SOME of our missionary schools and colleges in the Ottoman Empire are open for business, and reports of the Mission Board describe them as flourishing. They are either continuing or resuming operations after having suffered their share of pillage and massacre. The Board of Missions is making an earnest and vigorous campaign for raising more American money to be sent into Turkey for their upkeep.
As a church member, as an ex-official who has been of service to those institutions on many occasions, I am obliged to state that I have serious doubts as to the wisdom of contributing further money to our religious establishments in the Ottoman Empire under present conditions. Before doing so the fact should be widely advertised in Turkey that their real object and that of the men and women working in them, is, by hook or crook, to convert the Turks to Christianity, which is considered to be a religion superior to Mohammedanism. American church people should be informed frankly that the prohibition of the teaching of Christianity or the holding of Christian religious exercises has been accepted by the Mission Board; and that no effort to convert Turks is countenanced by the Ottoman Government. But this is really no new thing, as Christian proselytizing in Turkey has never been possible; the understanding that religious teaching is to be confined by the missionaries to the members of their own families and to teachers already of the Christian faith, is recent.
Soon after the entrance of the Khemalists into Smyrna a committee of Moslems visited one of our schools and expressed the most friendly sentiments to the teachers:
“We hope you will keep right on with your good work and we promise you every support, only you understand that there is to be no more religious teaching.”
When I mentioned this to Mr. Jacobs, of the Y. M. C. A., he replied: “Where L— is and C—” mentioning two missionaries, “Christ will be taught somehow.” But, if that is so, the Turks ought to know it. Any other course is not quite honest nor up to the standard of the old time Christians who testified in heathen lands and suffered martyrdom. Moreover, the Mohammedan’s contempt of the Christians is very easy to arouse and it would be a sad thing should it enter the mind of the Turks that some of the missionaries were willing to forego the teaching of their faith to save their buildings and their jobs. Even though this is not true, it would not be difficult to create this impression.
It seems hardly probable that the Mission Board would come out and officially inform the contributing church members of the United States:
“We have no intention or desire, either immediate or ultimate, of converting Mussulmans in Turkey. We are running secular schools there with the hope of raising their general moral standing and making Mohammedans of them.”
If the board can raise money for such a purpose, that would be a frank honest proposition for both Turk and Christian.
It is logical for the devout Christian to give money for the conversion of the Moslem. The faith of the Nazarene is one of the proselytizing religions, as Professor Max Muller said in his famous lecture in Westminster Abbey in 1873. It can not be possible, however, that there is any mental impulse in this country which would lead Americans to contribute large sums for the support of purely secular schools in foreign countries. Even from a humanitarian standpoint, there are more crying needs for their charity.
The one thing that the missionary working in Turkey really fears is that some Turk may be converted. Should this occur a storm of fanaticism and violence would break upon his head that might close his school and end his career. It is not possible to convert Mohamrnedans in Turkey, nor even let them get wind that one is trying to do such a thing. In my thirty years of service in the Near East I have known of but one Moslem really converted. I remember distinctly the uneasiness, which his impending public confession caused among his teachers, imperiling, as it did, all their future activities. He was persuaded by the missionaries that the time was not ripe for him to proclaim his change of faith, but the Mohammedans became aware of it and promptly murdered him. According to the best information available it cost between forty-five and eighty million dollars to convert that unfortunate young man and he did not last long. The Moslem who renounces his religion suffers ostracism, forfeiture of his goods and practically commits suicide.
During the War and before the Turks severed diplomatic relations with the United States, the Germans were anxious to seize the beautiful and expensive buildings of the International College of Smyrna and turn them into barracks. I had much to do in preventing this. On one occasion, while talking with Rahmi Bey, the Turkish governor (vail) of Smyrna at that time, he said to me: “The only reason that I can protect that college is that I have never seen any disposition on the part of its president and faculty to convert Moslems. Should any such attempt be made I could no longer shield it.” This was the argument, which the vali used with the authorities at Constantinople. It was this clean record which saved the college.
The missionaries in Turkey now find themselves in the position of hostages. They have seen many of their buildings destroyed, their native teachers, Armenians and Greeks butchered, their pupils scattered. They have received no help from the American Government. They are in the hands of the Turks. Many of them have spent their lives in the work and not a few of them own comfortable modern homes, which they have paid for in part or entirely.
That very shrewd and capable Scot, Doctor Alexander MacLachlan, has built up the International College at Smyrna by a lifetime of earnest and persistent effort. Its beautiful and expensive buildings, erected with money raised in America, his own substantial home, the delightful residences of the faculty, situated in charming gardens, are all resting on a powder mine. An outburst of fanaticism might sweep this idyllic picture from the face of the earth at a moment’s notice; might make it one with the desolate ruins of Smyrna but a few minutes’ distant. It would need but a tiny spark to set off the powder mine—some adverse criticism of the Turk, the conversion of a Mohammedan. The danger for this, as well as for similar institutions, is augmented by the fact that the ignorant, fanatical population of the Ottoman Empire is greatly in the majority, and there is abundant evidence that the Spirit of the Prophet is abroad, impatient of reform.
One missionary, at least, has been in the United States loudly proclaiming Mustapha Khemal the George Washington of Turkey, and comparing the soldiers who burned and sacked Smyrna and violated its women with the veterans of Valley Forge. This has doubtless got back to Asia Minor and has produced a salutary effect. One word more: Our missionaries have been operating in Turkey for nearly a century. They did admirable work among the native Christians, but what evidence have the Turks shown in their conduct of any results obtained from the vast sums sent into their country for their enlightenment and moral uplifting? It is impossible to argue with a religious devotee of any creed. The question is put to the normal men and women of America.