The Cultural Revolution Hits Seinan Seminary in Japan

In the fall of 1970 [the year right-wing novelist Mishima Yukio committed ritual suicide] the [cultural] battlefield shifted to the seminary campus in Fukuoka, where most [Japan Baptist] Convention ministers were trained. The seminary was–and is–a part of Seinan Gakuin University, which was plagued by student rebellions in 1969…. The rebellions were nationwide in scope, affecting private and public universities alike, though carried out by a militant minority and not by the majority of students. At Aoyama Gakuin University (Methodist) in Tokyo and Kanto Gakuin University (American Baptist) in Yokohama, the theology departments became so involved as to self-destruct over a period of time. Neither has been reopened. Belatedly, though no less ominously, a group of dissident students at the Fukuoka seminary called a strike in September 1970.

The seminary had 34 students: 23 in the theology department of the university and 11 in an unaccredited Bible school. The striking students numbered only 10 at first and never exceeded 11, but they forced the cancellation of all classes until January 1971. With the backing of a few area pastors, they assailed the faculty for not speaking out jointly against the Vietnam War, the Security Treaty, the Baptist congress, Expo ’70, and government efforts to nationalize Yasukuni Shrine, where the war dead are enshrined. A theology that does not address such issues is invalid, the students declared; any evangelism that does not attack the evil structures of society is incomplete.

These social activists declared that the seminary was bankrupt and not salvageable, that the faculty should resign en bloc to clear the way for a new beginning. George Hays had the misfortune of being seminary dean at the time. On October 7, citing “two instances of misunderstanding related to the language,” he resigned the position, no longer confident that he could negotiate with the students. Hays was succeeded by Professor Sekiya….

Numerous meetings were held, some of them loud and boisterous, in quest of reconciliation. Position papers were demanded of each faculty member, and each was interrogated as though an accused heretic at an inquisition. No exceptions were made of the three missionary teachers: Hays, Bob Culpepper, Vera Campbell. Culpepper returned from an emergency furlough in November 1970, in the midst of the turmoil, and went on trial as the others had done. All three handled themselves well and helped the seminary to survive. When the new school year opened in Apri1 1971, however, total enrollment was down to 22. Not until the next decade did it reach 34 again.

Ozaki Shuichi has said that the most tragic result of the strike was the loss of some very promising students to the gospel ministry. If so, a close second was the loss of Ozaki himself to the seminary faculty. This New Testament scholar, second-generation preacher, and sometime interpreter to Billy Graham resigned during the struggle. Consequently, he was scathingly denounced as irresponsible and harassed by late-night phone calls. Dean Sekiya also got calls at night. The harassments came to an end when Ozaki’s daughter Yoko, the seminary librarian, was struck and killed by a train–an apparent suicide. So great was the shock that 16 years were to pass before Ozaki accepted an invitation to speak at the seminary, though he lived in Fukuoka all this time.

SOURCE: The Southern Baptist Mission in Japan, 1889-1989, by F. Calvin Parker (University Press of America, 1991), pp. 238-240

Nowadays Seinan [‘Southwestern’] Seminary is independent of the (U.S.) Southern Baptist Convention, which since the 1970s has imposed stricter doctrinal controls at all the major seminaries in the U.S. (Southern in Louisville, Southeastern in Wake Forest, Southwestern in Fort Worth, and New Orleans). Seinan Seminary pays the salaries of several former missionaries who would likely have trouble passing the current SBC creed tests.

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