Chapter 2 1800-1918: The Late Ottoman Period and Enlightenment Missionaries
What was the socio-political and cultural framework limiting the options of the Enlightenment missionary enterprise?
Missionaries, like all human beings, are prisoners of their own culture, and the 19th century American and British missionaries to the Ottoman Empire were no exception. Who were these creatures, “Enlightenment Missionaries to the Middle East”? What constituted the “aroma” they carried with them from their home countries? What were the foundational elements of their ministry and what shaped their value system, worldview and theology? Were they ambassadors of Christ, or of Western social values? What molded their thinking and behavior, and what was the context in which they found themselves in Ottoman lands? These are questions of great importance, for the foundations these missonaries laid continue to affect the structure of the modern missionary enterprise and, as such, are basic to our understanding of contemporary efforts to the region.
19th Century Missionaries’ Socio-political, Cultural and Theological Framework Let us, first of all, look at the worldview of Enlightenment missionaries to the Ottoman Empire.
Reasonable Methods Guarantee Progress
The Enlightenment ushered in the age of reason. This elevation of reason led to the idea that all problems were in principle solvable through the free competition of rational individuals pursuing their own happiness. The notion that people could become “reasonable human beings” and that all problems were, in principle, solvable became a source of great missionary optimism; “undeveloped” people could be coaxed to abandon their “backward” state and progress to “modernism”, a “unilinear process that would operate naturally in every culture” (Bosch 2003:265). The emphasis on reason meant that missionary methods and endeavors had to “make sense”. In 1844, for example, the American Board explained its desire to launch a work in Lebanon because the country was “eminently accessible” and boasted a “healthy climate” (Missions to Syria, AR 1844:123), and because its various sects were clustered in villages, were of a “friendly disposition” (:124) and keen to receive a missionary education (:125). Furthermore, its people enjoyed talking about religion: “if religion is not the subject of conversation, the fault is ours more than theirs”, and they “breathe the atmosphere of freedom from their birth” (:125).
(Its people) understand the principles of organization, control and combination; and can meet and organize and discuss, and devise, and execute, whether it be to open a school, or build a church, or pay a debt… or defend themselves from injustice or oppression. They do all these things, and much more, with tact, skill and efficiency (1844:125).
Even if the people were divided into different sects, they were counted as one race, Arabs, with a common language, and common customs and social conditions (:123). The country, would, it was held, become a gateway to the rest of the Arab world (:125). The reasons seemed to make so much sense, that “it appears to us that to question, and falter, and doubt whether such a community is competent to receive and perpetuate the institutions of the Gospel, is… to betray an unbelief utterly inexcusable in a missionary” (1844:125). Not believing that reasonable action would lead to missionary advance was akin to unbelief.
Reason also dictated the ABCFM’s momentous decision to try to reach the Ottoman Empire’s Muslim majority by reviving the ancient Orthodox churches. Eli Smith, one of the Board’s first missionaries to the region, put the case as follows:
There are millions of men, sunk in ignorance and sin to a degree that makes the present salvation of any hopeless. Though bearing the same holy name by which you are called, and inhabiting places consecrated by apostle’s feet, they are still so degenerate that “the name of God is blasphemed among the gentiles through them,” and Moslems confirmed in the errors of the false prophet. The Christianity they profess has lost the essential principles of the gospel; its beneficial influence has ceased; it is despised and oppressed. Need you an array of argument, and power of eloquence to make you listen to their call upon your Christian sensibilities? (Smith MH October 1833:386)
In other words, the need to revive the Orthodox churches before ministering to Muslims was self-evident. The logic of this strategy was underscored in the Board’s 1839 Annual Report:
To think of exerting much salutary influence on the Mohammedan mind, while the native Christian churches remain as they are, is out of the question… The Mohammedan confidently asserts the Koran to be more excellent than the Bible, and his own religion than the gospel. In vain do we reply, that the native Christians have lost the knowledge and spirit of the gospel, and that their immoral lives are therefore in no sense the effect of the gospel. The Mohammedan has never seen any other effect, and he will not read the Bible to correct the evidences of his senses, and perhaps too of his painful experience. He treats that holy book with the contempt he feels for its professed followers. Hence a comprehensive and wise system of effort for the conversion of the Mohammedans of western Asia, will embrace a system of effort for the spiritual renovation of the oriental churches. These churches must be reformed. Lights must be made to burn once more upon those candlesticks that remain. The fire of a pure Christianity must be rekindled upon those Christian altars… In the mind of the Moslem, Christianity must cease to be associated with all that is mean and contemptible (Western Asia, AR 1839:75-76).
Both the Board and, later, the Presbyterians believed that the spread of “Christian knowledge” through education was fundamental toward achieving the desired reforms. The Board attempted to start a school “for the education of Syrian females” as early as 1824 (Palestine Mission, MH 1827:33), and would, as we will see, build an extensive network of schools in order to “create the conditions for preaching the gospel” by introducing a higher culture which would, it was hoped, “facilitate the acceptance of the higher religion—Christianity” (Bosch 2003:297). This reasoning, applied as it was to the marginalized Orthodox Christian tribes of Anatolia, led to an empowerment which, as we shall see, would have catastrophic results.
Ango-Saxon Protestantism > Cultural Superiority > Racial Superiority
Startling scientific and technological advances during the 19th century enabled Western societies to take the lead in virtually every field of inquiry. This led pre-World War I Anglo-Saxon Protestantism to presume the divinely ordained superiority of their culture. That sentiment gradually evolved into the conviction that God, in His providence, had chosen them, because of their unique qualities, to be standard-bearers of His divine purposes to the ends of the world, and that they thus had an exceptional role to play in the advancement of the kingdom of God (Bosch 2003:299). The same gospel which had made Western nations strong and great, would do the same for other nations. The General Secretary of the ABCFM stated the sentiment clearly:
It is now the English language, saturated with Christian ideas, gathering up into itself the best thought of all the ages, that is the great agent of Christian civilization throughout the world; at this moment affecting the destinies and moulding the character of half the human race. French influence, so dominant in the literary world, has passes away. The encyclopedists have left but the shadow of a name. The Nazarene has triumphed (A Century, AR 1876:xxiii).
The gospel would soften manners, purify social intercourse, and lead to civilized life (Bosch 2003:293). It would open the doors to the “abundant life” available in “Christian countries” which, according to Leslie Newbigin, was interpreted as “the abundance of the good things that modern education, healing and agriculture would provide for the deprived people of the world” (quoted in 2003:293). These virtues would be realized through the efficient implementation of various Western-directed programs run in a business-like manner (:319).
Interestingly, both theological liberals (social gospellers) and conservatives (fundamen-talists) shared the assumption that Christianity was essential for a healthy civilization. Although at home the rift between conservatives and liberals would grow ever larger, on the mission field both were committed to the propagation of Western culture (2003:297). The Protestant community, whether in Victorian Britain or 19th century America, made little attempt to differentiate between Western religious and cultural supremacy—what applied to one belonged axiomatically to the other. As early as 1816 the American Board, which would, in time, operate the largest, most sustained and consistent missionary program in the Ottoman Empire, described its objectives as “civilizing and Christianizing” (:296). S. W. Koelle, for over twenty-five years a CMS missionary to Egypt, Palestine and Turkey during the late Ottoman period, believed that “a spiritual potency so mighty, intense, and salutary, as Christianity… will bring its benefits… to the nation at large as a first-rate public power” (1888:466).
Surely the national character and political aspect which Christianity assumed in the course of providentially ordered history, was nothing but its natural development, the legitimate outcome of its destiny for the whole world. Christianity national and political, is Christianity still, though in a wider circle and with a fuller scope than Christianity personal and ecclesiastical (Koelle 1888:467 italics in original).
The Board sought to enlist not only “Christians” but also those identified as “patriots” because “it was evident to all that American Christians were better equipped for the task than were others” (Bosch 2003:300). In the early years of its existence, it distinguished between darkness, blindness, superstition and ignorance among pagan nations, and light, vision, enlightenment, and knowledge in the West without clearly distinguishing between culture and its religion (:291-292). “Christianity… in its manhood… sought to pervade with its vigorous life the entire national organism, and to assert itself as a new national force amidst the peoples of mankind” (Koelle 1888:467).
The notion that Christianity would lead to civilization was reinforced by post-millennialism, the dominant eschatological position in virtually all Anglo-Saxon Protestant denominations prior to World War I. It held that God’s kingdom would unfold gradually and mature in an organic way. Slowly but steadily evil passions, licentiousness, injustice, strife and dissension would fade away. There would be no more war, famine, oppression, or slavery, whether at home or “on the mission fields”. This vision of the end times became a powerful missionary motive, particularly among the ever-optimistic Americans, many of whom saw themselves as inaugurators of a new order, an order which was conceived as a return to a pristine human condition. The kingdom of God was not future or otherworldly, but “here and now”; it was, in fact, already taking shape in the dramatic technical advances of North America (Bosch 2003:283). Thus, when, in the first half of the 19th century, Protestant missionaries headed for the Ottoman empire, they were confident they had something to offer the Sultan’s benighted peoples, and that these people would eagerly embrace their charity (:289-290). However, this attitude bred feelings of spiritual superiority which led to a condescending benevolence towards nationals, including national Christians (i.e., the Orthodox churches).
As evangelicalism became a respected power in the U.S. and Britain in the course of the 19th century, missionaries grew in social stature. Universities began graduating growing numbers of missionary volunteers who gradually replaced their predecessors from humbler backgrounds.
This new force, “conscious of its assets and imbued with the desire to save the world, as a matter of course took charge wherever it went” (Bosch 2003:307). They arrived with clear ideas about what was best for the ‘young’ churches, had a lower esteem of ‘native’ talents and capabilities, and a greater propensity towards racism than had been evident before the mid-nineteenth century. “Unaware of the ‘pagan flaws’ in their own culture during this age of the ‘white man’s burden’ the white patrons saw themselves as the guardians of less-developed races whom they would gradually educate to maturity” (:307-308). They, even more than their predecessors, felt responsible for the rest of “uncivilized” humanity (:313).
This introduced a new element into inter-civilization relations, notably the categorization of people according to western-defined levels of civilization, as opposed to the division of people into religious communities. One of the determining factors in that categorization of civilizations was ethnicity or race, an issue which concerned the first wave of missionaries much less. They may have had little appreciation of Islam, but were not racist. The Board’s Annual Report of 1814 said, for instance, that “Persians and Arabians rank as high in the scale of intellect as any people in the world; and, if truly converted, would become very useful to the cause of Christianity” (Newell AR 1814:111). As we saw earlier, the Lebanese were also described as intelligent, organized, able to stand up for themselves and to carry a project through to completion “with tact, skill and efficiency” (Mission to Syria, AR 1844:125). The next generation of university educated missionaries were not predisposed that way (Bosch 2003:294). The memoirs of Joseph Greene, a preacher, school administrator and editor of the Board’s weekly Armenian newspaper Avedar in Istanbul for decades prior to World War I, for example, contain some startingly racist references: “Lack of moral principle is the greatest defect of the Turkish character… the lack of honest, unselfish, trustworthy, and truly patriotic men is the greatest misfortune of Turkey. Turkish children are not taught to be truthful and pure, and in after life they seldom change for the better” (1916:16-17; see also 15). An article in the missionary periodical The Moslem World declares, essentially, that Turks are leeches:
Few will now regret the disappearance of the Turk from Europe. His record is stained with cruelty and oppression. He had learnt little through all the ages, and has never attempted to benefit or to provide with decent conditions of life the people he rules over. He is content to live upon them, so long as he can extract tribute money to condone every form of injustice and oppression… If history teaches any lesson, it is that the Turk should not be allowed to dominate over any alien people. The dominion of Turkey must extend over Turks alone (Whitehouse MW 1916:55).
The author goes on to state that “It is as though all history means nothing to the Turk, or as if the progress of civilization stops before the religion, the philosophy, the fatalism of the Turk” (:56). The ABCFM missionary Henry Otis Dwight also expressed his very low opinion of the intellectual abilities of ‘Mohammedans’ (Dwight 1901:49-51), pointing out that “it was an Asiatic to whom God once said ‘Thou fool’ (:161). He maintained that “the man of Constantinople is the same in essential thought and aim as his fellow in China. The commonplaces of Western civilization are absent in both” (:164). Furthermore, when the Turk compares his own country with the West, “it never occurs to him that, by choosing such types of highest development of man, Asia and Islam are rendering an interesting and suggestive homage to Christianity and the West” (:167).
The Muslim insistence on male-female segregation was a frequent subject of criticism. This was partly due to the fact that the missionary community was ahead of its own culture, indeed, of their own sponsoring churches, with respect to their empowerment of women. In fact the leading role of women in missions, “far earlier than they would in most other walks of life” constituted “the first feminist movement in North America… They went out, literally to the ends of the earth, no longer just as the wives of missionaries but as missionaries in their own right” (Bosch 2003:328). Women, including singles, rose to significant positions as school principals and medical doctors in the American Board. By 1901 they formed the majority of the Board’s force in Constantinople (Dwight 1901:270). Missionaries thus naturally found the position of Middle Eastern women irritating: “In the mosque not a single female was to be seen in the whole assembly. Oh how infinitely superior to all other systems is pure Christianity, where there is neither male nor female, but all are one in Christ!” (Temple MH June 1835:221).
Vital… to the success of the missionary enterprise in the Turkish Empire is the social and moral enfranchisement of woman. The great offense of Islam against the highest civilization of mankind, and constituting a bar to all true progress, is the treatment of woman. Woman, the drudge and slave of man in this life, is denied the hope of immortality, because denied even the possession of a soul (The Gospel, AR 1878:xxiii).
Dwight also took great exception to the position of Muslim women, devoting some 39 pages to “The Woman Question” (1901:86-125). His “fair average view” (:111) of Turkish women is that they are “kept in seclusion” and exist for the sake of the man only” (:101), who views her to be “of scant sense and of less honesty of purpose. To restrain her evil tendencies therefore he encloses her within lattices and throws such barriers about the house as he can devise” (:101). Dwight goes on to describe her as “childish in tastes and thoughts and feelings” (:88), wearing her night-clothes “during the whole time they are occupied with household duties”, thus “presenting a spectacle of unkempt carelessness which would scare any self-respecting man from the place” (:106). They “resist with a bitter resistance all that is new and untried” (:89), are “generally under the sway of superstitions and ancient paganism” (:116), and are viewed by society as “a mere animal to be disposed of at will”.
1. The Research Problem, Paradigm and Literature Review
1.1. The research problem
1.2. The purpose
1.3. Paradigms: Bosch’s enlightenment missionary & Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” applied to missions to the Middle East
1.4. Parameters of study
1.6. Literature review
1.9 Deliniation of Chapters
2. 1800-1918: The Late Ottoman Period and Enlightenment Missionary
2.1. What was the socio-political and cultural framework limiting the options of the Enlightenment missionary enterprise?
2.2. What were the missionary goals and strategies?
2.3. The popular response to the missionary enterprise
2.4. What were/are the missiological implications?
3. 1919-1946: Arab Nationalism and the Veterans
3.1. What was the socio-political and cultural framework limiting the options of the veteran’s missionary enterprise?
3.2. What were the veteran missionary goals and strategies?
3.3. What was the response to the missionary enterprise?
3.4. What were the missiological implications?
4. 1947-1979: Pre-Boomers Give Way to Boomers and The Arab World Moves onto the World Stage
4.1. What was the socio-political and cultural framework limiting the options of the missionary enterprise?
4.2. What were the missionary goals and strategies?
4.3. What was the popular response to the missionary enterprise?
4.4. What were/are the missiological implications?
5. 1979-present: Islamic Fundamentalism, Political Frustration, and the emergence of the GenX missionary
5.1. What was the socio-political and cultural framework limiting the options of the missionary enterprise?
5.2. What were the missionary goals and strategies?
5.3. What was the popular response to the missionary enterprise?
5.4. What were/are the missiological implications?
6. The Way Forward: Church-centered New Testament Spirituality
6.1. Reasons why Muslims convert
6.2. Why church-centered?
6.3. Church-centered New Testament spirituality as a missionary method
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