A podcast for new atheists, lifetime atheists, ex-evangelicals, truth-seekers, and free-thinkers
Episode 76 - Missions
Matthew 28:19 NIV - “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”
Tonight we're talking about missions: home missions, overseas missions, outreaches and more and let me tell ya something: if you've been lured into throwing away your intellect at bible college to pursue full-time ministry, there really isn't a more fuck-all way to guarantee never having a normal life than deciding and proceeding to become a full-time missionary. Marvel as you're asked to break the law and risk your life for the sake of the Gospel. Marvel still as your sponsor churches fail for the fifth time to raise the funds you need to continue your work while you and your family live in a hotel because you literally have nothing here. And chances are the people you're “serving” would rather you weren't. That's the real kicker and we'll get into much more of that in a few minutes. But first...
Instant Karma may not be a thing but COVID is and if you're a sheister preacher or false prophet downplaying it, it's probably gonna get you! Shelle, tell us a little more about that.
And next, a story that no one was expecting...
So we're talking tonight about missions and why, in many cases, it does a lot more harm than good to both the people group and to the missionary. Now the first thing I thought of when I decided to tackle this subject was the musical, The Book of Mormon
DISCLAIMER: Is this musical racist... well, from one WHITE MAN'S PERSPECTIVE (and you can tell me if I'm wrong), I think that the entire thing is a huge lampoon of how the LDS church has always viewed black people. The content, in my opinion, isn't racist. It just shines a light on the racism that exists in the organization. “I believe that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people...”
Kevin Price and Arnold Cunningham – mission to Uganda The villagers have no interest in the religion The missionaries stationed there have failed to baptize a single Ugandan Hasa Diga Eebowai Arnold starts making shit up – something he's been known for all his life Pulls from pop culture, particularly Sci-Fi and fantasy (including Star Trek and Star Wars) The Big Play – in front of all the visiting elders “If it helps people, it cannot be wrong” - this encapsulates well everything that is wrong with religion
“The Prime Directive” - there are reasons not to interfere with “unreached people groups”
Problem #1 with missions: Missions work creates a sense of dependence
This is definitely a liberal look at this, but it DOES come from a theist source. I think I like the way they look at this, at least as that statement relates to this specific thought:
DOING THINGS FOR PEOPLE ISN’T ALWAYS THE BEST WAY TO MAKE AN IMPACT
Last year I had an insightful conversation with a twenty-something Peruvian in which I asked him his candid opinion on groups of “gringos” who come to his shanty town. He told me “we know we’re going to receive something.”
He knows visiting missionaries usually give gifts, repair things or provide some sort of service, and he casually admitted that this can lead to people in his community developing a sense of expectation and sometimes entitlement. This made me wonder if we were truly making disciples or creating a culture that expects us to provide things for them and do them favors.
It’s worth knowing ahead of time if the help you want to offer is truly needed where you’re planning to go. If physical labor is needed, how can you work alongside locals to build their community? Sometimes teaching something like first aid or new marketable job skills is more helpful so you can help locals learn skills they can use to support their families and their community. Empowerment makes a bigger impact than only doing something for the locals.
Many people who receive aid and services from missionaries often agree with them about religion as a means of keeping the help coming. If they just show up for church and church-related activities, the mission will be considered a success and help will continue. If the people are bad enough off they will agree to basically anything. That's when the quid pro quo part of the equation is simple. What about when it isn't? What happens when a people group really, really doesn't want outsiders there trying to sell them their religion (or anything else for that matter)? Well... we found out fairly recently, didn't we?
“In November , on an obscure island in the Indian Ocean, Chau – a 26-year-old American adventure blogger, beef-jerky marketer, and evangelical missionary [named John Chau] – was killed by the isolated tribe he was attempting to convert to Christianity.”
That one rather long sentence (like I don't fire off longer...) is the most evangelical thing I read researching this, TBH.
Chau had an obsession with Robinson Crusoe. He and his brother used to play games revolving around warring natives complete with warpaint made from wild blackberry juice, an idea he got from another literary source, The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare. Survival and adventure stories in general were a real draw for Chau. Hatchet by Gary Paulson was another one he liked. Anything that had against all odds kinds of themes really inspired him. And that inspiration turned to an obsession.
“He came to count as heroes the naturalist John Muir, the explorer-missionary David Livingstone, and Bruce Olson, famous in the missionary community for converting the Bari people of South America.”
What I found interesting was how many churches and church organizations instantly turned on him and just how hypocritical it was. After all, what he did was evangelical missions in a nutshell... [ad lib – going where he wasn't wanted or needed, and he did it with a sense of entitlement the size of Texas – who cares if it was illegal... he had a “burden” for the Sentinelese people. He threw some fish at them and they threw back some arrows. Still... this gospel will be preached...]
“Chau’s father believes the American missionary community is culpable in his son’s death. John was an “innocent child”, his father said, who died from an “extreme” vision of Christianity taken to its logical conclusion.” (that conclusion being pretty fucking extreme in and of itself)
But.. is it extreme or is it just a product of the way they think about everything?
Black and white thinking – I HAVE TO reach these people, no matter what the law says or even what THEY may want. I HAVE TO preach the gospel to them. Evangelism is MANDATORY – it has to happen – it's mandated five times in the NT His brainless zeal was very familiar (I've even seen that look on his face – more times than I can even begin to count)
Chau was part of an organization called All Nations which, obviously, lauded him as a martyr.
The “privilege of sharing the gospel has often involved great cost”, Dr Mary Ho, the organization’s leader, said in a statement. “We pray that John’s sacrificial efforts will bear eternal fruit in due season.”
Except they won't [ad lib]
The organization tried to justify what he did by pointing out that he'd had 13 immunizations...
Um... before I go any further – this person got 13 vaccines to go antagonize a primitive tribe and yet some of the same people who laud this idiot as a hero still aren't vaccinated against COVID
But this was, apparently, good enough for the crazies who sent him on his mission. Only one problem – as usual, they trusted what Jesus was “telling them” over what actual experts in the field of international infectious disease had to say. All those vaccines weren't enough to ensure the Sentinelese tribespeople's safety. And let's be real, the ONLY reason this guy got 13 vaccines is because they were all mandatory to travel to the places that would put him at the correct vantage point to go to North Sentinel Island.
And another aside – thirteen jabs to “save” an indigenous tribe that's just hanging around minding its own business with no need in life of anyone else's aid, assistance, or religious nuttery, but putting on a mask or getting two jabs to literally save the life of the cashier at the grocery store is too much for some of this person's fans. It's all so two-faced and hypocritical...
Chau actually went away to a boot camp put on by the All Nations organization to learn how to be a missionary. “One of the bootcamp’s exercises, the New York Times reported, involved navigating a mock village peopled by missionaries pretending to be hostile natives, with fake spears. All Nations’ leader, Mary Ho, told the Times that Chau was one of the best trainees the program ever had.”
I'm just sitting here picturing a bunch of obviously white people trying to simulate an attack by primitive natives on an island having no cultural reference, no intel about their defense/militaristic tactics and abilities, and clearly no way to stage a battle that would begin to prepare anyone to deal with hostiles... in the fucking mission field.
A Twitter user called John Chau “a deluded idiot” and another referred to him as, “Just a dumb American who thought the tribals needed ‘Jesus’ when the tribals already lived in harmony with God and nature for years without outside interference.”
To that I say, harmony with one out of two ain't bad and they sure as fuck didn't need the other. Nor did they need some dude carrying bacteria and other pathogens that literally never set foot on those shores before into their midst.
Chau referred to the tribe on North Sentinel Island as “Satan's last stronghold.” What on earth had they done? Mind their own business? What kind of pawn is this place in Satan's master plan? JFC... they're far from the last unreached people group.
I do like this quote from the Guardian article:
Chau’s decision to contact the Sentinelese, who have made it clear over the years that they prefer to be left alone, was indefensibly reckless. But it was not a spontaneous act of recklessness by a dim-witted thrill-seeker; it was a premeditated act of recklessness by a fairly intelligent and thoughtful thrill-seeker who spent years preparing, understood the risks, including to his own life...”
Chau had three things working against him. First He was AG (he was the equivalent of an Eagle Scout in Royal Rangers). Strike one. (The drive for missions in the assemblies is beyond aggressive). He was also the product of Christian education from elementary school through college having attended ORU as an undergrad. Strike two. And, like our friend Arnold Cunningham, he had a wildly overactive imagination and seemed to be trying to live vicariously through every underdog in every piece of adventure fiction he'd ever read. Strike three.
He loved camping and other rugged outdoor/survivalist activities and seemed to see himself as a sort of Indiana Jones with a savior complex. His story paints a picture of someone who had been fueling an obsession for years. I recommend reading the article if you want to know more about John Chau. I'm going to leave his story here, at least for now.
AG and missions [Ad Lib]
All AG churches that want to stay AG allocate a percentage of donations to two general missionary accounts: home missions and world missions. Those accounts deliver funds to individual missionaries on an as-needed basis or as stipends when they visit the church. Some funds also go to organizations like AIM. Many churches also have individual missionaries they directly support with agreed upon percentages of tithe revenues and the proceeds from the monthly missions offering.
AGUSM... *home missions churches – missionaries who couldn't hack it in the mission field or who they just didn't want to send back due to cost or other factors *and if something fails with your mission it's your fault – god wanted to reach those people, you and your pride stood in the way
Speed the light...
Annual missions conference (local churches and VFCC) – a bunch of missionaries competing for people's love offerings. The better the story, the more likely it was to result in support (they had the nerve to sic at least five of these people on us every year at school and they all proceeded to hit up broke college students for cash)
Short-Term vs. Long-Term...
Most AG missionaries have literal PR portfolios
They spend A LOT of money trying to RAISE money – portfolios, hotels, rental cars, meals, etc. Some get housed and fed, others don't.
They use the same guilt tactics as other traveling ministry groups
They do things that are ILLEGAL (smuggling bibles, secret churches and meetings, risking jail or worse) - http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/08/18/china.bibles/index.html
They rarely have positive, uplifting stories about personal experiences, but they do manage to pull out the hero's tales and some spend years using the same stories to drum up support... because nothing that exciting happens on the regular in the mission field.
Our MIR [ad lib] – there were almost no stories about people they'd converted, just insights, observations and things he and his wife had experienced.
Home missions has always gotten better results – why? Because there's cultural relatability here. Jesus isn't a foreign, impossible-to-understand concept here. People get saved in droves in home missions projects. Overseas? It's a much slower, less fruitful effort given the costs involved in sending missionaries overseas.
Many missionaries come home for years at a time struggling to raise the funds they need to go back into the mission field. Most don't have any marketable skills and many wind up in precarious living situations when they're forced to return stateside. They usually have larger than average families and all too often end up on a half-dozen sources of public assistance because they simply aren't qualified for any job that involves skilled labor. This leaves lucrative options like retail, food service, custodial services, and other equally glamorous, low-paying and often part-time jobs.
It's also interesting to note that The U.S. sends more missionaries than any other country with more than half of those missionaries coming from the LDS church. The other almost-half comes largely from... you guessed it! Evangelical protestant denominations. The Catholic church also sends a large quorum but the AG still has them beat.
“The United States sends the most Christian missionaries abroad of any country, according to Reuters – almost 130,000 in 2010. Although many denominations send missionaries, the most visible are Mormons – 70,000 per year, according to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – and evangelical Protestants.
“A large and sophisticated apparatus exists to assist Americans interested in proselytizing. The universe includes organizations like WorldVenture, which provides support services, training, and life insurance for missionaries, and Wycliffe, which is working to translate the Bible into every language. Databases such as People Groups and the Joshua Project gather information on what evangelicals call “unreached people groups”.
I considered being a Wycliffe bible translator for about 30 seconds once...
Message to current missionaries: come home [ad lib]
Message to former missionaries who couldn't afford to go back: you didn't fail, your church failed you (“we are committed to your success...”) [ad lib]
To former missionaries who decided NOT to go back – you did the right thing. Don't feel guilty [ad lib]
To those in Bible college for missions – drop out. Now. [ad lib]
Secular “Missions” - these places have an established PROFESSIONAL and cooperative presence in the places they serve. In short, they're wanted there. They aren't pushing their religion on anyone. They perform real services that have real benefit to people. There are short- and long-term projects and they all accomplish way more than any evangelical missions project.
No matter if you've been a missionary, are a missionary, or are studying to be / are thinking about being a missionary, my advice to you is the same: don't. You don't enrich someone else's life by pushing a religion on them they don't want and probably can't fully understand. You don't help them by building dysfunctional structures. And you don't help anyone by forcing them to lie and pretend to be something they aren't so they can eat tomorrow or get needed medicines and provisions.
The people “reached” via evangelical missions often secretly resent the missionaries that keep them fed and well and I can absolutely see why. It isn't a lack of gratitude, it's a lack of desire to be dependent upon your religion to stay alive. Keep in mind that you promise these people freedom in Christ but have no problem making them live in bondage to your religion to ensure their needs keep getting met. Does that seem right to you?
Does it seem right to break the law to smuggle Bibles into countries that don't want them there? What is the point of risking your life running underground ministries that could get you arrested or worse? And what good does it do to force your “love” on a people group that doesn't want it? What makes you so entitled that you think you can go anywhere you want and force your religion on anyone you want?
That's right... your religion, your pastor, every missionary who ever showed up in your church for missions conference. Yeah, nevermind. You probably have no conception of what's wrong with any of that and if you do your pastor hasn't been doing his job. So let's allay the judgment for a minute and let's see if I can express this a little more objectively.
I'm not trying to attack missionaries or shame them for doing the very things they've been led to believe necessary for the sake of the gospel. I get that part of it. Because if John Chau's story is any indicator, this drive to bring the gospel to new places can be intense. This is all about conditioning, usually from a very young age. John Chau LIVED in the kool aid. He was guzzling it by the gallon every single day from his christian school upbringing to four years at ORU and all that coupled with a very overactive imagination bought him a pointless and untimely end.
And while his is an extreme example of the arrogance that drives so much of evangelical missions, this vocation has stolen countless lives, deprived children of normal, stable upbringings, disrupted cultures and other religions, insulted people's heritages, and have placed many in situations where they must either pretend to accept Christianity or starve. Would YOU be comfortable living a lie? If not, it's time to either come home, stay home, or flee from that college that is indoctrinating you into throwing your entire life away on things that have precious little positive impact on the world. And if you support missionary work, that goes for you, too. Think about whether or not you want to support things like socio-economic slavery and international crime. Is that a little too alarmist? It would be if it wasn't true. But it is. And we deal in blunt force honesty around here.
Start really looking at what missions work is and what it really accomplishes. Start looking objectively at the real impact missions has on impoverished nations and cultures. It's important to understand what it does to the people it touches and that there are better, and far more selfless ways to help people in need. Isn't missions work selfless, though? Ask the kids who came home from the AIM trip who spent two hours on the platform talking about how the trip impacted... them. It's so subtle how they sneak the thinking in, isn't it? And that's why we're here and that's why we keep calling it out. Because the more you know and understand, the closer you become to getting and staying unbound.
Well, it seems to be a trend among loudmouth antivax preachers screaming about COVID, so here's our first segment: Well, well well, if it isn't the consequences of your own actions. Here's just a few christians who have behaved badly seeing those consequences right now...
Christian Radio Host Jimmy DeYoung Sr., who has spent the whole of the pandemic spouting misinformation about covid has died of...something? What could it possibly be? If you guessed COVID, you'd be right. While he was a staunch anti-vaxxer, he did reassure that it was not the mark of the beast so there's that. At least he didn't go that far. But how many o f his flock did he decieve by the constant flow of false information flowing out of his mouth?
Anti-vaxxer Catholic Cardinal Raymond Burke, who has spent the last year downplaying the seriousness of COVID, is currently...in the hospital with COVID, on a ventilator. He used his pulpit and his voice to drag other Catholics into illness and possibly death. It would be poetic justice if it weren't so stupid.
And lastly for this segment, 'prophetic minister' Wanda Alger has cancelled her “prophetic mentoring weekend” because.....covid, of course. She's currently treating herself at home. With her severely immuno-compromised son. Great. Just great. Incidentally, another one of her theories is that remote-controlled mini-robot rats spread the pandemic to last past Easter to prevent Christians from going to church.
That last one makes me mad because she's hardly pretending to care that her 'severely immunocompromised son' is going to catch this. She's currently asking for thoughts and prayers. Yeah that'll help.
My second story today is something that you could probably title “christians behaving badly in the past.” And it involves some people that no one expected.
The Spanish Inquisition, which spanned 400 years, from 1478 to 1834 was created to hunt down and root out all heresies, including blasphemy and witchcraft. The total number of people prosecuted was 150,000, including thousands of clergy, and the number killed over that time was around 5000. The Inquisition took place over the whole of Spain and all Spanish territories, and had the full backing of the Catholic Church.
Sixteen of the most affected territories are in modern day Spain. And a question occurred to a professor of economics: “Does the Spanish Inquisition have a tangible, modern impact?” Are there economic repercussions to religious persecution?
A new scholarly article by three economists tries to answer this very question. Here's a quote.
“From Imperial Rome to North Korea, religious persecution entwined with various degrees of totalitarian control has caused conflict and bloodshed for millennia. In this paper, we ask the following: Can religious persecution have repercussions long after it has ceased? Using data on the Spanish Inquisition, we show that in municipalities where the Spanish Inquisition persecuted more citizens, incomes are lower, trust is lower, and education is markedly lower than in other comparable towns and cities. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition to still matter today, but it does.”
They collected data from all across spain, and used records from 67,000 trials held between 1480 and 1820. They found various economic indicators for wealth, education and and public trust were markedly lower in the most severely persecuted territories of spain in comparison with territories that were less persecuted or not persecuted at all. Here is a quote from the Conclusion of the paper:
The Inquisition’s persecution of perceived heretics is only one example of authoritarian intervention in people’s private lives; other institutions, such as Stalin’s NKVD and Hitler’s Gestapo, instituted similarly intrusive regimes of thought-control (Saxonberg 2019). While the suffering of the accused and convicted is the single most important result of persecution, our results suggest its shadows can be long indeed. In the case of the Spanish Inquisition, the local level of persecution continues to influence economic activity and basic attitudes some 200 years after its abolition, undermining trust, reducing investments in human capital, and impoverishing the hardest-hit areas.