A very smart person who is very dear to me once asked me, “How can you support a religion that moves into cultures and tries to replace them with its own? How egotistical can you be?”
That’s a really good question.
We learned today in New Testament History that Jesus might have looked quite a bit like a black dude. The Bible says that Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to hide Jesus from Herod’s massacre. So, if Jesus was able to hide among them he may have looked somewhat like them. And my professor’s personal research has surprisingly found that in many images, ancient Egyptians had the wide nose and dark skin of native Africans today. Maybe the Jews were a slightly darker hue than they have grown to be today.
But, then we learned why maybe we’re used to white Jesus. Europe systematically took over Africa and colonized it to be like them, much of it in the name of Christianity. Maybe this explains how Jesus got blonde hair. And how Christian missionaries got a bad name.
But, I kind of agree. That could seem pretty egotistical.
However, recently I’ve heard first hand accounts of work being done by three separate missionary groups who are writing quite a different story.
The first is the one is the Petros Network with whom I went to Ethiopia and wrote this book about. And the whole ending of my book is me drilling them about what our religion is doing to the native culture. But they told me stories of how bringing Christianity has done a few things. The men who become Christian no longer get drunk in the cities all day and the women are no longer left to fetch all the heavy water and wood to supply for the family. The kids are no longer whipped like animals. They are learning more sustainable methods of farming and now the witch doctor doesn’t control the villages with fear and ask for money and favors in exchange for healing. This might be a biased telling, but if it’s true, and it seemed to me like it was, that’s a pretty big improvement that I think any culture would invite.
The second account was from Care for Aids. I heard them speak at a meeting of Christians called Love Is A Verb who I wrote this post about. Care for Aids works in Africa and said they look for the most destitute members of the society, suffering from AIDS, and they start a multi-step process of first, giving them hope by offering the gospel, and giving them medicine, then education and skills, then finding them work, which gets them food, so that their medicine will work. And sometimes, like one story they told, women who weren’t even allowed to sit into a Muslim service, and were excommunicated from society, were welcomed into both a welcoming Christian community and their services.
And I just got out of a lecture by a couple of missionaries, which I stumbled upon in a back room of my seminary’s cafeteria. Near the end, after they showed how they are not only trying to repopulate their region’s endangered trees, helping them drill wells, teaching basic medical care, and giving whole villages ways ways to earn money to sustain themselves, I asked, “Is your mission to evangelize or just do social development? They said, “Actually, we’re just focused on the development. But the local pastors are taking what we are teaching and bringing that and the gospel to the people.”
This seems like a very different type of spread than what the Anglo Europeans did as they conquered a land by force. Maybe that was more an ego-anglo-power-political thing than a Christian thing.
All three of these groups of Christians said something to the extent of “We cannot, as Christians go into a needy area, see their poverty, and only respond by saying ‘Jesus loves you.'”
I don’t know if God asked us to move geo-politically into a new region. But I believe he did ask us to go into all the world and do something more like, feed his sheep, give them living water, and bring them new life. I think most indigenous cultures would welcome that.
Let’s cure ourselves of Ego-angloism, and be the right type of Christians to all people.
Raw Spoon, 10-21-15