How can you stand by when so many indigenous people and beautiful cultures have been trampled down by missionaries?
You are right – it’s been an appalling story. Loss of life, land, culture, language, children taken away… Enforced by laws, guns. violence, poison, indoctrination, fear, fences. I knwo there are soem heroic exceptions, but the city-based church offices often sided with the oppressors or gave up the fight too early.
At some points in history the church got colonised and recruited to the cause of empire, even though Jesus himself was crucified by that sort of empire. It’s not ironic, its tragic. And I am not standing by, though once I did. I got involved.
Recently I have been hearing stories from persons whose cultures were taken over and their stories are not so one-sided. Hear is one bit of research about that :
The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries by Andrea Palpant Dilley [ posted 1/8/2014 12:07PM ]
For many of our contemporaries, no one sums up missionaries of an earlier era like Nathan Price. The patriarch in Barbara Kingsolver’s 1998 novel, The Poisonwood Bible, Price tries to baptize new Congolese Christians in a river filled with crocodiles. He proclaims Tata Jesus is bangala!, thinking he is saying, “Jesus is beloved.” In fact, the phrase means, “Jesus is poisonwood.” Despite being corrected many times, Price repeats the phrase until his death—Kingsolver’s none-too-subtle metaphor for the culturally insensitive folly of modern missions.
For some reason, no one has written a best-selling book about the real-life 19th-century missionary John Mackenzie. When white settlers in South Africa threatened to take over the natives’ land, Mackenzie helped his friend and political ally Khama III travel to Britain. There, Mackenzie and his colleagues held petition drives, translated for Khama and two other chiefs at political rallies, and even arranged a meeting with Queen Victoria. Ultimately their efforts convinced Britain to enact a land protection agreement. Without it, the nation of Botswana would likely not exist today.
The annals of Western Protestant missions include Nathan Prices, of course. But thanks to a quiet, persistent sociologist named Robert Woodberry, we now know for certain that they include many more John Mackenzies. In fact, the work of missionaries like Mackenzie turns out to be the single largest factor in ensuring the health of nations.
Fourteen years ago, Woodberry was a graduate student in sociology at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill (UNC). The son of J. Dudley Woodberry, a professor of Islamic studies and now a dean emeritus at Fuller Theological Seminary, started studying in UNC’s respected PhD program with one of its most influential figures, Christian Smith (now at the University of Notre Dame). But as Woodberry cast about for a fruitful line of research of his own, he grew discontented.
“Most of the research I studied was about American religion,” he says of early graduate school. “It wasn’t [my] passion, and it didn’t feel like a calling, something I could pour my life into.”
One afternoon he attended a required lecture that brought his vocational drift to a sudden end. The lecture was by Kenneth A. Bollen, a UNC–Chapel Hill professor and one of the leading experts on measuring and tracking the spread of global democracy. Bollen remarked that he kept finding a significant statistical link between democracy and Protestantism. Someone needed to study the reason for the link, he said.
Woodberry sat forward in his seat and thought, ‘That’s me. I’m the one’.
Soon he found himself descending into the UNC–Chapel Hill archives in search of old data on religion. “I found an atlas [from 1925] of every missionary station in the world, with tons of data,” says Woodberry with glee. He found data on the “number of schools, teachers, printing presses, hospitals, and doctors, and it referred in turn to earlier atlases. I thought, Wow, this is so huge. This is amazing. This is why God made me.”
Woodberry set out to track down the evidence for Bollen’s conjecture that Protestant religion and democracy were somehow related. He studied yellowed maps, spending months charting the longitude and latitude of former missionary stations. He traveled to Thailand and India to consult with local scholars, dug through archives in London, Edinburgh, and Serampore, India, and talked with church historians all over Europe, North America, Asia, and Africa.
For the rest of the article and its dangerous discoveries, go to