Missionaries smother others with salvation

Have you accepted Jesus into your heart?” A young woman, compassion gushing out of her eyes, approaches me and gently touches my arm. “Get away from me, freak!” I want to scream. I don’t quite have the guts to say it, though. I smile politely, blurt out some lame excuse and hurry on my way. Campus missionaries – you all know who I’m talking about.

From Brother Jed to the young men and women of the Latter Day Saints, campus missionaries swarm the University every fall and spring. Thank God for Minnesota winters, or we’d never find refuge from their proselytizing. The more boisterous ones stride up and down Northrop Mall, bellowing about hell and damnation. The shyer ones hover on the sidewalks, searching out that lone student who seems like easy prey. They work in pairs – strength in numbers, you know – and once their eyes target you, they quickly move in. I wonder if they train with SWAT teams.

I might sound like I’m an atheist who hates all Christians, but I’m not. I believe in God, and I’ll leave it at that. Every person’s religion resides in the heart, and that’s exactly where I’m leaving mine. Perhaps this is why missionaries bug me so much. How dare they not respect my intelligence enough to realize that if I wanted to learn more about Christian campus ministries, I would search them out.

Two years ago, I spent part of my summer in Haiti, and my experiences with the missionaries there forever jaded my opinion. Granted, some of the missionaries I met were the most culturally competent and well-adjusted foreigners in the country, but it seems that the Third World brings out the “altruistic” side of missionaries. Historically, they’ve felt obligated to “save” the poor brown man, enlighten his blighted ignorance and redeem his soul to a god he has never heard of. Granted, most missionaries have good intentions – but then again, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I ran across so much Christian propaganda while I was in Haiti. One phrase I read in a pamphlet still sticks in my mind: “Bringing the Light of Christianity to the Darkness of Haiti.” Just a tad condescending, don’t ya think?

Stan, a missionary from Florida, once paid a visit to a local Haitian pastor. It was Stan’s first time in Haiti; he didn’t know the language nor was he familiar with the culture. But he didn’t let that stop him. As long as he spoke English very loudly and slowly to Pastor Caleb, he was sure to be understood. Never mind that Caleb probably knew English grammar better than Stan did.

Stan entertained grand dreams of shipping free Bibles to local Haitian churches; no doubt he imagined little starving Haitian children running to him afterward, overflowing with smiles and thanks. Of course he never asked whether Bibles were needed; he told Pastor Caleb that Bibles were coming. After all, this was the Third World. They desperately need any scrap someone might toss their way. I was embarrassed just listening to Stan; I can’t imagine how Caleb kept from throwing the ignorant ass out of his church.

Did Stan ever ask Caleb for advice on the logistics of shipping or delivering these Bibles, considering Caleb lived in Haiti his entire life while Stan had been in the country for all of three hours? Of course not. That would require humility, and why should missionaries be humble?

The entire mindset behind missionary work springs from an inferiority complex – but not on the side of the missionary, mind you. They’re not the inferior ones. It’s the heathens living without the Gospel of the Christian God who are inferior.

To want to change an entire people, you must believe there’s something wrong with them in the first place. Why else would you want to convert them? Are they even your equals? Probably not if you have the knowledge that will save their eternal souls and they don’t.

From missionary-run Native American boarding schools where they tried to “kill the Indian to save the man” to rampant evangelism in Africa, missionaries have had a knack for invading and destroying other cultures, as well as reinforcing colonialist and racist thought during the 19th century. As religious as these groups might have been, they somehow missed the fact that a people’s culture and religion are tightly interwoven. Change one and you’re bound to change the other. But did missionaries care? Apparently not.

Missionary intolerance of traditional Chinese customs and social patterns during the 1960s contributed to anti-foreignism and the outbreak of the Boxer Rebellion. In the United States during that same period, missionaries would sometimes gloss over slavery, claiming, “Well, at least they’re being saved.” Even during the 1960s and ’70s, missionaries were busy dismantling the culture in West Papua. Creating a “religious elite” within the traditional tribal system, they burned the people’s artifacts and forbade them to participate in traditional ceremonies or dances. And don’t even get me started on missionaries and international foreign aid. Missionary work and cultural genocide – it must be rewarding to save people’s souls while destroying their lives.

Missionaries seem to believe they have discovered the secret key to paradise and everlasting life. That’s wonderful. I’m happy for them. But they shouldn’t guilt themselves into imposing their philosophies on everyone else. If their religion truly has enlightened their hearts, their personal lives should stand as the sole testament. As St. Francis once said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

Samantha Pace’s column appears whenever she has time to write. She welcomes comments at [email protected]. Send letters to the editor to
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