “The ARC of Racial Justice.” Tisby writes that these three practices “need not exist in perfect balance [since] the goal [of the model] is to keep all three areas in conversation and tension with one another” (4–6).

74 Peter Dreier, “ ‘A Totally Moral Man’: The Life of Nonviolent Organizer Rev. James Lawson,” The James Lawson Institute, June 26, 2017,

75 Ibid.

76 Ibid.

77 Ibid.

78 Ibid.

79 Ibid.

80 Ibid.

81 Ibid.

82 Hilarion Alfeyev, The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian, Cistercian Studies Series 175 (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 2000), 42–43.

83 For a powerful example of another foot washing story, one that addresses racial divides in the Pentecostal churches in Memphis see Darrin Rodgers, “The Story Behind the Foot Washing at the 1994 ‘Memphis Miracle,’ ” Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center, July 13, 2011,

84 Kendi, Stamped, 52, notes that in the influential 1688 Germantown Petition Against Slavery, “the inaugural antiracist tract among European settlers in Colonial America,” the Golden Rule is introduced into the argument and then went on to take an important place: to “forever inspire the cause of White Antiracists.” For more on the impact of the Golden Rule see ibid., 74, 208.

85 Wink says, “To such victims [Jesus] advises, ‘Stand up for yourselves, defy your masters, assert your humanity; but don’t answer to the oppressor in kind. Find a new, third way that is neither cowardly submission nor violent reprisal.’ ”

86 Here we are playfully adapting the titles of two very different texts: Saul D. Alinsky, Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals (New York: Vintage Books, 1971), and Henry M. Robert, Rules of Order (“Robert’s Rules of Order,”

87 Dawn, Powers, 131, highlights two essential paradoxes in resisting the powers: “The first is that to counteract the principalities and powers requires a battle, but one that is essentially and entirely nonviolent because it is against the powers and never against the people who might be aligned with them. The second is that the battle requires our active engagement, but it is always God’s work through our weakness.”