Race religion and ecumenism

However, talent, dedication and acceptability to local peoples, even 'true religion', were not necessarily enough for agents to overcome the barriers to indigenous advancement and church leadership. In this 'high imperial age', belief in the universality of human nature and the direct relevance of Christianity's message to all mankind survived intact to a greater extent among missionaries than elsewhere. Nevertheless, operating in a world where belief in innate racial distinctions and a hierarchy of cultures determined by race was widespread, where Christianity's fundamental egalitarianism was increasingly mocked and ethnicity was commonly seen to set limits to individual capacity, subjected missions to uncomfortable compromises.29 Where 'race' was woven into the justifications for empire and subordination, the goal of an indigenous-led Christian church was liable to be widely seen as an eccentric rejection of 'the white man's burden'. Evangelical Christianity neither necessarily nor completely immunised missionary activists against the conventional wisdom.

'Race' was nevertheless not the only calculus that was used to shape Christianity's translation, expansion and institutionalisation. Missionaries were often amazed and outraged at 'the barbarous colour madness of many of [their] fellow-countrymen', astounded and saddened by 'the unspeakable want of knowledge, injustice, rapid self contradictions, [and] ungrounded assertions' concerning Africans and other non-Europeans.30 Notably in central and southern Africa the SPG, Scottish Presbyterians and Wesleyans showed how missionaries agonised over the choice between separate churches where indigenous leaders could most easily emerge, and colour-blind churches where whites would none the less rule the roost. In debates over indigenous

28 Tasie, Christian missionary enterprise, p. 60.

29 Stanley 'Church, state, and the hierarchy of "civilisation"'.

30 S. T. Pruen to R. Lang, 30 June 1886, CMS Archives G3/A5, f. 220; J. Wells, The life of James Stewart, 4th edn (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1909), pp. 283-4.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment