21 February 2014

Missionaries, Democracy, and Political Culture

Missionaries are out of fashion these days, especially in the more secular Western societies. The negative stereotypes often find their way into film. The 1991 drama At Play in the Fields of the Lord tells the story of naïve young American missionaries sent to evangelize an aboriginal community in the Amazon jungle of Brazil, with tragic consequences for everyone. As one of the characters in the film puts it, “The Lord made Indians the way they are. Who are you people to make them different?”

Perhaps missionaries are cultural imperialists, imposing the culturally specific ways of the sending country on others to their detriment. Yet what if it turns out that, in bringing the life-giving message of salvation in Jesus Christ to unbelievers, missionaries were inadvertent catalysts of progressive change in those very countries where they ministered? This is precisely the conclusion of sociologist Robert D. Woodberry's research in his 2012 article in the American Political Science Review, “The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy.” Christianity Today reported on Woodberry's research in a major story in January of this year.

Read the entire article.

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