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TheMissionaryDilemma William G. McLaughlin The dilemma of the missionary is not unlike that which Edmund S. Morgan defined as "the Puritan dilemma." Moreover, as Morgan also noted, "The central problem of Puritanism is the problem of every age," "It was the question of what responsibility a righteous man owes to society. If society followsa course that he considers morally wrong, should he withdraw and keep his principles intact, or should he stay.... Henry Thoreau did not hesitate to reject a society that made war with Mexico. William Lloyd Garrison called on the North to leave the Union in order to escape complicity with the sin of slaveholding. John Winthrop had another answer .... "1 Winthrop's answer to the dilemma was to struggle to the best of his ability to liveas a responsible citizen in a world full of sin, corruption and confusion. For Morgan, Winthrop was a model of responsible Christian citizenship. In one sense the missionary dilemma in early-nineteenth-century America was easier and, in another sense, harder than Winthrop's. It was easier because American missionaries lived in a freer country and most were confident that their country was already on the true path to the millennium; it was harder because they were not, as Winthrop was in Massachusetts Bay, actively directing the policies of their countries, but rather they were the passive recipients of national policies. American missionaries, especially if they lived in foreign countries which were within the sphere of American economic and political power, always ran the risk of becoming accessories of Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume 16, Number 4, Winter 1985,395-409 396 William G. McLaughlin that power. They have frequently been accused of being agents of American foreign policy. American political imperialism and American Christian imperialism are seen by some to go hand in hand. The missionary dilemma was, and in many respects still is, how to react to national policies which may be detrimental to the Christian goals of their mission. What choice should a missionary make when he (or she) conscientiously believes his government to be wrong in its foreign policy? Should he stand up and protest in the name of a higher law or should he somehow separate his mission of saving souls from his mission to "reform the world in the imageof God's holykingdom" (asMorgan saysPuritanism commanded John Winthrop to do [p. 81)?There used to be a very specific statement of this point in the Methodist Christ.ian Discipline: "As far as it respects civil affairs, we believe it the duty of Christians, and especially all Christian ministers, to be subject to the supreme authority of the country where they may reside, and to use all laudable means to enjoin obedience to the powers that be; and therefore, itis expected that all our preachers and people, who may be under any foreign government, will behave themselves as peaceable and orderly subjects."2 Consider that statement today in terms of a missionary to the Soviet Union or to El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, Nicaragua or the Philippines. Or consider it in terms of a missionary in one of the Southern states about to secede from the Union in 1861,and you will understand the dilemma whichI have in mind. In short, is it possible or proper for a missionary to say, as one missionary whom I will discuss shortly said back in 1832:"As a missionary to the heathen, I feel that I have a right to be dead to the political world. That I have no call from the example of the Blessed Redeemer or his apostles to engage in political controversies or to speak evil of dignitaries." 3 Although this is a perennial problem for missionaries, I want to describe it in terms of nineteenth-century foreign missionaries. To give the dilemma a further turn of the screw, I shall draw my examples from the evangelical missionaries to the five major tribes of the Southeastern Indians in the United States between 1789and 1860.The Indian nations were considered a foreign mission field in those years because they had totally different cultures, they spoke foreign languages, and they dealt with the United States through treaties...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 395-409
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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