Tip of a Spear
Recently, while trapped in traffic on North Avenue I read a church sign lauding a new Movie called The Tip of a Spear about American Protestant Missionaries in the Amazon of Ecuador and their many travails. I for one will not be paying money for this movie but I thought it gave a good opportunity to talk about missionaries.
As a disclaimer I must say that I was a Catholic missionary in 1994 and 1995 and that I have know many people who were genuinely committed to the poor and to loving the people in Bolivia where I lived. I have written here about some of them people like Fr Benoit who lived in the prison where I worked and Cathy Breen who struggled with the poor and healed them. I knew protestant missionaries as well who were the real deal. I just wish there were more of them. The Mennonites, Brethern, Methodists, many Catholics and many other groups do great work but...
The problem that I have with Missionaries is the same problem I have with Aid Workers and Peace Corp volunteers; unless you live in the country softly and respectfully and you go about things in a non destructive way, like for example Mother Teresa or Fr Damien of Molokai or Albert Schweitzer, you are doing more damage and you are making people dependent on you which is in my opinion akin to cultural genocide.
Most missionaries, aid workers and Peace Corp volunteers do good work but it would be so much better if the money was used to empower the local people rather than giving a good experience to foreigners. Power needs to be given to people to decide for themselves and no Great Commission is more important than their freedom.
My Church is the most culpable in this regard we destroyed the culture of the Americas and replaced it with a hybrid Catholicism with Local cultures. Many of the qualities of this hybrid Latin American culture have real value and are frankly my culture but also some parts of it have created dependency and a dossileness. Catholics have allot to answer for especially all that we stole from this Hemisphere.
In this movie however we are talking about Evangelical missionaries and I reserve a special place in Dante's inferno for many of them. Most Fundamentalist Evangelicals in Latin America have created a world of delusion for their faithful as destructive as the Catholic world of saints and processions. It is kind of like Jimmy Swaggart meets Julio Iglesias.
They tell people that America and American prosperity is based on living a Christian life. It is never mentioned that American prosperity is also based on other things like the rule of law, an engaged population and the fact that for 150 years of our history Blacks worked for free as slaves. The Evangelical push in Latin America was started by the CIA as a way to oppose Castro, Liberation Theology and Socialism and it has had borne great fruit almost 30% of Latin America is now Evangelical.
The religion that these missionaries spread is based on emotions and certainty like most religion. Evangelical churches are very lively very charismatic and very committed to serving the "Christians" as opposed to the rest of the society. Villages and Towns and Families are divided in many places as those who want a leg up or to set themselves apart leave the traditional world of Syncro Catholicism and they become "Christians" they begin to act and dress differently. To see someone in the Andes walking around in a suit and tie is sure sign that the person is either a government bureaucrat or a Protestant missionary.
In the case of this movie the missionaries go to a remote Amazonian village to "spread the gospel" the fact that most of these tribes/groups have heard the Gospel and have chosen not to accept it is ignored the actual choice of the people is not what is important what is important is that the world hears the Gospel so that, or so these folks believe, the world can end because when everyone has heard the Gospel Jesus is coming back.
I had a personal experience with this once in Bolivia. A group of Protestant Evangelical Missionaries called New Tribes Missions decided the way to find tribes in the Chapare was to employ bloodhounds and to seek them out and share the Gospel with them. they searched everywhere for tribes to "Convert" the fact that most of these tribes had been listening to the Gospel for 500 years and chose to do their own thing was ignored. I remember sitting with one of the blonde denizens of this group in a coffee place and she telling me how happy these people were to see them. Well wouldn't you be happy to be chased and sought after by dogs while you were living your lives?
In the end we live in a world where extremes are moving to the front. It is like what FDR said about Somoza in Nicaragua, "He is a Son of a Bitch but he is our Son of a Bitch" . The American Evangelical missionaries in Latin America are acceptable because they are our Son of a Bitch imagine if the missionaries were Islamic? Would the laudes be the same?