Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Are Missionaries Idiots and Narcissists?: a Response to Ann Coulter

As a Fox News enthusiast, I have always had respect for Ann Coulter.  Her style is often brash and cynical, but her content is always good.  That's why her post of this past week was shocking.

The headline on her website this past Wednesday was "Ebola Doctor's Condition Downgraded to 'Idiotic'."  She is writing about Dr. Kent Brantly along with his co-worker Nancy Writebol.  They are the medical missionaries to Liberia who while ministering to Ebola victims contracted the disease themselves and had to be flown home to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

Ann Coulter's criticism of Dr. Brantly and Mrs. Writebol may be summarized under three points.  These three speak to a broader question concerning Christian missions.

1.  Christian missions is idiotic.

It is hard to believe that Ann Coulter could write such stuff, but she did.  She questions why missionaries are in Africa in the first place.  After all, it's dangerous.  After all, America is a mission field in the first place.

She writes, "Why did Dr. Brantly have to go to Africa? The very first "risk factor" listed by the Mayo Clinic for Ebola -- an incurable disease with a 90 percent fatality rate -- is: "Travel to Africa."   Can't anyone serve Christ in America anymore?  No -- because we're doing just fine. America, the most powerful, influential nation on Earth, is merely in a pitched battle for its soul." 

She alleges misplaced priorities.  If, she says, Dr. Brantly had practiced in Los Angeles and won one media mogul to Christ, he would have done more than "anything he could accomplish in a century spent in Liberia."  Why? Because America is influential whereas a Third World cesspool (those are her words) is not.

As another option, Dr. Brantly, according to her, should have stayed home in Zavala County, Texas (one of the poorest counties in the nation) rather than fly around the world to take care of strangers.

2.  Christian missions wastes money.

Ms. Coulter begins her article talking about money.  "I wonder how the Ebola doctor feels now that his humanitarian trip has cost a Christian charity much more than any services he rendered.  What was the point?  Whatever good Dr. Kent Brantly did in Liberia has now been overwhelmed by the more than $2 million already paid by the Christian charities Samaritan's Purse and SIM USA just to fly him and his nurse home in separate Gulfstream jets, specially equipped with medical tents, and to care for them at one of America's premier hospitals."

I have no idea how she came up with this equation, but she did.  In her opinion, not only was this mission wrong-headed, it was a waste of perfectly good money.  

3.  Christian missions is narcissistic.

Her most scathing comments are aimed at motive.  Why would anyone do such an idioticly wasteful thing as try to help Liberians?

With typical caustic insight, Ms. Coulter says that "serving the needy in some deadbeat town in Texas wouldn't have been 'heroic.'"  Accusing all of us, she writes, "Which explains why American Christians go on 'mission trips' to disease-ridden cesspools. They're tired of fighting the culture war in the U.S., tired of being called homophobes, racists, sexists and bigots. So they slink off to Third World countries, away from American culture to do good works, forgetting that the first rule of life on a riverbank is that any good that one attempts downstream is quickly overtaken by what happens upstream." 

"Slink off!"

She calls Christian missions an exercise in cowardice.  Afraid to fight the culture wars, timid souls "slink off" to dangerous places in hopes of being called heroes.

She calls this "Christian narcissism."

What Can We Say?

It is obvious that Ann Coulter has never heard of something called THE GREAT COMMISSION (Matt. 28:19-20).  

Her words are insulting and offensive.  But, she betrays an attitude not unlike many that circulate regularly around the Church.  She simply said it more rudely.  Sanely, we need to answer these questions.

Is it wrong to go?

Over the years, I have done my share of trips to the foreign field.  I have heard it many times: "Why are we going over there when we have so much need here at home?"  One time years ago, we were gathering toys to take to an orphanage in Mexico.  One individual brought in a trunk load, but put a condition on the gift, "I don't want any of these toys to go out of the USA.  They all are to be given away here in Monroe."  We asked the person to please go ahead and give them away, but could not include them in our effort.

Underneath this attitude is the premise that we should not try to help anyone else until we have helped ourselves.  "When we get strong enough, we will then be able to really do some good."  "Our first priority is to get ourselves healthy, then maybe we can help someone else."  The biggest problems with this is, first off, you never get strong enough, and, secondly, it's totally un-Scriptural.

Jesus never said "Go when you get strong enough."  The Book of Acts is a continual picture of God pushing the Church to go -- no matter what.

Does it cost too much?

Missions is always an expensive affair.  Again, I've heard it a thousand times.  Why plant good people in far away places at great expense when that money would be put to greater use at home?  On the table here is a larger question.  Are those people we seek to reach WORTH IT?  

At the core of Christianity is the salient truth that God Himself spared no expense to reach you and me.  The self-sacrifice of Jesus put a price tag on human lives -- even "insignificant" humans like Liberians and Nigerians.  

Why do we go?

To me, the most shocking aspect of Ann Coulter's article is the allegation of cowardice and narcissism. Do some people go on missions to escape?  Probably.  It can be something like a heart-broken man fleeing to join the French Foreign Legion.   But, to cast question on all cross-cultural efforts as being exercises in self-adoration??!!

Church history is filled with inspiring stories of missionary exploits.  From William Carey to Hudson Taylor, from the Moravians to the "Auca Five", the Spirit of Jesus shines brightly in these tales of courage and commitment.

I believe we must re-commit ourselves to standing strong in America, loving our land, and caring for our own nation.  We must win back the heart of our country.  But in doing so, we cannot back away from our world mandate.  Jesus said, "Go into all the world..."  It will be costly.  It will be dangerous.  But, please let's not crucify and criticize our own.

God bless Dr. Kent Brantly and Mrs. Nancy Writebol.

1 comment:

  1. Hey! Hope all is well with your family. You're a fabulous writer. I enjoyed reading this post. Here are a few of my thoughts on some of the topics that Ms. Coulter covered.

    I've been a short term missionary to many countries and yet have always knowns about the short comings of missions. As per the risk: To risk your life in another country is grievous to me for multiple reasons. 1. It puts you in harms way often for the sake of ego.. not Christ. SO many things are done in the Name of Christ that simply never originated from Him. And I quote: "Lord, Lord, I've done all of these things in your name." And He responds: "Depart from Me, I never knew you." So, there is that. You know, the whole ... weigh those motives.. check in with your Abba Father. 2. It's not that trouble won't come, but when you're an American traipsing around volatile countries you make the trouble happen and put men at risk you have to rescue you. Put your country in an awkward position of having to negotiate or not with people who may kidnap you. Put your children or spouse at risk. RIGHT NOW I know of two men around my age and younger that are either taking their families into war zones "for the sake of the gospel" or leaving their wife of their youth and their children behind for the "sake of the gospel." Children aren't functioning adults. They need protection and someone to make logical and safe decisions for them and their welfare. Putting your own children into harm's way or their parents is madness and has nothing to do with what a real man, an alpha male would do to his family willingly. If your in the military and that's how you provide for your family, so be it. But if you are willy nilly traipsing all over the globe and endangering yourself and others, please consider seriously what you're doing.
    As per the cost: who cares about the cost?? What about the lives of the people there being ravaged by Ebola? A Doctor that has no family and wants to risk his life to save others makes perfect sense to me. That's his life. And if people want to donate, so be it.

    3. I'm not really following Ann's narcism comments. I'll probably have to read about it directly.
    I've often pondered the "great white hope" of white American colonizing the world to their own culture. There's been much written on the topic by other people. I believe there is a good bit also written on how to be a support to the local people. I agreed with that last train of thought whole heartedly. When I did missions, I many times supported the local efforts by the local indigenous people. That's what I approve of the most. Also, I've seen missionaries build something up and hand it over. That's cool too.

    Why do we go? God did wire some people to really click with other cultures. A missions gifting is being able to communicate your faith cross culturally wherever you are. Some Americans, etc., are just happier overseas. I have been one of those people. However, taking in risk factors as well as how it effects the people that I love has been important to me in my decision. I am, however, single and unattached so I've been able to come and go as I please without any children depending on me for their life.

    In short, Ann seems very clearly a logical thinker. I understand her points on risk. Some of her other points are lost in a misunderstanding of the gospel. You know, the one that calls and draws us to the far reaches of the Earth. I do find that God puts the logical thinkers in our paths for us to be able to process clearly. He also isn't a fan of idealism that flys straight off of the cliff and goes searching for Neverland with Peter Pan. We're called to grow up. We're called to minister. I will be a missionary again, Lord Willing. So, just some thoughts...

    Hope all is well.