Colonialism and Christian Mission

WIlliam Wilberforce - an unfinished work

William Wilberforce – working for India’s freedom
William Wilberforce was, as yet, unable to change the policy of the British with respect to missionaries going to India.

Parliament refused to change their Indian policy to include ‘religious improvement’ as Wilberforce had hoped.

It’s interesting to note that the hero of the abolition of slavery bill was also directly involved in bringing the Christian gospel to India. Wilberforce was a Christian first and a politician second.

Servants of the British Empire intervene to stop Christian missionaries
Carey attempted, perhaps in response to John Newton’s bad advice, to sail to India without a visa (or licence, as they called it then). But, although the Captain of the ship had allowed Carey to board, when a warning of legal action came from the British authorities, Carey and the team has to disembark.

They watched in tears, as the only apparent means of their getting to India pulled out of the harbour – without them!

At this point Carey actually considered getting to India by land – a journey that could take many months.

The Adventure – The Hardship – Begins
Finally good news – a non-British ship, a Danish ship, was sailing to India and would take them. Finally there was a way round the Empire’s resistance to missions.

And a further answer to prayer was that, after much persuading, Dorothy Carey, her sister, and all the children had agreed to join William and the others in the first modern attempt to take the liberating message of the gospel to the people of India.

Colonialism and Christianity
Many continue to assert that European missionaries were merely the puppets of colonialists and empire builders. But William Carey’s story surely proves that this was by no means the whole truth.

Perhaps there were some hopeless, arrogant, religious manipulators who were actually serving money rather than God and who didn’t care for local culture. But I doubt that there were many. The fact is that this was a tough and notoriously uncomfortable assignment – with little money involved.

The reality is probably that many genuine missionaries were making the most of the opportunity to take the good news of Jesus Christ, promoting His kingdom, rather than promoting the British or other Empires.

And these good guys doubtless made the kind of cultural mistakes and faux pas that we still make today, in business globally, as well as in assessing and understanding other cultures.

That Carey was no destroyer of local language or culture will be seen in future posts. For now, though, it was a great relief for him just to be on the way.

They sailed at 3am on June 13, 1793

More next time…

To read from the beginning of William Carey’s story click here

© 2011 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

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