The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries

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Joel Shaffer's picture

I've had many passionate discussions with non-Christians and Christians alike that take the novel,  "The Poisionwood Bible" as gospel truth.  That these 19th and 20th century protestant missionaries were culturally insensitive colonialists like its main character, Nathan Price, doing much more harm than good.      It looks like the current historical and sociological research is proving otherwise, that the majority of these missionaries went to great lengths to oppose oppressive colonialism and made a positive, significant impact on those they served.

According to the researcher, areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations  

 It is interesting that these missionaries didn't go with the overriding purpose to change the oppressive systems, but rather to make disciples.  Fighting against illiteracy, poverty, disease, and oppressive governments happened as a result of loving the people they were serving. In today's missions climate, with such an over-riding huge emphasis on social justice and fighting oppressive systems, it looks as if mission-minded young evangelicals could learn a thing or two from these protestant missionaries from a couple centuries ago, by embracing the Great Commission (in the context of loving your neighbor).   


Anne Sokol's picture

You know, mission agencies tend to have statements in their handbooks like this one:

No missionary shall use his presence in a foreign land to engage in any political or undercover intelligence activity. Missionaries shall maintain a position of political neutrality.

It's not my agency. But I really struggle with this right now. Like in Ukraine, during this revolution, things are happening to citizens by military and police officers that are almost up on par with what was going on in Nazi Germany. (


And, while I certainly don't lobby for a particular party, I don't think I should remain silent about these injustices. Yes, all the while pointing people to salvation. but what missionary should've stayed "neutral" in Nazi Germany, for example? But i know most of my missionary friends in Ukraine are pretty silent, though they ask for prayer.

It's hard, very hard, sometimes to know what God wants you to do. When to you remain silent about abuse, and when does God want you to be a voice.