Haha, hopefully that title reeled you in!
The reality is, this post is naughty because I should be doing assignments…or sleeping (it’s 12.03am). However I came across a blog in the Global Guardian criticising missionary efforts in Haiti and it stirred me a bit. You can read the article here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/may/17/haiti-development-missionary-aid-wrong
Let me make it clear. It is always good to critique the intentions of every action – particularly those of “good will” or done in the name of any religion. Nevertheless in academic circles it is fashionable to blame EVERY developmental problem on its missionary-related colonial past. In the process everything that is Christian gets painted with that brush. What they fail to see, is the colour of the paint. Of course, they fail to see that colour because it is more often than not a reflection of them.
Yes, you know I’m going there. Correct me if I’m wrong, but did any Coptic, Ethiopian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Indian Orthodox (that originated from St Thomas), or any other Christian tradition that pre-dates the white people jump on-board imperialist ships, go marauding around the world and force people to convert to the capitalist protestant work ethic? Didn’t think so… Anyway, I digress.
I actually wanted to share this eloquent reply to the blog post. This author mentioned many of the key points I have been thinking about over the past year.
By the way: next post, I will try to synthesise some the things I’ve been learning over the past year. This might go in part to explain my yet another end-of-semester-induced-exile.
Enough from me. Enjoy:
Strangely, those who make these kinds of assertions fail to notice that the roots of almost every contemporary liberation movement fall back to Christian sources. Feminism, for example had some of its earliest proponents in the theological arguments of Damaris Masham and Mary Astell in the 1600s. Abolition found its strongest proponents in Christian academic freed men such as David Walker and Frederick Douglass, and in Theodore Weld and William Wilberforce whose advocacy for nonviolent, persuasive Biblical exegesis and leading by example shaped the movement. The tracks of the “underground railroad” were laid upon hymns of liberation. Post civil war reconciliation, reconstruction, and YES, DEVELOPMENT AND SELF-RELIANCE efforts, were spearheaded by the theologically informed projects of Booker T. Washington and Gearorge Washington Carver. The strongest German resistance to Naziism was found in its “Confessing Church” and the bold, anti-imperialist and anti-aryan theologies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth. What would the modern civil rights movement have been without the coordination of southern churches and the leadership of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.? What would the end of Apartheid have looked like without the South African Commission for Truth and Reconciliation or Bishop Desmond Tutu? What would the fall of communist totalitarianism in Poland have looked like without the corporate non-violent resistance of the church in the 80s? Here in Latin America, who has given voice to the need for a valuation of the rights of the poor more than the liberation theologians and clergy such as Oscar Romero and Gustavo Gutierrez? Would any of this history have been likely without some universal ethical grounds that could serve as a foundation for universal human rights? Whether you believe them to be true or not, the life and teachings of Jesus have provided such a common authority and guided these historical efforts by suggesting that the worth of all humanity is valuated by the high price that has been paid for each human being regardless of their performance or family tree. There is, therefore, according to the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians, no room for evaluative distinction based on ethnicity, religion, gender, economic position, or any other human category, including legal or ethical guilt, becuase all are enfolded in the divine acceptance and human worth spelled out on the cross. This kind of all-embracing ethic goes beyond the reach of most justice advocates, sadly beyond many modern reinterpretations of Christianity, and certainly beyond the scopes of the kind of exclusive claims to the forms of righteous aid put forth by this rather flimsy article. And yes, It certainly strips us Christians of any foundation for top-down, unlistening, uncooperative, uninclusive forms of aid. We, of all people, have a reason to not tolerate work in Haiti that does not give preference to Haitian voices, ideas, resources, and initiative. We are Haiti’s guests, and most certainly not its lord.
All this to say, while I strongly encourage and invite helpful critique of missionary efforts in Haiti, I hope that it will not be the off-the-cuff religious alienation and run-of-the mill pseudo-academic, veiled religious intolerance such as was exemplified in this article. This is me turning the other cheek. Please hit us squarely in the jaw, but please, swing to land the punch. Make observations of actual ministry. Ask Haitians their opinions. I’m confident that some of us will follow our Rabbi’s call to confess our faults, take the appropriate blame, and change accordingly. Too much is at stake to spend all this ink on little more than the juvenile journalistic equivalent of “Christians are bad”. We need to hear valid, studied critiques, and positive ideas about ways forward. As a Jesus-follower who works in Haiti I observe a lot of the colonial kinds of attitudes in the missionary community that warrant the critique that the article attempts, but wish it would have landed some direct observation of charity gone wrong. Without data, this is lazy and prejudiced reporting. And this too, is covered by grace.
Your combustible straw,