History of Missions

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They believed this process would lead to converts, the brightest of whom would act as an apprentice ministers. With that person established as head of the mission, the British, Canadian, or American missionary would move on to the next group to set up a mission. The congregation left behind at the first mission would tithe, buy church publications, and provide funds to support future missions to their heathen brethren. At least on the face of it, this plan worked in many parts of the world.

In India, China, and various African countries, the Protestant missions provided access to the colonial power structure through education, English language training, and contacts, thus attracting willing potential converts. Additionally, countries with urban centers and ostracized communities also delivered willing populations to the Protestant mission system.

These factors did not exist in North America. The Indian populations were not urban, did not produce pariah groups, and often already possessed economic ties to the colonial structure, sometimes through previous contact with Catholic missionaries. Those that did not have a relationship with the colonial structure had rejected the opportunity in favor of remaining independent. Western Indian groups within North America remained mobile and could simply move to avoid the missionaries. One of the great weaknesses of most Protestant missionary societies in North America lay in their inability to provide an inroad into colonial power structures.

They did not follow the same pattern as Protestant missions in Africa and China, where converts often moved from the mission into the colonial bureaucracy. By the midth century, Protestant missionary societies discovered that the missions produced few converts, often in the single digits. This fact hampered the missionary efforts both psychologically and fiscally. Without converts to take over the missions, the missionary societies needed to keep recruiting white missionaries.

Without converts to tithe and add to the coffers of the churches, the missions, both Protestant and Catholic, became expensive.

Missions time line

The financial crisis led both Protestant and Catholic missionary societies into arrangements with the Canadian and U. They asked for treaties to solidify their hold on land and money for schools and churches. Both governments responded positively but with strings attached. They wanted to see results: assimilated Indians, a peaceful frontier, and more land available for white settlement. The missionaries failed on these fronts. Both sought to work with the government to stabilize fiscal support for their missions.

Church History Series, The Modern Missions Movement

And they established residential schools in the hope of converting and assimilating the next generation of Indians. Like other mission initiatives before them, these schools had benefits and losses for the Indians. Figure 3. The U. Though others had tried schools for Indians in the 17th and 18th centuries, Colonel Richard Henry Pratt pioneered them again in the 19th century. Under his initiative, the U. Both Catholic and Protestant missionaries ran schools. Some of the schools had abusive policies and teachers, which led to hard feelings between missionary groups and Indians for generations to come.

Over the first half of the 19th century, missionary societies moved from acting independently to relying on the U. It solidified under President Ulysses S.

This policy sought to fix the corruption in Indian policy and Indian agencies by removing political appointees from the positions and placing missionary societies, both Protestant and Catholic, in charge of it. While it was well intentioned, as Grant believed that the altruistic missionaries would put Indians and peace first, it failed utterly. Missionary societies fought over who would control which agencies, how much money they should be granted, and who would control the schools.

Additionally, missionaries discovered that the U. Indians were not given a choice of which missionary group would control their agency or reservation, nor were they given a voice in the policy. By the s, political appointments and the civil service took over the reservations. By the last quarter of the 19th century, Protestant missionary societies reduced their workforce in North America.

As the conversion rate remained relatively low compared with the rest of the world, the missionary societies focused their personnel and finances elsewhere. Missions closed, or sponsoring societies turned them over to their respective governments.

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Slowly, the various Protestant groups withdrew from their mission work with Indians, though not completely. Despite this withdrawal, well into the 20th century Protestant groups continued to consider native churches as mission churches, limiting their self-governance and input into denominational organizations. Catholic and Protestant missions differed significantly in their theology, their staffing, their history, and their structures.

The two traditions, however, shared much in the effects that their missions had on the Indian populations.

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Missions to the Indians of North America created two types of effects: those from the perspective of the missionary and those from the perspective of the Indians. Often the missions produced unintended, long-lasting consequences that shaped future choices and interactions for the Indian groups. Both Catholic and Protestant missionaries approached mission work in the same way.

They came to preach the Gospel and teach Indians about civilization. Individual missionaries saw themselves as models of Christian behavior and standards and hoped to influence the Indians by their actions. Catholic orders expected their missionaries to resist temptation with Indian women.

History of Missions – Global Opportunities for Christ | Charlottesville, Virginia

Protestant groups sent wives with their missionaries to model the Christian family for the Indian groups. Missionary societies promoted missionaries as the exemplars of a Christian lifestyle. They entered Indian villages with the belief that their daily actions would help teach and lead Indians to Christ. Be it sexual tensions for the Catholic priests or the fact that seminomadic groups continued to travel on the Sabbath for the Protestants, individual missionaries fought to create what they considered a Christian environment on the frontier of conversion.

Figure 4. Additionally, both Catholic and Protestant missionaries believed that the Indian groups with whom they worked had adopted unchristian and uncivilized practices from the heathenish whites around them. Both Catholic and Protestant missionaries created schools and towns where they could isolate converts and potential converts from the evils of native life and heathenish whites. This practice extended well into the 19th century and developed into the reserve and reservation systems we know today. Catholic and Protestant missionaries believed that isolating converts would make the process easier and protect them, but they were rarely able to isolate all of the Indians.

A History of Christian Missions in China

Only those willing to convert or those who needed the mission for protection or food entered the missions. Mission communities always represented a mixed society: mission Indians, nonmission Indians, and mixed-blood members of the community. Ironically, these communities, whether missions in the Southwest or praying villages in the Northeast, often became targets for white anger and violence. To support their missions, both sets of missionaries relied mainly on Euro-Americans for financial support, despite hopes that the Indians would take over the cost of their own conversion.

Though the Catholics had more success getting Indians to contribute to the church, those contributions never made up enough of the budget to fully fund the missions. During the Spanish period, Indians helped run the missions, working in the fields and other industries to support the missions. In the 19th century, Protestants expected Indians to use their money from trade to tithe to the mission and buy supplies, like Bibles. This deficit led both Catholic and Protestant missionaries to turn to their respective governments, Spanish, French, English, and American, to help underwrite the costs of missions.

Sometimes this support came in an overt form: money, soldiers, transportation.

At other times, it was more subtle: government permission to start a mission, treaty rights granting annuities directly to the missionaries, and the like. In all cases, it blurred the line between church and state. Furthermore, throughout the 19th century, the relationship between the U. In the early 19th century, the U.

By the s, the U. With the birth of the Peace Policy under President Grant, missionaries took a prominent role in government efforts to civilize the Indians and therefore terminate their land rights. In some cases, missionaries joined the government as advisers. In other cases, they acted as lobbyists. Those who began to work for the government often did so after years of mission work and the realization that most politicians did not represent the needs and desires of the Indian groups.

In rare and extreme cases, they sought to change policy by simply ignoring it.

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In the end, though, Catholic and Protestant missionary societies and individual missionaries attempted to influence government policy. Outside of serving in specific government roles, such as Indian agents or treaty negotiators, Catholic and Protestant missionaries became respected ethnographers, linguists, and early anthropologists. They studied Indian societies intensely to better understand how to dismantle them.