Recently I have been pondering the idea of globalization as the new colonialism. I cannot take credit for the idea. It began after listening to a podcast from Emergent Village with Musa Dube. Honestly, I have applauded globalization. It has offered an opportunity for the church in the West to engage with the world first hand. No longer is it necessary to vicariously reach out and touch the nations via the missionaries sent out. It can happen right now, right here! And after having lived overseas for many years and witnessing firsthand the unequal distribution of wealth, it seemed to me a great advantage to those seeking “greener grass.” Dube challenged these ideas and I am glad she did. How does globalization become a new form of colonialism? Recently my husband, Butch, wrote some thoughts about the book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. I think it demonstrates one way globalization can be a new colonialism in our missional endeavors.
In six months, you are told to learn the language, find a job, and even pay back the money for your plane fare. What if CBF had told each of us (as field personnel) to do that? That’s the life of a refugee in the US. Some refugees thrive but many are totally lost. Our system creates a “poverty of being” in accentuating a low self-esteem for many (doctors and professors end up as convenience store cashiers or flipping burgers at McDonald’s). Our system creates a “poverty of community” by expecting them to integrate immediately which is impossible without a true loving community for support. Our system creates a “poverty of stewardship” which judges that if they don’t adjust quickly they are lazy. Our system almost forces them into a “poverty of spiritual intimacy”. Either they delve deeper into their faith, because that is the only secure thing they can hold on to (which we saw many times with Muslim refugees/immigrants in Europe) or they leave most of their faith behind for our worship of materialism. Yet, supposedly we welcome these people with open arms.
There are other ways we perpetuate an attitude of colonialism. When we travel for missional endeavors to other places how often do our attitudes reflect a colonial superiority? We are here to help because you don’t know how and seemingly cannot help yourself. We are here to teach because you need to learn. We are here to right the system because yours is wrong. We are here to give because you have need. We are here to fix because you or your country is broken. It seems to me rather than imitate mistakes of the past colonial eras, we have an opportunity to check ourselves and do it different this time. We can be learners and receivers before we are teachers and helpers. Then side by side we can all teach and help each other.
Excellent comment. There should be a concerted effort from mission organizations to instruct the churches that support missions many of which are closely inclined to colonialism, especially the older generation, who were brought with “the Lottie Moon syndrome,” to change their views.
Some ways in which CBF can help: (1) Please do not allow missionaries in the General Assembly wear
native dresses–it is a sign of colonialism. (2)In stories published with photos, list the name of all in the photo including those who are not Americans. (3)instruct missionaries to change their reporting to churches–instead of appearing as benevolent first world providers, highlight the fact that those in the mission field are partners in the Kingdom. There may be other aspects that may be improved.
David, these comments are giving me food for thought and frankly not things I had really considered. So thanks for that! Numbers 2 & 3 I really like, but I’m not sure I am able to wrap my mind around the national dress comment. Don’t you think wearing national dress can help others learn to appreciate culture, artistic expression through fashion and become more comfortable with the diversity they see here? What are your thoughts?
I was at the Emergent conference last winter when Musa Dube spoke. It was a great conference and very challenging. I encourage a read of her book. It humbled me and I often think of it to help me orient myself as a learner. So often we are more concerned with being right rather than being formed by God through our fellow humankind.
thx a lot