Christian missionaries have been deemed racists, imperialistic, and intolerant, but the truth of the efforts of missionaries has some very interesting seemingly unintended consequences: liberal democracies to name just but one.
While many might view the modern Christian missions movement as an intolerable effort against multiculturalism leading to the exploitation of people groups by proselytizing efforts social indicators has deemed the efforts positive in multiple accounts.
The Myth: Missionaries are culturally insensitive proselytizers. Thomas S. Abler in The American Indian Quarterly begins by asserting that, “It is convention that anthropologists view Christian missionaries as disruptive agents of cultural change.” (source) He goes on to report “It is the missionary’s goal to replace indigenous religion with Christianity and to alter other aspects of behavior to the norms of Western society. Anthropologists expect individuals who assume such a role to be personally ethnocentric, possibly to an extreme degree.”
While there is instances of this occurring, it is the exception rather than the rule. For example, Napoleon Chagnon quotes a Catholic priest as saying the Yanomamo of the Amazon rainforest region as saying, “I believe the Yanomamo are subhuman-they act like animals and lack the essential faculties of being human” in his book Yanomamo: The Fierce People (1983)
But the truth is much more complex and constructive for the indigenous.
The Truth: No doubt, there is the rare antidote of the oppressive missionary, but the truth is the efforts to convert people to Christianity has lead to some remarkable benefits for the recipients, not just for eternity as the missionaries hoped, but for the temporal as well.
Some of the benefits include:
- increased literary rates
- mass education
- civil rights
- education for women and the poor
- better health
- lower infant mortality
- lower corruption
- mass printing
- liberal democracies
These positive increases in social indicators has been discovered by the work of Dr. Robert Woodberry. Woodberry, a sociologist, used statistical analysis to uncover the benefits that Protestant missionaries bring to an indigenous people group.
Dr. Robert Woodberry has discovered a direct causation (not correlation) between Protestant missions and the rise of stable liberal democracies. The Christianity Today article titled “The World Missionaries Made” in the January 2014 issue recounts Woodberry’s work on how the efforts of missionaries are the single largest factor in ensuring the health of nations:
Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.
Woodberry published his work in the academic journal American Political Science Review showing how Protestant missionaries influence the rise and spread of stable democracies around the world and was crucial in initiating the development and spread of religious liberty, mass education, mass printing, newspapers, voluntary organizations, and colonial reforms. Titled “The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy,” Woodberry thesis in the article demonstrates:
historically and statistically that conversionary Protestants (CPs) heavily influenced the rise and spread of stable democracy around the world. It argues that CPs were a crucial catalyst initiating the development and spread of religious liberty, mass education, mass printing, newspapers, voluntary organizations, and colonial reforms, thereby creating the conditions that made stable democracy more likely. . . . The association between Protestant missions and democracy is consistent in different continents and subsamples, and it is robust to more than 50 controls and to instrumental variable analyses.
For a shorter article in World Magazine detailing his discovery AND what happens academically when it doesn’t match up to Politically Correct thought Marvin Olasky:
“Into Exile” World Magazine | Aug 25, 2012
Quick Quotes from the Experts:
“To suggest that the missionary movement had this strong, positive influence on liberal democratization—you couldn’t think of a more unbelievable and offensive story to tell a lot of secular academics.” (Christian Smith, professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame)
“[Woodberry] presents a grand and quite ambitious theory of how ‘conversionary Protestants’ contributed to building democratic societies. Try as I might to pick holes in it, the theory holds up. [It has] major implications for the global study of Christianity.” (Philip Jenkins, history professor of Baylor University)
“I think it’s the best work out there on religion and economic development. It’s incredibly sophisticated and well grounded. I haven’t seen anything quite like it.” (Robin Grier, professor of economics and international studies at University of Oklahoma)
This article received awards for the best article in Comparative Politics, Comparative Democratization, Political Economy (runner up) from the American Political Science Association and best article in the Sociology of Religion from the American Sociological Association.
This article won first place in the Evangelical Press Association’s General Article: Long category.
Robert Woodberry’s presentation at Berkley Center at Georgetown University in Dec. of 2012. (5 minutes)
A more thorough presentation (40 minutes) at the Center for Independent Studies in Sydney Australia titled “Religion and the Roots of Liberal Democracy” in 2015: