Barna: Young Christians Value Missions, but Question Its Ethics

“The Future of Missions, a brand new Barna report conducted in partnership with International Mission Board, takes a closer look at what’s keeping young Christians from wholeheartedly engaging with global ministry…. One-third of young adult Christians (34%) agrees that ‘in the past, missions work has been unethical,’ compared to one in four adults 35 and older (23%). Two in five (42%) agree that ‘Christian mission is tainted by its association with colonialism’ (vs. 29% older adults 35+, 31% teens).” - Barna


Tainted by colonialism! Get a life. I can picture it now, on the day of judgment:

JESUS: Why did you not go to **** when you had the chance and preach the Gospel?

PERSON: Well, Jesus, I wanted to. Really, I did! It’s just that … (voice trails off) …

JESUS: Yes … ?

PERSON: Western missions has been tainted by the stain of colonialism! When I read John Paton’s autobiography, I couldn’t help but see how he presumed to impute his Western, white values onto the cannibals among whom he ministered! It’s awful! I can’t be a part of perpetuating my whiteness onto foreign cultures!

JESUS: You are a fool. You were meant to be an ambassador for my coming kingdom. That’s the prism through which you were supposed to live your life!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

This is really a lot of revisionist history going on here. Too many younger Christians have not truly studied the history of missions and anthropology. When I taught a social justice/urban missions class at Cornerstone U 15 years ago, I had to refute a student that had just read the book, The Poisonwood Bible, which infamously creates one of the worst caricatures of foreign missionaries written by Baraba Kingsolver. The book creates a story of a fictional Baptist Missionary who goes to Congo with his family in 1959. The Congolese people resent and mock him. He is culturally inept in every way possible, including his colonial mindset. The author, Barbara Kingsolver, created a horrific caricature that only existed in the margins of Congo missionary work. That is how many younger folks (both Christians and Non-Christians) view missionaries from the past.

I have a cousin named Paul Carlson who gave his life for the Congolese people in 1964 as a martyred missionary during the Congo conflict. Over 1000 Congolese attended and mourned him at his funeral because he “layed down his life for his friends” (their words). It’s too bad that historical accounts of sacrifices that missionaries have made throughout the 19th-20th centuries are off the radar of many younger Christians. If they would’ve read Dowdy’s Out of the Jaws of the Lion or missionary historian Ruth Tucker’s “From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya” maybe they’d have a more accurate picture of what really happened than relying on broad-brushed historical stereotypes. Whenever I encounter people who try to make this argument (that missions is a product of colonialism and destroy cultures), I link them to these articles.……