Christian mission has a lot to answer for, but we are learning.

The Revd Tim Harford, Director of Fundraising and Communications for USPG, writes…

‘Christian b*stards who have only one agenda in India… convert Hindus in India.’

This message on Twitter was directed at USPG following a talk by an ordinand who visited India to learn about Dalit theology with our Expanding Horizons world church placement programme.

The sender continued: ‘These Guy’s have NO Desire to help Hindus. Just find weak Hindus and convert them to Jesus.’

In fact our work in partnership with the Church of North India is focused on winning equal rights and greater inclusion in India’s economy for Dalits and Adivasis, who are respectively India’s so-called untouchable and tribal peoples. The aim is to encourage and assist disadvantaged communities – of all faiths – in their ongoing campaign for justice.

Nonetheless, this person on Twitter has a point; Christian mission can have very mixed motives.

Christian theologian Brian McLaren [1] has said that ‘the dark sides of our Christian past’ represents ‘a lineage of evil’.

History tells us that many communities were converted to Christianity under the sword or the gun.

Mission is a complex issues – always has been, always will be. It has also been the bread and butter of our work here at USPG since we were founded in 1701.

We are an international Anglican mission agency. From our head office in Southwark, we grapple daily with the subtleties of mission.

Our mission today is informed, and to some extent dependent on, what has gone before. It is certainly true that sometimes the links between the missionary movement and the development of colonialism ran deep. We were founded in 1701 to take the ministrations of the Church of England to the developing colonies of the Americas. In the centuries that followed well-intentioned – and, no doubt, some not-so-well-intentioned – missionaries sought to spread God’s love. Historically, missionaries have used techniques we might not condone today. It remains to be seen how history will judge twenty-first century mission.

Our every day work tells us there are no simple answers. This is, of course, not surprising. Our underpinning paradigm is our faith in God – but God is a mystery to us (1 Corinthians 13:12). Our understanding of God’s mission and how we are to engage in it is, like our reading of scripture, subject to interpretation that is informed by our culture, context, tradition, agenda and experience. Mission within the Anglican Communion necessarily operates worldwide in multiple over-lapping cultures and contexts so in our partnerships within the Communion we must be attentive and sensitive.

And so, in all humility, we adopt the stance of a disciple: listening, learning and responding. (In fact, our Lent study course for 2017 focuses on discipleship – see www.uspg.org.uk/lent)

We need not hold our hands up in utter confusion – there is a way forward, and that is through relationships and conversations, through discussions and shared learning. Mission is contextual and for USPG it is always partner-led.

So, while Christians through the centuries have used guns and swords – and some would say this continues in places today – our belief at USPG is that the gospel calls us, as disciples, to engage in relationships with openness, honesty, compassion and kindness.

[1] Brian McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian (Convergent: 2016), 76-77.

 

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of Us.

2 thoughts on “Christian mission has a lot to answer for, but we are learning.

  1. Thanks for this comment Tim. This complex and deep history is also littered with many examples of unintended consequences. Whilst education, healthcare and church planting were the staple diet of mission there was also the unintended consequence of disabling local communities. These unintended consequences are very difficult to unravel but as you say listening and learning are the keys. Whilst we are rightly critical of the missionary past in the West I am constantly reminded by friends in the Majority World not to put down the work of the missionaries who gave their lives sacrificially to build the church and provide education and healthcare.

  2. Thanks for this honest but constructive contribution, Tim. At the Pacific Theological College in Fiji where I’m currently serving, a new Institute for Mission and Research (IMR) has just been launched. Naming mission as ‘core business’ is a bold move, especially when the more distressing parts of Pacific mission history are recalled. But it’s what this authentically Pacific, contextual, ecumenical College of 50 years standing wanted to affirm in 2017, as two of its historic programmes came together. The IMR is tackling mission issues for the present age. The M word was the choice of Pacific Islanders looking forward, not back.

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