African children are not your pawns: World Vision and Evangelical Imperialism

Can World Vision save Starvin Marvin?

(image provided by South Park Studios)

Post-Evangelicalism, White Saviorism, and PA$$ING FOR WHITE [EVANGELICAL]

I’ve noticed somewhat of a trend that’s pretty problematic that I wanted to draw out. You can call this my official response to the World Vision / White Evangelicalism drama that went on last week.  At the center of the storm, there lied a Christian charity organization that decided to, then reversed on the decision, to hire Christians from denominations that affirmed same sex marriages.  The narrative goes: on one side, there’s the conservative evangelical wing and their Calvinist Popes who farewelled WV and on the other side, there’s the evangelicals who were lead to believe that evangelicalism was a Big Tent camp filled with Progressives, Emergents, and Missional folks. Both sides (in their blog posts), were more than eager to press this story as one where we had to “save the children.”  At no one point were the problematic practices of World Vision, its advancement of White Saviorism  through its advertisements or its questionable method of “child-sponsorships” (but not really child-sponsorships) ever put under scrutiny.  In fact, White conservative evangelical bloggers and post-evangelical bloggers did not hesitate to add numerous images of brown-skinned children (probably with disabilities as well) in their blog posts.  BECAUSE YOU KNOW, THIS DEBATE WAS ALL ABOUT THEM. UM HUMMM!

If I may wax Propaganda in “Precious Puritans,” it reeks of privilege, wouldn’t you agree? In reality, the money for the sponsorships do not go to the child directly, but to the community where they live (indirectly). The promise of these sponsorships not only promise meeting the material needs of children overseas, but also to ensure that these kids get to learn American Standard English.  Isn’t that just wonderful? We can do charity so that we can shape you in our own image! Nope. Not imperialist at all.

African and other nations populated by darker skinned people are represented time and again as the passive recipients of white benevolence.  This “help” however, is just a re-hashing of old Western-style colonialism brought to those countries by missionaries. Instead of Soviet and capitalist governments directly influencing the futures of these places, what is happening instead is that corporations such as SHELL, which will work as “monitors” for these “developing” communities, to aid in things like guiding “the communities is setting priorities” [robbing agency and human dignity from people of Color a national past-time!].  The problem with representing wholesale countries as “Needy Others” by discussing poverty outside of history (that is, remaining silent on the various political histories, economics, and regional trends) objectifies these children as Things. This is one of the primary reasons why White Evangelicals as well White Emergent / Postevangelical/ Nuanced Missional Christians were able to make flesh and blood children pawns for their White National culture wars.

After all the declarations of “I’m done with Evangelicalism” and aspiring hopes for renewal  and quotes about following Jesus and not the Church of the Pharisees [oh, that bit is problematic too, taking the Pharisees out of history, and yeah, that anti-Semitism thing]. Honestly, I always get a little squeamish when even the most progressive and high-minded Christians compare their opponents to the Pharisees because of the history of CHRISTIAN anti-Semitism we believers are guilty of. And you know what Fanon said, behind anti-Semitism, there’s anti-Black racism right around the corner.

It’s interesting how cabals of White Evangelical and Post-evangelical bloggers can arrogantly think that they have the future of Christianity in their hands.  And let’s not kid ourselves with Emergent/Emergence Christianity,etc.; the same people who appropriate the language of “liberation” from Christians of color are the same exact folks who talk about “civility” and “objectivity” as means of silencing most notably Women of Color. Evangelicalism has a bad history when it comes to race relations. Heck, all of Christianity does.  Social Justice critiques from within contemporary Evangelicalism did not start with Brian McLaren and Rob Bell; it started with the work of people like John Perkins and Tom Skinner. Unfortunately in White Evangelical institutions, John Perkins and the Christian Community Development Association were denounced as “liberals” because they dare suggest that White ministers could not properly do urban ministry unless they were discipled by persons who came from urban populations. THE NERVE! THE AUDACITY!

So here we are, rather than exploring and listening the ACTUAL over-looked party of Evangelicalism (Evangelicals who are racial minorities), we have a group of now (I guess?) former evangelicals who use their privilege to rejecting the label of Evangelical.  While there are others who can articulate this idea better than I (I got this idea from a book club meeting this week), Evangelicalism comes not only as a theology but also a history and a culture.  The history of evangelicalism in the North American context is a tale of both the social justice minded-abolitionists and the slave-holding Confederates.  Not wanting to be implicated in the social sins of the latter, many Emergent / Post-Evangelical Christians tend to focus on the former, while well, for the most part, many Conservative Evangelicals continue to glorify the problematic history uncritically.  Evangelical culture in general comes with an accomodationist approach to laizze-faire economics where every brand and marketing trend just needs a little Jesus sprinkled on it.  This is also leads to evangelical culture making charity the norm rather than solidarity

 It seems a little suspicious to me that on one hand, a number Post-Evangelicals want to keep the evangelical label, to retain the brand, the capitalist success, and access to higher social positions that it comes with, but on the other, now want to simply leave it when its convenient. In the United States of America context, in which a watered-down Protestantism turned deism has basically been the civil religion, White Evangelicalism means that a Protestantism that’s above other Protestantisms (this includes mainline churches, historically black churches, Chinese, Korean and other Protestant bodies worldwide).  These other communities are only found acceptable if they believe like, worship like, and vote like White Evangelicals.  Rather than take responsibility for their own history, the blogging bishophoric is now leading the way into a new kind of evangelical hegemony.  Indeed it would seem that the label of post-evangelical / emergent was nothing more than a way for Generation X’ers and Millenials to pa$$ as white [evangelicals], profiting while persuading others to join them on their journey into mainline Protestantism.

So what do you think? Are African, Indian, South American children being used as pawns in the White Culture Wars?


0 thoughts on “African children are not your pawns: World Vision and Evangelical Imperialism

  1. Lady Jaye

    UES! Thank you! While I will admit that I had a preference in this fight, or was amazing to me how EVERYONE was goig on about “the kids you sponsor”. We know full well that most donor aid goes to the companies and not to the purported recipient, so I was a bit astonished no one thought to discuss that in this whole drama. Where does the money actually go?

    Also, I am West African, a member of a purportedly “aid-receiving community.” The stories I could tell about NGOs and their “aid”, even the Christian ones! – and this is from me being relatively privileged and able to view their practises from outside. I bet you the direct recipients of said “aid” would have more stories to tell.

    Frankly I was disappointed by reactions from both sides- it all looked like a lot of *butthurt* to me.

    I am so glad you talked about the inorkg of the systemic sin/injustice that prevents communities for fending for themselves and instead makes hem reliant on someone’s $10 a month through world vision and other such orgs. We have let sin prevail and ignored it so we can make ourselves feel better about just how wonderful and people-centered Christians we are, unlike that thee group over there. This was both sides.

    It is also amazing to me that on this whole fight, no one stopped a moment to think about Christian and foreign NGOs practices on the ground, to know/ascertain whether they are helpful.

    And finally, African communities are thriving. We are changing ourselves for the better, from within. We are doing it both systematically, individually, as with dignity. One at a time. Slowly. The input of western savior – Christian or Otherwise, is extraneous. We are the owns changing our community. I would have liked them to recognize that.

    I nothing else, thank you for your points in this article. A breath of fresh air after all the self-centered analyses of the past couple of weeks.

  2. flyingxicana

    here’s what i wrote a few weeks ago upon reading up on the shitstorm:

    “is a work like World Vision even good? even redeemable? is it just yt imperialism in the shape of christian charity again? probably. yes.

    who caused the poverty of these ‘third world countries’? who caused the world economic conditions, the colonization and its lingering effects, who caused these children’s families to be unable to send them to school or clothe them or feed them with the abundant natural resources of their own homelands?

    the same yt people and the ancestors of the yt people who feel so glad to send a few dollars a day to these same children, for the good feelings and grateful letters back, knowing that christian workers will teach them their own version of christianity:
    the same version of christianity that oppresses so many there in the usa and around the world.”

    adding that “this version of christianity” is yt evangelical christianity as you’ve been saying.
    thank you for writing this article. totally echoing you on the anti-semitism/racism/total hypocrisy when yt christians use ‘the pharisees’ as a scapegoat and negative symbol. (who else is very concerned with the order, holiness, and health of their religious community but could be described as ‘whitewashed tombs’? who else, HMM?)

    not even going to touch on the moral stances and reversals of World Vision re: homosexuality except to say that they’ve chosen to follow the flow of (yt evangelical) money and power rather than whatever original reasoning (or Spirit) they’d had.

  3. monstertigerbot

    My first thought when the whole business of an uproar was fomenting was that this might be what it took to actually make conservative Evangelicals aware of the inherent problems in “supporting” “developing nations.” However, I was reticent to talk about it much knowing that any sort of revelation would be short-lived and only motivated by a desire to justify homophobia. But it is exactly situations like this that point out the intersection between the stories and experiences of the oppressed, whether they be the colonized or LGBT, and, as you point out, who was the winner here? Conservative evangelicals could ride off on their white horse of “good ol’ fashioned morality,” and progressive (post)evangelicals could ride off on their white horse of self-martyrdom. I say this extremely hypocritically as I was drawn into the whole debacle and got extremely upset, on the post-evangelical side.

    1. h00die_R (Rod) Post author

      “Conservative evangelicals could ride off on their white horse of “good ol’ fashioned morality,” and progressive (post)evangelicals could ride off on their white horse of self-martyrdom”

      Yup! Exactly

  4. Lady Jaye

    Another thing we also seem to have forgotten, amidst all the cries of utter disappointment and leaving evangelicalism and gatekeepers of evangelicalism is that it doesn’t matter. No one group of people have the destiny of the church in their hands. None of them can show the true church. Like my big sis told me, IT IS GOD WHO KNOWS THOSE WHO ARE HIS. And it is God himsel who sustains His true church. Because we are human and as humans let ourselves get in the way of the Spirit, there will always be differences in the boy of Christ. Some trivial, some bitter. But in all this, it is our Lord, not one faction or the other, progressive or conservative, who gets to call/sustain the church. Those who want to leave can leave; hose who want to stay can stay. But no matter how important these factions junk their stances are, diverging from either stance won’t spell the death knell of the church. The gates of hell will not, cannot prevail against the church. It will ever live on because t is Jesus himself who keeps it going. Like my big sis said- in all of this drama, God, and God alone knows who are His. Kthxbai

  5. Alice Smith

    You have made some bold and important point, brother, but I fear that you have done our cause a disservice by painting in extremist brushstrokes a much more complex and diverse reality. You over-state, fall prey to your own criticisms and beat the drum of justice while failing to have the grace the makes that justice hopeful.

  6. RelapsedCatholic

    TI loved the line ‘watered-down-Protestantism-turned-deism’. I could say the same thing about many of my Catholic brothers and sisters, admittedly there are those that would say the same about me.

    You highlighted a critical and superstructural issue when it comes to Christian charity. Many people want to good. They know their relative affluence is in part an accident of birth and they feel called to do good with it. There is however a huge gap in understanding between the conditions in the third world and the actions of first world governments and corporations that perpetuate it.

    I have no problem with white Christians that wabt to give direct charity to the third world through NGO’s. I do have a problem with Christian that do this while simultaneously perpetuating the same policies that create the need for charity. Too much of mainline American Christianity is little more than chaplains to the American Empire and its army. I blame the leaders of American Christianity more than its members for this gap, but that is my lens on the world and my own limitation.

    Good post. It needed to be said louder and longer.

    1. krwordgazer

      This is at least a little more helpful. As a white American Christian, I’d really like to know– what, then, should we be doing to help fix the mess our people created? What is the best way to try to make amends? And is it really so wrong to want to establish a one-on-one relationship via letters and e-mails with one child– especially since the money does not go directly to that one child (which I agree would be a bad idea) but to help the child’s whole community?

          1. krwordgazer

            I mean, I understand you don’t owe me an education on this– but it was you who wrote this article, presumably to communicate to more people than just those who already understand– and the article outlines the problem but offers no solutions. It really isn’t unreasonable to ask for a follow up.

          2. h00die_R (Rod) Post author

            Honestly, I feel like I don’t owe anyone anything. I don’t get paid to educate anyone. If you read any of the links I linked to, there are solutions other than World Vision. So there is that.

  7. RelapsedCatholic

    Sorry Rod, I meant to say it needed to be said by more people. I was typing on my phone and things don’t come out right when I feel rushed.

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