The Voice of an Ethiopian Prophet
In June 1979 Gudina Tumsa, the general secretary of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, was arrested by the revolutionary government of Ethiopia. Fearing for his life, the president of the Lutheran World Federation at the time, Bishop Josiah Kibira together with Oberkirchenrat Krause went to President Nyerere in Tanzania to ask for help.
Nyerere managed to get him released from prison and offered him a possibility of escape. But Gudina Tumsa refused with the following words: “Here is my church and my congregation. How can I, as a church leader, leave my flock at this moment of trial? I have again and again pleaded with my pastors to stay on.” He then quoted 2 Cor. 5:15: “‘Christ died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.’ Never ever will I escape.”[l]
On 28 July 1979 Gudina Tumsa was abducted and killed by strangulation. His murder brought to an end creative and visionary theological reflection in the church, which was so much needed in Ethiopia at the time. It was a blow to African theology as well as to the worldwide church. His theology, which grew out of African soil, remains of great interest. In this article I present some major themes.
A prelude to the Rev. Gudina’s theology is found in his “Report on Church Growth in Ethiopia,” which he presented in Tokyo in 1971: “Even though the social and political factors cannot be overlooked, one would misunderstand the mass movements if one does not put the main emphasis on the religious aspect… People are tormented with fear of spirits and they want to accept the new religion of love and justice.”
The Gospel, as his people understood it, was a “religion of love and justice.” This interpretation may stand as the overarching perspective on Rev. Gudina’s theology. As such his theology has to be seen as an African voice in the church universal. It is in many ways a contextual interpretation of the meaning of “love and justice” in relation to two crucial phases in the history of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) and the history of Ethiopia. Prior to the Ethiopian Revolution the identity and freedom of the church were at stake. Rev. Gudina’s papers from this period, before 1974, focus on the power relations between the EECMY and missions/donor agencies. After the Ethiopian Revolution, beginning in 1974, the very survival of the church was in jeopardy. The church-state relationship therefore lay at the centre of his concern. In both situations he argued with a deep sense of compassion and on the basis of an African holistic interpretation of human life and the Gospel.
When considering “holistic theology,” the famous EECMY letter, “On the Interrelation Between Proclamation of the Gospel and Human Development” (1972), comes to mind. Even though this document included contributions by several authors, it seems quite clear that it bears the Rev. Gudina’s theological perspectives. This is seen a year earlier when he gave expression to the same ideas in a paper on church growth at the Commission on Church Cooperation Consultation in Tokyo.
In addition to the EECMY letter I have at my disposal eight papers by the Rev. Gudina, and three papers clearly written by him but signed in cooperation with the church president or church officers. Two papers were written prior to the EECMY letter and nine papers thereafter. The EECMY letter led to a Lutheran World Federation (LWF) consultation on “proclamation and human development” in Nairobi in 1974. Here the Rev. Gudina deepened the basic theological perspective underlying the EECMY letter in an address to the consultation. This address is an important source as it clarifies his interpretation of the meaning of the EECMY letter, in relation to both traditional missiology and ongoing debates within ecumenical bodies. His theology is further developed in five important documents from the period of the Ethiopian Revolution, namely the “Pastoral Letter” (1975), the “Memorandum” (1975), “The Moratorium Debate and the ECMY” (1976; co-author Paul Hoffman), “Unbelief” (1976), and “The Role of a Christian in a Given Society” (1979). 
Unfortunately, all his notes, papers and books from the years of study in the United States of America were lost in the Suez Canal during the Seven Day War in 1967. Other important sources, among them his speeches, seem to have been lost as a consequence of the evacuation of his flat at the EECMY Central Office on November 13, 1981. In presenting the context of his life, I have necessarily depended on various other oral and written sources. Details are found in the footnotes and in the bibliography of the present article. For a broader presentation I refer to my Revolution and Religion in Ethiopia: the Growth and Persecution of the Mekane Yesus Church 1974-85, which is dedicated to the memory of Gudina Tumsa. Here four of his papers are presented.
Early years, 1929-63
Gudina Tumsa was an Oromo, born in 1929 at Bojjii in Western Ethiopia, the cradle of the EECMY.  His first experiences were in an indigenous culture in which Evangelical Christianity had interacted with the traditional worldview of the Oromo and created a new vigorous Christian culture. He also experienced the local effects of the political and religious culture of the Imperial feudal state. Any interpretation of the Rev. Gudina’s theology has to take the social, ethnic, religious and political experiences of his formative years into consideration. We can only hint at certain important determinants, such as the feudal structure of the Ethiopian Empire, where people were subjected to harsh expropriation of resources for the benefit of landlords and central authorities. For the peasantry, a pervading experience of life at the time was therefore subjugation and humiliation; another was the daily battle for sheer survival. A factor of great importance in this respect was the experience of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church as part of the oppressive system. 
The Bible had been translated into the Oromo language in 1898, laying the foundation for an indigenous interpretation of the Gospel. In time this led to greater cultural self-understanding, vernacular pride, social awakening, cross-cultural dialogue, and religious renewal. The anthropology expressed through attitude, life, and work of the envoys of the Gospel to the Oromo, Ethiopians as well as foreign missionaries, gave the people a feeling of human dignity. In practical life Evangelical Christianity transcended barriers of ethnicity and status, and it created moral awareness and concern on behalf of the poor. This constitutes the most important context for understanding both the EECMY letter and Gudina Tumsa’s theology. The Rev. Gudina received his basic education in Wallagga and studied theology under the aegis of the Swedish Evangelical Mission, in Najjoo from 1955 until 1958.
Theological studies in America, 1963-66
Recognising Gudina Tumsa’s intellectual capacity and qualities of leadership, the EECMY in 1963, sent him to Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul, USA, for further theological training. There he received his bachelor’s degree in divinity (B.D.). Visiting that institution in 1999, I had the opportunity to talk to two of his fellow students, Professor Darrell Jodock, who had shared a room with the Rev. Gudina, and Professor Dennis Everson, who later served as a missionary in the EECMY.  They provided two pieces of information of particular importance. The first that the Rev. Gudina studied Reinhold Niebuhr, commonly considered the most influential theological ethicist of the mid-twentieth century. Gudina’s papers reveal the influence of Niebuhr, particularly his hermeneutical model and his ethics.
The second point of importance is the fact that he studied in the U.S.A. at the time of the intense debates and struggles within the civil rights movement, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This movement developed between 1955 and 1968, from a growing consciousness by African-Americans of exclusion from social, economic, and political participation. The uniqueness of the movement lay in its attempt to establish a new sense of individual and collective self among black people through political mobilisation and participation. Dr. Martin Luther King employed a strategy of “non-violent” confrontation. His strength and vision came from his Christian faith. He claimed quite plainly that oppression and the Gospel of Jesus do not go together. The three years the Rev. Gudina studied in America was an intense period of protests, violence, and debate. Professor Jodock recalled how he, Gudina Tumsa, and other students were deeply involved on the side of the African-Americans. This must have had a major impact on Rev. Gudina’s understanding of structural injustice and of the philosophy and strategy of non-violence. There is no reference to his time in America in his papers, so this part of his formative years has been largely overlooked.
The ecumenical debate on missiology, from 1966
Within the Ecumenical Movement, debates on the question of the relationship of mission and social justice reached a peak at the assembly meeting of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Uppsala in 1968. For an understanding of the Rev. Gudina’s involvement in the issues, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is of particular importance since the EECMY was a member. During the period he was general secretary of the EECMY (1966-79), Lutheranism became increasingly conscious of its social responsibility. This was rooted in the dearly purchased experiences from the Second World War, as regards Christian responsibility for liberty and justice in the social order. The General Assembly at Evian in 1970 marked a turning point in this respect. From then on the question was no longer whether but how the church should become involved in the promotion of human rights and social justice. The concern was the focus of attention both at the assembly meeting of the WCC in Nairobi in 1975 and at the LWF assembly meeting in Dar es Salaam in 1977. In addition we may mention the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) meeting in Bangkok in 1973, as well as the documents of Vatican II, as they had a major impact on the Ecumenical debate. The most significant discussions of the Evangelical movement, in which a number of the cooperating missions would feel at home, will be found within the Lausanne Movement during the fifteen years from 1974 to 1989. The Lausanne Congress in 1974 was the culminating point of a whole series of smaller missiological conferences.
The Rev. Gudina participated at both the Evian and Dar es Salaam Assemblies. At Evian he was elected member of the Policy and Reference Committee, and he introduced an additional recommendation in the field of human rights.  He also attended many other international Church and mission consultations. His papers indicate that these discussions made a major impact upon his thinking. Among other things the expression ‘integral human development’ had become a crucial concept in the Ecumenical debates of the 1970s. The Rev. Gudina’s missiology reflects several issues, four of which are of particular importance: the LWF and human rights, mission as mediating salvation, mission as the quest for justice, and evangelism and social responsibility.
The Ethiopian Revolution, 1974-1979
We can distinguish between two phases of the Ethiopian Revolution, the first from the political uprisings on February 18, 1974 until Mengistu Haile Mariam’s coup d’état on February 3, 1977, the second from this coup d’etat to the fall of Mengistu on May 28, 1991. Two basic challenges faced the revolutionary government: how to keep Ethiopia united and how to give legitimacy to the Derg’s (the revolutionary government) claim to power. The answer to these challenges was to seek a politico-military alliance with the Soviet Union and then balance Amhara/Ethiopian nationalism and Marxism-Leninism. These political choices ultimately led to conflict with the Evangelical Churches.
The first phase of the Ethiopian Revolution looked promising. The initial charter of the Revolution, published on December 20, 1974, envisaged a united country without ethnic, religious, linguistic or cultural differences. The charter was followed by the extensive socio-economic reforms of February and March 1975. They created support, great expectations and hopes for a more just society. But the Ethiopian Revolution brought ethnic tensions to the surface in what was termed “the nationalities question.” The question of national self-determination for ethnic groups remained a matter of open political debate until the autumn of 1978. From then on any kind of engagement in the question was a matter of criminal offence. 
In the EECMY, the Rev. Gudina was the first to comprehend the essential features of the Ethiopian Revolution. Throughout the whole period 1974-79 he stood out as the driving spiritual and intellectual force behind the changes attempted by the church to meet the challenge of the Ethiopian Revolution. His “Pastoral Letter” (March 1975) is as such an example of social-ethical reflection of considerable relevance. The “Memorandum” (August 1975) is more in line with pastoral theological reflection on how to translate holistic theology into what was called a “functional approach” to development and nation building. Both papers are visionary and express a deep concern on behalf of the people. The crucial issue, however, the conflict between atheist philosophy and Christian faith, was presented in his major paper “Unbelief,” at the General Assembly in Najjoo in 1976.
A theology of love and justice
Praxis – theory – praxis
The Rev. Gudina’s writings reveal his pastoral interest. The EECMY “Pastoral Letter” may serve as an example. It was developed on the basis of experience and practical concern, the imbalance in the criteria for aid from missions and donor agencies and the possibilities of a distorted Gospel as a result. The letter deepened the theoretical aspect of the problem and suggested a new approach based on a different theological understanding of man and salvation. In the “Memorandum” (1975) the Rev. Gudina explained his approach: “Theology must grow out of the daily experiences from our dealing with ordinary affairs of life as we experience them in our situation, in our cultural setting, in our economic life, in our political experience and in our social practice. … An indigenous theology in the Ethiopian context may be defined as a translation of the Biblical sources … to the pattern of our people that they may feel at home with the Gospel of love.”
He thus departed from the dominant hermeneutical model of European and North American theology, which works from the model theory-practice, and introduces a model of theology that works on the basis of practical reason according to the model praxis-theory-praxis. This approach is fundamentally in line with Reinhold Niebuhr’s hermeneutical model of how to relate the Christian narrative and practical reason. The theological questions posed by the Rev. Gudina were shaped by his own history and experiences. Even to identify these questions was a hermeneutical act of great importance.
A comprehensive understanding of salvation
In the Rev. Gudina’s “Report on Church Growth in Ethiopia,” presented in Tokyo 1971, two years before the EECMY letter was written, we find an illustration of how his understanding of salvation developed on the model praxis-theory-praxis. By listening to his people he discerned how the Gospel was translated to their pattern of thought: “Central to the proclamation and witness of the believers is the idea that Jesus saves. …. There is no distinction between curing from malaria, pneumonia and saving from sin. ‘Jesus Christ saves’ means that he literally cures from physical diseases as well as from the burden of sin. The simple preaching of the Gospel was very often accompanied by healing, exorcism or by some other signs that were interpreted to be the new God demonstrating His power.” The reference to “power” leads us one step further in indigenous interpretation of the meaning of the Gospel, to the background of traditional African cosmology and its occupation with the spirit world and therefore to an emphasis on Christ as Victor.
Research on church growth in Wallagga has revealed that healing from all kinds of sickness and freedom from evil spirits accounted for eighty-three percent of the growth of new members. Keeping in mind the traditional Oromo interpretation of sickness and misfortune as punishment by spirits or the work of evil forces, we realize how the image of Christ and his Holy Spirit came to be seen as a counter-power. This tells us that the traditional missionary emphasis on Christ as sacrifice for our sins and the subsequent interpretative pattern of sin and grace is enriched with an emphasis on the pattern of death to life.
This African experience of salvation lies at the base of his holistic theological approach. The full implications of holism were developed in two stages. The first is seen in the EECMY letter, where the theological interpretation of “man and his needs” constitutes a major part: “We believe that an integral human development, where spiritual and material needs are seen together, is the only right approach to the development question in our society…. The division between witness and service or between proclamation and development…. is harmful to the church and will ultimately result in a distorted Christianity…. The development of the inner person is a prerequisite for a healthy and lasting development of society.”
The letter questions the very values underlying modern technology and economy, seeing them as a “threat to the very values which make life meaningfu1.” The letter points to the bondage of the will expressed in St Paul’s Letter to the Romans (7: 15-20) and stresses the need for spiritual liberation as a “pre-requisite for a healthy and lasting development”. 
We should, however, take note that the expression “integral human development” in the EECMY letter does not include an obligation to change “dehumanizing structures” or specifically work for “justice.” It concentrates on keeping together two dimensions: “spiritual” and “material,” “witness” and “service.” In other words, the EECMY letter does not include the third dimension, the political well-being of the people. This said, however, we may add that the EECMY was concerned about the social dimension of human rights, as can be seen from its letter to the government to act on the land tenure system, one of the major social and economic problems of rural Ethiopia. Still the time did not seem ripe to comment on “structural injustice” in the EECMY 1etter. 
Two years later, in the revolutionary year of 1974, the prophetic aspect of holistic theology was developed further in his theology. To him an integrated biblical approach had to include the prophetic element. In his Nairobi address, “Serving the whole man,” he developed his theology in a most significant way by raising the question: “What is a responsible ministry of the Christian Church in today’s world and in a given cultural, social and political situation?” His answer at this point was crucial for an understanding of his position: He moved beyond the EECMY letter and placed himself between the two extremes prevalent in the debates of missions and ecumenical forums at the time:
On the one hand some define ministry narrowly, reducing the church to an insignificant factor in society, alienated from and irrelevant to modern man. On the other hand we have those who want the church to identify fully with the world and actively engage in the struggle for social justice, removal of dehumanising structures, and the liberation of the oppressed. In between these extremes are those who represent more moderate positions with regard to understanding of what responsible ministry should be. To claim that certain positions must be universally applied is a paternalistic attitude.  Social ethics
Reflecting theologically on these issues led to what he termed a “strategic, integrated ministry.” Such a ministry has to be informed by theological ethics if it is to achieve any implications in peoples’ lives. By theological ethics the Rev. Gudina meant a contextually nuanced form of theology, relevant to the need of the Ethiopian people and the Ethiopian Church. This is seen in his address at the LWF consultation in Nairobi 1974: “A responsible church must always grow out of an “action situation,” or, to go even one step further, true biblical and evangelical theology must always allow for a contextual interpretation of the Gospel….”
This interpretation is expressed in social and ethical categories in the “Pastoral Letter” (1975) where he says: “‘We [the Church] aspire for justice, respect for human rights and the rule of law.” In the context of the letter “justice” and “human rights” are meant as standards for the state’s policies and the way it orders the life of society. Human rights are of great significance as they give ethical criteria for how the state should safeguard justice in the world and contribute to keeping evil in check. As such the three concepts “justice”, “human rights” and “the rule of law” are instrumental in God’s continuing creation and maintenance of life in the world.
The roots of these ethical reflections go back to the theological ethics of Reinhold Niebuhr and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Niebuhr pointed to the fact that a rational ethic aims at justice, whereas a religious ethic makes love the ideal. Attempts to solve this tension in Christian ethics have taken two different forms: the religious ethic, with love as the ideal, is clearly expressed in the Pietist tradition and other religious traditions. This stress on love as the ideal has sometimes led to individuals or a group withdrawing from the world. Conversely, the rational ethic aiming at justice, as seen in the Ecumenical Movement, encourages believers to become involved in society for the sake of their neighbours. In the Ecumenical Movement the prophetic motif has dominated and the rational ethic aiming at justice is more powerful than the religious ethic of love.
The religious ethic of love, Niebuhr argued, will leaven the idea of justice and prevent it from becoming purely political with the ethical element washed out. Niebuhr’s ethics made a great impact on social Christianity in the Ecumenical Movement. His ethics reminds us of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s reference to the “secularist temptation” of identifying the reign of God with some earthly goal. On the other hand Bonhoeffer saw the danger of the Evangelical position on the church’s calling in respect to justice in society. This balance between love and justice is exactly what the Rev. Gudina sought to attain in his “middle position.”
In his Nairobi address (1974) he referred to “the contrast between the traditional African concept of life and the Western concept.” To heal, then, is not simply a question of medical care, but “has to do with the restoration of man to liberty and wholeness”: “In the ministry of Jesus we note that forgiveness of sins and healing of the body, feeding the hungry and spiritual nurture, opposing dehumanising structures and identifying himself with the weak were never at any time divided or departmentalised. He saw man as a whole and was always ready to give help where the need was most obvious.”
This echoes a point in his Tokyo address of 1971. Looking at church growth from a political angle, he emphasized that the new Christians “understand their true humanity in a new way.” He illustrated his point by referring a case in Gemo Gofa where Evangelical Christians had united and went to court against a landowner for taking their land. They had fought their case all the way to the High Court and won.
In the “Pastoral Letter” (1975), in which he reasoned on the basis of theological ethics, we again see his compassionate concern for his people: “Deriving from the poor, the church rededicates itself to living for others, serving the whole human person, meeting the spiritual and physical needs.” Against this background it seems to be a gross misunderstanding of the Rev. Gudina’s intent to interpret his engagement in the burning issues of the day as a mere political act.
The identity and freedom of the African Church
The Rev. Gudina became general secretary of the EECMY in 1966. At the time it was in the process of integrating the programmes and institutions of its partner mission agencies. This was officially completed in February 1969. The EECMY soon realized, however, that even though it was nominally in charge, the missions and donor agencies still controlled the church through their budget policy. Therefore the first substantial challenge he faced as general secretary was to exert the integrity and independence of the church in relation to the cooperating missions and agencies.
This brought about a difficult and emotionally charged tension between the church and the cooperating missions, as can be seen from the Rev. Gudina’s paper at the Hanover consultation in November 1973. Here he made a full-fledged attack on one of the missions for not respecting the integrity of the EECMY. He then raised the question of criteria for giving aid. The seriousness of the situation is expressed in the following sentences: “At present what is at stake in the life of the ECMY is the identity of a National Church …. Let it be clear to all that the ECMY is not an agent to carry out policies and decisions taken in Europe or America nor is the ECMY willing to fulfill the purpose of international organisations which appears to be contrary to what she holds to be right.”
The argument was an application of the basic points in the EECMY letter, published the previous year, and is a serious comment on the policies of the missions and agencies. It told them that if things did not change it would “ultimately result in a distorted Christianity.”
The old imbalance – the legacy of Pietism
The EECMY letter and Rev. Gudina’s Nairobi paper criticized missions and donor agencies for a lack of balance between the verbal proclamation of the Gospel and development issues on the other hand. In both documents he referred to “old” and “new” emphases. The expression “old emphasis” relates to the traditional missiology of Protestant missions. Their roots go back to revivals in Germany, Britain, and Scandinavia, beginning with the Pietist revival in Germany around 1700 and the Evangelical revival under the Wesley’s’ in Britain a few years later.
To Pietists, individual salvation has always been a fundamental concern, but they also made tremendous efforts within health and education. On the theoretical level the relationship between the evangelistic and the societal dimensions of the Christian mission has been thorny. This is seen in the history of Pietism. Early Pietism, as shaped by such men as Spener, Francke, and Zinzendorf, was “a dynamic and comprehensive understanding of the reign of God — in which salvation and well-being, soul and body, conversion and charity were not to be divorced one from the other.”  “Service of souls” and “service of the body” were interdependent and no ministry to souls could remain without the exterior side. Pietist activities within the social field grew out of their theology. An important point in their missiology is that mission was seen as the responsibility of the congregation of believers. With few exceptions they declined any connection with the state churches and their involvement in politics and colonialism.
During the nineteenth century important contributions to the understanding of mission were made, particularly in Germany. For all of them the theology of mission was closely dependent on the theology of salvation. The scope of salvation determined the scope of the missionary enterprise. The “soteriological motif” was at the heart of missiology since it concerned the most fundamental question of humankind.
The advent of Enlightenment saw the differentiation between the public world of politics and the private world of religion and morals. Developments in the Western church increasingly separated the “person” and “work” of Christ. At the end of the eighteenth century distinctions were made between the “civic” and the “religious” sphere. To some extent this influenced missiology. The church’s ministry-outside its walls-was by and large limited to work within the field of health and education. At the time it would for most parts be totally unacceptable to the political rulers to challenge unjust societal structures.
Missionary societies, working with the EECMY, such as the Hermannsburg Mission (1849), the Swedish Evangelical Mission (1856), the Norwegian Missionary Society (1842) and later the Norwegian Lutheran Mission (1891), all sprang from revival movements with roots in Pietism and conservative theology. And so the “soteriological motif” became predominant in the churches that sprang from their efforts.
Historically-or as the EECMY letter says, in the “old emphasis”-educational, medical, and technical fields were regarded as being of secondary importance. They were only a “means to an end,” or as “avenues by which the message would reach people.” The old imbalance is characterized as “false piety.” As admitted in the EECMY letter, missions have spent large amounts of their financial resources on social activities. But this was not often highlighted when they reported back home. Therefore the missions themselves are largely responsible for the situation that has developed.
The Gospel was not understood as the Good News for the whole man, and salvation was given a narrow individual interpretation which was foreign to our understanding of the God-man relationship…. Missions have not in the past paid due attention to the material and physical needs of man and that they were only concerned about salvation of souls, doing very little to bring about changes in society.
By remaining largely silent on these issues, both in Europe and on the mission field, the missions had to face the question whether or not the church has been an instrument of oppression? “Has the church been so busy saving souls that the physical and political needs of man were ignored? Has this not led to an indoctrination of passive subservience as the ideal Christian conduct, which left colonialism almost unopposed?” 
One may ask, however, whether the EECMY letter does not overstate its case. My research on the long-term effect of the work of missions and churches in Ethiopia, in particular its effect on people’s comprehension of human dignity and human rights, indicates that great changes took place in the minds and attitudes of the people. This is acknowledged in the “Pastoral Letter” three years later: “Through its health, educational, and other services, the ECMY has contributed meaningfully to the development of Ethiopia and has at the same time prepared the people for change.”
The new imbalance – the legacy of modernism
Social justice lay at the very heart of the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament. Amos and Jeremiah could challenge kings on the basis of a common faith. The early church was in a different position as it was, at best, tolerated and, at worst, persecuted. This has led Christians to the view that the New Testament is mostly concerned with spiritual things. The innate justice dimension of the New Testament was, however, partly couched in metaphor and symbol. When Christianity became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire in the fourth century, the church’s new situation led to compromise, particularly in the area of social justice.
Enlightenment philosophy focused on the potential of reason. The separation of the human being from its environment enabled it to examine the world in scientific objectivity. The old idea that creation was for a purpose was done away with and man thought he could control his own destiny. This gave man a firm belief in progress.
These thoughts gave impulses to an alternative soteriology, an understanding of salvation in which humans were active and responsible agents who utilized science and technology in order to effect material improvement and socio-political change. In 1928, at the Jerusalem conference, the idea of a comprehensive approach to salvation took form. Since the 1960s the Ecumenical Movement has become increasingly involved in the development question. At the Uppsala Assembly of the WCC (1968) and the CWME conference in Bangkok (1973), salvation was defined exclusively in this worldly terms.
The Bangkok meeting stated that “the struggles for economic justice, political freedom, and cultural renewal as elements in the total liberation of the world through the mission of God” must proceed. The development issues raised questions about the theological basis of the church’s mission. In this context what was asked for was “a theology of development.” This resulted in a heightened theological interest in questions concerning justice, power, the use of violence, domination, human rights, and economic dependence.
Gradually the need for people to participate as agents in the development process was seen as a crucial factor. Three interrelated objectives became the key notion in churches: economic growth, self-reliance, and social justice, of which justice should be accorded primacy. In the beginning of the 1970s the integral approach, where the human aspect of development was emphasized, came to the fore: “People are crying not for food alone; they need and demand freedom, dignity, justice, and participation as well. Their quest is integral human development.”
The Rev. Gudina acknowledged some of the points discussed in ecumenical fora and clearly integrated them into his theology, but he called attention to a “new imbalance.” In “the new emphasis,” represented by donor agencies as well as ecumenical forums, proclamation of the Gospel had become a side issue. Christian service had almost become an end in itself. According to the EECMY letter “the new imbalance” was seen as a reaction to guilt felt when the injustice and exploitation of colonialism came to the surface. But the new emphasis, where the “real” ministry was seen as service as an end in itself, turned out to be just as harmful for the African church as the previous emphasis. It was characterized as an “overreaction” to previous mistakes and as a “neo-paternalistic tendency reflected in both aid criteria and procedures for screening requests and controlling implementation.” The donor agencies were forcing the African church to follow priorities others than those of her own choosing. This emphasis imposed, in the view of the EECMY, the same kind of dichotomy as previously seen in the traditional approaches. It would ultimately result in a distorted Christianity. The EECMY then poses a searching question: “Why should historical and theological development in the West be the only determining factor in the aid relationship between the older and the younger churches?”
The way the missions and agencies were approached reveal Rev. Gudina’s extraordinary ability to analyze a situation in depth, formulate the crucial issues at stake and reflect theologically on them. This rare ability was again seen in his approach to the burning issues of the Revolution.
The challenge of the Revolution
Gudina Tumsa in critical dialogue with Marxism and socialism
Churches challenged by with different forms of Marxism and socialism in various cultural contexts basically seem to react in four different ways: withdrawal, conformity, opposition, or critical engagement. Gudina Tumsa clearly chose the last-named, but set clear standards for such a critical engagement with Ethiopian socialism.
Withdrawal: The pattern inherited by the mission would have been withdrawal on the basis of an apolitical attitude and a refusal to make any kind of institutional commitment. In line with Gudina Tumsa’s critique of traditional missiology this option would lead to alienation from society.
Conformity would seem to be the most natural reaction in a church familiar with an authoritarian political culture and dependant on the goodwill of the monarch. This seems to be the option chosen by the church during the presidency of Francis Stephanos when in 1986 he participated in the drafting of the new constitution and in 1987 was elected as a member of the parliament. This policy seems to have been supported by the LWF when after 1985, it kept quiet about gross violations of human rights.
Opposition was clearly a possibility because of the government’s atheist philosophy and its persecution of the churches.
Critical dialogue: In fact Gudina Tumsa’s position was a positive but critical engagement with the ongoing Revolution. The foundation for a critical dialogue with the government and the revolutionary process was laid in holistic theology. One consequence of this theological approach is that the concept of sin takes on an extended meaning, involving the social structures that keep man in bondage and suffering abuse. The prophetic task in relation to questions of righteousness and justice in society had become an issue of importance on the eve of Ethiopian Revolution, as seen in the EECMY letter to the imperial government on the land issue. Gudina Tumsa offered the socialist government the church’s cooperation on certain criteria.
However, Mengistu’s socialist state was not willing to let anybody define their own political vision or let them practice it independently from the power structure of the state. As a result Gudina Tumsa was seen as establishing the church’s position in competition to the socialist government and the socialist party.
A question of justice, human rights and the rule of law
The first statement by the EECMY concerning revolutionary changes was its letter to the government in May 1974, supporting the establishment of a secular state guaranteeing equal rights for religious groups. This letter is a radical statement of great political and ideological consequence. A year later, in 1975, the “Pastoral Letter” clearly made the EECMY an actor in the public realm. The church was willing to go a long way in actively participating in the attempt to advance the well-being of the people. “Deriving from the poor” (clearly a proletarian, peasant origin), “the church rededicates itself to living for others” (just as selfless as any socialist agitator), “serving the whole human person, meeting his spiritual and physical needs” (the church cannot be relegated to a cultic ghetto of just serving private religious needs). 
Gudina Tumsa understood that if the socialist perspective is taken seriously as a political challenge, the church could serve as an example for the state, a paradigm for what society needs. Thus he expanded his holistic approach to include the political dimension. The crucial point of the letter is, however, the question of justice. “[The church] aspires for justice, respect for human rights and the rule of law…. ” For the first time in Rev. Gudina’s writings the concept of justice was applied in relation to the question of power. Rev. Gudina drew the full consequence of holism, basing his theological reasoning in creation and incarnation theology:
Holistic theology is an effort in rediscovering total human life. Apolitical life is not worthy of existence, uninvolvement is a denial of the goodness of creation and of the reality of incarnation…. In our Continent what is prevalent is the basis to define economic policy, agricultural development, foreign relations-“politics decides who should die and who should live.” African theology should develop a political Theology relevant to the African political life. 
These far-reaching statements were clearly in line with central developments in the Ecumenical Movement at the time. They where written only months before the WCC General Assembly in Nairobi in November 1975. At that meeting a shift from focus on individual rights to social and collective rights made a breakthrough. 
The statements can also be seen as a critique of a traditional interpretation of the two kingdoms doctrine in Lutheranism. If life and society are divided into two separate spheres, justice and human rights end up outside the sphere of the Gospel and become an entirely secular matter. On the other hand, if life and society are kept together in one overarching conception, then everything in human experience is linked to the Gospel.  The statements can be viewed as an understanding of the church’s role as involvement in social action of a political kind. But looking at the answers and actions of the Rev. Gudina at the time, we get a more moderate understanding of what a political theology relevant to African political life might be.
Two points seem to emerge. The first is seen primarily in the Rev. Gudina’s response to the Revolutionary government’s social and economic policy. On this point he proposed a new church policy regarding the question of development and nation building.  This implies criticism of both the development policies of the missions and of the church’s policy of allowing the growth of large institutions that are impossible to handle. The second point relates to the question of atheist ideology versus his Christian faith.
A matter of life or death for the Church
Considering the grave reality of the emerging socialist Ethiopia, the Rev. Gudina saw it as a matter of life and death to make the church more Ethiopian. Again we see his ability to see through a situation and focus on the crucial points, money and power.  The Rev. Gudina acknowledged the dependence of the EECMY and its need to keep in contact with the missions in order to share resources. To a large extent his critique was on grounds of principle, on the understanding of “mission” and centering on questions of human wholeness, salvation and justice. As a result he fought a hard battle to assert the independence of the EECMY in relation to new forms of paternalism.  On the other hand he realized that the church would never attain a position of freedom as long as it depended on foreign donations and not on the resources of its own people. Questions involved surfaced in the important “moratorium” debate that took place in the EECMY from 1974 until 1976.
“Moratorium” had become a worldwide slogan at the Bangkok meeting of the CWME in 1973 and became a matter of debate all over Africa because of the call issued by the Lusaka Assembly of the All Africa Conference of Churches in 1974. Moratorium meant a temporary stopping of funds and personnel from abroad. It was proposed so that “mission churches” might find their own identity and ways of working without interference from foreign personnel. The suggested period for moratorium was five years.
The Rev. Gudina rejected the idea of a moratorium both on practical and theological grounds. He was in no doubt that the EECMY “could assert its freedom from any and every kind of foreign dominance.” The theological argument was that the church is universal and that the national church is part of the universal church. The churches were therefore interdependent. At that point of its history the EECMY needed continued assistance from sister churches abroad. Even though the EECMY answer to the moratorium issue in principle was negative, it became a matter of serious concern for the Rev. Gudina to make the church less dependent on foreign sources. He clearly saw that it was not enough to criticize criteria for aid. Nothing seemed to come out of the criticism. Instead the EECMY had to take charge of its own situation. He therefore proposed ten steps of action, ranging from questions of theological identity and worship patterns to economic identity and missionary outreach.
As the two major steps Gudina proposed to reduce the number of employees at the Central Office and cut the salaries of church employees generally. He wanted pastors and evangelists to be employed by the congregations, not by the synods. The congregation would thus become the fundamental administrative unit of the church. This proposal posed a most serious challenge to the whole structure of the EECMY. Through the years the number of employees and the salary scales had developed in such a way that the costs were seriously hampering all possibilities of self-reliance, making the church completely dependent on foreign aid and alienating its employees from the other members.
The Rev. Gudina brought the question into focus in the “Memorandum.” It is important to notice that his basic argument refers to the prophetic role of the church in society. His aim was to interpret the signs of the times and through the witness of the church remind the government of issues which he regarded as important to the life of the church as well as the country in general. One of the demands of the time was to “favor a drastic review of payment practices.” Gudina argued on the basis of holistic theology and sees the church as an example for others: “This is what it means to be the church for others…. In my opinion this is the cost of discipleship we have to pay for the sake of the Gospel and for the sake of our country.” The Executive Committee followed up with the following resolution: “No church can afford to live a separate existence from that of the country in which he serves…. The church must therefore make sacrificial efforts to achieve self support and self-reliance.” As a result the General Assembly in Najjoo in 1976 decided upon a planned decrease in outside support with the aim of achieving financial self-reliance within twenty years, i.e., by 1996!
Belief or unbelief? The fundamental conflict of faith
Gudina Tumsa limited the challenge of socialism to the political realm. The “Pastoral Letter” (1975) expressed a clear limitation of the totalitarian ideological claims of atheist philosophy of scientific socialism: “Ideologies cannot be considered as absolute. Complete allegiance is due to God and God alone.” In his major paper “Unbelief” read at the General Assembly meeting in Najjoo in 1976 Gudina pointed to the essential conflict between atheist and Christian interpretation of man and humanity:
Man has been created in the image of God. And human beings have freedom, creativity, honor, dignity, deriving from that image. To have a closed understanding of the world and a materialist understanding of man is to deny essential elements of science and human nature…. The truly effective testimony against unbelief is a life lived by faith.
The fierce opposition of the Rev. Gudina to his brother Baro at the same assembly meeting shows in a nutshell the basis for the Rev. Gudina’s critique of Marxist ideology:
It must be understood that there can be no reconciliation and no compromise between what the church believes and materialism. Marxism-Leninism and the church can never be friends. Materialism thinks and lives from below, from matter, but the church lives from the Spirit of God, who comes from above.
In 1976 an ecumenical forum for the churches in Ethiopia was established, the Council for Co-operation of Churches in Ethiopia (CCCE). The Roman Catholic Church cooperated actively, and good contacts with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church were established. The Rev. Gudina was elected the first chairman. The forum was a deliberate way of forming a concerted opposition to the fundamental conflict of faith that would inevitably be the result of the ideological policy shift of the government. The forum was an attempt to defend the believer against state oppression of the basic human right of religious freedom. In a conflict the churches would have to stand together and speak with one voice. It was with deep spiritual concern that he wrote in his “Memorandum” in 1975:
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s power to save everyone who believes it. It is the power to save from eternal damnation, [and liberates] from economic exploitation, from political oppression etc. Because of its eternal dimension the Gospel could never be replaced by any of the ideologies invented by men throughout the Centuries. It is the only voice telling about a loving Father who gave His Son as a ransom for many. It tells about the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the body…. It is too dear a treasure to be given up (Matt. 13:4).
The developing atheist ideology of the government was a crucial motivating aspect of the new council. The CCCE had only just been started when the Ethiopian Orthodox Church suddenly withdrew all contact with it without giving any reason. During the first arrest of the Rev. Gudina, October 1978, the interrogation centered on the CCCE as the government suspected him of creating an opposition. The experience of the CCCE is illustrative of the limits of holistic theology in the situation faced by Ethiopia in 1978. Even for an issue as crucial to the life of the churches as the survival of faith, it was not possible to address it in relation to government policy.
The church as an object for the forces of evil
Gudina Tumsa was clearly aware of the danger implied in moving beyond the established activities of “witness” and “service.” Because the church tends to think that since it is doing the work of the Lord everything is safe and good, it tends to forget that in every event demonic elements are at work: “It is true that a contextual definition of a responsible church ministry is always a risky undertaking, because in every situation and in every event both divine and demonic elements are at work.” This echoes a point in the Barmen declaration formulated by the Reformed theologian Karl Barth. If the church is to be able to participate in God’s struggle against the forces of evil and their effects in the world, it must itself be aware of how far the church is an object for the forces of evil in a given situation.
It is important to take note of the fact that when bringing up the demonic he exemplifies his point with an insightful quote from Canon Burgess Carr, at that time the general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches. Carr warned the churches of running the real risk of being used by African governments in very much the same way as the colonial powers used missionaries. The consequences would be a surrender of the church’s prophetic vocation and responsibilities towards African nations. Both the credibility and the integrity of the churches in Africa would be placed in desperate jeopardy. The relevance of his warning was tested when the government invited the religious groups to a seminar in March 1978. The Rev. Gudina declined the invitation, as he feared the seminar would be exploited for government purposes. As he had predicted, the seminar turned out to be an organized attempt to unite the religious communities behind the government. Six months later, October 1978, the Rev. Gudina was arrested.
A twenty-year perspective
From critical dialogue to conformity
Experiences during the Revolution came to influence the church’s interpretation of the meaning of holistic theology in the Ethiopian context. Let us remind ourselves of developments.
The Rev. Gudina’s fate: In undertaking research on the reasons for Gudina Tumsa’s execution I encountered much rumor and speculation, particularly related to his alleged involvement in the so-called nationalities issue. We should be aware that the Rev. Gudina had a legally approved basis, established by government proclamation, for engaging in debates about the nationalities issue. When Mengistu moved towards traditional political centralization in July 1977, any such engagement became a criminal matter. However, the government did not see the Rev. Gudina as an enemy until the autumn of 1978, when he refused to cooperate with Mengistu, in contrast to the compliance given by the heads of the Orthodox Christian and Islamic communities. The nationalities issue provided the government with a pretext for murdering him, but the crucial point seems to be his opposition to the regime on ideological and moral grounds.
As exemplified in his last document of July 1979, he set high ethical standards as a basis for cooperation with the Ethiopian government. The international community considered this government to be a brutal transgressor of human rights. The Rev. Gudina saw that cooperation with such a government would limit his freedom to speak the truth when justice and the preservation of human rights were at stake. In other words, cooperation would increase the risk of becoming a tool of an unjust government. The Rev. Gerd Decke, who has analyzed the Rev. Gudina’s critical dialogue with the Marxist regime, makes the issue clear:
It is abundantly clear that a socialist dictatorship could not accept Gudina Tumsa’s challenge on the ideological (theological, philosophical), on the practical (social welfare, developmental) levels and also on the institutional (political) level. They either had to try to win such a man over to their own political-ideological vision or eliminate his independent position. Their brutality in dealing with opponents and his unwillingness to compromise on matters of truth and allegiance to the faith brought about his untimely and tragic death.
The persecution of evangelical churches: At this point it may be enough to remind readers of a few basic facts. Between 1978 and 1991 more than 2,500 Evangelical churches were closed. The Kale Hiwett Church (KHC) had 1,700 churches closed and the EECMY 540. The Wallagga congregations are, however, bigger than the KHC and these churches were closed for a longer period. The number of people involved may not have varied very much. In addition, there was the imprisonment and torture of a large number of church employees and members. 
Tuning down holistic theology: Considering the experiences of the Revolution, the church officers of the EECMY decided in March 1986 to accept an invitation from government to participate in the drafting of the new constitution. In April 1987 the president of the EECMY was elected as a member of the National Shengo. These moves seem to represent a policy shift regarding EECMY attitudes to the government.
The ecumenical debate on missiology
The Ecumenical Movement, which represents most national churches, and the Lausanne Movement to which many missions belong, have struggled to solve the enigma of the relationship between evangelism and social responsibility. One attempt is to distinguish between two different mandates.  As an example paragraph five of the Lausanne Covenant affirmed “evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty.” The dichotomy was, however, not overcome until the World Evangelical Fellowship consultation in Wheaton in 1983, which was devoted to the theme “The Church in Response to Human Need.” This is the first official statement from an international evangelical conference where the dichotomy between the two mandates seems to have been overcome: “Evil is not only in the human heart but also in social structures…. The mission of the church includes both the proclamation of the Gospel and its demonstration. We must therefore evangelize, respond to immediate human needs, and press for social transformation.”
Since the mid-1970s there has been a similar turning of the tide, but in the opposite direction, in both ecumenical circles and within the Roman Catholic Church. Today Evangelicals and “Ecumenicals” grasp in a more profound way than ever before something of the depth of evil in the world, the inability of human beings to usher in God’s reign, and the need for both personal renewal by God’s Spirit and resolute commitment to challenge the structures of society. 
After the Second World War there was a major shift in how reality was perceived and this can be characterized as “holistic” and “ecumenical.”  Systematizing the Rev. Gudina’s theology we see that he grappled with issues central to the international debate. His theology was in many ways an amalgamation of the Pietist missionary legacy, ecumenical reflection and–not least–his African Christian heritage.
The cost of discipleship
The theology of the EECMY letter, and developed elsewhere in the Rev. Gudina’s writings, centered on the question of power-relations and the sinfulness of man. Man’s own will is in bondage and the result is seen in “racism, oppression and corruption,” as well as in the neo-paternalism of the Western mission agencies and the structural injustice of the state. This leaves man as well as the church vulnerable, dependent and unable to take charge of their own development.
Latin America theologies of liberation, advocated by theologians such as Gutierrez and Segundo, have called attention to the same issues when they declared that “developmentalism” did not attack the roots of the prevailing evil.  “Its’ obsession with rationality and its’ belief in effectiveness and evolution blinded it to the integral powers of culture and manhood.” The enemy was not human nature or ignorance about technological know-how, but the structure of human power that exploited and destroyed the humanity of others. In the final analysis one can refer to the Rev. Gudina’s powerful statement “In every situation and in every event the power of the divine and the demonic is at work.” 
What was the result? At the church-donor agency level the Western developers turned out to be neither willing nor able to transfer power. Within the EECMY most of the Rev. Gudina’s prophetic advice was bypassed. At the state level the Rev. Gudina was executed. In the history of the EECMY his death will remain an eternal reminder of the potential cost of embracing all dimensions of holistic theology. Gudina Tumsa’s integrated approach to human development and his theology of “love and justice” may serve as a guideline for further reflection on the task of the church in a continent ravaged by conflict and deep human suffering. His final words, the day before he died, may sum up his affirmation: “When a person is called to follow Christ, that person is called to die. It means a redirection of the purpose of life, that is death to one’s own wishes and personal desires and finding the greatest satisfaction in living for and serving the one who died for us and was raised from death (2 Cor. 5:13-14).”