Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Toyohiko Kagawa (賀川豊彦 Kagawa Toyohiko) And The Transnational Church

Recently I just read about an interesting Japanese Christian reformer Toyohiko Kagawa who always seemed to buck the system as he was always getting arrested for critiquing the Japanese State in the same way the Confessing Church did the Nazi Church. One of the most courageous incidents which he was arrested for of note is the following scenario:
In 1940, Kagawa made an apology to the Republic of China for Japan's occupation of China, and was arrested again for this. After his release, he went back to the United States in a futile attempt to prevent war between that nation and Japan.

Kagawa was definitely a man of deep conviction and conscience who took the call to Kingdom living seriously. It is said that "he believed that Christianity in action was the truth of Christian doctrine which he used the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of a socially active Christianity." Toyohiko Kagawa's Christian journey was certainly one rooted in Christ-centeredness:
he met and learned English from Henry Myers a Presbyterian minister. He learned more than that—he learned about Christ and Myers baptized Kagawa unto Christ. Horace Shipp said, “Young Kagawa became a Christian. He did a rarer thing: he began to practice Christianity.” He was a pacifist to the core, at times he literally turned the other cheek and he insisted on giving away all his possessions and often his food. In 1904 Japan without warning attacked the Russian ships at Port Arthur and destroyed their whole Baltic fleet. Japan as a nation hailed this as a great triumph and justified it on the basis of less obvious but threatening developments in Russian foreign affairs. At the seminary where he now attended Kagawa dared to speak against Japan’s act of war and the students would take turns to beat him up. Finally he was expelled, he fell ill (tuberculosis) and went away to die in a little fishing village. But a boat was wrecked on the coast and Kagawa worked until he was absolutely exhausted helping to rescue people. This experience made him determined to live and later his stated aim was “The salvation of 100,000 poor, the emancipation of 9,430,000 laborers and the liberation of twenty million tenant-farmers.”

He took a header into the infamous slums at Shinkawa and for nineteen years he lived in a cubicle six feet by six feet, with one side open to act as door and windows. As one of the lowest of the low even by Shinkawa standards he shared his living quarters and for four years he held the hand of a murderer that couldn’t sleep alone. He got a little income from a Training school and he doubled it by working as a chimney sweep and gave it away or gave away all the food and clothes it bought. It was from one of his ceaseless stream of visitors that he contracted a fierce eye disease that moved him closer and closer to blindness. The slum bullies robbed him with violence, burned down his shack, knocked his teeth out and challenged his faith by demanding that he give away his clothes. He did that on more than one occasion and had to wear a woman’s robe until he could replace them. Once he was on the verge of taking on a jeering and threatening bully who was going to stop his preaching but instead he turned and ran. The crowd roared with laughter but he was back the next day in the same place preaching Christ.

It’s no surprise then that when the earthquake hit and Japan was in awful need that they let him out of prison and asked him to be Chief of Social Welfare. Once when he visited an American University two students went to hear him speak but when he was done, unimpressed one said to the other, “He didn’t have a lot to say, did he?” A woman behind them leaned over and said, “When you’re hanging on a cross you don’t need to say a lot.” He died in 1960.

Venerated by both the ELCA and the Anglican Church alike, Toyohiko Kagawa stands as an influential figure within the Transnational Church and one that should be read within Emerging/Emergent circles as well as the larger Church as illustrated here:
Kagawa’s Alternative Vision: Christianity as a Social Movement

Although Kagawa maintained cooperative relationships with missionaries and was an ordained minister in good standing in the Presbyterian Church, he was extremely critical of the established churches on a number of grounds. Several points should be considered here. Like other Japanese minor founders, Kagawa was critical of the theology of the established churches, which he considered to be too abstract and disconnected from the realities of everyday life. He did not abandon the institutional church and reject the sacraments and ordained clergy as did Uchimura KanzØ, for example, but did insist that preoccupation with specific creeds, catechisms, and denominational traditions was not what Jesus intended for his followers. In a message addressed to young foreign missionaries at a Language School Retreat in Tamagawa some years after the formation of the Friends of Jesus, Kagawa reaffirmed his stance: “I want to say, let us start from Christ, not from Pharisaism, nor the Nicene Creed, nor from the Westminister Catechism, but from Christ himself.”9

A second problem Kagawa had with the established churches was their individualistic interpretation of the faith – something he thought was due to the excessive influence of European and American thought on the Christian faith. As Sumiya (1995: 168) points out, there was a tendency at the time for Christianity to be interpreted in most Japanese churches as an individualistic spiritual movement (seishin undØ). While Kagawa agreed that individual salvation was one important dimension of the faith, he maintained that for Christianity to be faithful to its founder’s vision and example it must also be a social movement.10

9 This message is reported in a Friends of Jesus publication (estimated date, 1928 or 1929).
10 It is interesting to note that Kagawa’s perspective – though somewhat unique in the Japanese Christian world at the time – has parallels within the larger world of Japanese religions. A number of other Japanese new religions (OmotokyØ, for example) similarly emphasized both kokoro naoshi and yonaoshi or the healing of the heart and the world, which is sometimes referred to as yo no tatekae tatenaoshi or the “rebuilding and renewal of the world.” (See Shimazono 1993: 223; Mullins 1994)

-Mullins: Christianity as a Transnational Social Movement 77

In 1919, about two years before the formation of the Friends of Jesus movement, Kagawa published Seishin undØ to shakai undo (Spiritual and Social Movements), a title that captured his concern for both individual and social transformation. This vision was also central to his lectures published as Seisho shakaigaku no kenky¨ (Studies in the Sociology of the Bible) in 1922.11 The person of Jesus is at the center of Kagawa’s faith, but it is faith in one who taught the path of redemptive love and formed a movement to bring about God’s kingdom and rule of peace and justice on this earth. The whole of scripture, he argues, points to the conclusion that a biblical religious movement is a social movement of emancipation. Some years later Kagawa offered the following commentary on Luke 4: 18-19, which is surely the locus classicus for his view: “Jesus’ understanding of the Gospel included economic emancipation (preaching to the poor); psychological emancipation (healing the broken-hearted); social emancipation (preaching deliverance to the captives); physical emancipation (recovery of sight to the blind); and political emancipation (setting at liberty them that are bruised). The Gospel of Christ means not merely individualistic mental healing. It means a healing of everything. It means an emancipation from all sorts of evil.”12

Kagawa never abandoned the church and continued to serve as a pastor, but he was extremely critical of a church that failed to practice redemptive love (shokuzai ai no jissen 贖罪の実践), which for him meant moving outside the walls of the church to live and work with those in greatest need. The membership composition of established churches tended to be dominated by the educated or white-collar classes and those groups of people who were in most critical need – the “underside of modern Japan,” to borrow a phrase from Mikiso Hane (1982) – were largely missing. Kagawa reasoned that clergy were failing to cultivate lay leaders and mobilize them for ministry to the poor and the larger work of the Kingdom. It was Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God that captured Kagawa’s imagination and commitment, and for him this was an inclusive notion that not only included the preaching and evangelistic work of the church, but all of those social movements that addressed the needs of humankind.13 While some critics accused him of being nothing more than a social activist, the corpus of his writings make it clear that he

11 These lectures were given to Sunday School teachers in Osaka and originally published by Nichiyo Sekaisha in Osaka. The volume is included in the Kagawa Zensh¨, Vol. 7, 8-83. See Muto (1966: 117 ff.) for a helpful synopsis.
12 “Following in His Steps,” Friends of Jesus, Vol. 4, No. 1. January 1931, 6.
13 Kayama (2004) makes a convincing case that the “Kingdom of God” was the central concept in Kagawa’s thought, which enabled him to integrate his understanding of the individual and social dimensions of the Gospel. For Kagawa, in other words, the scope of the sacred extends to all spheres of life and is not confined to the institutional church.

-78 Japanese Religions 32 (1 & 2)

never abandoned the conviction that individual transformation was also required. The improvement of material conditions alone, Kagawa maintained, does not eliminate the need for spiritual transformation.

(Read more here: Mark R. Mullins *Christianity as a Transnational Social Movement:
Kagawa Toyohiko and the Friends of Jesus

Find Kagawa's writings on: Amazon.


Mike Furches and The Virtual Pew said...

Thanks for promoting this mans teachings. I have found a new teacher to study and learn from.

Owen said...

amazing man, looks like; i read 2 of his poems.. i will read more, soon. i look forward to meeting him in his writings.