Bible & Mission

Western Dominance in World Mission: Time for a Change?

From the Global Connections Website:

The forum held on the 25 May 2011 at CMF as part of the Thinking Mission series was intended to look at the issues of   continued Western dominance in mission – was this the case and if so what could be done about it? The genesis of the question had something to do with the feeling on the part of some of those who attended Lausanne 3 in Cape Town that  the agenda there had been overmuch the product of the West. ‘West’ here means those nations such as the United States and the U.K. whose thinking comes primarily from the European Enlightenment, who were until recently  colonialists and may be still neo-colonial in practice.

The forum was structured around a presentation by Eddie Arthur and responses by Kang San Tan, Peter Oyugi and  Claudio Muzzi. Eddie was asked to describe the history of the modern missionary movement and to reflect upon its significance, while Kang San, Peter and Claudio were to respond from the perspectives of Asia, Africa and Latin  America. A final question and answer session considered the possible practical outcomes.

You can download the papers from this forum here.

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One reply on “Western Dominance in World Mission: Time for a Change?”

(As often, I’ve written too much but not as much as the original very good document. Just wanting to contribute to the discussion. Sorry if it’s too long.)

Can I add another related question? Particularly in relation to the lasting impact or not of colonial history, I have observed quite a diversity across Africa and especially across generations. That is, it seems to me to be mostly only older generations who seem to have a ‘post-colonial’ mentality.

Now, given that leaders of organisations tend to be older, is it possible that we may get ourselves all caught up in post-colonial vocabulary and issues which will soon become irrelevant? Might the significantly complex commercial/cultural power of Western-origined media and communications systems be at least as significant as the lasting impact of colonial history?

Christians (at least in the West) do tend to worry about issues a decade or two after they have moved off the world’s agenda into insignificance, don’t we? (eg modernism, post-modernism, feminism…)

Post-colonial guilt, as you brought out, can lead to a host of helpful correction as well as unhelpful things, but (in my view) mainly unhelpful. It is always good to learn from your own mistakes, but I really do prefer if possible to learn from others’ mistakes. And that seems to be the main obligation for young missionaries/Christians like me.

But post-colonial guilt and the corollary of post-colonial angst/bitterness or contempt for the West and the attendant striving of some in the non-West to prove themselves to be better than Westerners, can lead quite simply to non-Westerners simply repeating the same errors that Westerners have made while Westerners keep quiet. Westerner or non-Westerners, we all need to be ready to accept and process criticism form each other as brothers in Christ. It’s far too easy for a naïve Westerner to praise everything that non-Westerners do either for fear of being accused of being neo-colonialist or because the church is apparently growing in the non-West. And if we stay silent when we see fellow Christians from the non-West repeating our own errors, we may stay safe in our eyes but we are failing them, aren’t we?

In the same way, in places where ‘Missionaries’ or ‘Whites’ are still highly regarded (at least superficially) and local Christians let them continue to make mistake after mistake, they may be acting in line with their culture, but it is (from a Christian perspective) profoundly unhelpful and unloving to that missionary. We have an obligation to care for one another for the good of God’s kingdom, don’t we?

Perhaps power and money remain major obstacles to overcome. In Africa at least it seems that everything is wrong both inside the church and outside where it comes to money and power. Rather than trying to ’empower’ and ‘enrich’ African Christians, so that they can be like us, could we try to eliminate power and money from the business of Discipleship, Mission and Bible translation? What about finding ways to guarantee access to scriptures without the Western hangups of copyright and the impression that we need to sell (subsidised) books? Of course then we are left with a dependence on Western/Asian technological dominance, but mobile phones and the internet have already opened up a new kind of freedom and independence, not always along Western lines.

Anyway, enough from me. One final thought: as missionaries/Christians, are we satisfied if we succeed in building up an ethnic church to impact a whole people? Is that our goal? Or is our goal to see whole people groups (or, realistically, a section of them) transformed into cross-cultural missionary agents? This isn’t an original thought, but always the danger is that we can be satisfied with too little.

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