Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Great Awakening, Missions, Slavery, and Paternalism: Part 4

Critique of ABCFM continued:

Perhaps the clearest example of the ABCFM’s perpetuation of slavery is the failure of the missionaries who went to the Native Americans to speak against this evil. One example of this is how the missionaries dealt with the Cherokee Indians. “A considerable proportion of the Cherokee nation...had...adopted many of the customs and practices of civilized society, including the institution of Negro slavery.” Rather than speak out against the evil practice of slavery it appears that the missionaries were often the ones introducing or at least justifying the institution to the Cherokee. As certain Cherokee adopted these practices they became “more civilized.” As the Cherokee became “more civilized,” the white missionaries found it easier to relate to them. In fact, “it was from among this partly assimilated group that the missionaries received their first converts and firmest friends.” When the Indians converted, there was no preaching against the evil of slavery. And how could there be? For the person preaching was often the one who had earlier sought to justify the practice.

Why was the ABCFM so ambivalent and duplicitous in their talk with regards to slavery? Were they really seeking to justify a practice that they thought was wrong? If so, how does this correspond with a desire to take the gospel to all the nations? It is the contention of this author that the ABCFM was seeking to justify slavery because they were blinded by the fascination with their own White-Protestant Culture. This fascination, with their own culture, prohibited them from rightly assessing what were strengths and what were weaknesses. In other words, the theological impetus for seeking to reach all the nations with the gospel was primarily a non-biblical ethnocentrism.

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