Monday, December 3, 2018

Evangelicals Agree With What Chau Did (And It Makes Me Angry): Here Are The Receipts

Clip-art image of an island. Image source.
Last week I published This Is Exactly the Martyr Fairy Tale We Aspired To, about John Allen Chau, a missionary who was killed by the island tribe he was trying to "reach." I wrote:
Chau is going to be seen as a hero and a role model. There is absolutely no part of this story that will come across as a cautionary tale for evangelicals, nothing that will serve as a warning that other people should NOT do what he did. It's perfect, and that scares me.
Right now, I'm so freaking angry about being proven right.

Well, the evangelical blogosphere got right to work, publishing posts about how Chau was doing a good thing and he just loved Jesus so much and loved the Sentinelese people so much, etc. All of which COMPLETELY MISS THE POINT, which is THEY DO NOT WANT CONTACT WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD. LEAVE THEM THE **** ALONE. Evangelical Christianity doesn't understand the concepts of boundaries and consent. They think if a missionary *feels* loving toward a group of people, and works hard for years to prepare to live among them, that gives him the right to go and do it whether that group of people likes it or not.

Receipts, receipts, receipts, I got your receipts right here. Let's start with this podcast from Christianity Today, What John Allen Chau’s Missions Agency Wants You to Know. It's an interview with Mary Ho, the international executive leader of All Nations, which is the missions agency Chau worked with. Ho talks about how Chau prepared for years for his trip to North Sentinel Island:
He first contacted [All Nations] about two years ago, and he's a very interesting young man, very focused. Since he was about 18 years old, I believe, he took a mission trip. And on that mission trip, he really felt a call to be a missionary. And around that time, he started researching on the different people groups and he came across the North Sentinelese people. He really felt that this was his life call. That his life call was to take the love and the goodness of Jesus Christ to the North Sentinelese. Since then, every single decision he has made has been to thoroughly prepare himself for this life call, and to prepare him to love and care for the people well. As you pointed out earlier, All Nations missionary John Chau, he graduated from Oral Roberts University. He majored in sports medicine, in health, in exercise science. Later he got trained as a wilderness EMT, worked at a national park, got trained in linguistics by SIL, which is probably just about the best place to get trained in linguistics. He became acquainted with all the writings on cultural anthropology. So, this young man, he was intent on fully equipping himself, and I think he knew what his life purpose was about.
She talks about how All Nations requires their missionaries to go through training, and even sometimes advises someone not to go if they don't believe that person is prepared enough. She says Chau knew about the risks of introducing diseases to the Sentinelese, so he was vaccinated and he quarantined himself for several days before he went to the island.

Well whoop dee doo. I guess the point is, if you assume Chau was just some random guy who woke up one morning and decided to illegally go to North Sentinel Island, you would be wrong. Instead, he worked hard for years to prepare to illegally go to North Sentinel Island. We are supposed to be like "ah, I see, that makes it okay."

Like if you work hard enough, you can earn the right to violate other people's boundaries. What? No, reality does not work that way. The Sentinelese have made it clear they do not want outside people on their island. And that should be the end of the discussion. Their island, their choice.

Oh but he worked hard for yearssssssss! Maybe 5 or 10 years! Well guess what, the Sentinelese have worked hard for thousands of years living on their own. The idea that some American gets to override that because he worked so hard and really really wants it and has good intentions- no. See this is what I mean when I say evangelical Christians don't know what boundaries are.

Ed Stetzer, dean of the School of Mission, Ministry and Leadership at Wheaton College, also seems to think that Chau's preparedness somehow completely changes the story. Here's Stetzer's article for the Washington Post: Slain missionary John Chau prepared much more than we thought, but are missionaries still fools? (I highly recommend Chris Stroop's "translation" of Stetzer's evangelicalese into English. For example: "I am having to do way too much damage control for evangelicals this year. Please clap.") Stetzer writes:
While both Christians and non-Christians have raised profound questions about the biblical and ethical appropriateness of pushing into places where you’re not wanted, much criticism of Chau has focused on what appeared to be his lack of preparation.
Umm. Did it though? Personally, because I have been part of that Christian missions culture, from the moment I heard about Chau I assumed he had some kind of backstory about how he was "called by God" and "loved" the Sentinelese people, and spent years telling all his American Christian friends about how obsessed he was with "reaching" people "for the gospel", and had a well-thought-out plan about how he wanted this whole thing to go, and prayed over every single part of his mission efforts, and so on and so on. People don't do stuff like this because they're "crazy" in some weird, impossible-to-understand way. No, people do stuff like this because they live in a culture that sees it as good. They pray about it and think about it logically, and because they start with certain assumptions about how the world works, they end up quite reasonably coming to these kinds of conclusions.

When I say "assumptions about how the world works" I mean things like "all non-Christians are living sad, meaningless lives" and "people who don't believe in Jesus go to hell" and "God calls us to take risks and make sacrifices, but it is SO WORTH IT, even if we die."

Stetzer then says the real question is about the concept of missions itself. Obviously, he is in favor of it. He says:
For some, the very idea of trying to convert others to a certain faith and taking any risk to do so is simply abhorrent. But Christians worldwide genuinely believe that people who hear and respond to the gospel are better off when they do.
In other words, when he's writing for a "secular" audience, he does this "oh but you gotta understand, we REALLY DO think people are in danger of going to hell, and we REALLY DO believe we are helping them by evangelizing, so you can't criticize us" routine. (He made the same argument in a post for CNN back in 2017.) And, ughhhhhh. UGHHHH. Okay, the reason this makes me mad is because HE'S RIGHT. Like if you really do believe that non-Christians go to hell, and you really love them and want to save them, then logically, you should become a manipulative creep that puts on a show of being kind and loving in order to coerce people into changing religions. And that's how I used to live when I was an evangelical.

Basically, Stetzer is right about that, and therefore we don't really have any common ground to work from, if I were trying to convince him that it's, you know, *bad* to be a manipulative creep who coerces people into changing religion. (He also wrote an article for Christianity Today, elaborating on this point. "I actually believe what is offensive to many today— I really believe that the world needs Jesus. And, I am OK that you think me a fool for believing that." All right, what do I even say to that... I got nothin'.)

But he seems to think non-Christian readers will be like "ohhhh, okay, I didn't realize that, okay that totally excuses this kind of Christian behavior, so I will not criticize them." HAHAHAHAHA yeah right. My feeling is more along the lines of "we can't reason with these jerks, so let's not even try."

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Belief in hell completely ruins anything good about Christianity. (Note: I am a Christian who does NOT believe in hell.)

Stetzer then goes on to talk about 2 things he thinks Chau should have done differently. To me, this reads as "I totally agree with what Chau did, but people won't like it if I say that, so I'm going to pretend to criticize a few small aspects so that I end up looking 'reasonable.'" Like, to me, neither of these read as real objections.

The first so-called objection is that Chau should have gone with a group, rather than alone. Just like Jesus sent the disciples two-by-two. Stetzer is acting like this is some well-known, universal, biblical command. Ha, watch this, I can come up with some biblical-sounding arguments for why it's totally legit to go alone. Hmm, remember the bible story about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch? God told Philip to go do missions alone, so that's what he did. Maybe God told Chau to go to North Sentinel Island alone. Also, Chau probably had a lot of Christian friends back home praying for him. Maybe they supported him financially, and he sent out email updates about how his missions work was going. (I haven't heard anything about that in any of the news stories, but I will be 0% surprised if it's true.) See, he wasn't *really* alone. And also, for practical reasons, he is less of a threat to the Sentinelese people (in terms of spreading disease, and also in terms of how they perceive him) if he's just 1 person, rather than 2 people or a group.

I just find it bizarre how Stetzer seems to be claiming "see, Chau's problem was that he went there alone, when every missionary KNOWS you should NEVER do that." Ha. Yeah right. Yes, I am sure that missionaries believe it's generally better to go with other missionaries, rather than alone, but hey, if that's what God told you to do... well maybe it's not ideal but you gotta do it anyway, for the sake of the gospel.

As for Stetzer's second pretend-criticism:
Also, in regard to people’s choices, Jesus makes it quite clear in Mark 6:11, saying, “And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place.” It appears that Chau returned to North Sentinel even after being shot at with arrows, one of which, according to his journal, stuck in his Bible.
Well I would laugh out loud if this whole situation wasn't so sad.

Like, oh, Christians are supposed to give up and go home if their evangelism targets aren't interested in being evangelized? SINCE WHEN? This is very much NOT what I was taught in church.

I was taught if people weren't interested in hearing the "gospel", that just meant it was "harder", that it was more of a "challenge"- not that you should leave them alone and stop trying. You shouldn't give up- you should "pray for God to soften their hearts" and "look for opportunities to start spiritual conversations."

Also, I would like to know why the Indian government's decision to stop trying to contact the Sentinelese, after decades of trying to send them gifts every now and then, and being rejected over and over, is somehow NOT enough of a sign that Chau was not "welcome." Apparently, it took Chau actually going there and getting shot at on his first attempt- that's when he should have known he was "not welcome" and he should leave, according to Stetzer. Well that's rich. Kind of seems like Stetzer is inventing rules after-the-fact and then claiming that CLEARLY this is what JESUS SAID and so THAT'S where Chau went wrong.

But do you want to see THE WORST article about Chau? It's this one, from Desiring God, and oh it is bad: What God Might Do with Satan’s Arrows (written by Garrett Kell).

Kell seems to completely buy into the whole "God totally called Chau to go share the gospel with these sad lost people" nonsense. But it's worse than that:
Questions have emerged about John Chau’s zeal, training, prudence, and legacy. But another even more important question sits under the surface of such a tragedy: What is God doing in all of this?

How is God working to reveal his glory to the Sentinelese people? Could he bring them forgiveness for their murder and freedom from their own pain? How will he bring healing to the heartbreak of the Chau family? Could our God be using injustice, arrows, and a fallen missionary to make his reconciling grace known to the entire world?
What? NO, no no no nonono. "What is God doing in all of this" oh god no. As if, just because someone got killed while "obeying God's call", that means there's some huge grand purpose to it, oh this is bad, this is bad. Okay, the Sentinelese DO NOT WANT contact with the outside world. LEAVE THEM THE **** ALONE. But Kell sees them as nothing more than characters in his imagined story about "God's glory" and "the gospel"; it doesn't matter what they want.

(Also, Kell takes the Lord's name in vain by assuming that God will side with him rather than with the Sentinelese people.)

Then Kell tells the story of John Williams and James Harris, missionaries who were killed by the people of an island called Erromango. Apparently, this is a beautiful story with a happy ending because years later, other missionaries came and succeeded in getting the islanders to become Christians, and then there was a big ceremony where the islanders apologized to Williams's descendants, and isn't that just great. On Twitter, Jesse T. Reese said "This article is an unbelievable piece of #ChristianAltFacts propaganda that sanctifies genocide, and it only gets worse if you dig a little" and wrote a thread about how ACTUALLY missionaries have caused a lot of harm to the people of Erromango. Go read it.

Oh, but Kell's article gets even worse:
We cannot know for sure what God is doing. But might he be stoking the hearts of his church with a fresh fire to reach the unreached peoples of the world? Could God be using the death of John Chau to stir the souls of more missionaries to take the good news of Jesus to the Sentinelese people? Could he be stirring you? Is it possible that God might be working to bring them the message of forgiveness for killing the missionary as well as healing from the injustice done to them generations ago? Could God be plotting a reunion of forgiveness in months, years, even centuries from now that will magnify his mercies before the world? Can you picture that moving ceremony on the shores of North Sentinel Island?

John Piper’s call from five years ago in the wake of another martyred missionary is just as relevant today: “I call thousands of you to take [their] place. Let the replacements flood the world. We do not seek death. We seek the everlasting joy of the world — including our enemies.”

God can spark a movement from a martyrdom. He’s done it before. Let’s pray he’s doing it again.

No. NO NO NO NO NO. That is the WORST possible outcome of this: that more missionaries would be inspired to go and barge in on the Sentinelese people. Kell waxes poetic about how wonderful it will be when someday there is reconciliation between Christian missionaries and the people who killed Chau- SEE, THIS IS WHAT I MEAN WHEN I SAY EVANGELICALS DON'T BELIEVE IN CONSENT. The Sentinelese have made it clear they DO NOT WANT this fantasy that Kell is imagining. But does he care what they want? Ha. Nope.

(See also: White Christian saviorism is a helluva drug, by seelolago.)

Also, remember a minute ago Ed Stetzer was claiming that JESUS CLEARLY SAID you should leave people alone if they make it clear they don't want to hear your "gospel", and then I said hahaha nope that is EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of what I was taught in church, but good try Ed Stetzer? See this is what I mean. Garrett Kell very much does NOT believe Christians should just give up and go home because the Sentinelese do not "welcome" them. He thinks that just makes it a better story, a more amazing victory when the missionaries finally succeed, some time in the future. If they kill one missionary, well that means we/God should respond by sending "thousands of you to take their place." The Sentinelese are just playing hard-to-get, as it were.

Ughhhhhhh. This is very not okay. Just LEAVE THEM ALONE. I've never been so angry about being proven right. I knew that Christians of the "unsaved people go to hell" persuasion would love this story and see Chau as a great role model driven by love for God and love for people. Those of us who live in reality see that historically, this kind of missions has done a lot of harm to indigenous people. But evangelicals imagine that they are the heroes of some grand story that God is writing, a myth that says hard work earns them the right to override other people's consent, and actually consent doesn't even matter in the first place- what really matters is that in the end, more people become Christians.


This Is Exactly the Martyr Fairy Tale We Aspired To 
Because of an Idea
Runaway Radical: The Stories You Can't Tell In Church

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