Ok, I don’t recommend this post for many. It’s not too harsh, or too offensive, or too critical or depressing. It’s just too LONG.
Brief side note. Two and a half years a go I started writing a paper about Christian missions work, seeing as it was the field that i wanted to go into once I graduated school. About this time I started, or deepened, my doubts on my particular faith. So the paper got put on hold for a while. Ok, longer than a while. I finally picked up the pen again this semester. It took me a long time of wrestling with questions that I had and not wanting to admit to people how different we thought. So this is what I wrote and presented last week to an audience of 60 some at North Park. Academically I’m not too proud of it. I haven’t written a paper in years and this isn’t the final copy. But the meat of it I love.
The reason I haven’t been writing a lot is because I’ve been working on this. I’m so glad to be done with school so I actually have time to learn. ha.
From the vast array of restaurants up and down your block, to the multi-colored sea of faces you see heading to and from work or school, we can see just how much globalization has changed our world in almost every way. As George Ritzer puts it, “virtually every nation and the lives of billions of people throughout the world are being transformed, often quite dramatically, by globalization” (Ritzer, The Globalization of Nothing 71). Globalization has forever changed how we see the world and brought vastly different cultures closer together. Indeed, it has changed how we as Americans live our lives in our society, but has also tipped parts of the developing world upside down. Globalization’s “insinuation of Western cultural values into worldwide commercial ventures,” (Gillett 17) has made ideas, products and lifestyles that we in the West are so comfortable with and yet are so foreign to parts of the world readily available to all.
If the United States is good at one thing, it is the ability to export its culture abroad. When Americans travel abroad, it is almost always a possibility to eat at American restaurants, see American films being played at a local cinema, or hear the latest American pop singer on the radio. These experiences, which used to be novel, are increasingly the norm in many parts of the world, as more cultures are exposed to, and then forever changed by Western values and products. Although much can and has been said about secular pushing of American lifestyle, there is another trend that is not as discussed in such length: religion.
Taking specific examples in Latin America and the Middle East, we can begin to illustrate the specific agenda of Christians in America who feel “called” to evangelize to the rest of the world. Alongside evangelism, fine-tuned worldviews are transplanted across oceans and into communities with widespread responses. Although Christianity does not find its deepest roots in North America, there is evidence to support that in our modern times this is where some of the most influential supporters live and can be seen as a base of sorts to spread it arms of influence around the world. Books, films, street evangelism, relationship building, service projects and holistic ministry are prominent missions work examples pouring out of America like no time before in history, for good or for bad. The aim of this paper is to look at some of these aspirations through the lens of globalization and see some of the traits, tendencies and tools of Christian Americans and the missionaries they support, as well as the effect it is having on the rest of the world. We will be able to illuminate two sides of American Christian missions work: the first being an enterprise that connects and dialogues with a foreign community in order to come to an intertwined conversation of faith, and the second a more “mission of exportation”, concerned little with the local culture and only about pushing one’s own agenda and values.
If we dive into some of the ideas of globalization, we can come up with two competing schools of thought, and with them two relatively new terms: those of glocalization and grobalization. British sociologist Roland Robertson popularized the first term, glocalization, in the 1990s, and used it to emphasize the integration of the global and the local. Hence, global + local: glocal. Glocalization can be defined as “The interpenetration of the global and the local, resulting in unique outcomes in different geographic locations” (Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society 163). What Robertson and others mean when they use the term ‘glocal’ is that humans are quick to adapt to new environments and modify their language, dress, speech or marketing tools to fit the culture they are attempting to influence. When McDonalds sells Maharaja Macs in India to adapt to a culture that generally does not eat beef, we can see the global entity being affected by the needs of the local, in this case non-meat eaters, and the glocal emerges. It is the combining influences of two separate cultures that blend together to create a seemingly new culture altogether. “From the point of view of glocalization, the forces impelling globalization are not seen as (totally) coercive, rather, as providing material to be used, in concert with the local, in individual and group creation of distinctive glocal realities” (Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society 164).
Sociologist George Ritzer, in his book published in 2004, The Globalization of Nothing, attempts to introduce a pairing concept to go along with glocalization , which he callsgrobalization, a term that combines the worlds grow and global, and focuses “on the imperialistic ambitions of nations, corporations, organizations, and the like and their desire, indeed need, to impose themselves on various geographic areas” (Ritzer, The Globalization of Nothing 73). At the heart of grobalization, says Ritzer, is “the need for (especially) American corporations to show ever-increasing profits, and the related and supporting need for the United States and American institutions to exert ever-increasing cultural hegemony” (Ritzer, The Globalization of Nothing 74). So when the International Monetary Fund or other international policy-making organization shows up at a country’s doorstep with new rules on how to spend their money, this can be seen as grobalization. Other global entities such as the United Nations or even the American military can be seen as grobalized forces setting worldwide standards to be followed in every culture. Grobalization emphasizes the increasing similarities within cultures, while promoting them simultaneously.
It is no surprise that these two views are competing visions on how to see the world, nor should it come as a surprise that glocalization is generally viewed in a much more positive light than grobalization. While glocalization can be seen as the local and global working together to push a product, better a community, or establish laws, a grobalized vision sees a powerful outside movement entering a culture for its own specific aims and purposes. In both cases, an outside force is involved attempting to change a community, but in one there is more adaptation to a culture and a better connection with the local. To put it another way, grobalization pushes cultural imperialism and homogeneity, “a transnational expansion of common codes and practices” (Ritzer, The Globalization of Nothing 74), while glocalization emphasizes heterogeneity, a blending of two distinct cultures. These terms will be used again and frequently throughout the paper to bring to light some different aspects of a globe-spanning Christianity and may help in the understanding of the attempts and ultimate goals of religion-spreading by Americans.
Before we proceed any farther, it is important to get a short history of where Christianity came from, its growth and first attempts to influence new cultures, and how it came to be today so essential to millions of lives. If we look back to the first few years of Christianity, the first followers established evangelism and the spreading of its influence as core ideals and indeed, “Christianity is by nature a missionary faith” (Bailey 5). Even Jesus Christ, whose life, death and teachings Christianity is based upon, tells his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (N.I.V. Acts 5:29). Ever since then followers of Jesus have taken those words to truth and seen it as their purpose to spread the influence of Christianity, in small numbers at first, but eventually globally.
From early on, Christianity “developed a very strong organized face with centralized authorities…but did not exclude the development of various alternative Christian movements” (Beyer). That is to say that almost from the onset, which can be seen in several of the letters of St. Paul, there were factions in the church that began to take on many different faces and adaptations to local cultures. “We have in this first one and a half millennia of Christian history…a kind of core/periphery, ‘great tradition’/’little tradition’” (Beyer). As the church around the world “the factors that the global dimension added were other cultures or… other social contexts.” (Beyer) We can see from very early on, Christianity, while establishing a core leadership, has always been malleable to new elements.
Two areas where conflict arose with the presence of Christian missionaries were those of Latin America and the Middle East. In the case of the Middle East, in the eleventh through thirteenth centuries Christian soldiers from all over Europe felt it was their duty and God’s calling to retake the holy city of Jerusalem that had fallen into the hands of their Muslim enemies. Many times under the mandate and blessing of the Pope, Christian soldiers were driven to slaughter their enemies because, as was the cry of the Crusades, “The Lord wills it!” This author does not feel the need to go into detail on how skewed their thinking actually was, and the Church today has finally issued official apologies in hopes of making amends with those of Muslim faith.
In Latin America as well, we can see examples of conquistadors exploring new lands with a Bible in one hand and a sword in the other. Even as early as 1511, not 20 years after Columbus’ famed voyage, the exploitation of the indigenous people was evident enough to implore one monk to write to his companions “you are in mortal sin … for the cruelty and tyranny you use in dealing with these innocent people”(Chaimberlin). As another author said “no account of the conquest would be complete without some consideration of the key role played by the first Christian missionaries. [Fernando] Cortes… who is known today as the conqueror of Mexico by Spain, ‘was a pious man who fancied himself ‘God’s chosen agent’ in the evangelization of the New World’ ” (Joseph and Henderson).
In more recent years, the world’s first pioneer missionary society in the United States was founded in 1810, in Boston, and called itself the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. It was the first society of its kind full of Americans eager to share their culture across borders. In reality, the Gospel they presented had “a high cultural content, as has frequently happened in history, a particular cultural, economic, and political system within the message itself” (Sigmund 34). Early Christian missions made little attempts at separating their religious and secular ways of life in the sharing of their beliefs. “The cultural core of the mission societies was to be found largely in ‘the American way of life’” (Sigmund). The practice of building of a school near a church was also based on schools in the United Kingdom and the United States so that churches could be used for education and religion in the same week. “Many a Protestant school was named Colegio Americano to promote the United States as a cultural and political model” (Sigmund). This was all done under the pretenses of spreading Christianity and the Gospel of Jesus, it was accompanied by an American way of living. In the Middle East the story was very similar, in that Americans saw a chance to reclaim the land of the Bible for Christ, and upon the their arrival, the Americans believed “believed that the ‘contest has commenced,’ in that a modern evangelical Christianity was to be forced on the local populations who were unwilling or unable to help themselves” (Makdisi).
At present time, Christianity in America is more prevalent than ever. While many claimed that the twentieth century would bring about the age of reason and the end of faith, we can see a resurgence of Christianity in our country. According to the American Religious Identification Survey of 2008, over 173 million people over the age of 18 in America, or 76% of Americans, consider themselves Christian. This can be seen as a sharp contrast to that of our European cousins, as another survey shows that fewer than 40% in some cases of Europeans consider themselves believers in any higher power, while U.S. statistics hold true at about three-fourths of the population (Kosmin).
|Numbers in %
||The United States
|Believer in God
|Would Prefer Not to Say
In 2001, Jonathan Fox and Shmuel Sandler conducted a survey of Western countries and their comparative views on separation of church and state. The factors ranged from restrictions on public dress, government officials meeting religious requirements, and funding for religious schools or organizations. Of the 26 Western Democracies polled, the average percentage was close to 20% where state governments are influenced by religion. The United States was the only nation to show absolute separation of church and state. Their response was this: “To those living in the U.S. who have little knowledge of politics outside of the U.S., they are likely to be astonished. Thus it can be said that the U.S. is the exception on two counts. First, it is the only Western democracy with nearly total separation of religion and state on the measures used here. Second, it has the most religious populace of the Western democracies.” (Jonathon Fox) When comparing the United States with other first-world democracies of our time and seeing the sharp contrast in which we hold to our religious roots, the evidence becomes clear that America seems to be the exception, not the rule when it comes to religious interest and heavenly devotion.
Not only are Americans arguably the most Christian modern citizens on the globe, they are also the most influential at spreading their worldviews around the globe. Short-term missions costs alone being sent out from the States, after paying for airfare and accommodations, food and sightseeing can reach as high as $4 billion dollars a year, according to the Capital Research Group (Sparks). Thousands upon thousands of Americans live their lives attempting to to “fulfill the Great Commission”, with their highest goal to go forth into every nation of the globe seeking converts to their way of life. Evangelical Protestantism is what sociologist Peter Berger has even called the fourth dimension of globalization, making the point that the origins are indeed from the United States and becoming indigenized into their own cultures (Berger). American missiology has gone as far as to “coin the term unreached people to refer to communities and groups of people who have never heard the gospel” (Escobar). It seems that these groups are going with more than just a dedication for change, but a direct calling from God to do so.
Some, like Greg Livingston in his guide to plant churches in Muslim areas in the Middle East, quote prophetic passages in the Bible that promise that “church growth is inevitable” (Livingstone). Using the Bible as his stepping stone, Mr. Livingstone sees no reason not to believe with confidence that “every tribe, tongue, kindred and people group” will one day worship the same God, and this, in his own eyes, is to include Muslims. It is with this same fervor and sense of duty that Mr. Livingstone, with such certainty of his own way of life and disrespect for norms of others,condones, and even encourages breaking the laws of foreign nations that don’t allow missionary visas or proselytizing, because, quoting scriptures, he sees Christians as those who “must obey God rather than men” (N.I.V. Acts 5:29). I myself have seen this sort of disrespect for local laws and felt the sweat of fear running down my back as I snuck in an extremely large and extremely illegal amount of American money to an underground church in one of these closed countries. Breaking the laws American Christians chose as unjust and enforcing their own moral code seems to be the normative among many missionary circles, and can be seen as an example of a grobalized Christianity, with little concern for local laws or customs as long as the global mission is accomplished. It is not hard to make the connection to the recent events in Latin America where Christian missionaries, thinking they were doing God’s will, wrongfully attempted to take thirty-three children away from their home country across the border from Haiti into the Dominican Republic to offer them what they thought would be a better lifestyle. It was of little consequence to those who felt called by God that each of these would-be “orphans” each had at least one parent still alive. It seems that at times with their assumption of the truth, Christians can assume that the ends justify the means.
What follows is just a sampling of organizations and individuals and how they attempt to spread their beliefs coming from their own American culture and adapting to a new one. Author and speaker Josh McDowell is one such Christian who spends his life attempting to influence others around the world with what he considers the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Mr. McDowell is the author of over 100 books, one of which claims a top 15 spot on what Christianity Today calls “most influential Christian books,” ,and by his own words, is “probably one of the most known Christians in the world”(McDowell). This author sat down with Mr. McDowell and asked him what tools he uses to spread his message. He responded that the first thing he and his team attempts to do when penetrating another society is to “study the culture. The Bible says there is great wisdom in much council. So we get a lot of council.”(McDowell). He reported that “each ministry in each country takes on its own flavor.”(McDowell). This cuts to the heart of glocalization. Ritzer describes glocalization as being “in concert with the local” (Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society) and Mr. McDowell seems to realize this as he takes part in his global enterprises. He compares himself to a McDonald’s corporation, in that McDonalds’s also studies culture well before attempting to make a change. “My book, More Than A Carpenter, was the first Christian book to go in over 70 languages, and now [has been copied] to over 100 languages. So we’re in the same category as McDonalds: mass productions with quality.” (McDowell).
Mr. McDowell did, however, make references to Christian organizations that may be seen in more of a grobalized light. “I think that’s one of the downfalls of the church: …how often we have westernized, not evangelized. And that’s not good. Because nowhere in the Scripture does it say that Western culture is better than some other culture. There’s enough evil in the American culture, a lot of what the American culture stands for, so I’d say that’s a downfall”(McDowell). It is evident that Mr. McDowell can see some of the effects grobalization and cultural imperialism can have on nations when Western missionaries get to preaching in their area. For him to admit that many missions teams have “Westernized” instead of evangelized, it is not difficult to rename the work of some missionaries as simply attempts for hegemony, both religious and cultural. “Most Americans, whether they be Christians or non-Christians, go in with their product, their vision, their strategy, their people, with their money wanting the locals to help them. That has burned many Christian organizations and secular corporations.” (McDowell). Mr. McDowell declined to comment on which organizations he felt writing were their mission statements in such a fashion, but the fact does remain that both secular and religious organizations attempt to not work with the local, but rather import their own products and methods of proselytizing. It is irrelevant if the ultimate goal of an American company is to sell more hamburgers or fill more church pews, with only a Western vision for an area and a lack of true connection with the local, these organizations seem destined to fail.
Mr. McDowell’s own ministries within different regions are vastly different, and in true glocal fashion, appropriate to the communities. This author’s parents were a part of a team with Mr. McDowell in 1998 to Cuba, the first year aid was given to Cuba from America in over 40 years. Mr. McDowell saw a great need in Cuba for basic supplies and filled an entire shipping crate full of bikes, toys and other supplies. Along with these presents, the team came sharing their gospel message of Jesus Christ. In Cuba, Josh and his team are bold with their preaching, speaking in churches and holding meetings with local church pastors. In Cuba, the church is growing at an expansive rate, as communism continues to weaken and open up more doors for an American influx of medicines, clothing and other goods. I had the opportunity to travel to Cuba with Mr. McDowell’s ministry in the fall of 2007 and see for myself the growing church, despite such impoverished circumstances. Although there was standing room only, we Americans were saved seats in the front row, and when I approached the pulpit to say a few blessings in my rusty Spanish, the crowd seemed hinged on my every word and eager to hear about the rich, American churches that were supporting them from the North. With few connections off the island, the Cuban church relies heavily on wealthier congregations from the North to equip them with supplies.
In places like the Middle East, however, where proselytizing is mostly illegal, Mr. McDowell and his team must use other methods to pass along their message. In a radical attempt at understanding the culture, Mr. McDowell wanted to understand the mind of a Middle-easterner and write a terrorist novel that would be accepted in their cultures.
I deal with four barriers that a Muslim has with the Christian faith, but I deal with it in a way that they don’t even know I’m sharing it. It’s a unique technique, and I don’t know anyone who has ever used it before. And I’ve gotten by with it. I called my publisher in Egypt and said would you put together three-hundred radicals: imams, mullahs, Muslim leaders and tell them they can come and attack me verbally for three hours. Any questions they want, anything…oh it was a lively three hours. I videotaped and audio taped it all. Why? Then I went on televisions on one of the largest Arab satellites and for weeks they said ‘we’re going to have a Christian on board…you can attack him verbally with anything you like. I had five hours of transcripts: how If I said this how a Muslim would respond to it…the whole spiritual content of the book I had right there in those manuscripts. So that was identifying with the culture. I can’t think the way a Muslim things. I think western. But I wrote middle-eastern.
It is Mr. McDowell’s adaptation to the cultures that he is participating in and appreciation of the glocalizing factors of his ministry that have made him so successful in his quest to see as many people as possible come to know Christ. Whether it involves helping bring the message along with much needed goods in Cuba or dialoging with people of other faiths in the Middle East, his attempts at homogenizing the religions of the world have seen great strides to achieve his purpose.
In an interview with the supervisor of Middle Eastern and Central Asian missionaries with a local missions company based in the Chicago area, Sam Bowman talked about his time working in Iraq for a year and what it meant to be a Christian missionary in an almost completely Muslim environment. While admittedly Mr. Bowman saw no personal conversions to Christ, he discusses the importance of working with the locals in order to achieve their purposes. “You can’t just go in and say ‘guys, you have so many things wrong. Let me tell you how it is. [Christians should] let the [local] believers decide if women should wear head coverings, or what they should do with the political situation in their country. Let them make those decisions. Teach them what it means to evaluate culture” (Bowman). “Contextualizing the gospel is number two after language learning. Helping people see what Jesus would look like in their culture is of utmost importance. If you can’t practically image what Jesus looks like in a culture, you don’t know what it looks like to follow Jesus in that culture.” It is Mr. Bowman’s teaming with the locals as well as deep understanding of the need for a local image of his global worldview that sets him ahead of some of his peers. His remarks about the local Southern Baptist chapter of missions were less than flattering. “They are just known for having good salaries. They live like one of the richest one percent of their country. They go in, and they don’t change the gospel much.” Mr. Bowman sees Jesus Christ as his own example on how to do missions, in that he believes when God was on earth he adapted to the culture he was a part of, eating local food and adapting to local customs.
Mr. Bowman’s tactics are vastly different than what they would be in a culture where he could be bolder with his gospel. His entire ministry was either service projects to help the community or one-on-one conversations with people about Jesus Christ. In explaining the importance of connecting with locals in order to accomplish the mission, Mr. Bowman tells a story.
The same week that we arrived with our team in Iraq, there was a Chilean team that also arrived. What did they do right away? They were just meeting neighbors. They couldn’t speak [the language] at all and just started relationships. They said ‘we have to meet our neighbors and can’t do anything until we do’. We had started a master plan of reconstruction of the water system, a multi-billion dollar endeavor and it was like pulling teeth to get anything done. Simple projects always took five times longer than we thought because we weren’t connected with the locals. When the Chileans saw a need for a cultural center they got it approved and constructed in weeks, when it would have taken us eight months. They had people who wanted to build with them because they had invested time with them. Their culture is to build a relationship first and then see what you can accomplish.
It is this example of glocalization, the combining of the local and the global, that can breed good rewards if done right.
However, even in organizations such as Mr. Bowman’s, in a recent lecture we both attended on missions to a particular Middle Eastern country, the handout full of information was quoted as saying “Humanity is a vast mosaic of tens of thousands of pieces. Each segment must be won to Christ” as well as hope for continual Western and American involvement where currently there is none, encouraging prayer that “the area is developed for tourism and outsiders come in. Pray that the ***** people would have the opportunity to hear the gospel.” This sort of language subtly admits two things. First, that the organization recognizes the cultural diversity that there is in the world and seeks to homogenize it in terms of religion, and secondly that what this particular part of the Middle East needs is more outside influences to come in and help steer the culture away from the local beliefs that is already possesses.
On the other side of the world, Mike Timmer, a missionary in the same organization as Mr. Bowman, has spent eight years in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and agrees that the local church is what sustains his own ministry. “Christians teaming up with local churches so that the Christian movement is truly local is vital to the longevity and maturity of the new Christians. Too often the ministries will thrive under foreign direction but collapses in the void of real local ownership when the missionaries leave” (Timmer). This can often be the case when wealthy Christians, supported by American churches, seek to do good in foreign lands, but without a connections with the local church, without making it glocal, these impacts can often last about as long as the Americans’ visit.
Mr. Timmer builds and helps direct orphanages to help spread his message of God’s love to underprivileged children in one of the poorest countries of South America. Mr. Timmer’s ultimate goals are different than those of many multi-million dollars organizations to win souls and convert populations. “We feel called here because God put on our hearts a real love for children and orphaned children are being allowed to die because there are not enough homes for them. We simply provide all the details and proof of Christ’s love for these children.” (Timmer).
One of the most successful and dramatic cases of an attempt at homogenizing religion on a global scale is that of The Jesus Film Project. Based on the Jesus Film, a film taped 30 years ago that tells the story of the life and death of Jesus Christ, the project has tried to give every person on the planted “one chance to see Jesus” in translating the film in over 1,000 languages. In the next ten years, the organization aims to translate it into another 700 languages.. This would accomplish their goal of having translated the film into every language on the planet with 50,000 speakers by the year 2010.. The Project also boasts connections with local churches in an attempt to help preach and indoctrinate those of other cultures the message they are bringing. Recently one representative informed a group of potential donors that in Brazil they are attempting to connect with the local churches by saying “If you will commit to church planting, we will commit to do this project” of translation into indigenous languages and re-telling of their Christian message. As the representative said “There’s a whole lot of world left that hasn’t heard.”
Both grobalization and glocalization examples can be extracted from God’s servants at the Jesus Film. For one, former President of The Jesus Film Project is not ashamed to compare his company with Coca-Cola. “Several years ago I sat down with one of the vice-presidents of the Coca-Cola Company and discussed some of their objectives. I discovered that day that they have a plan to take Coca-Cola to every person in the world. And they are doing it!…Their marketing is extraordinary. But we are ‘marketing’ a ‘product’ that changes lives for eternity…We must be strategists for Christ and His Kingdom.” (Eshleman)
Mr. Eshelman is not alone in using this language. In Robert Coleman’s “Master Plan of Evangelism” which also reach Christianity Today’s Top 50 Most Influential Books, Coleman compares Christ to “a general plotting his course of battle” calculating how to win. Mr. Coleman is bold enough to admit his and God’s “strategy of world conquest” (Coleman), and it can become apparent that this is indeed the ultimate goal of many Christians, as kind and soft as their words may be. Other Christians discuss Jesus Christ as ‘the great marketer who “understood His product thoroughly, developed an unparalleled distribution system, [and] advanced a method of promotion that has penetrated every continent” (Webster). These honest and bold statements about the end goals of Christianity seem to be the minority in evangelistic culture. Most seem content to express the niceties of Jesus Christ or the need that everyone has for his love. One author is correct when he writes “evangelism seems to presuppose a superior grasp of ultimate truth.”(Kirk) “The social achievement of the Christian evangelist’s culture is deemed to be more advanced and of a higher quality. Here Christian evangelism is up against a tricky problem.”(Kirk)
Indeed, Evangelicalism in Latin America has grown at an explosive rate over the past three decades or so, where “one of the conduits of the expansion of Evangelicalism in the region has been the use of media – first, radio and more recently and with greater impact, TV, while the phenomenon of televangelism has come from North America, “native” Latin American televangelists have emerged (Sigmund).” A short list recently of a few Evangelists broadcasting to Latin America is as follows.
||All Countrires, via three TV stations in Brazil
||TV to 12 Countries
||Mostly radio, 7 countries
||TV 14 Countries, Radio 28 Countries
||TV 7 Countries, Radio 18 Countries
||Radio 20 Countries.
Sociologists are not silent on competing aspects of American religious work either. Catalina Romero in The Sociology of Religion would oppose the idea of Christianity being “a monolithic doctrine imposed upon the consciousness of ignorant people and uncritically accepted.” Rather, she says “it is a complex assemblage of doctrine received within a particular historical context which it is explored.” (Romero). When American missions connect with the local community it becomes “reinterpreted to ‘fit’ contemporary a particular culture. As the global becomes local, the change in time and context alter[s] the meaning and impact of the message “(Romero).
An excellent example of this can be seen in the Pentecostal Church movement over the last century. Finding its roots in the Azusa Street Revivals around the turn of the 20th century, the Pentecostal Church swept across North and South America and can be called “the most dynamic and fastest growing sector of Protestant Christianity worldwide”(Robbins) with a remarkable ability to “adapt themselves to the cultures into which they are introduced.” One of the reasons why this relatively new version of Christianity works for Latin America is due to the ability to compare it with the local religions of shamanism, especially in Mexico, where “speaking in tongues and native visionary counseling is obtuse” (Dow).
Once again we can see an adaptation of the large-scale movement to the language and customs of the people group. When the external religion mixes with the already internal expressions, what we have is a glocal response. However, it can also be noted- that Pentecostal churches, wherever they are, can be “notoriously uniform across the globe “and display “a radical similarity of practice despite the dissimilarity of the contexts in which they appear”(Robbins). So whether or not these practices can be seen through the theories of grobalization or glocalization, the answer is both: “In terms of debates on cultural globalization, the Pentecostal church appears to weigh in both for theories that stress process of Western cultural domination and homogenization and those that emphasize the transformative power of indigenous appropriation and differentiation.” (Robbins)
Other commentators of Latin American Protestantism admit that “the bulk of Protestant activity in South American has been promoted under the aegis of North American missionaries” (Swatos) and that adaptation to a Christian lifestyle can be seen as more of inclusivity to a certain group of elites than a lifestyle change. “For many South American ascetic Protestants, becoming Protestant represents an overcoming of popular religiosity and a reaching out to a life-style that they have come to associate with the United States” (Swatos). As another author states “Wearing external symbols of membership in a faith group, such as habits or other Christian symbols, is now an expression of identity and power” (Romero). What we can see is Latin Americans more likely to join a church not for its beliefs, but rather with its association with a culture they want to belong to.
There are many authors who write about the imperialistic strength of the West, which this author believes Western Religion to be a strong component of. “It is the failure of the Western imagination to confront the most obvious cultural realities about the world on its doorstep,” writes Meic Pearse in his critical book “Why The Rest Hates the West”. “By refusing – or at any rate, failing – to understand, coexistence becomes impossible, and the only possible bases for relationship between West and non-West are those of domination or collision.” (Pearse 125) In the opinion of one Christian news-reporter after the September 11th attacks, one option seems more viable than the other: “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity”(Coulter). Pearse continues: “As our Western world intrudes even more on non-Western space, we believe ourselves to be offering freedoms, prospering and rising aspirations. And in a sense we are. But we are also seen as egoists, rooted in no solid culture and no fixed network of family and relationships. The things we believe ourselves to be promoting do indeed appeal to non-Westerners. But quite understandably, not all of them are ready to throw themselves into the moral and social void in the process” (Pearse 144).
Supporters of the Grobalization Theory of Christianity, such as Ryan Dunch, surmise “if there were a single group most commonly held to exemplify the operation of cultural imperialism in modern history, it would have to be Christian missionaries” (Dunch). Even up to currenty day, it is said of Evangelical Christianity that it is “the carrier of pluralistic and modernizing culture whose original location is the North Atlantic soecieties” (Berger). Perhaps Peter Beyer says it best when he presents his thesis to his paper The Globalization of Christianity as a Case in Point: “My contention is that religions in today’s world, to the extent that they are constructed as differentiated social forms, accomplish this result through a globally extended and multi-centered process” that “proceeds by way of the multiple particularizations, or glocalizations, of a general and somewhat imprecise universal model” (Beyer). To him, Christianity is much less a top-down organization with universal characteristics, but rather a multi-faceted force that adapts to each culture differently in its own way. Although he recognizes the strong attempts by Western cultures to “export their versions of Christianity complete with what we would now call their cultural characteristics, the Christian convert recipients have over time generated their own renderings more suited to local cultural styles” (Beyer). These versions can be very similar to the original or vastly different, depending on where it is located, but it is the case that new versions of Christianity are creating localized and ‘inculturated’ variants of themselves in different parts of the world.
Views of Christian missionaries outside the United States can be a stark contrast to our own. According to one writer “Present new missionary activity is simply a readjustment of colonial strategy. The core of a culture is religion. The foundation of a nation is its culture. The loss of culture and religion weakens a people. Fundamental Christian groups, funded mainly from America have continued to use religion as a weapon, funding ‘local’ groups to convert the ‘heathens’. They conduct a spiritual war using sophisticated, physiologically devised forms of mind control and aggressing marketing strategies using electronic media”(Samarasinghe). This shows that even attempts at glocalization, working with the locals, can be seen as dangerous through the eyes of some locals. On a talk show on Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel Television, Dr. Awdah Qawwas, member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches stated in 2008 his clear rejection of missionaries to Islamic countries in North Africa. Dr. Awdah claims that the missionaries “are financed by the American churches” “and come as individuals to exploit the sons of this homeland by recruiting them to work for the fulfillment of their own interests” (Qawas). He goes on to explain the missionaries “exploit the points of weakness of individuals who might be in need of money or medical or social help” (Qawas). It is not a hidden fact that many missionaries do indeed go to serve the needs of the poor and hopefully, in doing so, can spread their messages of a better religion as well.
It seems, at times, that American Christians are so eager to assume that their message needs to shared or to pump dollars into missions that will cause change, voices are rarely given to those whom are being ministered to. This is not important if we as a culture are to be under the assumption that our way of life is best and should be transmitted around the globe. But if we as Americans are to be responsible citizens in our modern society, there must be a great effort to listen as well as preach and accept other beliefs as well as pushing our own.
It is no secret that globalization has bred a cross-fertilization of sorts coming from these areas of interest as well. In a nation whose first Islamic mosque was only built in 1934, as of September of 2009 there were more than 1,200 counted mosques within the United States. Islam is, as First Lady Hillary Clinton once put it, “the fastest growing religion in the United States” (Stammer). The Evangelical church needs to be prepared to adapt to new faces and new cultures and ideas and the possibility of a Muslim knocking on their doorstep with a tract even as they pour their dollars towards spreading their message abroad, and so far they have had little success in adaptation. Since vocal American Christians such as Franklin Graham are calling Islam “ ‘a very evil and wicked religion” or Jerry Falwall on 60 minutes claiming that “Muhammad was a terrorist’ ” (Kidd), it seems Christian American’s desire is not to connect with Muslims but rather continue to overwhelm them with their culture and particular chosen religion.
It is not entirely the case today, nor do I wish to make the point that the only instances of Christians or missionaries evangelizing are coming strictly from the United States. I have met Russian Christians attempting to convert Arabs, Filipino Christians serving in the United States, Dominicans serving in Europe, and the list could go on. What perhaps once was a strictly one-way street has now, with the aid of globalization, led to a highway of evangelists and convert-seekers from every corner of the globe. These sightings cannot be taken likely, and can be seen as a continual glocalization of the communities making their culture connect with those who shared with them and internalizing it. Although those highlighted in this paper have been people who are sent from my own culture, it is impossible to deny that this “two-way street” is one of many facets of Christianity today. What we can see, through the history of Protestant Christianity, in the faces the leaders and followers of Christianity in the United States, and in the influence the United States and the West still have on the developing world, is an imbedded sharing of cultural beliefs and traditions as Americans continue to go forth.
“When all the world has shared its good news,” Mr. McDowell dreamed with me as we sat talking over ice cream in the mountains of Colorado one summer afternoon, and this certainly is the hope and dream of many of the Christians I encounter. Many of thousands of Christians are simply not satisfied with their version of the truth but go to great lengths to proselytize those who believe otherwise. With the ease of transportation, the spreading of information and the ability of cross-cultural communication, they now have the ability to do just that is ways that were never seen as possible before. Will they succeed? What would the world look like if their mission was accomplished and the entire world was under one religion? That is one question this author hopes will not ever have to be answered.
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