Missionaries – Good or Bad?

Are Christian missionaries harmful or helpful? The research of Dr. Robert Woodberry has found that Protestant missionaries have had significantly positive impacts.

One example of this is the 19th-century missionary, John Mackenzie, who helped blacks in South Africa protect their land. “When white settlers in South Africa threatened to take over the natives’ land, Mackenzie helped his friend and political ally Khama III travel to Britain. There, Mackenzie and his colleagues held petition drives, translated for Khama and two other chiefs at political rallies, and even arranged a meeting with Queen Victoria. Ultimately their efforts convinced Britain to enact a land protection agreement. Without it, the nation of Botswana would likely not exist today. …Mackenzie was not atypical. In China, missionaries worked to end the opium trade; in India, they fought to curtail abuses by landlords; in the West Indies and other colonies, they played key roles in building the abolition movement. Back home, their allies passed legislation that returned land to the native Xhosa people of South Africa and also protected tribes in New Zealand and Australia from being wiped out by settlers.”

Dr. Woodberry comments on these examples. “I feel confident saying none of those movements would have happened without nonstate missionaries mobilizing them. Missionaries had a power base among ordinary people. They [were] the ones that transformed these movements into mass movements.”

At least one fellow scholar, Robin Grier, Professor of Economics and International & Area Studies at the University of Oklahoma has commented on Woodberry’s findings. “I’m not religious. I never felt really comfortable with the idea of [mission work]; it seemed cringe-worthy. Then I read Bob’s work. I thought, Wow, that’s amazing. They left a long legacy. It changed my views and caused me to rethink.”

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