Tag Archives: orientalism

Postcolonialism and Missions

I’m for missions, OK? Don’t hate on me because I’m giving people a gut check on missions, but I’m a little surprised that we as evangelicals push hard for global missions without bringing up the tendency of orientalism. Put simply, orientalism is “the unconscious, untouchable certainty about what the Orient is. Its basic content is static and unanimous. The Orient is seen as separate, eccentric, backward, silently different, sensual, and passive.” It exoticizes and objectifies those persons of the “target group.” I know there is training on evangelism and storytelling and other techniques, perhaps some language training and whatnot. But I perhaps wonder isn’t the most disorienting aspect of global missions in this decades the sense that the West is no longer the best? that America is not without blemish, and that what we do for others is not without a sense of persuasion or obligation? I’m surprised that history is not a part of our training — that in some sense, we have little self-awareness as missionaries, or that if we do, it is earned through tough lessons on site with many bridges burned and opportunities to form healthy churches compromised.

What do you think of this word from Jeremy Bouma?

How exactly does missions look from a post-colonial posture? If we are to do missions in a postmodern context from a post-colonial perspective, we must first recognize that the Other does not need to conform to our Western morals, values, and customs.

It’s strange to think of the U.S. as needing to recognize its post-colonial posture, no? It’s not as though we had colonies, but pretty much since the end of World War I, there is little question that the world has been under a Pax Americana. And it is that seat that has given us an intrinsic posture of power, of hegemony, and influence. That is great if you’re establishing a global business franchise. It’s great if you’re seeking to earn a table with powerful people, but if you’re interested in conveying a story of a God who sent his Son to take away the sins of the world and to usher in a kingdom that seeks true worshippers; that challenges the piety, hierarchy, and economy of the world, then perhaps a seat of power is not so good, not so helpful. Lesslie Newbigin points to the West and says that now the real test of missions has begun when the church has to testify to the power of the gospel not from a position of strength, but of weakness. In some ways, post-colonialism is a blessing, but not unless you are aware of it, because our lack of self-awareness in the missionary process, we could still assume that to be Christian is to be Western, American, or like us, when in actuality, the call is for them to be like Christ, which is far better.