Missions: The Religion and Internationalism of President Woodrow Wilson

The driving force behind Christian mission, according to Roberts and Kim in the Kalu text was the Christian internationalism of the early twentieth century.  Roberts says that twentienth century Christian internationalism was marked by an optimism in terms of foreign relations, a commitment to pacifism,  missionary zeal and a desire for racial reconciliation with people from other nations  (Kalu, 96-97).  Concepts such as world-friendships and global unity sparked the missions movement.  I sort of disagree with Roberts partially in his assessment of the internationalist movement.  His essay in particular seemed to suggest that Christian missions was mostly energized by Woodrow Wilson’s internationalism; there seems to be missing a concept of mutuality here in which the Christianity of Woodrow Wilson (he was a progressive politically and Presbyterian religiously) actually fuels his idealism for his 14 points and foreign policy which included spreading democracy around the world.  In fact, I would say that Woodrow Wilson is actually a fitting representative of the problem that I wish to discuss for the remainder of this journal entry, and that is, internationalist distancing.  In the mind of the early twentieth century internationalist (and I will include 21st century missionaries as well), there seems to be this issue with having an overwhelming concern for problems in other nations.

Whenever someone presupposes that I am his/her friend, I always ask the question to myself, “on exactly whose terms?” “is the friendship mutual?”  All the talk from the internationalist about world-friendship was not from a standpoint of mutuality, but a desire for conversion driven by rhetoric of friendship.  We will be your  friends, just give us the opportunity to convert you.  The internationalist movement was an imperialist missions movement with a smiling face.  As I mentioned in the former paragraph, internationalists seem to miss opportunities to help hurting people in their own neighborhoods.  A case in point: Woodrow Wilson, was calling for his 14 points, the end of the Ottoman empire, and freedom for minority people around the globe while at the same time, he RESEGREGATED the United States armed forces.  He was a segregationist, who claimed to love his neighbor over seas, but at home, would treat her/him inhumanely.  What they wanted to bring was not Christianity, but imperialism.  Internationalist distancing, then, is the process or a specific amount of actions taken to distance yourself from local problems and issues by focusing on international problems and issues.  We have all seen it; blonde white conservative girl who wants to go to Africa and help even though she may not know what nation is in trouble at that particular time.  Or perhaps we see it with a recent social work major who wants to join the peace corps, because there are so many problems over there, outside of the United States.  That is how a street evangelist can say to a homeless person here in the US, “Hey, you are in the richest country in the world. Your problems are not more than persons starving in Africa.”  The evangelist, with these words, internationally distances him/her self from the homeless person by remarking on world affairs, for the sake of disregarding the homeless person’s predicament, thus enabling oppressive relationships and structure to remain in place.

Perhaps the vocation of missionary ought to be re-assessed in light of the histories of racial conflict and economic injustice as Soong-Chan Rah suggested in his The Next Evangelicalism (page 162).

Sources:

Interpreting Contemporary Christianity by Ogbu Kalu

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *