Christian Missions, Making Disciples & Cultural Contamination.

 

I recently had a short but provocative twitter conversation with Ukumbwa Sauti, M.Ed.  who is a professor of cultural media studies, and is trained in Indigenous African Spiritual Technologies in the Dagara tradition.  The conversation centered on the perceived cultural imperialism of Christian Missions.  This is by no means a new concept, and the tendency towards being colonial in Missions still exists.  I would have to say the my North American brethren are far more prone to making little North Americans then Making Disciples of Jesus.  In  my work on the mission field in Ecuador, I have worked among the Shuara and Quichua Indians, and the Mestizos (the mixed indigenous).  I have also worked in the midst of countless sub-cultures in the Cloud Forest Region and beyond.  I have also worked among the Navajo people in the United States.  I can honestly say that I have never, in my desire to bring Christ to these people have sought to simultaneously change their culture.  One could argue that bringing Christ into a culture is to change its culture, and if that be the case, then I am guilty.  A question which should follow logically then, is, can we bring Christ to a people, a culture, without contaminating that culture?

The Kingdom of God is a culture.  If we bring the good news of that Kingdom into a culture that does not have it, will forever have an effect. Ukumbwa asked, “why does the christian missionary initiative seek to popularize/generalize its own creation story above others?  It is an honest and poignant question which every missionary should ask themselves. As best as I could respond on twitter, I said, “because Christians believe that Christ commands them so. It is a necessary component of the Christian faith.”

He then asked me if the command to do so was a sufficient reason to “ negate other peoples’ creation stories and cultures?”  It is never my intention to negate another’s story or culture, but I suppose by default that it does happen when bringing the culture of the Kingdom of God to others.

If coercion is preferred over persuasion, then Ukumbwa has some valid points, but simply introducing another story into a different culture does not negate their story.  It offers a different set of propositions.  Every narrative by nature of being a narrative contains propositions.  What the receiving culture does with those propositions remains their choice.  I wanted to invite my friends and Ukumbwa to engage this topic head on.

Is it possible to introduce Christ into a culture without changing that culture?  Does a Christian need to be concerned about effectively changing a culture with a foreign message?  Is contaminating a culture with the gospel a valid accusation?

Miguel Labrador

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    1. Miguel,

      This is a great question with very important answers. It all depends on how one understands cultures and the way root metaphors serve in forming and maintaining a worldview and the role that anti-structures play in subverting those metaphors. A cultural myth is a foundational story concerning the nature of ultimate reality that not only is assumed to be true by a culture, it is performed throughout a cultures cultic rituals; it defines reality for that culture. Being a myth doesn’t mean its not true (there is a popular understanding of the term myth that implies falsehood; I’m using the technical term). It’s just a term we use to describe these stories. In its most technical sense, the grand narrative of the Bible is also a myth. We believe, and I believe rightly so!, that the Bible is the only true myth. It not only assumes itself to be true (as all myths do), but we know its truth because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christian history testifies to its truth.

      So what happens when a Christian encounters another person who holds to a fundamentally different set of root metaphors? To become a Christian is to share in the Christian faith in Jesus as the prophesied Messiah and to concomitantly share the worldview of His kingdom, fundamentally defined by Scripture. The Bible becomes a Christians new root metaphor, that which defines all of reality for them.

      As a person becomes a Christian, they don’t cease to be from their culture, they are not a-cultural or supracultural. Those stories, with their reinforcing rituals, which have defined their very day-to-day existence, still have sway over them, and the rest of their people for that matter. At this point, the true story of the world which they have just encountered becomes an anti-structure in that society. Historically, missionaries have not allowed Scripture to become enculturated in this way before crushing a people’s worldview. I wholeheartedly believe the Bible is subversive to all other rival human stories (every one), but God does not call us to crush other stories. Subversion is not the same thing as usurpation.

      When the biblical story is enculturated, it becomes an antistructure. Anti-structures are those alternative explanations the live on the margins of every culture. Overtime, when cultures encounter rival stories, whether because of natural disasters, being conquered, themselves going on conquest, or peaceful interaction with others, these antistructures start to gain acceptance until there is a paradigm shift. What was once a root metaphor becomes an antistructure while the antistructure becomes the root metaphor. In this instance, a whole culture quickly changes, rituals and all, because reality has been redefined. This is natural, though it can be very disruptive, depending on how the story was encountered, whether through technological, economical and military power/superiority or through peace and explanatory power.

      Missionaries must pursue peace and dialogue. If the Christian myth is true, as we rightly believe it is, then the truth will win out. It has the ability to explain reality in a more compelling manner than any other rival story (since truth always defeats error–i.e. lack of truth). And God Himself is at work through His story. People actually encounter the creator God, personally, through His Son Jesus in the Holy Spirit. When that happens, God Himself works to transform the culture. He doesn’t erase the culture or make it a non-culture or conform it to other cultures. God himself is the author of culture. He gave humanity dominion, he created the nations at Babel, and he will be exalted in the diversity of all the peoples worshipping together in unity before the throne of the Father and the Lamb.

      That’s a long way of saying its not the missionary’s goal to change a culture. But by the very nature of the biblical story, God through the gospel invariably will.

      -Wes

    2. Pingback: Should Missionaries Change Culture? | a mission-driven life


    3. I view culture as the outward expression of homogeneous ethnicity. Varying cultures provide diversity; this is a good thing. Within ethnicity is good and back, judged intrinsically by a given culture and judged extrinsically between cultures; this is also a good thing.
      Cultural interaction breeds conflict, which results in transformation – positive or negative. Positive transformation results when the stronger elements of a culture supplement the weaker to greater health; this is recuperation. Negative transformation occurs when stronger elements of one given culture supplant the weaker without regard to health; this is disease.
      I disagree that “the Kingdom of God is a culture.” Instead, I would posit that the Kingdom of God is the reformation or transformation of “panta ta ethne” all cultures. -Buck


    4. I along with other missionaries-in-training had a great time studying this idea this summer.
      1-The Gospel always brings transformation.
      2-All cultures are fallen.
      3-The key is to make sure the missionary is transmitting the Gospel and letting the Holy Spirit guide & inspire change in the hearts of the new culture’s believers AND to NOT transmit [our] home culture and traditions as part of the change. In theory. :)
      4-There is also a responsibility to move primitive cultures forward far enough to protect them from secular exploitation and marginalization by big $$ interests. Intentional “Contamination” for their best interest.
      Great topic.


      • Interesting, I don’t know of any indigenous people that have had a great time engaging this issue.
        My response may seem remedial and hard to hear, but – no.

        2- All cultures are, my culture is not “fallen”…I presume that to be bad.

        3- Missionaries most often (and can’t help but) transfer their own cultures in the processes…which tells me you were not taught enough about culture in your classes/training

        4 – indigenous cultures don’t need to be moved “forward”, that’s just privileged cultural arrogance speaking there…that we need to be moved forward to protect us? That’s ludicrous unless you are steeped in the false impression that modernity is a viable way of being in the world. That you use the word “contamination” in that way is not funny, interesting or helpful.

        1 – Correct. And that’s not a good thing. All transformation is not good. History and the indigenous experience (if you dare see the world from that/our point of view….called empathy) show us that the transformation has been largely negative…from our point of view. That an attacker doesn’t understand the experience of the victim is understandable, but not a justifiable point of view if we are talking about living in an intelligent and compassionate world.


    5. I appreciate this opportunity to engage this issue as it is a predominant one in the continuing dialogue and development of humanity on this earth. There are a number of dynamics at work here that are important to consider.

      On the issue of mythology, we must understand, as has been stated, that mythology is a core part of any culture and that for all of humanity, mythologies have been created and experienced through the creation of culture based on the intimate relationship with spacial reality, land bases and nature as expressed in that space. There is a reason why the Innuit may have more stories about snow than the Yoruba. That said, if one is to be truly respectful of culture and the people who carry it, then one would not coerce, subvert, usurp, terrorize or otherwise contaminate the nature of another’s culture. Parity is an important concept here, one that exists functionally in almost all of the indigenous cultures that I have learned about or experienced. Respecting the way in which one comes to experience Spirit and divinity in the world is key to respecting those people. Turning an ignorant head to the clear contamination that missiology presents is childish and immature. To carry a foreign ideological package such as European/Western christianity into an indigenous culture is and has shown itself through history to be nothing less than cultural imperialism.

      Vine Deloria, Jr.’s work in “God Is Red” is important to us here. He points out, correctly, how culture is created in space, primarily, and is an expression of the geographical context of that cultural creation. He argues well the position that christianity is, in and of itself, an expression of a cultural reality from a particular part of the world. It would be deleterious to other cultures and to their relationship with the land upon which they live (a pathology we’ve seen grow in depth and breadth since about, say, 1492). Secondarily, he points out that the contradictions and cultural maleability of those who embrace christianity is so deep as to have made it impossible to carry that same package without great difficulty, confusion and internal division. This is why it has become central to christianity to base itself in temporal, not spacial reality, depending on historicity instead of any grounded relationship to the earth and the spiritual energetics of place, a successful human development that is only about 3 million years in the making. That christianity can be described as “anti-structural”, but that “G-O-D” is the creator of culture is simply “1984″ double-speak.

      That christianity, as dominantly expressed in the world, is a particular cultural expression from a relatively small place in the world, that has been uprooted from that cultural incubator and validation and is now being used and seen and observed and experienced as a negative, culturally imperialistic force is due much more attention than it is getting. That the dogma of this imperialism is one of temporality (sustaining itself on historical, biblical, stories as opposed to continuing, grounded, socially integrated experiences of divinity – as all cultures do) and intellectualism is not surprising.

      Another dynamic that must be engaged is that of the close proximity (and many would say unholy union) of European corporate capitalist imperialism/colonialism/neo-colonialism and christianity. That the international criminal Christopher Columbus is hailed as a great evangelizer and not a usurper/subverter/contaminator/destroyer of valid, sustained and grounded cultures and peoples by the roman catholic church is instructive here. Again, it smacks of ignorance and arrogance that the “gift” of christianity can be evaluated without including the negative, unethical practices and forces of that the Columbian initiative set into motion. The very facility that missionaries possess is afforded by the imbalance of power that was created by the terrorism that was and is European colonialism, land theft and natural resource exploitation. It is immature at best and immoral/unethical/criminal at worst to turn a blind eye to the historicity of christianity and how exactly it spread throughout the world. The white privilege and resource/transportation access afforded to those christians of European descent is tremendous. That I never hear missionaries or christians talk about of fight white privilege is not a surprise to me, but that one can talk about Jesus, “G-O-D” and “truth” and ignore the tragic history and experience of this religious imperialism is disingenuous and sinful, an act of flagrant and constant omission. The questionable work of SIL in South America, the Jesuits in West Africa and the pantheon of christianities that disintegrated Native American nations from their Ancestral roots on Turtle Island are the tips of the iceberg that connect predatory christian missionary work to European colonialism. The Joshua Project asks the childish question about how the spread of missiology increased after 1500. Do we have to really open up the history book to remind of what happened around the year 1500..what the experience of indigenous peoples was at the hands of “christian” interlopers? I point us all to Indian Country online and their reports on the “Doctrine of Discovery” and the recent report made to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. One can not be a reputable adherent to a doctrine that bases itself in historicity, but refuses to reconcile its presence and behaviors and great subversive influence with the realities of history (especially as experienced and expressed by indigenous people). One need only look to the work of LaDuke, Clarke, Some’, Prechtel, Gunn-Allen, Krasskova, Carew, Jeffries, Rodney, Wildcat or Deloria, Jr. to see that these cultural conquests have not been benign nor liberating, particularly in a spiritual sense.

      A last dynamic, for now, is one that Deloria again raises and I think it’s a particularly salient point. The increase in the social, political and spiritual/emotional (many indigenous spiritual systems don’t separate the different aspects of the human experience with respect to Spirit in the modern European reductionist way) pathologies that all peoples can point to from all perspectives grew in leaps and bounds on a global level at the same time that European/western christianity was evangelizing the world at large. That the Joshua Project asks its elementary question about the year 1500 is again instructive. The very exploitation and degradation of the earth itself occurred only and during that time. This is no innocent coincidence. There is no way one can turn a blind eye to that juxtaposition of cultural occurrences without divorcing themselves from the very thing that makes us human, the ability to be present with a corporeal and esoteric (in unity) reality and to be able to face it as fully formed humans, eyes open and hearts engaged. Deloria goes on to say that it is precisely that lack of real healing and redemptive function of christianity that is its undoing.

      Why IS it that christianity is declining in new adherents and increasing in those leaving it behind in the industrialized (and often settler-colonial like the USAmerica) world? Why is it that it is gaining dangerous ground in the countries that have been hit hardest by European cultural/economic/political imperialism? Why is it that missiology strategizes to “reach” people when they are refugees or in dire transition, a technique I saw reported in one christian cult in New England)? These are not rhetorical questions. They must be answered and reconciled in a way that shows respect, again, to all peoples and cultures, especially those grounded in their spacial/Ancestral experience on this earth. And these questions should be engaged and answered among and by christians, without the concomitant silence that white privilege, racism and patriarchy allow most of the people I see doing this work.

      Suffice to say, there are numerous questions that can be raised and answers that can be gleaned that correctly place christian missiology in the realm of cultural contamination and usurpation. As long as those missionaries assume and then act as though their mythological underpinning automatically trumps that of the indigenous mythological underpinnings, this contamination will continue and your best claims of innocence around this matter, no matter how heartfelt, will and must be relegated to irrelevance. My concern here, amongst many, is that I see this mission work occurring from a place of imbalanced social privilege, carrying a culturally displaced historical dogma that is clearly (functionally, historistically, intellectually, spacially and spiritually) irrelevant to the lives of indigenous peoples, from the Sami to the Sioux, from the Kavalan to the Kogi, from the Druids to the Dagara.


    6. What a fascinating discussion! I appreciate Ukumbwa’s questions and challenges to our thinking as missionaries. I also deeply appreciate his willingness to engage in the dialogue. Thank you, Miguel, for opening up this discussion.

      I am a believer in the life-changing and, yes, culture-changing power of an encounter with the risen Lord, Jesus Christ. It is the personal experience of that change that motivates me and others out of love to share the message of the One who brings the change.

      There is a difference in this discussion of presuppositions, I believe. The Bible is clear that, all people, all cultures, all human ideologies are fallen. The other presupposition is, of course, that each culture, each myth, each world-view is innately adequate, if not good, for its adherents. So, we have a biblical world-view and a humanistic or, if you please, indigenous world-view. The question is then why should one have predominance over the other?

      My own culture, as being predominantly Ango-Saxon, is ancient and, clearly of a Christian nature within the past 1500 years or so. Prior to the influence of the message of Christ, my culture was very much tied to nature. My ancient answers worshiped gods of trees, earth, sky, etc. and feared evil spirits in those realms. My ancient ancestors offered human sacrifices of adults and children in an attempt to appease these gods or spirits. I clearly affirm that my indigenous culture was fallen. My current culture, western that is, worships gods of technology, materialism, pleasure and whatever may be popular at the moment. (Ukumbwa, from what I have read of your thoughts, I believe you have strong feelings about these things as well). This western culture of mine is also, from a biblical point of view, clearly fallen. So, my point is that all cultures at all times need to be redeemed, that is, brought back or, in fact, bought back to God’s truth and love.

      From the Word of God, we know that Jesus accomplished this by invading our culture(s) and offering himself as the sacrifice for all “fallenness” or sin. Paul said to the Athenians, on a particular cultural invasion of his own:

      “24 God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one blood[c] every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ 29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. 30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17:24-31

      So you see, the scriptures which we hold and have experienced as the Word of God, declare that God has one thing to say to all cultures. “Turn from your own way of trying to understand me and embrace my Son, Whom I have sent as the only way to Me and, by Whom I will judge all peoples.” The One who has the right to come into any culture and change its beliefs, myths and narratives is the One who has made us all and has made it possible to redeem us all back to Himself.

      Why is God so intolerant of other ways? Because He has offered His only and beloved Son to bring us to Himself. He allowed Him to experience a cruel cross and a horrific burden of human sin beyond our ability to imagine in order that we might know how much our Creator loves us and desires us to be with Him for eternity. If I had offered my son for sinners, if I even could, I would be rather picky too about what alternatives I would endorse for the redemption of mankind. I wouldn’t put up with any other arguments. So it is and so it will be. The Word of God is clear about that.

      Now, there are aspects of any culture that can and should be incorporated into the worship of the true and living God for His glory and we missionaries should take great care not to force our western standards of what church looks like or should be. But, where cultures need truth or the correction of God’s truth, they MUST change. His Word will not change. Sin must be dealt with, and it will be, one way or the other – either in redemption or in judgement. We can choose to have it our way there.

      Thanks again, Miguel, for the forum to discuss these important matters and, thanks also, Ukumbwa, for your provoking and sincere thoughts on the subject. Looking forward to further discussions. – Tony


    7. Ukumbwa,
      I think you have raised a rightful question here. Your statement “My concern here, amongst many, is that I see this mission work occurring from a place of imbalanced social privilege, carrying a culturally displaced historical dogma that is clearly (functionally, historistically, intellectually, spacially and spiritually) irrelevant to the lives of indigenous peoples, from the Sami to the Sioux, from the Kavalan to the Kogi, from the Druids to the Dagara” is where this all comes down. I think as carriers of the “Good News” we are constantly in conflict with the culture in which we find ourselves (be it in America, Africa, Asia, or elsewhere). Unfortunately, we don’t leave our own cultural preconceptions at the altar of salvation. What we’ll need to agree upon for this discussion to go further is that no culture is perfect.

      In my studies (before and after encountering cultures much unlike my own), I have been taught to filter culture through the grid of Scripture (and not the other way around). While my own cultural background does “color” how I interpret Scripture, I lean on studies of the original culture and language to discover the original intent (not just what the KJV version gives me). As you have pointed out with the Inuit as your example, there are more words for snow, just as there are more words in Greek for love than we have in English. We do lose things in translation.

      The danger of filtering Scripture through culture (or taking culture as preeminent over Scripture) is that it can completely distort the message of Scripture. What some (like myself) call “liberalism”, we approach the danger of a “pick and choose” approach to the entire Bible, thus making the Bible less and less relevant (e.g. approval and promotion of homosexuals within the church). I think, from there we need to separate different aspects of the culture into “value positive”, “value neutral”, and “value negative” in terms of how those aspects can integrated into a biblically-centered culture.

      So, how best do I approach the culture without trying to create “little America”? I think that to “preach the Word” in its entirety should be the case. In your argument, you would say that I come “from a place of imbalanced social privilege”. This is something that I cannot help or change. But to seek methods of gospel presentation where culture is held in such high value is a mistake (and much the same when the culture is seen as completely negative). I don’t desire to see church as in the opening scenes of “the African Queen”, but I also have a problem when someone discounts the “Truth” I am communicating because of their pre-conceived notions of my “imperialistic” nature.

      When looking at biblical examples, the positive examples ran counter to culture and the negative examples often adopted to their host (or invading) culture. Do we discount Daniel’s message because he didn’t accept (without condition) the kings’ culture? Do we throw out Paul’s message because he traveled into other cultures and seemed irrelevant to that culture (and wasn’t he from a “place of social privilege”)? We also know that Jesus often broke from cultural norms when he met with “sinners and tax collectors.”

      I agree with Buck and Wes (both of whom I have met in much different contexts). When all is said and done, I hope I haven’t transmitted my own culture (which is impossible not to transmit) as the Gospel of salvation of Jesus as the only “way, truth and life” and “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Discounting the message because of the messenger is just as (if not more) dangerous, than having a culture that is transformed to align more with God’s will for that culture (as exampled in the Bible).

      -Michael


    8. What a wonderful subject.

      I am part of a team that trains and leads teams into the Amazon Jungle, in the restricted area where there are still many native, untouched tribes, and we must have government permit for every individual who joins us.

      We have been making our way into a network of villages of the Sateré Indian Tribe.

      Our practical purpose is to drill wells, because the natural process of decay of animals and foliage renders the river water not potable. This reduces the life expectancy of the indigenous communities to about 35 to 45 years of age.

      It is against the Brazilian law to change their culture, there are strict rules to how we are allowed to conduct our business with the natives, although many religious groups have made our work more difficult by going into tribes and, under the pretense of being bold in their beliefs, they have built small chapels in some of the bordering villages and even put names of churches on little signs.

      Instead of contributing to this conduct, which has raised government eyebrows, as they try to decide whether religious groups are actually helping the natives, our group has decided to study the indigenous culture, and see what parts of their culture can be positive for the preaching of the Gospel.

      Furthermore we have left it up to the Holy Spirit to inspire change in those things that conflict with Godly principals. I will state an example of one of these communities.

      “Flechal” (Arrow Makers) is wonderful community. Their chief is a happy man with a beautiful smile, and you should see how he loves the children in the village. They flock around him and really look up to him. For present means and purposes we will call him Vic (which is not far from his actual name).

      You never enter a village without being first received by the chief. so the first day we arrived, we spent some time in the boat outside the village. After about an hour, we see his smiley self walk hospitably to the boat and ask us only not to invade the private huts with our cameras, but that his village would welcome us.

      We unload and as we work with the village men, we learn everything we can about their leadership.

      What we found was a very biblical, organic form of leadership in their village. They have a respected elder called a Tuiça (too-ee-sah) who seeks council with all the adults in the village, and then gives them direction based on their conversations. The older ones help educate and serve the younger ones. and they have an itinerary Tuiça, who communicates the common concerns of all of that clans villages, as an entire body. they are not very commanding, although they hold honor and respect of the people if the need should arise to make determining calls for the protection of the tribe.

      In this particular village, we felt the only need they had for the Gospel, was to present Jesus as the Ultimate Tuiça, the creator, and that His love should be the essence of their lives.

      The tribe already had a sense of purpose; They teach their children that their purpose is to preserve the forest, and care for one another. They have accepted the understanding that Tupana (God Almighty) has charged them with this purpose.

      The we asked the Chief if he understood what we were doing by drilling a well. His response was that Tupana (God Almighty) did not want any one to die of thirst, so He was telling them and all who came to their village that He cared for them by placing this well their. This was the insight of the chief.

      They had received the name for God (Tupana) from a Tuiça generation ago who had seen an angel telling them Tupana would send them white poeple (they refer to any one who is not Indian as such, we have an African-Brazilian, ho is very dark complected, and they still call him white) who will tel them an important message about Tupana. This prophecy was then written on a canoe paddle and passed down from generation to generation.

      Our approach was to simply give them Jesus and His love, and let Him decide, by His Spirit, what changes should be made.

      We have seen such changes. They still live half naked in huts and they still hunt and enjoy the usual toils and pleasures of the jungle. There is one particular event we experienced there.

      The Sateré have a rite of passage were the young men place their hand in a glove with hundreds of ants stuck in side with their heads traversed in miniscule holes. The ants are drugged to make the glove and then they awaken furious. The bite of these particular ants (Tocandeiro ants) provoke excruciating pain that remains as vividly present as the moment of the bite, for 12-24 hours. Many of the boys lose consciousnesses from the pain. During this rite they chant and dance, reminding themselves over and over not to forget their bitterness against their enemies who have hurt them, including white people from generations past who invaded and enslaved their loved ones.

      Two years after we began to work with this village, we asked them when they were holding these passage rites, and they answered that the last time they did it was the first visit we made when we watched them. They had no more bitterness toward their enemies.

      We have visited several other villages, but the Chief of this village professes Christ and has sought God-fearing action in his village, and from the outside, they look like any village, but the spirit of their community is noticeably different from any village around them. The joy there is something I long for all throughout my absence of this community. Our team yearns to be with them whenever we can and the joy of each encounter is unspeakable.

      Recently I have word that Vic has considered his task as ELDER in the community to be a burden on his family and has passed it on to a younger man, who takes council from him and still sees Vic as his elder.

      No command, pure honor and respect of experience and wisdom.

      I must say, the church in that village is the closest to organic church I have ever seen. They love scripture (there is a NT in the Sateré language) and they love getting together to worship and encourage one another daily.

      I must say, the culture is intact; except for the bitterness and abusive rituals, they still eat fish and vegies and manioc flour and game!

      Peace in Jesus!
      James


    9. Wow James! Thanks so much for sharing your story! It encourages me greatly to know that there is fruitful evidence of Christ culture being introduced into indigenous cultures that changes the heart of the believer without destroying the traditional ways and lives of those tribes. While my experience is not as dramatic, it is equally challenging to engage folks to come alongside for the harvest, yet at the same time leave their perceptions and habits of western culture checked at the door when they enter, myself included at times. For those of us who experience a perceived easier or better way of life, it is natural human instinct to want to teach such to those we view as living harder and more dangerously, in our view. It may be considered arrogance on a large scale, but I see it primarily as naivete. People just don’t know any better. And while we can spend much time learning to (try to) avoid casting our perceptions onto other cultures, we really have no clue how to do that until we are met with the challenge squarely simultaneously with the Holy Spirit’s guidance to have us ‘stand-down’ and observe without grooming a desire to want to ‘fix’ things that appear off or bad about the culture in our unschooled, unprepared minds. The example of your experience provides a vivid look into what it can be like to engage a completely different culture for Christ without blemishing the integrity and ancestry of the culture itself. There is much to meditate on here. Again, thank you for sharing! ~Claudia

    10. Dennis Hesselbarth
      // Reply

      Thank you all for your insights. Ukumbwa, there are some of us who have come to grasp our white privilege and work to fight racism. To do so demands a servant, learner attitude, one that seeks to empower those who have been so grievously oppressed.

      Andrew Walls has been of great help to me in trying to sort out cultural differences and dynamics. He speaks of two impulses in Christianity – “indigenous” and “pilgrim.” Any time the biblical texts are encountered (and indeed, they are temporally and spacially given themselves), those encountering the texts naturally seek to make sense of them from within their own cultural context and worldview. Their cultural “filters” impact the very understanding of the texts. This gives rise to a normal and unavoidable syncretism. Western Christianity is incredibly sycretistic, and sadly, most? Western missionaries are blind to their own syncretism.

      Yet this syncretism is also, Walls argues, part of Christianity’s strength. One needs not learn Arabic or Hindi to be an authentic believer. When the leaders in Jerusalem in Acts 15 concluded one not first be a Jew before following Jesus, they set the Christian faith free from any specific spacial or temporal cultural moorings.

      Yet, as one reads the teachings of Jesus, his words inevitably clash with any and all human cultures. Turn the other cheek, forgive, love one’s enemies, embrace the poor and weak, exalt the weak and humble? No culture enshrines these values as central. They challenge all of us. So, over time, those who seek to follow Jesus’ teachings find themselves at odds with aspects of their own culture. They become “pilgrims” in their own culture. Persecution rises. Witness the Anabaptists during the reformation.

      I think I represent Walls correctly in noting that over time, the church in a culture seems to inevitably become institutionalized and culturally bound. It seems to more and more reflect the culture rather than the teachings of Jesus. And so it begins to decline, becoming a defender of the status quo rather than a radical grace giving community of love. Walls notes that every past “center” of Christianity – for example the middle east, Northern Europe, (and now the US) has become a shell of it’s past health. It is the new, young movements of followers of Jesus – as syncretistic as the past expressions – where the dynamic seems to reside.

      I think we must honestly admit that it is far more difficult to understand the Christian message that we think — we read our own cultural understanding into the sacred texts and we struggle to understand the temporal and spacial context in which they were written. Our cultural filters and biases grip us. We must be very humble and tentative. It is essential that we listen and learn from others who have different cultural lenses. Together we can approach an common understanding.

      That said, I think we can and must reject the skepticism that says it is impossible to know truth. There is much commonality among cultures. Not all language is so cultural bound that it can’t be understandable by cultural others. It is unavoidable that the Bible makes exclusive claims on the truth, claims that contradict every culture’s creation myths. Finally, the bible is very imperialistic – not in a western sense. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, as Paul notes.

      My African American brothers and sisters have been my tutors in many ways. Their past and continuing oppression by Whites is horrible, evil. What astonishes me is not their anger – they should be angry. What astonishes me is their forgiveness, and their humility. Many of them are far down the pilgrim journey. May we join them in defending the weak and powerless, while humbly following Jesus.


    11. Ukumbwa,

      Some folks have already responded very well, so I won’t repeat what they have said. Also, let me state that the purpose of my responses is not to win an argument, though I will in this response provide counter-arguments. I don’t want you to think that I don’t care about your point of view or that you don’t have any valid criticisms, because I think you do. I also don’t care to defend the missionary spirit for the sake of being a missionary or just to make a defense. I truly hope what I say will aid our future conversation and to see, particularly, that I view my Christianity, as a Westerner (married to a Christian non-Westerner by the way), as one part in a global Spiritual unity.

      That being said, please allow me to start by pointing out that Christianity is not Western in origin. It begins as a Hebrew story in Asia and Africa. Following after Jesus, the church does indeed spread West, but also North, East and South. It has a strong African heritage. One of the oldest churches in the world is the Ethiopian Orthodox Church; the Armenian Church goes back to first Christian kingdom. The church also thrived in North Africa for centuries prior to the Muslim invasion. Furthermore, the church spread to the East, across Central Asia, into India and China. This in a separate movement from the West. The first missionary to China was Alopen, a syrian monk from modern day Baghdad. The earliest priests in China were Uighurs. The daughters of the Mongol Khan’s who ruled Asia and China were Christians. These were not Westerners. Today, more missionaries are sent from countries like Korea, China, India, South America, various countries in Africa, than anywhere else. It was the African Bishops of the Anglican church that have brought the liberalization of the Anglican church to its knees, not the Western bishops. One of the greatest missionary historians, K.S. Latourette, well stated that Christianity is unlike any other religion–it is the only world religion that has routinely died out in its strongest centrality to sprout in renewed and strengthened vitality in other lands. Its geographic center has never remained idle. The Western captivity of Christianity is only a brief period in the long history of global, and non-Western Christianity.

      I wish we could sit down and have this conversation. It’s difficult going back and forth trying to respond respectfully to everything you said. I do want to affirm that the Westernization of other people’s (against their will) is inherently imperialistic. Missionaries have done this all too often because they didn’t know any better. Others because of ideological commitments. Either way, we know this is unhelpful and hurtful and most missionaries seek to avoid this today. Historically, I think we will also find that the situations haven’t been as cut and dried as we see them from a distance. For the most part, missionaries in the past three centuries have eschewed coercive techniques and some recognized the problem of the Western captivity of Christianity. Many of the global injustices caused by Western Imperialism have been fought and some defeated because of the work of missionaries. If it weren’t for western missionaries, the mass enslavement of African peoples may continue today unabated. Furthermore, it has been the western missionaries who have sought the general well-being of indigenous peoples, establishing schools and hospitals wherever they went, forming the backbone of both health and educational systems for several modern nonWestern countries. Many are involved today in alleviating poverty, advocating for equal rights, fighting hunger and lack of quality water, microfinancing, and so on. To ignore the vast positive contributions of missionaries would be disingenuous.

      Finally, please let me respond to this comment “That christianity can be described as “anti-structural”, but that “G-O-D” is the creator of culture is simply “1984″ double-speak.”

      I should have been more clear. According to the stated beliefs of Christianity, God is the author of all cultures. He created the earth, created humanity in His image, gave them a mandate to subdue the earth, fill it, and have dominion over it, and he created all peoples, giving them their languages. Since that time, cultures have grown, developed, changed, pass out of existence, passed into existence, but they live and thrive because of the way God created humanity and because of the mandate he gave them all. Christianity began among a particular culture in a particular location on the globe. God gave the early Christians another mandate to spread the good news of the bodily resurrection from the dead, particularly that of Jesus, to the ends of the earth, to all the people’s of the earth. Since that time, Christianity has been deposited as yeast within dough as the antistructure of an untold number of cultures. So, according to the stated beliefs of Christianity, this is not double speak. Human culture, even pagan, Buddhist, atheist, etc, cultures, exist because God created humanity in His image to make culture. Christianity exists because people from one culture started making disciples of people from other cultures and so on and so on. It is important to keep in mind, though, that there is no such thing as a single, Christian culture. Every culture touched by Christianity has remained distinct (culturally speaking) from every other culture touched by Christianity, even though Christianity has changed those very cultures. And yet, even with the diversity, we share a common bond, across both time and space. In Christian belief, in Jesus, all peoples, nations, and tongues are united spiritually in worship of God.

      I know this probably sounds like I’m trying to ignore the negative examples. I’m not. There are definitely negative examples. I don’t think any of us really comprehend how negative some of them really are. Humanity has the profound ability to be cruel beyond belief. The early Catholic missions, where crown and cross led to conquest, there were some really bad examples (even with the work of the Jesuits and the other catholic orders who opposed the exploitation of the indigenous peoples). As an American, we have a terrible legacy with our treatment of Native Americans, and of Africans, by those who would call themselves Christian. Western clergy, in almost every denomination have perpetrated some of the most wicked and vile sexual crimes recorded. I’m not trying to paste over these.

      Your Friend
      -Wes


    12. Thank you, all, for your input to this discussion. I am not at the leisure to respond as I’d like to each person’s input in this moment, but hope to relatively soon. There are a few things I see here that are important for the development of this discussion.

      1) In one instance, it’s said that respect is given to other cultures. In the other, it is said that you have clear, even “imperialistic” particular (cultural) assumptions/presuppositions that guide not only how, but why you engage people in other cultures. That you believe there is one “G-O-D” that can only be embraced through a man called Jesus is one thing. That you seem unwilling or unable to see that that in and of itself is at the core of what so many have put under righteous critique is a key dynamic here. The introduction of a modified monotheistic (trinity as one) concept in a polytheistic world is a fundamental issue and requires of missionaries/christians a new sort of humility that is hard to find and is barely perceptible in any popular channel. If respect for other cultures is actually part of your theological philosophy, then to so easily accept the subversion, domination and contamination of those “unreached” peoples is the height of religious and cultural imperialism and is completely disingenuous. That you say “your” god told you to create “disciples” in all nations is one thing. That you garner all the privileged support that capitalism and colonialism has afforded you to contaminate these independent cultures is a major porblem.

      2) It’s been said how difficult or impossible it is to engage the bible without cultural filters. It has been said how difficult or impossible it is to engage other peoples without your own cultural filters and I would say that that is the most diffiicult because the European/USAmerican culture is currently the most dominant, politically ignorant, arrogant and politically powerful social forces in the world. Those coming from that perspective are peculiarly challenged in their ability to see other peoples’ points of view and then to respect them and , most importantly, leave them alone. Europe and the USAmerica have been tremendously invasive and the people who identify with that culture/those cultures have a tremendous difficulty with being objective, as some of you have suggested. Even more worrisome, is that while you all talk of sensitivity and concern, you declare the particularities of your religious views to be more important, powerful and viable – more good, if not most good – than all other spiritual/religious perspectives and then act accordingly. That IS religious, hence cultural imperialism. It is quite disrespectful and damaging to work under that preconception about the world outside of your own particularism, no matter how universal you believe it to be or how eloquently your god stated the case to you. You have to be able to see how hurtful and brash it is to claim “imperialism” as a condition or outcome of your perception of “G-O-D”. That you don’t is exactly why many, many people in the non-christian world see missionaries as arrogant, insensitive, culturally inept (if not plain destructive) and blind to peoples’ real needs. The difficulty of managing and even detecting your cultural filters is exactly why the missionary imperative must be questioned and ultimately put on hold.

      3) If this is truly to be a dialogue or multi-logue, then the participants must engage what is said, must actually hear and respond to each others’ words, meanings and intentions. Only one person has engaged or acknowledged the issues I’ve raised with any substance. It can’t be dialogue until all parties deal with what’s been put on the table. It must be understood that this is the persistent historical experience I’ve had when in supposed dialogue with christians, born-again, denominational, non-denominational, evangelical, etc,… . A cultural imperative/political force that is not able to listen is not one based on empathy or love, but one on dogmatic, if not cultic adherence.

      4) One of the big mistakes people of privilege make is to assume that when they have a conversation or a back and forth with someone who is oppressed or part of a minority group or disenfranchised group that they’ve satisfied all the requirements of inclusion in “the discussion”. Talk happens and the people with power and privilege go home and continue on as normal while thinking that change” has somehow magically happened without real work. I’ll post a link to a blog post about privilege for any of you that are interested so that you can at least understand some of the patterns of privilege that destroy the process of dialogue and real social change.

      If I am the only person of my perspective or any other non-christian missionary perspective, then this has not truly been a full dialogue or at least not a substantive one. I would expect and hope that you have colleagues and friends that don’t all share your particular perspective on how the world works. If you don’t, then that is a particularly pernicious problem for you, then hence for me and for the indigenous perspective here. If you don’t, then it becomes clear that you very well suffer from the exact same social and perceptual privileged/”white”/patriarchal maladies as any one else, christian or missionary or not. I don’t assume this is the case, but I know it’s possible.

      5) Please don’t assume that your pronouncements of righteous “imperialism” or christian universality or preeminence of your perspective doesn’t come without negative effects as delivered. A problem of privileged people is not understanding the effects of their words or, in worse case scenarios, not caring. Pathological relationships to power and influence always reveal imposition and assault that is considered to be “good” for the victim of that imposition or assault – or contamination. The claims of rapists, batterers and colonizers alike are of this pathological ideological ilk.

      http://indigeny-energetics.blogspot.com/2011/07/patterns-of-privilege.html

      Thank you.


      • Anthony,
        Your reply cuts to the core of the conflict here and to the level to which non-christians see your work as problematic, prejudiced and oppressive. Your holy book may be “clear” that “all” people, cultures and ideologies are “fallen”. I don’t believe that or experience that. Those cultures don’t believe that or experience that and it’s highly insulting to hear it, let alone for you to say it. As for your own Ancestral legacy, your indigenous roots, this may be true, but I’m sure there is more to that culture than those elements. Most of us would assert that those elements are not desirable for future development, but the core of indigenous culture remains unquestionable in its core ideologies and practices. Your book is new to the world stage and is under the microscope for its long-term viability and functionality. The history of christianity and missionaries is highly questionable in the world. To act as though this is not true is part of what is creating the contamination of indigenous culture. Also, I suggest that you study your Ancestral cultures much more closely and deeply, beyond academia, to truly understand its redemptive nature.


        • Micheal A.,
          I’m sure anyone would easily say that no culture is perfect. Hence, the one from which you evangelize others is under suspiciion for the negative effects of the filters all of you seem to suggest exist…and I agree with you all there. Due to racsim, classism and white privilege, Europeans clearly do not understand the dynamics and effects of their socio-political behaviors and systems enough to wield them with sensitivity and clarity…your words and the admissions of others support this. You even reveal that it is your filters and the patterns of privilege that make it problematic to work through your filters to bring this amorphous spiritual improvement scheme to a culture you find it hard to understand. Translating a bible into their language is not a sign of understanding, but only of technical skill and technical skill has always accompanied cultural oppression. This does not help the missiological experiment.
          “my own cultural background does “color” how I interpret Scripture” – of this anyone would agree….which puts the missiological process into question further
          “We do lose things in translation” – ditto, not helpful to the missionary cause as it suggests that even the process of translating your intent is flawed. Preaching “the word in its entirety becomes impossible as the translation process is flawed…and your press is based on the learning of worlds, not in being open to experience based on your relationship to spacial dynamics as all human culture has been accustomed.

          Your problem with having your “truth” discounted is something you’ll have to get used to. You live in a world of many valid ideas, most of which are not christian. christians have been doing that to indigenous people and non-christians since the beginning of christian history. It’s been done on this page. Not everyone agrees with you and that’s fine. People of privilege have a hard time understanding and accepting that they don’t have all the answers and aren’t the most enlightened and intelligent people in the world…no matter what book they call a universal truth. Your discomfort is understandable and familiar. The “imperialistic nature” of missionary work has been claimed on this page. That it is supportable in historical record affirms the level to which missionary work is capable of contaminating cultures that are non-western, non-European and non-christian. Paul’s message is also questionable for the same reasons, the filters of privilege. Please remember that Paul is inconsequential to most people in the world, just as Yaa Asantewa is probably meaningless to you, but you could learn a lot from her.

          That you “hope you haven’t transmitted (your) own culture” (and you admit that that’s impossible) is important here. Discounting the message is completely understandable and warranted if the messenger is under question. It calls even the system into question, especially if the system is as young as christianity. And with or without you as a messenger, the bible is of little consequence to cultures who have working systems of spiritual philosophy and practice. I admit it is an interesting book, but it is not the only book or the only way to appropriately see the world and the realm of Spirit. I sincerely hope that that book works for you and allows you to be a loving, enlightened and compassionate member of world society.


          • James P.,
            Brazil is not a good example of a protective national government with respect to indgeny. It’s said in a number of sources that Brazil is one of the worst, no matter what it has on the legal record. Consider the treaties the USAmerican government made with the indigenous people of Turtle Island…and broke…across the board. Even with that, Vine Deloria, Jr. states that the USAmerica is the most liberal with indigeny.. Capitalist governments have always been complicit with multi-national corporations, neo-colonial nations and predatory christian missionary organizations/churches for many of the same reasons. It’s interesting that you indict those problematic religious organizations for being “bold” when many of the the statemets about christian ideology on this page are exactly the same thing, stridently bold and presumptuous.

            “our group has decided to study the indigenous culture, and see what parts of their culture can be positive for the preaching of the Gospel.” – how does that in any way suggest that you are doing so without any negative effect to the culture? It seems your stated goal IS to change their culture. Your statement there suggest the manipulative nature of your work. That you can’t see that in this discussion and beyond is troublesome and a key reason why so many people see this work as being a cultural contamination of negative proportions.


            • Claudia L.,
              What you see as a culture “living harder and more dangerously” is a vision created out of your own western privilege and cultural myopia. Modernity always asserts that indigenous culture is built on fear and child-like simplicity, lack of technology and lack of sophistication that can not be true as indigenous societies are the oldest on earth…which says they are innately successful. Modernity is now dying, literally, to find out the wisdom of these cultures as christianity and other forces break them down. What you call “unschooled” and “unprepared minds” are not the stuff of indigeny. It is the stuff of ineffective, reductionist modern thinking that creates unschooled minds,particulary because the “education” and “advancement” that wlh speaks of doesn’t include the Ancestral traditions of spiritual initiation and rites-of-passage. Wisdom is not facilitated anymore, only intellectual knowledge which has never been enough to run a culture with clarity. There IS much to meditate on here. In my experience and study it is christian missionaries that have the bulk of that meditation and contemplation to do, precisely for the multiple reasons stated already – missionaries must take even more time to go on hiatus and reassess their level of understanding and human compassion as practiced in their work since it continues in ignorance of or lack of concern for its damaging effects in the world.


    13. Dennis H.,
      I can appreciate the work people do around white privilege. This is key to the transformation of society and the improvement of people’s lives across the globe as the effects of white/European privilege and power are global due to capitalism and colonialism – and the complicity of predatory christian missionary work with those forces. Any work to it to yourself would cure syncretism.truly “empower” the oppressed has to be done without the filter of the oppressor and the oppressive structure/culture. Anything less is more insult and injury to injury. Also, syncretism is avoidable. Don’t superimpose your culture and christianity upon other cultures! It’s simple. It’s not required. The bulk of humanity has lived without christianity very well. You just don’t agree, but that doesn’t make you right. It never did, but privileged people always assume they are right. John G. Jackson points this out very clearly in “Introduction to African Civilizations” when he discusses the way European academia has historically submerged and devalued the wisdom of African and indigenous societies to justify its colonial ends…this is still true. I experience this in my own academic life. Vine Deloria Jr. deepens this in his seminal work, “Red Earth, White Lies”. It’s an important read. I suggest it to all of you, along with Jackson’s book and Deloria’s “God Is Red”.

      “When the leaders in Jerusalem in Acts 15 concluded one not first be a Jew before following Jesus, they set the Christian faith free from any specific spacial or temporal cultural moorings.” – that’s simple intellectualism…it’s impossible to do that by writing it down in a book. Deloria asserts that christianiy is awash in temporality to push its political agenda…it had to disintegrate itself from spacial reality to become transportable, but that that also makes it culturally oppressive and functionally ineffective.

      “We must be very humble and tentative. It is essential that we listen and learn from others who have different cultural lenses.” – I deeply appreciate that statement, but i question how deeply missionaries actually engage that dynamic when we see the full-speed-ahead stridency of most missionary endeavors…and that we see and hear on this page, this website and beyond. Again, it seems the work is forging ahead in deep ignorance of the insight of a contemplative and enlightened approach….breeding contamination and further oppression.

      “It is unavoidable that the Bible makes exclusive claims on the truth, claims that contradict every culture’s creation myths. Finally, the bible is very imperialistic – not in a western sense. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, as Paul notes.” – do you all reaiize how succinctly this statement ends the discourse? To believe it is one thing, but to thrust it upon the world is another thing…..please hear me on this: Imperialism is not OK! If you want dialogue with people who don’t agree with you and that was the suggestion at the outset, then you have to find a new way of having dialogue, a new language that excludes the words and intent of oppressive cultural imperialism. If you don’t want to be disingenuous, then stop using the word imperialism…or find a new way of connecting to Spirit that doesn’t include taking over other cultures’ way of being in the world…and their land…and their resources. (read Jackson…you’ll see what I mean). Remember, your desire to follow the bible story as you do (and the way you act because of that desire) is your choice.

      And believe me, Dennis, many of your African brothers and sister ARE angry. The degree to which you don’t see it (or they don’t show you) can be closely related to the degree to which you are not that close to your brothers and sisters. Showing that anger or not may not be about how “humble” we are, but that there are social and economic and political prices to pay for being angry. If you don’t know that, then you are not very close to your brothers and sisters….the barriers of privilege may be in full effect. Don’t be astonished…be aware and be – humble.


      • The above sentence should have read as such: “Any work to truly “empower” the oppressed has to be done without the filter of the oppressor and the oppressive structure/culture.”

        was mistakenly left in. Apologies for the confusion. I was writing my comments through the night.


    14. wlh,
      It’s important to see how westernism and christianity have moved in lockstep for the last 1,000 and more years. Christians can’t divorce themselves from that history, nor the effects on how they see and treat other peoples. christianity is not western in origin, but the derivation that is being spread around the world is deeply marked by the western stamp. Deloria and Jackson both assert and show this clearly….as does the language of the book and of the people flying into remote villages to “convert” indigeny, “untouched” peoples (please understand the innate arrogance of that term…and “unreached” also).

      One of the important issue to understand here is that christian missionaries would not have been needed at all if they had successfully abrogated the ruthlessness of the society that now send them to feed and clothe and disenculturate indigenous peoples. Missionaries were there when the colonial powers exploited the resources and structures of these peoples…it is because of christiianity’s inability to temper the exploitative nature of European capitalism and imperialism that is the cause of African and so many other being in need of being feed (and I thought the idea was to teach a person to fish?!). christianity as a functional system was a failure in this regard…and still is. That missionaries fought exploitation is great, but they accompanied, signed on to and created much of the exploitation…that is the crime that missionaries haven’t confessed to. And indigenous cultures already had schools/educational sytems/cultural transmission processes and medical/healing practice (that now modern science is clamouring for!). They didn’t need christian missionaries until their traditions were destroyed. And people still don’t need missionaries…they need independence, to have their land back, and their resources back and their cultures back, to return to their indigenous ways, not the western style systems dependent on western technologies and economy. To believe you always have the solution for other peoples and that their ways are inferior and that they “need” your ideas and technologies is patently ignorant and prejudiced. To participate in a system that imposes those ideas and ways on those people patently arrogant. and exploitative. Arrogant ignorance is dangerous and a key causation of cultural contamination. Arrogant ignorance is the child of white patriarchal privilege.

      “God gave the early Christians another mandate to spread the good news of the bodily resurrection from the dead, particularly that of Jesus, to the ends of the earth, to all the people’s of the earth. Since that time, Christianity has been deposited as yeast within dough as the antistructure of an untold number of cultures. So, according to the stated beliefs of Christianity, this is not double speak.” …is precisely double-speak. It is filtered by culture, but not cultural…you care about culture, but you are imperialistic…you want dialogue, but your book trumps my claim to spiritual independence from your ideas, as a direct line to Source itself….that is double-speak! If those things can exist all at once in your presentation, then i question your presentation deeply. I have a mandate from my Ancestors and my connection to All That Is, to the elemental Spirits. Your “G-O-D’s mandate” does not affect my mandate…unless western global capitalism and imperialism (a term a number of people on this page seem perfectly comfortable with) and colonialism exert their force upon me to disintegrate my relationship with the Spiritual culture of my Ancestors…and that has happened in my Ancestral past and it happens today and my mandate stands strong in the face of this contaminating force as it does for so many peoples who wish to conduct themselves with clarity and authenticity in their own unfettered cultures and spiritual systems.

      If you are “not trying to paste over” the horrendous historical complicity of christian missionaries with western imperialism, then why is the language so similar to the christians of that time – and they were fully christians? And why is the effect the same on the world? And why are so few people being taught to fish?


    15. And in general, I am happy to see a level of introspection that is refreshing and welcome. Thank you for that, but I am still concerned for the substantial filters (some claimed by all of you) and cultural myopia that continue to get in the way of a deeper and more real dialogue. Barka. Asante. Jerejef. Thank you for this opportunity for learning and reconciliation and clarification.


    16. I think it’s a little overly-critical in this discussion to state that our cultural myopia is ‘still getting in the way of a deeper and more real dialogue”. In all fairness to those involved in this discussion, I see a very strong interest in wanting to break through those barriers. Though we might not be all speaking from the same experiences, I believe we are all speaking with the same general desire to break from our past prejudices to serve in a capacity that is useful and not destructive to varying cultures. It is a learning process; one that is a challenge, but not without hope that we can break through. A bit more mercy toward those who are “trying” could be more fruitful than the extensive criticisms, which in and of themselves seem a bit on the arrogant side…in my opinion.


      • Claudia,
        For the record, I understand you are all “trying”. As I said, I understand that and appreciate that and this opportunity. For you and others to be successful in your attempts means that you have to be able to listen to the truth of my perspective, that of indigeny. If you are are balking at the mere level of discussion and honest and grounded criticism, consider what it is to be on my side of this conversation, on my side of this political/social/spiritual dynamic as I’ve explained it from my perspective. People’s lives and cultures are at stake here. My life and culture are at stake here. If you or others are seeing “my” side of the conversation through a myopic filter, then you need to know that now….and how that affects the discourse. I suggest you and others who continue to “try” read my blog post on “Patterns of Privilege”. It illuminates what can go on on different sides of the imbalance of power that privilege sustains. You and others have to be strong enough to withstand the simple criticism that basic consciousness of history will bring into the conversation. You have to be able to handle this criticism, these perspectives that come out of unity consciousness and intention as I and my Ancestors have survived the constant, persistent and powerful cultural criticism and exploitation for the hundreds of years that we have. I was born into this racist cultural critique in this christian-dominant culture. “Trying” at this basic level may just be harder than you thought. I can’t change that.

        I also ask you to look a little more deeply at what you perceive to be my arrogance in the framework of who I am and from what side of the barriers of privilege and socio-political power I come openly to this discussion. Let us just say, then, that you and possibly many others, do not have any idea of what it means to be on the other side of the mission work that you do. Therefore, it is key, if you and others are serious about this conversation, that you be in a place to listen and hear and accept what listening and compassion for others really means. Part of that means that I should be heard and that my perspectives must be engaged, as I have done with most all that you and your colleagues have shared.

        “Patterns of Privilege”:
        http://indigeny-energetics.blogspot.com/2011/07/patterns-of-privilege.html

        Again – thank you for this opportunity to come to clarity, deeper dialogue and understanding. May we all have the strength to look truth in the face and walk forward with the highest spiritual integrity and trust that we are all on the right path with respect to Spirit and our Ancestors.


    17. Dennis – and others, I thought you were going to be responding again here. Was looking forward to continuing this dialogue. I didn’t want to waste time checking back as often as I do and am unsure about the drop-off without any explanation. Not sure if anyone at Pathways was or is as invested in this dialogue as I was. I would be happy enough to take this off my schedule as I am very busy trying to support indigenous peoples and culture in many ways. Let me know if and when you are ready to engage in critical dialogue on this pivotal issue. Then maybe I’ve learned all I was going to learn from this give and take.

      But then maybe this is the disappointing outcome of attempting to be honest and forthright in the face of a socio-political force that is still yet damaging and ultimately contaminating – your perspectives were not decisive or influential to me – and has the convenience of economic and social privilege at its beck and call. I wanted to know the humanity of who was behind the current legacy of missionary work in the world and, as it seemed, you all were open to such a dialogue, to find out what people’s honest perspectives and thoughts and intentions were.

      I appreciated your time and attention and had sincerely hoped that we could have serious discourse about these important issues. I would suggest you and your colleagues look long and deeply into your hearts about what you think you are doing and into the debilitating socio-cultural filters and privilege that seem to dominate how you look at the world, yourselves and indigenous peoples the world over.

    18. Pingback: christianoutreachnow.com - Christian Missions, Making Disciples & Cultural Contamination …


    19. In reply to OP (Miguel): I have been thinking lately that Paul takes the literal Genesis account quite seriously, especially as the basis for his teaching regarding women. Also, very much related to that but extending beyond it, his teaching on the fulfillment of time, the marriage of Christ and the Church. It’s been said that the Bible begins with a marriage and ends with a marriage; it’s a bit glib but it does suggest how the Biblical narrative is highly interdependent.

      I am not sure if I have ever supported missionaries (clearly, at leas not regularly) because I have always struggled with the “you pay me to go and do” method, and missional, transformational projects generally. (I score dismally on the “Great Commission” scale.) Put more bluntly, arrogant missionaries are not just arrogant “over there” – they are arrogant at home, too. I think it’s often a relief to ship the “holier than thou” off to someone else’s neighborhood.

      I certainly believe that loving Christ changes a person–sometimes less than we would hope, sometimes quite radically indeed. You cannot change a person without changing his culture in some degree, and you cannot change a large number of people without changing the culture by definition. But I do not consider Christianity (as loving Christ) to be essentially cultural. That would be something like calling love between two humans cultural.

      In my crude understanding of history, it was not until Constantine that Christianity was deliberately and systematically deployed as culture (at least, to any great effect). Prior historical commentary regards Christians a tiny group of demented radicals perversely determined to believe strange things no matter how it disrupted their functioning in civilized (to the contemporaneous author) society.

      White Christians (culturally defined, not so strictly as “loving Christ”) practiced killing, stealing, and forcing on other white Christians before they got themselves together enough to conquer the rest of the world. It is dismaying what Christians have done to other cultures but not out of line with their conduct in general. I am far more skeptical of claims that indigenous people were entirely peace-loving and cooperative than I am of the claim that Christians were bloodthirsty and cruel. Clearly the winners were at least MORE bloodthirsty…exactly what the preceding culture was like is somewhat obscured by the infamous and loudly decried destruction. (By my cavalier mention of “winners” I do not mean to imply that “winning” is intrinsically good.)

      With respect to the murder and theft, there is no defense in the Christian New Testament. Many devout adherents certainly disagree with me here and I gamely admit to being in a minority. My intent here is only to separate these forcible methods from my following comment, to wit: I cannot listen very long to someone decrying the destruction of culture without getting the distinct impression that the mourner is talking nonsense. Whatever sort of primitive or modern or otherwise culture you are talking about, it did not arrive ex nihilo and persist in a state of blissful harmonious balance until the arrival of the dreadful whiteman. British culture today is not what it was 500 years ago, nor French. Nobody’s culture was ever exactly the same for 500 years (although the rate of change certainly seems to have accelerated with technology). To say that a culture should not be changed by the introduction of new and different ideas seems to me the equivalent of saying that a six year old child should not be allowed to grow any older mentally, bodily, or spiritually

      I am not equating western industro-technology with biological maturation. I don’t care if the indigenous culture in question looks at the western culture, says “that’s stupid,” and ignores it. I agree they should not have their property or lives taken away as a result of this choice. But to “protect” a culture from different ideas so that it won’t accidentally change is the worst, most patronizing view of a culture of any of them. White Man’s culture is resilient enough to endure all the internal and external criticism the whole world can throw at it… but indigenous culture will break if its looked at crosswise. Of course it will! Culture is a set of customary adaptations to a set of circumstances. It must break and re-form at least as much as bark on a tree…or what is underneath of the “culture” is no longer alive and growing.

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