Skip to content

Missionaries, the News Media and Normalizing White Saviorism in West Michigan

July 13, 2018

It is no secret that in West Michigan, christian missionary work is just like breathing air. We don’t think about it, it is just part of the dominant cultural reality.

In fact, Grand Rapids was built upon the work of christian missionaries, which were part of the settler colonial project to remove or assimilate indigenous communities living along the Grand River. 

With some 800 churches in Grand Rapids, and hundreds more in surrounding communities, christian mission work still dominates the local landscape. Some christian groups do mission work in urban core areas, others go to impoverished areas around the country, while others make it a point to leave the US and spread the “good news” about their religion……..and how wonderful American and Americans are.

In fact, christian missions is just an extension of christian hegemony, which is the theme of an important book by Paul Kivel, entitled, Living in the Shadow of the Cross. The Christian Hegemony Project defines christian hegemony as: 

The everyday, pervasive, deep-seated, and institutionalized dominance of Christian institutions, Christian values, Christian leaders, and Christians as a group.

One recent example of christian hegemony was a story that was reported on WOOD TV 8 a few days ago, about some christian missionaries who just got back from Haiti, after fleeing violence. The channel 8 story frames the issue as the missionaries got out safely, despite the dangerous situation they were in. WOOD TV 8 reported

Roads were also blocked around the resort in Carries where the Lowell missionaries were staying. The group was ready to head home Sunday, but hunkered down in its secure hotel after the airport about an hour away closed.

Channel 8 mentioned that the christian missionaries were from a church in Lowell (Impact Church), who were partnering with a group in Grand Rapids called Starfysh. Impact Church is a Wesleyan Church and Starfysh appears to be non-denominational. 

What is instructive about the channel 8 story is that they never question why people from Lowell are in Haiti, not do they question what they are actually doing with the people of Haiti. Christian mission work is so normal that the news media doesn’t need to ask these basic questions, because, of course the mission groups are there to “do good.”

The group Starfysh does make it a point to say on their website that they are non-political. “We do not take positions on Haitian politics nor do we attempt to influence political discourse.” The fact is, the organization’s very presence in Haiti is political, whether they like it or not, and they are operating in a long standing tradition of US policy that has been essentially punishing Haiti ever since they won independence in the early part of the 19th Century. We pointed this dynamic out in a short video in 2010, after a Bush/Clinton ad was being used to collect money after the 2010 earthquake.

By not questioning the motives of the christian mission group, channel 8 is essentially normalizing white saviorism, making the presence of white christians from Lowell in Haiti, like it was just another day in the life of white christians.

We can not accept, nor assume, that white christian missionaries are ever involved in anything that is in the best interest of the people they claim to be helping. It is urgent that we come to terms with this reality and begin to provide a different narrative around the role of christian hegemony and white saviorism.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: