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Last Reason: Questionable Schemes

The majority of missionaries in Asia built schools and taught European languages and Western science, administered medicines and vaccines, performed surgeries, and facilitated many other valuable services.

Last Reason: Missionaries involved themselves in questionable schemes.  

A few Christian missionaries involved themselves in questionable schemes, knowing or unknowingly.  Some pocketed money from their parishes at home meant to benefit Asians and vacationed instead.  Some refused to administer desperately needed supplies and medicine unless the person became Christian, otherwise known as forced conversion.  Some missionaries interpreted for Opium smugglers paving the way for the drug to penetrate deeper into the interior of China.  Some acted as missionaries while secretly working for European governments aimed at undermining Asian states and ultimately at colonization.

Asians had reasons for distrusting European and American missionaries.

Take a look at this Al Jazeera report about missionaries working in Thailand in 2009.

Source: Lovell, Julia. The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China. London, Picador 2011. Pgs 26-27
Source: Bacon, George. Siam: The Land of the White Elephant as it was and is. Compiled and arranged by George Bacon. Revised by Frederick Wells Williams. New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1893.
Take a look at this blog post: The Influence of Early American Missionaries in the Development of Northern Siam.

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2 Responses to Last Reason: Questionable Schemes

  1. Clark 17 April 2013 at 3:02 am #

    Currently, an “inconsequential” 0.6% of Thailand’s population is Christian. If there were no “questionable schemes” by “controversial” missionaries in Siam in the 1850’s, would the number of
    Christian converts be unchanged — or substantially more (or less)? If it had a negligible affect on conversion rates to Christianity, would this indicate the attitudes and actions of Christian missionaries in the 1850’s had no appreciable impact on Siamese perception of Christian ideology?

    • admin 17 April 2013 at 2:23 pm #

      Thank you Clark for your perceptive comment. Indeed if the question were why missionaries are successful or unsuccessful you would be right. There is no direct correlation between missionaries involved in questionable schemes and missionary success. From the information provided, there is no obvious relationship at all. However, the argument is not that missionaries would be more successful if they avoided questionable schemes in Siam. The argument is that Christianity as a religion in Asia is controversial.
      The are multiple factors as to why Christianity is controversial in Asia. The reasons herein stated are not an exhaustive list of reasons or are necessarily the main reasons. Asian rulers themselves chose religions they fostered among their people and religions they discouraged.
      The question now becomes why might they discourage some religions and not others. Theravada Buddhism, for example, is not native to Siam but Siamese kings adopted it. They may adopt a religion because it fits more directly with Siamese culture than Christianity rather than because Christianity is controversial.
      However, the argument then is, why is Christianity not as culturally fitting as Buddhism? Are Asians looking at Christianity through a European lens? If Christianity came from a Palestinian/Asian origin, might Asians be able to interpret Christianity in a uniquely Asian way and therefore make it much more culturally consumable?
      If the majority of Asians who reject Christianity are reluctant to look at its original Palestinian roots for widespread adoption, why might this be the case?
      Is it because Christianity is perceived as European? Is it because Missionaries promoting Christianity were involved in questionable schemes and therefore tying Christianity with governments and schemes that tainted the religion in popular perception? Is Christianity controversial enough to make it unpopular to even consider as an Asian alternative to other Asian religions? Why is that?
      Missionaries themselves may not have been successful in Siam simply because the King did not endorse Christianity as a religion. The King did endorse Christian missionaries, however, to teach Western knowledge and medicine. When endorsed by the King, they were successful in their efforts.
      One other note. What happens in the rest of Asia also affects Siamese perceptions and specifically the King’s perceptions which become paramount to what happens in the country. In 1852, missionaries in China were facilitating the opium trade and dispersal. (See source for Opium War.) Wise Siamese Kings took note of the undermining of China’s coast by foreigners including missionaries and took steps to prevent further penetration into his own country. Missionaries, therefore, would be among those he would want to watch. He did monitor those missionaries as we will see.

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