Primary Sources for the Presbyterian Masses

Two articles about Pearl S. Buck (1933 and 1936)

In J. Gresham Machen, Modernism, Pearl S. Buck on 06/06/2009 at 00:38

1933
Mrs. Buck Resigns; Board Accepts “With Deep Regret”
[excerpted from Christianity Today, 4.1 (May 1933): 34-36.

Pearl S. Buck, famous missionary novelist on May 1st resigned as a missionary of the Presbyterian Church.  Her resignation was accepted by the Board “with deep regret.”  Her resignation was followed by that of Mrs. Henry V.K. Gillmore, a member of the Board, who quit in protest of the acceptance of Mrs. Buck’s resignation.

The action of the Board was minuted as follows:

“A letter was presented from Mrs. J. Lossing Buck, of the Kiangan Mission, requesting to be released from responsible relationship to the Board.  The Board had hoped that this step might be avoided, but in view of all the considerations involved and with deep regret it voted to acquiesce in her request.  The Board expressed to Mrs. Buck its sincere appreciation of the service which she has rendered during the past sixteen years and its earnest prayer that her unusual abilities may continue to be richly used in behalf of the people in China.”

The following sentence, however, was used in publicity:

“After various friendly conversations and without appearing before the Board, Mrs. J. Lossing Buck has requested that she be permitted to retire from active connection with the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, and at its meeting on Monday the Board accepted her resignation with regret.”

Following the meeting comment became widespread.  Mrs. Gillmore made a statement in which she said as quoted in the New York Sun:

“My resignation is merely an open and public declaration of my liberal principles.  It does not mean that I am at war with the Presbyterian Church, and I am happy to say there is a very large, liberal element in the Presbyterian Church today.  There is also a very conservative element.  Each side has a right to its opinions, but if there is to be progress and tolerance, those of us who hold so dearly to such ideals must make our stand public.  That is all.

“I certainly wish to correct the impression that the Board meeting was a stormy or unfriendly one.  There was nothing but the most friendly discussion, even when Mrs. Buck’s resignation came up for a vote.  Mrs. Buck had written a very tactful letter, giving largely as her reasons for resigning that her literary work was requiring most of her time.  Mrs. Buck has been financing her own work, and has not been accepting money from the Board for a number of years now, and her work has been highly praised.

“I felt that the Board, therefore, should have refused to accept her resignation, to show appreciation to Mrs. Buck for this generous contribution, and to indicate clearly and openly that the Presbyterian Church is a liberal and tolerant body, according its members freedom of opinion.  I made a brief speech to this effect, but other members expressed the opinion that it would be better to accept the resignation for various reasons. . .”

Mrs. Buck was quoted in news dispatches as saying that she harbored no resentment.

“I feel just as I did before,” said Mrs. Buck.  “Of course I didn’t know I was such a nuisance to the Board before all this came up, and certainly I shouldn’t want to continue a nuisance.  One wouldn’t like to stay with any organization that one was a nuisance to, would one?

“You see, I never did do the evangelical sort of thing anyway.  I was a teacher, and I haven’t even been teaching for three years or so.

“So I expect to go back to China, and to continue my life just where I left off, only without the formal title of missionary.  By my life I mean my writing, which takes up a great deal of my time indeed, and my job of being a wife and a mother.

“I’m still devoted to China, and I imagine I always shall be.  China is my home, and I am happy there.  I’m sure all this will make no difference to me, or to my friends.

“Nor do I harbor any resentment at all about the tangle or its results.  You see I’m still a Christian.  I’m a Christian by conviction and shall continue one.  My status as a missionary or as a lay member has nothing to do with that.

“Am I still a Presbyterian?  Surely–oh well, I don’t think that’s very important.  I don’t go in for creeds and that sort of thing so very much.  I’m just a Christian.

The Board of Foreign Missions, had, of course, refrained from saying why it accepted Mrs. Buck’s resignation.  But Mrs. Buck herself seemed to have hit the nail on the head when she called herself a “nuisance” to the Board.  Indeed it was obvious that the Board never would have dismissed her on doctrinal grounds, only wished to be rid of an embarrassment.  This view was confirmed in a statement made in Youngstown, Ohio, by Dr. W.H. Hudnut, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church there, outstanding Modernist and member of the Board of Foreign Missions.

“I cannot blame her for resigning,” said Dr. Hutnut.  “That was the best way out of it.  It was the fair thing for her to do, not only for herself but also for the Church, if she was going to be a bone of contention.”

“She is a magnificent woman,” said Dr. Hudnut.  “. . . In her private life, she is an unusually fine woman and has a right to her own opinions on the mission.”

He declared that he believed Mrs. Buck never would have been tried by the Mission Board on a heresy charge if she had not resigned.

A bland denial that Mrs. Buck quit because of the doctrinal issue was, however, made in Atlantic City on May 4th, by Dr. C. Franklin Ward, secretary of the General Council of the General Assembly.  According to news dispatches he said:

“Mrs. Buck has withdrawn solely because her literary interests take so much of her time that she cannot serve along the lines laid down by the Foreign Missions Board.

“She has to come back to the United States on business connected with her writing, and the Board cannot treat one missionary differently, in the matter of granting leaves, from others.  Doctrinal discussion had nothing to do with her dropping out.

Observers were quick to point out that this was in amusing contradiction to Mrs. Buck’s own idea of why she resigned, although it was conceded that she had tactfully mentioned her literary work in her letter.

PROBABLE RESULTS
What would be the result of Mrs. Buck’s resignation?  Would it slow up the movement for Board reform?  At first it seemed that it would.  Moderator Kerr, speaking from Tulsa, said that he believed the resignation would “end the whole controversy.”  When, however, the fact came out that the Board had only accepted the resignation “with deep regret” and when it was made clear that the Board had put no pressure on Mrs. Buck, opinion veered sharply the other way.  The case against Mrs. Buck was only a part of the case against the Board.  But the Board, trying to keep on good terms with everyone, evidently displeased both Modernists who thought it should have stood by Mrs. Buck and evangelists who saw in the action final proof that the Board had refused to stand up for the faith of the Church.  Speaking before the Elders’ Association of the Presbytery of Jersey City, the Rev. Clarence E. Macartney, D.D., Minister of the First Church of Pittsburgh, said:

“The Church which alters its voice with the changing age, and speaks not to eternities, but to the times and does not know or care whether Christ lived and died and rose again from the dead or not is a Church whose voice will be lost on the screaming hurricane of time.

Dr. Macartney quoted Mrs. Buck’s article as follows:

“What Christ is materially I do not know, and what if He never lived, what of that?  Whether Christ had a body or not, whether He had a time to be born in His life and a time to die as other men have is of no matter now.  Perhaps it never was of any matter.”

Then he declared:

“Sad as is this denial of Christ’s living, there is something sadder, that is to have leaders of the missionary work of the Presbyterian Church tell us, as some who protested have been told, that this missionary served without any honorarium.

“The implication would seem to be that unbelief is not a serious thing as long as it does not cost the Church anything financially.”

The Board was excoriated for its action by Dr. Machen in a statement issued after the resignation had been made public.  It said, in part:

“In attempting to evade a perfectly plain issue by accepting ‘with regret’ the resignation of Mrs. Pearl S. Buck the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America has added still further to the contempt into which it has brought the Presbyterian Church in many ways . . .

“What every supporter of the Board has a right to know is whether the Board tolerates the radically anti-Christian views of Mrs. Buck or whether it is true to the Bible and to the Confession of Faith of the Church.  Mrs. Buck raised that issue with admirable clearness.  The Board has sought to evade it, as it has sought to evade the same issue when it is raised in many other ways.  But Bible-believing Christians are no longer going to be deceived.”

1936
Pearl Buck’s Picture of Her Parents
[excerpted from Christianity Today 7.4 (August 1936): 98.]

A recent letter from a Presbyterian U.S. missionary is quoted in Presbyterian of the South.

“Some of you have mentioned reading ‘The Exile’ by Pearl Buck in the Woman’s Home Companion.  A friend has been sending that magazine to us here, as no one in the station took it, and we have been reading it, too.  We have all been very much wrought up over the way she has pictured her mother and the way she has maligned the Christian character of both her father and mother.  Several of the missionaries are still living here in this station who were here when the Sydenstrickers lived here, and they and others in the Mission who remember her, testify as to her vital faith in her Saviour, her devotion to Him, her loyalty to His Word, and her zeal and love for the Chinese people.  It is our personal opinion that Pearl is attributing to her mother the conflict that must be going on in her own heart, and trying to excuse herself for some of the things she has done.  Her father did have some of the peculiarities she has pictured, but I think all would agree that he was one of the best and most faithful evangelists that have been on the field, and they both did a splendid work in giving the true Gospel to the Chinese people.  It is a travesty that she has given to the world, this picture of her own father and mother and of the work that they were enabled by the help of the Holy Spirit to accomplish. Some of her descriptions of conditions in this land are true, and if the book had been written in the right spirit could have been a wonderful testimony to the work being done by the true servants of the Lord.  Let us pray for her, that she may some day be truly made into a new creature in Christ Jesus.

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