The Dangers of the White Man’s Burden and the Wisdom of Evangelism

Take up the White Man’s burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go send your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child
– First Stanza of “The White Man’s Burden”, Kipling’s Poem to US Imperialism. [1]

“The White Man’s Burden” was written by Rudyard Kipling, a British Novelist, urging the US to take up the “burden” of empire building just like Britain and the other European nations. The publication of this poem coincided with the beginning of the American-Philippine war, and it justified western colonization and domination over all their colonized territories [2].

“Colonialism justified their action to educate the barbarians, build infrastructures and economies, and disseminate the Christian doctrine.”

Now, it is worth noting that colonization here is seen as a “burden” or a form of “responsibility” for these western nations. They see it as their obligation to serve the needs of captives who are sullen people. The underlying idea of western superiority is evident. To them, colonization encompasses three elements: 1) Civilization, 2) Christianity, and 3) Commerce [3]. To sum it up, colonialism justified their action to educate the “barbarians”, build infrastructures and economies, and disseminate the Christian doctrine.

For example, Christianity has been used as a justification for colonial violence to turn the African matriarchal society that has had thousands of years of history into an oppressive patriarchy. In this context, the message of Christianity has been warped to the European’s favour in order to profit from plunder, rape, theft, murder, and empire [4]. In other parts of the world, the justification for colonialism is similar to that in Africa, that is to take up the White Man’s burden to educate and civilize the barbarians who are their “new-caught, sullen people”.

Images that portray “poverty” emphasizes the “needs” of the region in order to emotionally move people to participate in evangelical efforts. These justifications for evangelism parallel that of the white man’s burden.

A parallel can be drawn between the countries that are colonized, and the portrayal of the conditions of evangelical outposts in modern times. Just like how people in Colonies were viewed as “sullen people” who are “half devil and half child”, we see an influx of images about the “needs” of evangelical outposts. Through these images, we see missionaries build schools, infrastructures, churches, and educate the locals with western education. These pictures usually portray poverty in the eyes of urban dwellers, emphasizing the “needs” of the region in an attempt to emotionally move people to participate in their evangelical efforts while promoting it as a way we can “suffer for Christ”.

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Figure 1: The Portrayal of Christian Missionaries reinforces superiority over non-believers

The constant bombardment of such images reinforces a mentality of superiority, similar to that of the white man’s burden. In fact, modern Christian evangelical work appears to be a form of Neo White Man’s Burden where Christians now take the place of the “white man”, and the places requiring missions now take the place of “burden”. We see these phenomena in missionary pictures where the missionary is always depicted as the hero who has the “burden” to save the poor from their destitute and their enslavement.

Of course, there were Christian missionaries during the Colonial era who went out wholeheartedly to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ [5]. Similarly, there may be devoted Christians who are all into giving their entire lives to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, the question we’ve got to ask ourselves is whether or not are we boarding the same ship as the colonizers and riding the ease that colonization brings. If we are, then how can we be tactful about our missions so as to not let it be a possible justification for the atrocious acts that colonization bring.

“I am encouraging all to find out if there is any hidden political agenda behind the modern Christian evangelical movement.”

To put it in other words, I am encouraging all to find out if there is there any hidden political agenda behind the modern Christian evangelical movement. Or more notably, is there any political agenda hidden behind the façade of the “Back to Jerusalem” evangelical movement that aims to take the gospel to Muslims, northwest China, Central Asia, Middle East, and back to Jerusalem [6].

I do not have the answers to any of the questions I have mentioned above. However, it is our responsibility to ensure that whatever we are going to do, or whatever we have done, are aligned with the gospel. And in all that we do, it is also our responsibility to ensure that we are not influenced by external forces in our work for Christ.

Applying what we have learned from history about how colonizers used Christianity to oppress African women, we can do change our approach in evangelism by first learning about their culture and values, then integrate into their way of life. Following which, we can use their culture and folklore to enlighten them about Christ, just like how Paul did.

In Acts 17:28, Paul quoted from the Cretan philosopher, Epimenides, and the Cilician Stoic philosopher, Aratus, to enlighten the people about the deity of Christ. Through this, he enlightened the people without disturbing their culture and beliefs and subsequently brought God’s chosen elect to faith (Acts 17:34).

“It is of utmost importance not to ride the convenience that external forces bring in our ministries, but recognize God’s election and predestination in all things.”

It is of utmost importance not to ride the convenience that external forces bring in our ministries, but recognize God’s election and predestination in all things. We are not to use force to bring about the “Christianization” of any region but rather recognize that God is sovereign over people’s beliefs. They are Jesus’ sheep given to Him by the Father before the world was formed. Jesus knows them and they follow Jesus.

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”
(John 10:27-29, NIV).

But of course, if the colonizers want to do things their way and force Christianity to the people, “what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this, I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:18, NIV). But know also that there will be latent consequences that will come along with it – the very same consequences that history testifies to.

References:

[1] “The White Man’s Burden”: Kipling’s Hymn to U.S. Imperialism. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5478/

[2] Holm, E. F. (2013). The Philippine-American War (1899-1902): Compassion or Conquest? Retrieved from https://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/handle/11299/162537/Holm%2CElizabeth_MLS_Thesis.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

[3] The Philosophy of Colonialism: Civilization, Christianity, and Commerce. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/violenceinafrica/sample-page/the-philosophy-of-colonialism-civilization-christianity-and-commerce/

[4] Chengu, G. (2015). Colonial Christianity: The Origins of the Oppression of African Woman. Retrieved from https://www.globalresearch.ca/colonial-christianity-the-origins-of-the-oppression-of-african-women/5471864

[5] Guyton, M. (2013). Who will save us from the white man’s burden? Retrieved from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice/2013/08/30/who-will-save-us-from-the-white-mans-burden/

[6] Back to Jerusalem (2015). Retrieved from https://omf.org/us/back-to-jerusalem-latest-news/

Picture taken from: http://www.borgenmagazine.com/

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3 Comments

  1. When teaching in China I found the evangelicals to be very arrogant and did not like them. The majority of them were the biggest hypocrites I have ever met

    I walked the walk and when my children (I loved my students as if they were my own children) saw my conduct and inquired why I was different, then, I would share Jesus with them. It was their choice to accept Him or reject Him. That is they way it is supposed to be.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amen! My sentiments exactly! Many locals in Malaysia complained about the hypocrisies of churches to me but I cannot wrap my head around it till I studied colonial history. We (the Church) really got to learn from history and not repeat this mistake.

      Like

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