David A. Love's Blog

David A. Love

David A. Love
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
June 18
David A. Love is the Executive Editor of BlackCommentator.com, where his Color of Law column appears weekly. He is a contributor to the Huffington Post, the Progressive Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune News Service, theGrio, News One, In These Times and Philadelphia Independent Media Center. He contributed to the book, States of Confinement: Policing, Detention and Prisons (St. Martin's Press, 2000). Love is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He also completed the Joint Programme in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford.

FEBRUARY 14, 2010 9:51PM

Missionaries Doing What Missionaries Always Did

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When I heard that ten American missionaries are on trial for kidnapping 33 Haitian children and attempting to take them to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic, I, like most other people, was outraged. But I can't say I was surprised.

To be sure, the thought that some people, whether missionaries or traffickers, would take advantage of an earthquake to steal children and place them in orphanages - or the sex trade, or the slave trade, or whatever - stirs the conscience. The Baptist missionaries, mostly from Idaho, would have us believe that they were trying to do some good, except that a number of the "orphans" had living parents. And so they were trying to do good deeds, as many of the other missionaries before them. We've been down this road before.

This would not be the first time that missionaries kidnapped Third World children in the name of God. A look back into history reveals the troubling role of religion and its practitioners in the colonization of black and brown countries. Now, I am not condemning those dedicated and committed people of faith who are helping poor communities throughout the world and saving lives. I am sure they are making a difference. But we would be deluding ourselves if we denied the sordid history of missionaries.

After all, missionaries served an important role in the conquest and taught them they were heathens and evil sinners who were bound for Hell. They convinced the so-called natives that their culture and customs were filthy and backward, and told them to abandon their ancestors and belief systems. The missionaries separated the conquered from their sense of self, a psychic conquest if you will, and replaced the old gods with a god who, not surprisingly, looked just like the conquerors. Now softened up, the natives were susceptible to alcohol abuse and other distractions, and ripe for physical conquest in the form of subjugation, enslavement, forced labor, genocide and the like.

Part of the cultural genocide was committed by white Christian missionaries in the name of Jesus Christ. Missionaries worked with the Australian government to rip thousands of half-Abroriginal children from their families and place them in government orphanages, where they were abused. The plan was to "breed" the Aborigine out of them and force them to conform to Western ways. The plight of these stolen children was dramatized in the film Rabbit-Proof Fence, in which three kidnapped Aboriginal girls who were to be trained as servants escaped from their captors, and roamed through the outback alone.

And as for the Native Americans, European missionaries tried to convert and "civilize" the so-called heathens from the first point of contact. When the U.S. divided the Native peoples' lands into reservations, they assigned the reservations to Christian missionaries. Reservation schools, both boarding and day schools, served the goals of Manifest Destiny by "killing the Indian" in order to "save the man". Subjected to a regime of forced assimilation, Native students were prohibited from speaking any language other than English. And they were kept from practicing their traditional spiritual beliefs, and were indoctrinated with Christian teachings. Separated from their language and their culture, sometimes they were separated from their families by hundreds of miles. Supposedly, it was for their own good.

So, the kidnapping, exploitation and abuse of darker children by missionaries are nothing new. Haitian children, victims of a devastating earthquake, are also victims of an ancient game that is as old as colonization itself. It is a cold-blooded crime, but for hundreds of years the criminals were immune from prosecution and never saw the inside of a courtroom.

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Excellent article, David. The damage done to indigenous Australians will continue for many generations to come.

Just another atrocity committed in the name of religion.
I believe it was Desmond Tutu who said something like " When the missionaries came we had the land and they had the bibles. They asked us all to join hands, close our eyes and pray. When we opened our eyes, we had the bibles and they had the land."

I recently read a book by a Nigerian author back in the 1950's called 'Things Fall Apart' by Chinua Achebe. The first part of the book is about tribal life, sometimes brutal, sometimes beautiful. Then the second half is the impact of missionaries on African tribal cultures. Great book, very sad what has happened to cultures all over the world.
My fallback position is always: "They taught us to pray, and while our heads were bowed, they stold our land."
Truth is spoken here.
Hi, David - so terribly true - since this happened in Haiti, I've been saying that this is SO missionary-typical - in a disaster capitalism kind of way - there is that veneer of "doing good" that appeals to their followers who are not deep thinkers, and then there is the bone-chilling sense that what happened was a "harvesting."

Why in the world wouldn't they set up a community center to help those people care for their children if their hearts were really in the right spot.

THIS IS THE PROBLEM with the dumbing down of America - when logic is considered a little too "scientific" and a threat to religious fervor. We've got to raise our educational standards to include critical thinking, and to not just recite historical facts, but to understand contemporary issues as repercussions.

Thanks for this insightful article...