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Reevaluating the Longterm Effects of Protestant Missions

11 Dec

Our association of Christian missionaries with the monstrous colonial past is so absolute that we can be taken aback to find them still popping up in the occasional news report today – in relation to the fight against Ebola in West Africa, for example, or when Australian missionaries Ken and Jocelyn Elliott were kidnapped by an Islamist group in Burkina Faso last year. Journalist Brian Palmer, in an article written at the peak of the Ebola crisis in 2014, voiced a discomfort many readers no doubt share with the ongoing presence of missionaries on the frontlines of healthcare in Africa and elsewhere. “It’s great that these people are doing God’s work,” he wrote, “but do they have to talk about Him so much?”

Sociologist Robert Woodberry has been working on the global impact of missionaries for more than fifteen years, from the time he was a graduate student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. And the results of his research have been shocking, even to him. He says:

“If on average missionaries were like the people in The Poisonwood Bible, for example – just very destructive of the cultures where they went – we would expect to find the places where there were more missionaries per capita, where missionaries had a longer period of service, and places where they were more free to do whatever they wanted to be worse. But we don’t find that. We find exactly the opposite.”

Statistical modelling and deep-dive historical analysis together suggest a robust causal link between the presence of – particularly Protestant – missionaries during the colonial period and the health of nations today. The more missionaries that came, the longer they stayed, and the more freedom they had, the better the outcomes, even a century or two on. Woodberry checks these off: longer life expectancy, lower infant mortality, higher literacy and educational enrolment, more political democracy, lower corruption, higher newspaper circulation, higher civic participation, and on and on.

So writes Dr. Natasha Moore in her account of sociologist Robert Woodberry’s research on the ongoing effects of Christian mission work. For her entire post at the Australian Broadcast Corporation’s Religion & Ethics site, click here.


Mortar Found at “Jesus’ Tomb” Dates to the Constantine Era Read

29 Nov


In the year 325 A.D., according to historical sources, Constantine, Rome’s first Christian emperor, sent an envoy to Jerusalem in the hopes of locating the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. His representatives were reportedly told that Jesus’ burial place lay under a pagan temple to Venus, which they proceeded to tear down. Beneath the building, they discovered a tomb cut from a limestone cave. Constantine subsequently ordered a majestic church—now known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre—to be built at the site.

So begins Brigit Katz’s brief report at about recent archaeological work at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. You can read the entire post, with links, here.

The Other Reformation: How Martin Luther Changed Our Beer, Too

1 Nov

The protest movement Luther launched 500 years ago revamped not only how Europe worshipped but how it drank. We’d call him the patron saint of beer except, well, he wouldn’t like the “saint” part.

Source: The Other Reformation: How Martin Luther Changed Our Beer, Too : The Salt : NPR

Jerry Falwell Jr. relishes new fight for Donald Trump as Liberty University peaks

1 Nov

Falwell calls Liberty University the Fox News of academia. But where is one of President Trump’s staunchest supporters taking the university he and his family built? Rick Seltzer provides an extensive report on Falwell and LU; you can read it all at Inside Higher Ed here: Jerry Falwell Jr. relishes new fight for Donald Trump as Liberty University peaks

How the Protestant Reformation led to Martin Luther King, Jr.

31 Oct

His father changed the name of the famed civil rights leader after a visit to Germany. Read Mika Edmundson’s fascinating story about this here: How the Protestant Reformation led to Martin Luther King, Jr. – The Washington Post

The Reformation and the Rise of Science

30 Oct

There was nothing inevitable about the emergence and consolidation of Western science. Part of the explanation for science turning out the way it did has to do with the religious reformations of the sixteenth century. Read Peter Harrison’s fascinating essay on this here: The Reformation and the Rise of Science – Opinion – ABC Religion & Ethics (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Shootout at the OK Corral – Oct 26, 1881

26 Oct

The Tombstone Epitaph, founded by J.P. Clum, covered the OK Corral shootout.

Shootout at the OK Corral on Oct 26, 1881. Wyatt Earp and his brothers were Dutch Americans and, at one time, residents of Pella, Iowa. Another Dutch American was John P. Clum, who in 1881 was the Mayor of Tombstone. While the Earps were not religiously affiliated, Clum was. He was raised in his native New York in the Reformed Church in America. Once in the West, since he could find no Reformed congregations, he became Presbyterian. He and Wyatt Earp kept in touch afterward even as they went their separate ways.

Learn more about what happened at the OK Corral here: Shootout at the OK Corral – Oct 26, 1881 –

Learn more about John P. Clum in my article on him, of which you can find a pdf here.

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