“The man who submits himself to a Tyrant in heaven naturally submits himself to the yoke of a tyrant on earth. The bible is a much more efficient and inexpensive tool of oppression than the overseer’s whip. Were I a slave master I would absolutely want all of my slaves to be Christians. I’m sorry but the Black church was no miracle but the overseer’s plan come to it’s fruition. That the conquered inevitably adopt the faith of their conquerors is just one of those sad facts of history. That was an excellent essay however and while I do understand many of the points you were making on how Christianity was used in order to allow communities to gather and organize this is an example of people working with the tools they are given. It’s no different than us making a delicacy out of the feet and intestines of a pig. We survived and thrived in spite of rather than because of.”

“We were able to take a weapon used against us and turn it back on our oppressors. That is no doubt a great triumph. But in the end it still had it’s intended purpose of completely cutting us off from our culture and indoctrinating us and brainwashing us with the culture and religion of our oppressors.”

“Still, historically, the conquerors of one culture have always torn down the temples, demonized the gods, and inevitably forced their own faith on the conquered. It seems somehow unseemly to argue that Black people are somehow better off for this having been done to them.”Wrath James White

Strong words. These comments were made in the wake of my blogs on The Miracle of the Black Church and Ancient-Future African Faith and are arguments well worth considering. I’ve been doing a lot of wrestling over the idea of how to do evangelism and missionary work. For that matter, there’s been a lot of discussion, or at least the beginnings of conversation, about the idea of ministering in a postcolonialism age. I wanted to back up a bit and look at what this means and what it’s implications may be, because I believe a lot of what the idea of postcolonialism is about gets to the root of what Wrath, among others, was getting at. For example:

Evangelism tends to be the destroyer of people. Historically and currently. It’s mostly imperialsim… after all how else does one form a religion to rule an empire based on the teachings of an anarchist… Constantine was many things, but he was a canny politician. Christianity has always, from its inception, been a prosletysing religion. If goes out of its way to recruit and spread, and has a successful meme. Islam conquers. Judaism doesn’t care, join don’t join doesn’t matter. Buddhism under Akosha had something like the Christian missionaries, but nothing like as muscular. Hindus don’t care since they regard most religions as subsets of Hinduism (down to Krishna’s comment on that).

Thing is, one size doesn’t fit all. I’m happy to help with medical aid, but if they stated introducing God bothering cultural modification to it, I’d suggest we let them die in their own time rather than wipe them out with God. But then I suppose their souls are more important than their bodies. –Harlequin

Missionary work during the age of colonialism will be viewed, assuming that it is not already, as a(nother) sad chapter in church history. The church, as a whole, will have to take a long hard look in the mirror and accept the things it has done in the name of Christ and its role in the oppression of people.

An aspect of colonialism is its conquest mentality that works by making other cultures less than human, debasing one while exalting the colonizer’s. The western imperialist colonizers viewed Africa as an untamed land with ungodly people, that there was nothing good in this dark and scary continent–other than its resources–and that its people were entirely under the power of the devil. Ironically, the United States is a revolutionary country in that it threw off the shackles of its own colonial masters. The hypocritical conceit of the country was that while our founding fathers held that all men were created equal, they also held slaves. You don’t think that central kind of hypocrisy doesn’t affect the character of a nation? Finds its way into the system of the society. Finds its way into the hearts and minds of the individuals that make up the system. Becomes ingrained. If all other peoples are members of a subordinate race, created to be slaves, then it becomes axiomatic, part of the consciousness and institutions.

The slave master’s intention was to present “a” Jesus. One to make slaves obedient and docile, a Gospel message to reinforce making faithful servants to white masters. In some ways, missionary work was a Bible and whip theology: we will take your land, profit from your resources, run your lives. We will make you slaves. We will replace your inferior culture with our superior one. To come to know Christ, you have to become civilized, absorbed into the dominant culture. Change your language. Change your names. Change your gods. Change your native ways. Become assimilated.

Integrated.

All of this was mixed into the Gospel package. Religion was a tool, no, a weapon, but the mindset that this came from bled its way into all areas of our religion, life, and culture. Think of it: at the time, missionaries failed to see God already at work in the cultures they traveled to – which He is, as He is already at work in everyone’s lives. Would-be evangelizers could have made bridges between their own faith and the faith of the people they hoped to evangelize, making the final/missing connection to Christ. Instead, the colonizers brought in and attached their own cultural baggage: trading one sin-soaked culture for the dominant sin-soaked culture. Naturally, this had to impact the portrait of the Jesus they were presenting, first in their own minds and next in the minds of the people they were presenting Him to.

Okay, some of it is anti-modern posturing or a hyper-modern reaction, a postmodern look as Western culture calls into question the legitimacy of the European hegemony. It’s easy to see the postcolonialism conversation as some form of guilty white liberal evangelism (though there is too often a certain “these people can’t take care of themselves” condescension to much guilty white liberal thought). However, as one (white) person thinks through the issue:

I am talking here in systemic terms; we have to think about how we contribute to maintaining systems of dominance through our actions and perceptions. We need to see these systems as global, as closely linked to economic and political structures, but expressed in local ways. We also need to bear in mind that systems are constructed from the actions of individuals, and so can be deconstructed by the same actors.

The colonialist mindset tends to creep into our American brand of Christianity. It leads to a mentality of “reclaiming” or “taking back” communities for Jesus. It works its way into our language. We have evangelism “Crusades,” doubly eerie in light of our times and our dealings with the Middle East (as, by general appearances, our two stories simply can’t find a way to co-exist so one is trying to wipe out the other.) Here’s the rub: we are all working under the paradigm and worldview of our cultural age. The missionaries simply adopted the culture and mindset of their colonialist day. Modern missionaries adopt the mindset of their modern age. Postmodern missionaries labor under a postmodern, and hopefully postcolonial, mindset.