When Sammy Davis, Jr., (1925-90) once heard someone complaining about discrimination, he said, “You got it easy. I’m a short, ugly, one-eyed, black Jew. What do you think it’s like for me?” It is not nearly as serious, but I can identify a little bit with Davis, for I am a retired, Southern Baptist missionary (and maybe ugly, too).
From time to time during these last several years, I have sensed some negativity because of being retired. People my age and older who are still in a full-time job are respected more highly, it seems, than those of us who are (basically) retired from similar positions.
And then if Christian has become a “dirty word,” as I wrote about on my October 20 posting, Southern Baptist is viewed even more negatively by many people. In fact, it is the fundamentalist bent of many contemporary Southern Baptist leaders that has helped tarnish the name Christian. I am no longer a Southern Baptist, partly for that reason, but that doesn’t change the past.
But perhaps the most negative of all is the designation missionary. I have felt some disdain even from fellow church members because of my having been a career missionary. And the word missionary is rarely used in church meetings any more, except for the ladies in Women on Mission.
My church is affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which has a Global Missions program, but they send and support field personnel rather than missionaries. And our church has a Missions Support Committee and talks a lot about mission activities, which are usually activities in which members participate, but rarely about missionaries. For a long time now, the only positive thing I remember hearing said about missionaries was by the pastor of the First Haitian Baptist Church who preached last month and expressed appreciation for the missionaries who went to his country.
This is in the middle of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering emphasis of the Southern Baptist Convention, and I feel rather nostalgic for the time when I could go to churches at this time of the year and talk about the joy of being a missionary and to thank them for their support of missionaries across the world, men and women who were seeking to be incarnational servants of Christ in other lands—as, indeed, Lottie Moon and many others were and are.
But through the years too many missionaries have been too closely aligned with colonialism and with imperialistic policies, of both church and state. And too many missionaries have been insensitive to local customs and culture, although perhaps there are not as many missionaries like that as some think.
In addition, the growing emphasis on religious pluralism and the postmodern emphasis on relativism have resulted in widespread negativity especially toward missionaries serving in evangelistic activities. If missionary work is approved at all, it is more and more only that which is directed toward meeting the physical needs of people and primarily by those who go on short mission trips.
I am sad that missionary, even more than Christian, has, alas, seemingly become a “dirty word” to many even within the church.