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Mission Intervention and the Global System - Bodley
MISSIONARY INTERVENTION AND THE IDEOLOGY
OF THE GLOBAL SYSTEM
John H. Bodley
Washington State University
Prepared for "Missionaries and Human Rights" a Presidential Session, organized by Thomas N. Headland at the 93rd Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Atlanta, Georgia, November 30 - December 2, 1994.
MISSIONARY INTERVENTION AND THE IDEOLOGY OF THE GLOBAL SYSTEM
John H. Bodley
Washington State University
Mission organizations can help shape national and international human rights policy in directions that will benefit indigenous peoples. Christian morality is an important ideological force that can balance the commercial amorality of the market-driven global system. In much of the world Christian missionaries are potentially the most powerful humanitarian allies available to assist indigenous communities in their human rights struggle at local levels. For example, the World Council of Churches was in the forefront of the contemporary political struggle for the human rights of indigenous peoples with its sponsorship of the Symposium on Inter-Ethnic Conflict held in Barbados in 1971. The Declaration of Barbados called for the end of traditional evangelical mission work in Latin America, and called on both missionaries and anthropologists to work for the political and economic liberation of indigenous peoples. Christian advocates of liberation theology have in fact played a role in the moblization of indigenous political organizations in Latin America, and many church groups in Canada and Australia have supported indigenous rights. Numerous small religiously based, non-denominational, non-profit organizations have abandoned the evangelical role and instead work to reshape the political and economic institutions of the global system while offering support to small scale community organizations throughout the world. Religious ideology is important for all of these organizations, because it gives them the moral authority to confront the injustice of the present world order.
In order to get a better understanding of how the organization and ideology of diverse mission agencies might be related to their human rights activities I did some basic ethnography on the missionary agencies themselves. I wrote to a sample of 11 organizations selected from among the largest American protestant mission agencies, asking for a wide range of background information. I must emphasize that this is exploratory reseach in an enormously complex field. My conclusions are preliminary. I found that the religious tradition of the mission organization seems to be the primary factor that influences their human rights activities. Among protestant mission agencies those in the ecumenical tradition are more likely to work explicitly for human rights and may directly seek to change the public policies of governments and international organizations in order to improve the social and economic conditions of communities. Denominational and or evangelical agencies may provide humanitarian relief, medical, education, and or development assistance that may indirectly support the human rights of indigenous peoples, but such evanagelical groups do not usually make human rights an explicit goal of their work.
THE SCALE OF MISSIONARY ENTERPRISE
Surprisingly most missionaries actually work in predominantly Christian countries, and only a few work exclusively with indigenous people. Some estimates suggest that only 10,000 protestant missionaries work with "tribals" (Siewert & Kenyon1993:11), but the activities of specific organizations, and the missionary presence among specific indigenous groups can be impressive. For example (see Table 2), in predominantly Catholic Ecuador, with an indigenous population of some 4.5 million, there are 83 different Protestant missionary agencies operating with 1,100 personnel and nearly 2,000 local churches (Johnstone 1993:201). Two of the largest protestant mission agencies working with ethnolinguistic groups most likely to be indigenous people include the New Tribes Mission and the Wycliffe Bible translators who collectively place some 4,700 missionaries in the field. The impact of these two organizations must be enormous. In Papua New Guinea, where approximately 98 percent of the population of 4 million is made up of indigenous peoples speaking some 862 language, there are 3,435 missionaries (Catholic & Protestant) and 82 Protestant agencies (see Table 3). Remarkably, more than a third of the total missionaries were affiliated with just two agencies, New Tribes and Wycliffe.
INDIGENOUS PEOPLE, MISSIONARIES, & THE GLOBAL SYSTEM
The most fundamental human rights for indigenous people are their rights to political and economic control over their own communities and territories, and over the natural and cultural resources that sustain them in opposition to the persistent, often overwhelming, conflicting interests of governments, giant multi-national corporations, and national and regional elites. To be effective, human rights for indigenous people must include the civil and political rights of individuals as embodied in the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights, and the broader human rights covered by the 1976 International Covenant on Economic, Social, & Cultural Rights that stress basic human needs and community.
The commercially-driven global system is controlled by a decentralized, but enormously powerful transnational elite whose interests do not always coincide with those of particular national governments or non-elite people. The controlling global elites derive their power from the transnational corporations that they direct. The financial power of these individuals and corporations can be enormous. For example, the combined 1992 revenues and sales of just 750 of the world's largest companies represented 42 percent of the global GNP in 1991 (Fortune July 26, August 23, 1993, World Development Report 1993). A single giant company, General Motors, owned 312 other companies and employed 750,000 people in 36 countries. Its total 1993 sales exceeded the gross domestic products of all but 18 of the wealthiest countries in the world. In a recent examination of the directors of Fortune 500 companies I found 10 individual directors linking 37 companies with combined assets of more than $2 trillion. This represents 10 percent of the total GNP of the entire world in 1991.
Growth of the capitalist global economy generates enormous wealth for the controlling elite, while impoverishing indigenous peoples and local communities everywhere, and undermining basic human rights. The global system is sustained by a powerful, commercially generated ideology that convinces people that continued growth benefits everyone. Leslie Sklair (1991) identifies the dominant ideology of the global system with the powerful cultural hegemony of "consumerism" which is promoted by the transnational mass media and advertising. He observes that: "The cultural-ideological project of global capitalism is to persuade people to consume above their own perceived needs in order to perpetuate the accumulation of capital for private profit, in other words, to ensure that the global capitalist system goes on for ever" (Sklair 1991:41).
Other powerful cultural symbols such as "individualism," "competitiveness," and "free market" support the current push to expand the global reach of finance capital through new institutional structures such as the GATT and NAFTA. These are the ideological features of the global system that must be challenged if the basic human rights of indigenous people in local communities are to be protected.
Obviously, evangelical missionaries proselytize for a world religion that will transform indigenous belief systems, but more importantly, missionaries belong to hierarchical international organizations, whose financial interests overlap and interlock in complex ways with enormously powerful commercial corporations. These connections may both hinder and help their human rights efforts. Like their counterparts in the for-profit world, large mission agencies are multi-million dollar operations with an obvious stake in the accumulation of financial capital. Missionaries originating in wealthy countries are members of the global scale culture, even while as evangelicals they anticipate the global system's imminent replacement by the heavenly kingdom. Although American missionaries and the agencies that support them see their work as self-sacrificing and missionaries receive modest salaries, they are members of the global elite in comparison with indigenous missionaries and churches in relatively impoverished countries. An African missionary group estimated that a traditional Euro-American missionary family needs $50,000 to set up its work for the first year in a foreign mission field, while an indigenous African missionary requires only $50 to get started. This makes placing a "global elite" missionary 1000 times more expensive. Christian Aid Mission estimated that average maintenance costs for one American missionary are 50 times higher than their native counterparts (Tapia 1993).
The material wealth of elite missionaries may make it difficult for them to appreciate the special human rights issues facing indigenous communities concerning basic needs, social equality, and sustainable adaptations. Wealthy missionaries are also less likely to advocate fundamental changes in the global system than their poorer counterparts. It is significant that some religious leaders from poor countries explicitly recognize this problem. A Brazilian theologan, Rev. Steuernagel (1993:49), in an open letter to the North American mission community recently observed that the popular image of missionaries shared by many people in other countries is of "...a tall, blond person that comes from afar, speaks English, uses sophisticated technology and handles dollars." He argued that Latin Americans were not served by this "expensive missionary model of the North" (Steuernagel 1993:52). An Asian theologian writing in the same forum argued that missionaries must confront market forces directly, and not let them define human values and human rights (Samuel 1993:44-45).
MISSIONARIES & THE GREAT COMMISSION
Missionaries that focus on indigenous peoples because they represent distinctive peoples and languages are likely to be strongly evangelical in tradition. The World Evangelization Database, cited by Johnstone (1993:22) estimates that there are 11,874 ethno-linguistic "peoples" in the world, and at least one evangelical church has already been been established among some 75 percent of these peoples. Because this is presumably the minimum number of churches needed per people to fulfill the Great Commission, the task is nearing completion by this measure. Howevever, missionaries also estimate that there are 6,528 languages in the world. As of 1993 only one third of these had some scripture available. This translation shortfall is a strong incentive for further mission work even among groups that have otherwise been evangelized in the narrow sense.
The ideological motivation and organizational scale of some of the largest, strictly evangelical organizations is remarkable. For example, one of the agencies in my sample, Campus Crusade for Christ International, has a 13,000 member staff, 44 Great Commission Training Centers, and 101,000 trained volunteers working in 161 countries that comprise 98 percent of the world's population. In their special New Life 2000 campaign they have divided the world into 5,000 "target areas", each with one million people to be reached by specially trained evangelical teams. Their emphasis is on actual numbers of people, not ethnic groups. Working in partnership with 380 other mission groups, Campus Crusade claims to have evangelized 1.5 billion people since 1951. References to human rights issues are conspicuously absent in the Campus Crusade's annual reports.
In addition to evangelism, an important closely related objective of mission work is showing compassion for suffering humanity. Some mission agencies explicitly consider their charitable relief work and their regular medical and development work to be indirect routes to their primary goal of evangelism. Other mission agencies make charitable work an end in itself, as part of their Christian duty. Evangelical Christians of course may consider church planting to be a charitable activity because churches provide support and hope for the "spiritually lost" as well as salvation, and can create a community infrastructure that will foster improvements in material conditions. Christian charitable work may play a critical role in protecting particular indigenous groups from ethnocide and genocide during times of military - political crisis, or natural disaster. However, routine medical or development assistance may be less beneficial in the long run unless it actually strengthens the overall condition of local communities.
STRUCTURE, FUNDING, & IDEOLOGY OF MISSION AGENCIES
While the financial power of these non-profit mission agencies may seem impressive in relation to small scale indigenous groups that are only marginally involved with the market economy, the financial power of missions was miniscule in relation to the largest profit making corporations that are among the most influencial organizations in the world. For example, the individual 1994 sales of each of the 220 largest industrial corporations exceeded the $2 billion combined income of all the American mission agencies. This $2 billion mission income was less than 2 percent of the $122 billion in sales for General Motors, the world's largest industrial company. From another perspective more directly related to ideology, the total support available to missionaries was only 5 percent of the $37.8 billion that for-profit American corporations spent on advertising in 1991, and was less than these corporations spent advertising toiletries and cosmetics (World Almanac 1994:299).
The source of any non-profit, non-governmental (NGO) organization's funds might influence the kind of human rights activities they would engage in. Contributions, whether as cash from church members, or as commodity gifts-in-kind from members, corporations, or governments make up 80 to 96 percent of the income of the mission agencies in my sample (see Table 6). The funds of mission organizations often continue to increase even though some studies suggest that Americans are giving less for charity overall. The power of religious ideology is probably a key factor in this giving. For example, the Assembly of God, Division of Foreign Missions derived 79 percent of its $100 million 1993 income from offerings. The members of one church gave $853,000. The members of its largest donor church on a per-capita basis gave an average of $1,510 each. The Crop Walk, a single fund-raising effort organized by the Church World Service of the National Council of Churches collected over $13 million in 1993 for hunger related relief and development work. Given the generally democratic way in which mission agencies govern themselves and establish their formal goals and policies, the activities of most mission agencies are likely to reflect the political or religious ideologies of the members of their church communities.
Two agencies in my sample that are heavily devoted to charitable work, Food for the Hungry and MAP International, derive 19 percent of their support from government grants. Such a funding source might conceivably make it unlikely that they would work directly to improve the human rights policies of governments. MAP supplies other missionary organizations, including nearly all of the organizations in my sample, with donated medical supplies. MAP might also be expected to take a very conservative position on human rights issues because 94 percent of its income is in the value of the medical supplies it receives from major Global 500 pharmaceutical corporations such as Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Sandoz, and Merck. It also receives cash donations from major foundations and corporations. According to its mission statement, MAP provides "...services which promote total health care for needy people in the developing world." They seek to help churches become "healing communities", but do not claim to influence public policies to promote human rights more directly. From the perspective of the global financial elite such humanitarian mission agencies provide a valuable service by helping to alleviate some of the world's worst poverty conditions at a relatively low cost, thereby indirectly allowing the giant multi-national corporations to continue to externalize the social costs of their profit-making activities. This of course does not minimize the very valuable humanitarian contribution of the non-profit charities.
Financial investments, such as equity shares in profit-making corporations, bonds, or other securities constitute a relatively minor source of income for most mission agencies. A full range of investment instruments including U.S. Government securities, CD's, stocks, corporate bonds, real estate, and mutual funds, was represented among the nine agencies in my sample that reported on their investments. Some hired outside investment managers, and most were very conservative investors. Some organizations, such as New Tribes Mission, invest as a matter of policy only in U.S. Government securities, not in potentially risky corporate stocks. Mission agencies with substantial investments in the global economy might be reluctant to align themselves on the side of indigenous peoples against giant multi-national corporations. On the other hand, missionary shareholders might use their influence to attempt to improve the social responsibility of corporations in which they hold shares. The Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board provided an explicit investment philosophy statement reflecting a preference for socially responsible investing that prohibited investments in alcohol or tobacco, or in companies with foreign headquarters. The National Council of Churches (NCC) takes a broader approach to responsible investment. It avoids companies involved in alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and major defense contracts, and it participates in the Interfaith Council on Corporate Repsponsibility (ICCR). The ICCR is an international organization of some 250 Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish institutional investors that collectively hold investments in the global system worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
According to the ICCR, in 1993-94 more than 100 religious investors challenged 138 corporations with 198 shareholder propositions demanding corporate responsibility. The ICCR lists indigenous peoples among its concerns, and specifically supports Native Americans "in their efforts to retain sovereignty of their lives and land" (ICCR Annual Report 1993-1994, page11). This concern is demonstrated in the action of ICCR members such as the Sinsinawa Dominicans, Inc., of Sinsinawa, Wisconsin, who submitted a shareholder proposition to Exxon at its annual meeting in April 1994 calling on the company to reconsider its proposal to develop the Crandon mining project in Wisconsin that was being resisted by several Native American groups (Chippewa, Potawatomi, Menominee, and the Stockbridge-Munsee) in the region. ICCR members also confronted Consolidated Edison over its intention to buy electricity from Hydro-Quebec which plans to flood more Cree land with the James Bay II hydroelectric project. At the April 1994 General Motors annual meeting, a group of Cathtolic shareholders including the Benedictine Sisters, the Sisters of Providence, and the Immaculate Heart Missions, collectively holding more than 6,000 shares, invoked the UN Declaration of Human Rights to persuade General Motors to improve social and economic conditions for its Mexican maquiladora operations affected by NAFTA. The respective corporate boards rejected both of these propositions.
The organizational structures of the mission agencies that I examined superficially resembled large profit-making corporations in that they were large, multi-layered bureaucracies. A missionary in the field might be responsible to an area director, whose line of reporting might run through a staff with one or more vice presidents, to a president in a central headquarters, through a board of trustees, to a denominational president. In some organizations missionaries are sponsored by specific local churches. However, the conspicuous contrast with profit-making corporations is that mission agencies devote a relatively small proportion of their budgets to staff overhead. Wycliffe for example spends more than 81 percent of its income on its translation programs. Revenues go back into the organizations, they do not go to inflated salaries, and they do not become profit to be paid out as dividends to shareholders. Like the executives of many non-profits, the executive officers of mission agencies appear to take relatively modest salaries compared to Fortune 500 executives who often receive salaries of over $1 million plus generous bonuses. Three agencies in my sample reported top executive salaries of $117,000, $89,405, and $78,445. Mission agency trustees and board members are primarily clergy or medical people that appear to have few cross-overs with the for-profit corporate world. Furthermore, non-profits have no shareholders and thus are responsible directly to those that donate to them.
The 11 agencies in my sample maintained nearly 12,000 missionaries in the field on appointments of a year or more. This number represents more than one fourth of all North American based Protestant missionaries. Only about half (6) of these agencies actually sent missionaries, the smallest sent out over 500, and the largest 1,800 to 4,000 missionaries (see Table 5). Five were interdenominational or nondenominational support agencies for other mission organizations or indigenous churches, and emphasized relief activities, community development, and technical, or medical assistance. All of the 11 but one were either interdenominational or nondenominational evangelical in tradition, or if they were in a denominational tradition, such as pentecostal, baptist, fundamentalist, or adventist, evangelism remained an important missionary activity (see Table 7). Only the ecumenical Church World Service and Witness Unit of the National Council of Churches (NCC) was conspicuously non-evangelical. Ecumenicals, because they are less concerned with evangelism, also tend to be more accepting of cultural diversity. They emphasize understanding and respect for believers in the great religious traditions of Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, and indigenous religions. Evangelicals, on the other hand, consider these religions to be a challenge to overcome and may use "creative," sometimes covert means to reach these "resistant" peoples. Not surprisingly, of the organizations examined, the NCC was most concerned with human rights and worked with "the poor and oppressed" rather than the "spiritually lost," the "unevangelized," or "unreached tribes." The NCC position follows the spirit of the Declaration of Barbados and thus resembles the liberation theology approach. The ideological split between ecumenical mission agencies and the evangelicals can be very strong. For example, even though it is interdenominational, the fundamentalist New Tribes Mission maintains a strict "separation policy" prohibiting any of its missionaries from belonging to any church that is a member of the NCC.
Significantly, the NCC, because it is an association of 32 different denominational churches, many of them very large, represents a collective membership of some 49 million believers -- over half of the 96 million protestants in North America. This suggests that ecumenically minded mission agencies may indeed be strong enough to help shape the ideology of the global system in a direction that will benefit indigenous peoples. This is especially the case since these agencies are working for fundamental changes in the global system. For example, Elizabeth Ferris, director of the NCC, World Service and Witness Unit refugee program, attributes persistent poverty to "an unjust international economic system" and "inequality at the national level" among other factors, and observes that "triumphant capitalism is not the answer" (Ferris 1994:269-270). Ferris asks churches to: "...challenge the power of multinational corporations, multinational financial institutions, multnational media, multinational political forces ... which directly impact on the lives and well being of millions of people" (Ferris 1994:273).
Ecumenical groups may seem less interested in indigenous peoples than evangelicals because they do not send missionaries to evangelize them. They are more likely to work through established indigenous churches or NGOs in urban areas or with dense rural populations. Nevertheless they can support indigenous rights in important ways. For example, the World Community Office within the NCC has worked for the human rights of indigenous peoples at the UN. The Southern Asia office promotes literacy among Laotian tribals. The Office on Global Education is concerned with the impact of NAFTA and the GATT. In 1993 the Latin America office was actively involved in the peace process involving indigenous peoples in Guatemala.
While my research emphasized the largest mission agenices, some of the smallest agencies can also have a large impact when their work is sharply focused. For example, Bread for the World, a non-denominational religious organization with just 44,000 members, lobbies congress in order to reform American foreign aid policies in ways that will strengthen the capacity of local communities to feed themselves. They helped pass the 1992 Horn of Africa Bill that directed aid funds away from the military into local, community-level development approaches (Christian Century April 1993:452-456).
Ferris, Elizabeth 1994. Poverty and Conflict in the Post-Cold War Era: The Challenge to Ecumenical Development and Relief Agencies. The Ecumenical Review 46(3):268-275.
Samuel, Vinay Kumar 1993. From Asia: An Open Letter to the North American Mission Community. In Mission Handbook 1993-95, 15th Edition, edited by John A. Siewert and John A. Kenyon, pp. 43-45. Monrovia, California: MARC.
Steurernagel, Valdir Raul 1993. From Latin Amerioca: An Open Letter to the North American Mission Community. In Mission Handbook 1993-95, 15th Edition, edited by John A. Siewert and John A. Kenyon, pp. 47-53. Monrovia, California: MARC.
Tapia, Andres 1993. New Look for Missionaries: Third World Finds the West Ripe for Harvest. Christianity Today 37(11):64.
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