Monday, Nov. 26, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Monday, November 26, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The morality of global missions: How should those in the developed world look at hunter-gatherer tribes?
The headlines came over the last several days and at first they seemed almost to have come from a distant century. And as is the case in so many stories, but this one in particular, the confusing became clarified only in the view of the secular world to become confusing again.
The early headlines, for example, came last Thursday in The New York Times, the simple headline was this, "Tribe Kills an American on Remote Indian Island." A team of reporters for The New York Times told us that John Allen Chau seemed to know exactly what he was about to do and that it was extremely dangerous.
"Mr. Chau," we are told, "an American thought to be in his 20s, was floating in a kayak off a remote island in the Andaman Sea. He was about to set foot on one of the most sealed-off parts of India, an island inhabited by a small, enigmatic and highly isolated tribe whose members have killed outsiders for simply stepping on their shore." The story continues, telling us that fishermen had warned him not to go. Few outsiders, we are told, had ever been there and Indian government regulations clearly prohibited any interaction with people on the island, which is known as North Sentinel.
The story unfolds, and we are told that Mr. Chau pressed ahead. He had made an arrangement with local fishermen to take him under cover of darkness to the area of these isolated islands off limits legally, according to the Indian government. We were then told that he had made some initial contact by kayak, only eventually to get to the shore, or close enough to the shore, where he was eventually shot with arrows by the tribes people on the island and the fishermen, who had been bribed to take him, saw the locals there bury the body on the shore.
But as the story unfolded, the very next day the headline changed from "Tribe Kills an American on Remote Indian Island," to the headline in The Wall Street Journal, "US Missionary Allegedly Is Killed By Isolated Tribe." The interesting thing to note here is that the young man who was killed was originally identified merely as an American. But within 24 hours, this American had been changed to US Missionary.
Corrinne Abrams and Rajesh Roy, reporters for The Wall Street Journal, in this story the day after the story broke, now we're talking about Friday's edition, they told the story this way, "As American missionary John Allen Chau sat aboard a boat near a remote island known for its violent inhabitants, he wrote a message to his mother and father he made clear might be his last."
Young Mr. Chau wrote, "You guys might think I'm crazy in all this, but I think it's worth it to declare Jesus to these people." He wrote that letter on November 16th. "Please," he said to his parents, "do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed, rather please live your lives in obedience to whatever he has called you to and I'll see you again." The reporters then say, "within a day Mr. Chau, 26 years old, was missing." Fishermen who took him to North Sentinel Island said they saw the body of someone resembling him being buried by tribe members.
What's described as his missionary purpose was also made clear later in The Journal's report. "In the journal that Mr. Chau kept, he wrote that he was on a mission to establish a kingdom of Jesus, that according to the director of police on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Instead, he died," says The Journal, "during a misplaced adventure in the highly restricted area." That's a quotation from an Indian government official. "The Islanders," The Journal tells us, "part of the Sentinelese Tribe, whose origins date back tens of thousands of years, have a long history of hostile reaction to outsiders." The Indian official, Mr. Pathak said, "They are very aggressive and violent, anyone trying to access the area gets showered with arrows."
Indian government officials indeed had made clear they had tried over a period of decades to make contact with the tribe, often flying near the island with helicopters, but even their helicopters can't get too close because as the helicopters approach, they are also showered with arrows.
But as we're thinking about this story, a really interesting dimension is how the story changed from an American being killed, being killed presumably as an adventurer, to a missionary being killed. The motivation, the intention, the context began to change within that 24 hour period. As I said, we have gone from confusion to clarity, but we've also gone into a different form of confusion. One of the new forms of confusion comes down to this question, was Mr. Chau doing something that is to be lauded and applauded and honored? Or was he doing something that amounts to a crime against humanity? That is a basic question even as most in the mainstream media have not been quite so brave as to ask the question that candidly.
Ashley May, reporting last Saturday in USA Today, had a story with the headline, "Missionary Had Nothing But Love For Remote Tribe." May reports, "An American missionary who traveled to an off-limits remote tribe in the Bay of Bengal left behind a diary that detailed his desire to evangelize the people who killed him."
"John Allen Chau, was killed by arrows, police said this week, after traveling to the Andaman Islands in North Sentinel, an Indian territory. In a diary shared with The Washington Post by Chau's mother, the adventurer from Washington state tells of how he 'hollered' at the isolated tribe: 'My name is John, I love you and Jesus loves you.' The entry also shares how a child shot at him with an arrow that pierced his waterproof Bible."
By Saturday, further details were also forthcoming, both in the form of letters and the journal that Mr. Chau kept, and in reports from the fishermen who had been bribed to take him. For example, there was a clear premeditation. He hired the fishermen, they decided to go under cover of darkness, the attributed the timing of the trip largely to maximum darkness. They also made very clear that Mr. Chau had taken with him several items that were intended as gifts to the inhabitants of the island in order to introduce himself and to be gracious in such a way that they might receive him even as, over the last several centuries, they have received no one else.
It was also clear that the fishermen who had been bribed to take him knew the dangers and weren't about to get close to the shore. There were some fishermen whose boat had become disabled, who had ended up on the shore only to be killed by the tribesmen some time ago. The fishermen undoubtedly knew about that and Mr. Chau instead had to bring along a kayak attached to the fishing boat. He would get into the kayak and eventually make contact with the inhabitants of the island from his kayak and eventually from the beach.
Also last Friday, The New York Times ran a full half-page in their print edition story on the issue with the headline, "Tribe That Killed American Has History of Guarding Island's Isolation." The team of reporters took us back to the late 19th century, when a British naval officer described "stepping onto a remote, coral-fringed island in the Andaman Sea and encountering one of the world's most enigmatic hunter-gatherer tribes, an extraordinarily isolated group of 'painfully timid' people who ate roots and turtles and stored a heap of wild pigs’ skulls."
"Fascinated," we are told, "the officer, Maurice Vidal Portman, basically kidnapped several islanders. He took them back to his house on a bigger island, where the British ran a prison, and watched the adults grow sick and die. After returning the children to the island, he ended his experiment, calling it a failure."
That British naval officer wrote his account in 1899, more recently in the 1970s, the director of a National Geographic documentary, took an arrow in the leg after he and his team had tried to make contact with the islanders.
The New York Times then said, "Maybe the islanders were traumatized by that original kidnapping. Maybe they feared foreign disease. No one has ever figured out exactly why they are so hostile to outsiders and their language remains a mystery." We are then told that over the next several years, North Sentinel faded back into obscurity. But, of course, that obscurity ended last Wednesday.
The New York Times described the situation with these words, "The episode appeared to be a culture clash between an adventurous foreigner, who may have been trying to teach the islanders about Christianity and the local group, but he sought to win over one of the most impenetrable communities in the world."
Now, what's really interesting about this New York Times articles is that it gets to some of the most fundamental questions by the time you reach the end of the article. Two different ways of understanding the morality of how people in the developed or the developing world should look at those who are still, as identified by virtually all major media and government officials, a hunter-gatherer tribe, as if they exist in some century long, long ago.
The Times cites a former Indian government official, A.K. Singh, former lieutenant governor of the islands. He said friendly encounters with the islanders were rare. "He said there were two schools of thought about how to govern these islands, which, after all, are part of India." In his words, "One end of the spectrum holds that any contact is detrimental to their interest and therefore leave them alone. The other end of the spectrum says who are we to deny them the fruits of development. Why shouldn't their children go to school? They aspire to a more modern way of living. There was," he says, "always conflict in these views."
Now, here's what's really, really interesting, which of those views is right? Now, as you think about that first view, that they should simply be left alone, they should be left in isolation, keep in mind that that is a fairly recent moral judgment. That is the reversal of the judgment of the Age of Empire and Exploration when the western world was driven by an understanding that we should take western civilization, with all of its achievements, everywhere we possibly could with an almost secular missionary fervor.
But we also need to recognize that missionary fervor was not all together secular. The great age of Protestant missions also came at the same time as the great expansion of Empire. Or you might put it this way, the missionary expansion that came especially in the 19th century, could not have happened the way it happened without the Age of Empire.
The first view reflected by the Indian government official, that more modern view that people should be left alone, is based upon the understanding that Empire was wrong and that indigenous peoples, as they are now called, should simply be left alone. And, of course, there aren't that many indigenous peoples untouched by modernity, that's what makes the inhabitants of the Andaman Islands so unique.
But the second narrative is actually the one that came chronologically first, and that is that we should not rob those, wherever they are found, of the fruits of modernity, of modern medicine, of antibiotics, of education, and of course, that never comes without a moral issue of progressivism as well.
It's also really interesting to watch the Indian government struggling with this. That government put out statements yesterday indicating that the government is considering whether or not the killing of this American was actually a crime. After all, even though it's Indian territory, it was not territory under any control of the Indian government. And furthermore, the people who are living on those islands have rejected all outside influence and that would include any external law. There's a huge question as to whether the Indian government should seek to retrieve the body. That seems to be a moral imperative in the minds of many.
But even as that question is being asked, the Indian government, by its own officials, indicated that there is a reluctance even to try to regain the body simply because those who do so may themselves be killed with arrows.
Motivation vs. methodology: What the modern missions movement has taught us about how to most effectively reach the unreached
A look at John Allen Chau's journal and the letters to his parents makes very, very clear he was considering himself a Christian on a Christian mission to take the message of Jesus Christ to what we missiologically would describe as an unreached people group. And in this case, a totally unreached people group. Was he right or was he wrong? This is where thinking Christians need to step back for a moment and recognize that there is a distinction we have to make between motivation and method. That's not an accidental distinction. It's an important distinction.
That's to say, it is not wrong in any way, it is right in every way to want to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every man and woman, boy and girl anywhere on the planet. It is right and it is never wrong to want to take the Gospel to those who have not heard it and to reach those rightly described as unreached people groups.
Furthermore, it's important for Christians to understand it is always right and never wrong to share the Gospel with anyone, whether or not they are believed to be a part of either a reached or an unreached people group. But methodology is important here. And this takes me back to a basic issue of evangelical history and of Christian missions history that we need to remember.
During the 19th century, Protestant evangelical missions included so many who were officially and rightly honored as martyrs to the faith. As those, who for those cause of missions, had given their lives either because they were killed by those to whom they hoped to witness, or because they died on the mission field of circumstances that were directly tied to their missionary endeavors.
Evangelicals looking back at that period, remembering so many of the heroes and heroines of the missionary effort, we remember that martyrdom certainly didn't begin for the cause of Christ in the 19th century, nor did it end there. But we also come to understand that Protestant missions during that period began to learn certain methodologies that became absolutely essential to the modern missionary movement. For one thing, even as we see the example of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, Christian missionary organizations began to send out missionaries, not one by one, but at least two by two. Understanding that some kind of team effort was important.
Now contrast what took place in the Andaman Islands last week to what took place several decades ago in South America with the famed understanding of the missionary martyrdom of Jim Elliot and his colleagues. You will notice it was Jim Elliot and his colleagues. You will note that there was a successful missionary effort that is one of the most wonderful Gospel stories of the 20th century that came in the aftermath of the martyrdom of Jim Elliot and all of those, including Nate Saint, who found themselves martyred in a very similar way to what happened to John Allen Chau last week in the Bay of Bengal.
It was on January 8, 1956 that Jim Elliot, along with Nate Saint and three others were martyred. They were martyred in the course of what they called Operation Auca in Ecuador. An effort to reach an unreached people group. They had made contact by air using their Piper airplane sometime before. They thought they had received encouragement. They had also made some contact with the tribe, but even as they tried to go up river to meet with the tribe, there were several warriors who ambushed them and killed the five missionaries.
It appears in some ways that John Allen Chau must have modeled at least some of what he was doing there in the Andaman Islands on the story of Jim Elliot and his compatriots as missionaries in Ecuador in the 1950s. The use of specific gifts, the attempt to try to make contact, the trust that was invested in believing that making contact would lead to a positive result. But, of course, it did not immediately lead to any such result in what was known then as Operation Auca. Elliot and his colleagues were martyred.
But even as that martyrdom in January of 1956 would have seemed to have brought an end to the story, that wasn't the end of the story at all. Indeed, there was eventually a reaching of the tribe and there was eventually a reaching of the tribe with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Some years ago, at a dinner at California, I found myself sitting next to a man from Ecuador. Only later in the conversation did I discover, he was the man who had murdered Jim Elliot on January 8, 1956. We could only communicate through an interpreter and the interpreter helped me to understand that this man who had been the first warrior to fire upon Jim Elliot, had become a disciple, a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. That explains why he was present in California where I was preaching at a conference.
What makes that so important is to understand that even as the world looking at the headlines on January 8, 1956 would have said that was the end of the story, I can give you first hand witness to the fact that it was certainly not the end of the story.
But I would also point to a distinction in methodology. Jim Elliot and the missionaries who were with him were part of a larger effort. They were part of a culture, of a church sending culture of missionaries. There were those who would continue the effort, who would learn from what happened to Jim Elliot and would continue to try to make contact with the tribe. There was an infrastructure, there was methodology, there was not a solitary effort because if that solitary effort had been the case in Ecuador, there would not have been the following of the team that was able eventually through persistent efforts to reach the tribe with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
That article in last Friday's edition of The New York Times included a statement from an organization known as All Nations, they said, "John was a gracious and sensitive ambassador of Jesus Christ. The privilege of sharing the Gospel has often involved great cost. We pray that John's sacrificial efforts will bear eternal fruit in due season."
Indeed, every Christian should pray similarly, that there will be fruit of the Gospel eventually even from this effort. But we also have to understand that hard lessons have been learned throughout Christian history and in particular, in the course of modern Christian missions about how best to try to reach unreached people groups.
And to put the matter bluntly, this is not the way that most modern missions organizations would seek to reach this kind of group. That doesn't mean that they wouldn't demonstrate the same kind of courage, it doesn't mean that missionaries even today are not serving under the threat of martyrdom and often facing the reality of martyrdom. It doesn't mean that there should have been no effort to reach this unreached people group, not to mention the thousands of other unreached people groups still on planet earth.
But it's also true to understand that Christian missionaries and mission sending organizations have learned something about how, over the long term, to be even more effective in reaching these unreached people groups.
But it is nothing less than fascinating to watch the secular world in an open debate after this headline news story, trying to figure out whether or not it is morally right or morally wrong to leave this particular hunter-gatherer tribe effectively locked in primeval history alone.
You will notice that even the Indian government reflects there are two different minds at work within that own government. One that says, we should leave them alone, leave them to their own integrity, leave them to their own isolation. They don't want any contact with outsiders, so leave them alone. This comes also with the argument that comes from many in the west, saying that what you see here is a primitive innocent humanity that should be uncontaminated by the modern world. Of course, from a Biblical worldview we understand there is no such thing an innocent humanity and the violence on that island just makes that point very, very clear.
But the other argument you will note in The New York Times, that other argument articulated by the Indian government had nothing to do of course with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it had everything to do with whether or not we owe the goods of the modern age, what we might call the goods of western or of modern civilization to those, who as yet do not experience those goods on this island.
That's a very interesting question. It's a question that Christians also understand to be incredibly significant. But, of course, we understand that that question pales in significance over against the question that would be so offensive to so many in the secular world looking at the same headlines.
Unthinkable, incomprehensible to so many modern secular people is why anyone would risk anything. Not to mention, go to such lengths as Mr. Chau to reach a group with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is a logic that is central to New Testament Christianity, but is, if anything, completely incomprehensible, even scandalous to the modern secular mind.
Why Christians should pay close attention to major issues raised in new climate change report
But next, Saturday's edition of The New York Times included a headline story, "US Climate Study Has Grim Warning of Economic Risk." Well, it turns out that the Trump administration dropped a major mandatory report on the impact of climate change the Friday after Thanksgiving. Now what does that tell you? It tells you that presidential administrations try to drop reports, they try to drop news they don't want to get much attention on the days they believe Americans will be most distracted. And it's fair to say the Friday after Thanksgiving is certainly one of those days.
But looking at the story, there are a couple of very interesting observations. In the first place, there's the observation that in the fact that this was released by the Trump administration with the authority of the Trump administration, there is now a fairly united consensus around the reality of climate change. Now, that's good news in the consensus that has developed. But there is no consensus whatsoever as to what exactly climate change means, what exactly has caused it, what we can do about it, what it's effects rightly will be, and which scientific factors can be privileged over others in understanding or clarifying the situation? That's where things quickly turn to science on the one hand, at least the authority of science which is cited, and to politics, which is inevitable. After all, we're talking about a report mandated by Congress involving 13 federal agencies released by The White House. There's no way around politics in that equation.
Another observation in this particular report is that it is so US centric and so economic in its concentration. Again, the headline tells us of the grim warning of economic risk. The reporters tells us, "Climate change could slash up to a tenth of gross domestic product by 2100, more than double the losses of the Great Recession a decade ago." Again, as if economics would be the primary consideration.
Christians, of course, operating from a Biblical worldview, understand the mandate both for dominion and for stewardship. The interesting question is going to be, what is the fallout from this report and how does the issue begin to unfold, even over the next several weeks of conversation and potential controversy.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.