Monday, February 03, 2014

The Key to a Nation's Freedoms & Culture of Life -- Protestant Missionaries?

A funny thing happened on the way to missionary irrelevance: Ground-breaking, peer-reviewed research reveals that the presence of Protestant missionaries is the greatest predictor of whether a nation develops into a stable representative democracy with robust levels of literacy, political freedom, and women’s rights.

Yes, you heard that right, and you can read all about it in a fascinating and important cover story in the latest issue of Christianity Today. It describes the painstaking work of Robert Woodberry, whose work on the global spread of democracy has turned scholarship on its head. [Actually, you can’t read the CT article without subscribing.]

Woodberry discovered that you can trace a direct link between the presence of 19th-century Protestant missionaries and a country’s economic and social development.

Why, for instance, does a seminary in the West African nation of Togo have almost no books for its students, while in neighboring Ghana the schools are full of reading material, including much that is written locally? As summarized by CT author Andrea Palpant Dilley, “British missionaries in Ghana had established a whole system of schools and printing presses. But France, the colonial power in Togo, severely restricted missionaries.”

This contrast is replicated across the world, from Botswana to India. Woodberry’s conclusion is sweeping: “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.”

And these aren’t just any missionaries, but the ones labeled as “conversionist”—that is, those who call others to faith in Jesus Christ—in other words, the very ones who have been decried for so long as cultural imperialists. Loving Jesus and the people to whom they were sent, they fought injustice, stood with the local people, planted seeds of political freedom and economic growth around the world...

From John Stonestreet’s illuminating article over at BreakPoint, “The Truth about Missionaries: Bearers of Freedom.” Read the whole thing here.