Social Justice & “Conversionary” Protestantism

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It’s an odd “coincidence”… the very thing political leaders say they want as they accumulate power for themselves is social justice for the people.  The United States and it’s allies spend billions on “nation building” projects, but the fundamental engine of the “democracy” they champion is ruthlessly and systematically excluded.

What is the engine, the “secret ingredient”? According to research, that engine is Conversionary Protestantism – the very kind of Christianity elitists hate with a passion. But if they were really concerned for “social justice” and “nation building”, shouldn’t they lay down their prejudices?

John Piper writes:

 Titled “The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy,” Woodberry’s article in theAmerican Political Science Review, defends this thesis: “The work of missionaries . . . turns out to be the single largest factor in insuring the health of nations” (36). This was a discovery that he says landed on him like an “atomic bomb” (38).

To be more specific, Woodberry’s research supported this sweeping claim:

Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations. (39)

He concedes that “there were and are racist missionaries . . . and missionaries who do self-centered things.” But adds: “If that were the average effect, we would expect that the places where missionaries had influence to be worse, than places where missionaries weren’t allowed or were restricted in action. We find exactly the opposite on all kinds of outcomes” (40).

Then comes the all-important observation which, inexplicably, Woodberry calls a “nuance” to his conclusion. I would call it a thunderbolt. He observed, “There is one important nuance to all this: The positive effect of missionaries on democracy applies only to ‘conversionary protestants.’ Protestant clergy financed by the state, as well as Catholic missionaries prior to the 1960s, had no comparable effect in areas where they worked” (40). Now that’s an atomic bomb.

Read more  at Christianity Today: “The World The Missionaries Made” (Paywall)

Update: Read Woodberry’s original study here.

Image courtesy wikimedia commons. William Chalmers Burns, Presbyterian Missionary to China

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