Why is Christian proselytisation of marginal communities still promoted?

John Allen Chau. Photograph:( Reuters )

Delhi, India Dec 07, 2018, 10.02 AM (IST) Iain Buchanan

The North Sentinel Island episode has been presented by the Evangelists and those supporting them mainly as another tragic case of missionary martyrdom at the hands of violent non-believers. There have been other such cases – for example, in China, Ecuador, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, and the Cameroons – and all have been presented as the deaths of innocents driven by love and peaceful intent.

But there is another perspective on such events. The martyred were not hapless do-gooders caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were knowing, willful, well-funded, and well-tutored agents of one of the biggest, richest, and most successful global industries to spring out of the Western world – the modern evangelical movement. The modern evangelical movement has about half a million full-time workers, that sends out around three million short-term workers out every year. It has over 4,000 subsidiary agencies, an elaborate, highly developed, and tightly-integrated global management structure, a close partnership with the West’s most powerful governments, and the backing of the world’s largest corporations; and it has at its disposal at least $400 billion in liquid assets, a fleet of 200 aircraft, and over 300 million computers worldwide. It has a computer intelligence system that has data-banked information on every community on earth down to the smallest village, and with this information – and all its associated resources – it targets every culture and every cultural sub-group on earth for conversion to evangelical Christianity. Much of its work is camouflaged, and to enable work within non-Western cultures most of its mission workers are now-white.

It is this enormous organisation, and not John Allen Chau, that targeted the Sentinel Islands for special attention.

The North Sentinel affair raises a number of vital issues concerning human rights. Perhaps the most important is this: why is the Christian proselytisation of marginal communities still promoted, still possible, still indulged?

There are three answers - one political, one cultural, one religious. Politically, many marginal communities (especially remote tribal communities) live in strategically important areas – border regions, mineral-rich areas, timberlands, militarily significant zones, etc. Historically, Christian missions have been used to neutralize local opposition to imperial penetration.

Culturally, “civilization” abhors the survival of the “pre-civilized”– the nomadic, the pastoral, the Neolithic small tribe, etc. Civilized man is also an imperial man – subsistence alternatives must be co-opted, incorporated, controlled, and at the very least patronized. Part of the problem with complex industrial societies an intolerance of self-sufficient simplicity.

Religiously, the animism of such marginal communities poses a threat to theistic beliefs. This is a particular problem with evangelical Christianity, which has evolved a determined and doctrinaire response to “the other” – whether it be animist, secular, Hindu, Muslim, or Buddhist, “the other” must be converted. It is a tenet of evangelicalism that the Christian must spread the word: modern evangelicals have taken this a step further by creating a vast purpose-built industry for evangelizing each and every “unreached people group” on earth.

TheNorth Sentinel Island residents are a particularly resistant example of such groups. As such, they challenge the certainty and the righteousness of the proselytizers.

There are many other resistant communities, large and small – from the major non-Christian religions to small tribes in the Amazon, theNew Guinea uplands, or various Asian borderlands. The evangelical movement identifies over 3,000 cultural groups to be targeted for proselytization. Eventually, most of these will be penetrated and undermined – by a multitude of tactics, both overt and covert. And they will be transformed for a very simple reason. Because the dominant global imperialism is still white and Christian – and because religious imperialism is always the handmaiden of secular imperialism.

And why the silence from the “Human Rights” industry? Because by and large, it is in cahoots with the proselytisers. Of course, there are local and independent activists fighting injustice in every country, but their voices are not widely broadcast or amplified. The loudest voices are those of the West’s “Human Rights” industry, which is closely embraced by a vast and complex machinery for shaping global and local activism to the West’s secular and religious agenda.

The two largest cogs in this machinery are WorldVision and Youth With a Mission: both are deeply entrenched in the highest echelons of US politics (World Vision is effectively a branch of the US State Department, especially under the Democrats, and both groups are close to the Washington power-broking clique known as “TheFamily”); combined, the two agencies have almost 20,000 full-time workers working in over 170 countries in over 1,000 bases;both are extremely well funded (for years, World Vision’s budget exceeded the routine budget of the United Nations); and both have complex, diverse, and tightly-integrated corporate structures more powerful and more successful than many large global corporations.

Such agencies help define much of the “human rights” agenda through their close political connections, through their own “human rights” subsidiaries (such as World Vision’s International justice mission and Youth With A Mission’s Template Institute and International Reconciliation Coalition), and through a firm integration with the global corporate world.

In the case of the North Sentinel affair, these two agencies are organically linked to the main culprits in the field. The All Nations International ministry (of which John Allen Chau was an agent) was founded by Floyd Mcclung, one-time InternationalDirector of Youth with a Mission, and is now run by Mary Ho, who for many years was a World Vision manager in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

And the West has always been reluctant to enquire too deeply into the affairs of organised Christianity — both at home and overseas. Western culture is a deeply, subliminally Christian, and even committed secularists have trouble avoiding Christian parameters in their arguments, and often gloss over the Christian capacity for wrong-doing. Among other things, this leads to a rather benign view of the behaviour of missionaries overseas — fed partly by ignorance, and partly by a sense that the Christian mission must be equated with civilisation. Such myopia has increased dramatically over the past 40 years, as the secular West has managed to define a global order largely in its own terms, with decisive help from its Christian missionaries. By contrast, of course, the behaviour of non-Christians (even other Abrahamic faiths like Islam) is scrutinised ruthlessly, misunderstood, and demonised.

India owes it to itself to go beyond the purely religious objection to Christian missionising, and examine the global forces which define it. These forces are subverting countries like India in a far more comprehensive and profound way than most people realise.

Most Western leaders (not just George W Bush and Tony Blair) have claimed in the past that they are inspired by their Christian beliefs. Sometimes, as with both Ronald Reagan, George H W Bush and even Trump they quote chapter and verse in support of their policy. Certainly, deep in Washington, self-professedly Christian pressure groups (like the Fellowship Foundation and the Council for National Policy) have a highly influential membership and a powerful grip on policy. Of course, one can debate whether US strategy is manifestly Christian in inspiration — few Americans would say it is not, although most would probably insist that such strategy is guided primarily by secular concerns.

But there is no doubt at all that US strategy makes deliberate (and somewhat cynical) use of Christian agencies in pursuit of foreign policy — and that the distinction between the religious and the secular is deliberately blurred in the process. There are over 600 US-based evangelical groups, some as big as large corporations. Between them they constitute a vast and highly organised network of global influence, purposefully targeting non-Christians, and connecting and subverting every sector of life in the process.

Most of the major evangelical corporations (like World Vision, Campus Crusade, Youth With A Mission, and Samaritan’s Purse) operate in partnership with the US government in its pursuit of foreign policy goals. World Vision, which is effectively an arm of the State Department, is perhaps the most notable example of this. There is also the benefit of a custom-built legislation, with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 providing necessary sanction to bring errant nations into line.

This means that evangelisation is an intensely secular pursuit, as well as a religious one. In turn, of course, the secular powers, whether they be departments of state or corporate businesses, find such evangelicals to be very effective partners.

Indeed, most missionaries are not obviously religious. A case in point is the Success Motivation industry. Many of the most popular ‘leadership gurus’ — Zig Ziglar, Paul Meyer, Os Hillman, Richard DeVos, John C. Maxwell, and Ken Blanchard, for example — are not just management experts, they are also evangelical Christians and conscious agents of US-style evangelisation. Conversely, groups which, on the face of it, are primarily religious, may also serve a powerful secular agenda, such as the collection of intelligence, the grooming of political or commercial elites, or the manipulation of local conflicts.

So pity the poor Sentinelese. Like the Huaorani of Ecuador, or the Yanomami of Brazil, or the Hewa of New Guinea, or the Akha of Thailand or the Pashto of Afghanistan, they are now in the front lines of a war for the last few remnant souls of the unreached – and the “uncivilized.”

(This article was originally published on DNA. Read the original article)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)

Iain Buchanan

The writer is a renowned author 

Story highlights

The North Sentinel affair raises a number of vital issues concerning human rights. Perhaps the most important is this: why is the Christian proselytisation of marginal communities still promoted, still possible, still indulged?