Miscegenation and Missions, Part II


Cover of "Anthropological Reflections on ...

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Some questions as a follow-on to Part 1 of this post topic.

  1. Does interracial or intercultural marriage lessen the foreignness of the Christian faith? In Asia and Africa the “Sword and Taxation” method of Islamic conversion had begun to falter well before that religion reached Southeast Asia. And yet some of the greatest success of this religion occurred here (particularly in what is now known as Indonesia). One of the major methods involved Muslim traders who would marry into the local tribes. By being part of the tribe or clan, the trader’s faith entered the group and would, sometimes at least, become the dominant faith system. It is hard to say that a religion is foreign if it is linked to a cultural group through blood. The common Christian missionary method of maintaining separateness from the local culture (through ‘missions compounds’ and maintaining familial separation) helped maintain Christianity as a Western/foreign faith.
  2. Can interracial or intercultural marriage provide a cultural bridge? Paul Hiebert (in “Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues”) refers to the children of missionary parents as providing a “bicultural bridge”. Since they are raised by parents of one culture, while living in another culture, they end up having neither culture and both cultures. They are sometimes called 3rd Culture Kids (TCK). This bridge can be used to extend and contextualize faith to a new culture. However, a marriage that is already bicultural can potentially have the elements of a bicultural bridge as well.
  3. Can an interracial or intercultural marriage provide logistical benefits in missions? With the greater difficulty of getting missionary visas, and challenges of in-depth language acquisition, it is quite possible that in some cases marriage removes many of the challenges that many missionaries have to commonly address.
  4. But… can interracial or intercultural missionary couples really do missions? Some would argue that they can only if they serve in a third culture. This seems patently false. Paul and Barnabbas worked within their own cultures in much of their mission work. Barnabbas was a Hellenistic Diaspora Jew from Cyprus and Paul was a Hellenistic Diaspora Jew from Asia Minor. The first mission point on their first Mission journey was to Hellenistic Diaspora Jews in Cyprus, followed by Non-Jews of the same general culture in Cyprus. The next mission points were to Hellenistic Diaspora Jews in Asia Minor followed by Non-Jews of the same general culture in Asia Minor. Missions is about going outside the church rather than going outside of one’s culture.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some things I am clearly NOT saying.

  1. I am not suggesting interracial or intercultural marriages as some sort of Macchiavelian route to missions effectiveness. I am simply suggesting that these marriages should not be looked upon as negative or a hindrance to mission work.
  2. I am not assuming that people in single culture marriages cannot be effective. I am suggesting a both/and rather than either/or attitude.
  3. I am not suggesting that there aren’t unique problems related to these sort of marriages in missions. Marriage made up of partners from two different cultures can be a strain. However, this is equally (if not more) true of different social economic strata, educational attainment, or vocational level. Additionally, sometimes these marriages become unequal where both partners share a common attitude of superiority of one culture over the culture being ministered to. In this case, the spouse from the local culture can do more damage than help.

Anyway, these are some things to think about.

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