Those arrogant, evil missionaries

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20)

This past Sunday, I mentioned how not everything that people teach us is true, and I argued that God’s Word is meant to be our north star, the standard by which we measure what we are hearing. I shared about how I became a follower of Jesus as a freshman at UConn, and how I wish I could go back and interact with some of the erroneous messages that my professors were teaching me, things that as a young Christian I could not debate.

One message I remember hearing in my Anthropology 100 class was that missionaries are arrogant or evil for going into foreign nations and trying to convert people to Christianity. At the time, I was silenced by that line, having never considered that maybe it was wrong to tell people about Jesus. But if I could go back in time, I might ask a question like:

“Are you saying that you think it is better to let people live in the manner they think is right rather than try to convert them to your beliefs? But isn’t that precisely what you are attempting to do right now – convert me to your belief instead of letting me live in the manner I think is right?”

As I eventually came to realize, many relativistic or post-modern claims end up defeating themselves: “There is no absolute truth (except, of course, my statement that there is no absolute truth).” “We should be tolerant of everybody (except, of course, people that I think are intolerant).” The Anthropology professor was all too eager to demean Christian missionaries, but completely overlooked the fact that she was evangelizing us into her worldview with a religious fervor of her own.  

Another question I could have asked would have been:

“So are you saying that it is never right to intervene in another people’s culture or object to something they practice? Are you saying that honor killings, female genital mutilation, cannibalism, and other practices are ‘good’ if they are an accepted part of another culture? And if you don’t think they are ‘good,’ what is the basis on which you are making that determination, and what would give you the right to compel another people to forsake that practice?”

The point is, of course, that while a relativistic, “live and let live” mindset sounds great in theory, it ties one’s hands from ever proclaiming something to be wrong, and provides no moral platform from which to object. “That’s wrong!” “Oh yeah? Who says?” Remove God, and anything goes, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

The final question I might have asked would have been:

“Are you saying that if I discovered a cure for AIDS, it would be wrong for me to try to introduce it to a country whose people were dying from HIV?”

In the final analysis, Christian missionaries are not going to foreign countries in order to build the Christian market share, the way that Coca-Cola or McDonald’s might do. We believe that sin has separated us from a holy God, and that the consequences of that reality are worse than even AIDS, for they are eternal. And so, Jesus has told us to go into all the world and to make disciples of all nations – not out of arrogance or malice, despite what my Anthropology professor might think – but out of love.  

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