Should Missionaries Just Stay Away?

The recent death of young martyr John Allen Chau has focused world attention on the legitimacy of Christian missions. Chau arranged with local seamen to get him onto one of the Andaman Islands in the eastern Indian Ocean, North Sentinel Island, in order to evangelize the native people there. According to reports, he was killed by them shortly after he landed.

The islands and their inhabitants are officially protected by the Indian government against the outside world. Part of the concern is that the native people would be harmed by exposure to diseases from elsewhere against which they would have no resistance, as is widely thought to have happened to vast numbers of native peoples in the Americas, and elsewhere.

Part of the concern, also, however, is that shared by many anthropologists and activists on behalf of such people unexposed to modernity, namely, that contact with the contemporary world will only harm them and that they are better off left alone.

And part of the concern seems to be that the whole enterprise of missionary work is inextricably entangled with colonialism, with both the attitude that “we know better” and the agenda of exploitation.

Many Christians, even those whose parents were inspired by the similar story of Jim Elliott and his companions who were killed by the Auca (better, Waorani) natives of South America, have mixed feelings about Chau’s adventure. Was he an imperialist, determined to impose his religion on others? Was he a headstrong fool, leaping into peril without proper preparation? Was he in fact a danger to the Sentinelese, bringing deadly plague in his body and an alien religion in his message?

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Why Gretta Vosper Isn’t the (Main) Problem

We here at “Context” have been looking again at the Gretta Vosper phenomenon, especially the “church refuses to defrock aggressive atheist” oddity that has garnered a lot of attention in the secular media as well.

The United Church has taken a hit on this story, to be sure. But the main problem of the Christian Church in Canada isn’t here. It isn’t that Christians don’t mean what we say. It’s that we all too often do.

Child-molesting priests can and should be protected “for the sake of the church.”

Philandering preachers can and should be quickly investigated and then reinstated in the name of “forgiveness” and “grace.”

Other people’s religions are to be written off as simply wrong, ideally to be replaced entirely by ours.

Women aren’t fit to lead our churches or to share leadership in our homes.

And sexually diverse people are wicked and need to straighten up (so to speak) before we will treat them civilly.

Just as bad, however, and perhaps even worse, is that we also mean what we don’t say.

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Gretta Vosper and the United Church of Canada: What’s Going on?

Self-declared atheist Gretta Vosper held on to her pulpit in the United Church of Canada last week as denominational executives decided to forego a full inquiry into her fitness for office. According to the United Church Observer:

“A Toronto Conference interview committee said in a September 2016 report that it had found Vosper unsuitable for ministry, because she was no longer in ‘essential agreement’ with the church’s statement of doctrine and was ‘unwilling and unable’ to reaffirm the vows she made when she was ordained in 1993. The General Council hearing to determine her status as an ordained minister was scheduled for this month and December.”

Instead, the Conference, Vosper, and her small congregation announced a joint settlement.

Besides the “man bites dog” nature of the story, which was the tone of many media accounts of it, is there anything to learn here? Or is this just the farcical ending of the long, slow, sad decline of Canada’s once-dominant Protestant Church?

No one is saying why the United Church settled with Vosper and her followers. Speculation is generally of the financial sort: a denomination that has been shrinking steadily for half a century and is shuttering churches all over the country can’t spend many dollars it doesn’t have to prove the obvious: Gretta Vosper is not functioning as a Christian pastor. The only other gain the United Church would make would be to relieve itself of the cost of Vosper’s remuneration and gain back the church building that actual Christians paid for—but by the time the legal bills would have been paid, who knows whether the Church would have come out ahead?

Better, perhaps, to just tie off the problem and wait for it to go away. Vospers isn’t young, nor are her supporters. It’s not like she’s leading a large number of United Church people away from—well, from what?

[For the rest, please click HERE.]