by A. R. Tippett
To understand the Barbados Declaration we certainly need another document to interpret the document. The symposium of secular anthropologists, who composed the statement, met as part of the World Council of Churches “Program to Combat Racism”, and operated within the frame of reference of the doctrine of liberation.
To understand the Barbados Declaration we certainly need another document to interpret the document. The symposium of secular anthropologists, who composed the statement, met as part of the World Council of Churches "Program to Combat Racism", and operated within the frame of reference of the doctrine of liberation. We have to judge the statement by its own merits as the papers themselves have not been released. The WCC sponsors all kinds of consultations, and protects itself by declaring that the opinions expressed are not necessarily its own. Every now and again one of these consultations rebounds on the sponsoring body. The Barbados Declaration was one of these. Under the guise of combating racism, the document itself is thoroughly racist. A nonracial position has to be middle of the road. To retreat from a racist position to the opposite pole merely brings you to another kind of racism. The declaration neither helps the racial situation nor cross-cultural Christian mission.
The declaration had widespread publicity in the public press, syndicated copy extracting the "hot spots" from their contexts, and using large-type, top-of-the-page, anti-missionary headings. David F. Belnap starts his article (Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, Washington Post), "Christian missionary activities among Latin America’s Indian people do more harm than good and should be stopped." He declared that "missionary work is largely a sham," and that it was an "historic failure" and therefore "the goal of religious missions" should be "to end such activity." This article apparently grew from an interview with one of the participants. A more responsible journalist would have interviewed some other anthropologist or a missionary to speak for the opposite viewpoint. Both professional anthropology and missions have had a "raw deal" from this reporting.
WHAT THE DECLARATION IS TRYING TO SAY
The doctrine of liberation, like many catchwords of our day, is open to interpretation. It can be stated theologically, socially or politically. It can be mild or aggressive, steadily progressive or destructively revolutionary. It might even be stated evangelically -though this would be far from what the Barbados symposium meant. If Latin Americans want to think within this frame of reference, then I do not deny them the right, but I still have to be convinced that the Indian necessarily wants the Latin American to do so on his behalf, and in his (the Latin American’s) terms.
Certainly we admit there are many ways in which the American Indian could and should be liberated, and no doubt, the state, the anthropologist and the missionary all have their respective responsibilities to help the Indian get what he feels he needs, though each will do so in a different way. The anthropologists at Barbados, we admit, had a right to speak.
Much they said about the plight of the Indian and the colonial situation is undoubtedly true, and attention should be drawn to these matters. Missionaries and missionary supporters will do well to take these points one by one and give them careful consideration, asking honestly if any of them apply to their particular mission. Even though the document is offensive and belligerent, some points demand consideration. The findings and value judgments of the statement show political drives and motives of the symposium, but even so the situation which stimulated them cannot be ignored. Many of the factors stressed are old historic issues which predate the evangelical missions in Latin America, and probably refer to Roman Catholic missions. However, as long as the shadow of colonialism remains, all western missions must examine their operations to see if they are foreign in character. The basic problems presented concern land, social groupings, labor and exploitation, and these have longstanding colonial roots.
The clam that "the missionary presence implies an imposed criteria" (p. 3) has to be qualified. The same may be said of the state, the health, agricultural and educational programs, and indeed of the recommendations of the Barbados Declaration itself.
The notion that evangelization itself is imposed (p. 3) implies an unacceptable definition of evangelization today, whatever may have happened in the original Spanish conquest. Certainly for the evangelical, evangelization signifies a voluntary acceptance of the good news of Jesus, called "making a decision."
RESEARCH OR OPINION?
Most anthropological documents err in the direction of objectivity. This one is intensely subjective. The situation is frequently obscured by the emotions of the symposium. The anthropological methodology in structuring the declaration is poor. First, the subject is badly defined. The title of the symposium was "Inter-ethnic Conflict in South America," but the definition says it is the "Indian struggle for liberation" within the "American continent," which would include, say, the Navaho and the Bureau of Indian Affairs policy within the United States. Secondly, the document is riddled with generalizations. Some may be true for specific situations but not true generalizations. Anthropological method demands the specification and identification of data on which conclusions are drawn; all the more important in this document because of the equation of old issues of colonial history and those of current relevance.
Third, the document has numerous internal contradictions. For example, "religious missions . . . must assume the unavoidable responsibility for immediate action" (p. 1), but later on the symposium recommends "the suspension of all missionary activity" (p. 3). Again a truly multiethnic state is called for at the top of page 2, but point 3 on the same page and the conclusion (p. 6) virtually call for Indian states within the national states – structurally and politically quite different approaches. If the duties of the state involved "establishing contact with isolated tribal groups" (p. 2) and the "expansion process of the national frontier" (p. 3), how can the Indian "rights of self-determination" (p. 2) always be recognized? This is precisely the current problem of the Indian in the United States.
Fourth, fallacies and problems of logic abound. Many of the blasts against Christian missions are due to untested equations. Particular solutions propounded but not rationally reasoned are not valid simply because of some error of the last century. They must be appraised in time perspective. Almost every point under "Responsibility of Religious Missions" is a sweeping value judgment without supporting data. These are open to critical appraisal before acceptance.
The Declaration of Barbados is not a scientific document, but a radical opinion statement. Its credibility lies in the current secular situation, the permissive mood, the general hostility towards the establishment, and the readiness of secular man to denigrate religion – witness the selection of anti-missionary comments by the press. The Barbados Declaration tells us merely that a group of persons held this opinion – nothing more.
THE MISSIONARY IMAGE
The declaration and its press coverage damage the missionary image. The impression is that missions are colonialist and their day is done. Therefore I shall examine the document anthropologically with respect to Christian missions.
The basic fallacy of the statement is its presupposition of the uniformity of missions and missionaries. Anthropologists often commit this fallacy, which abuses their own methodology. For years the missionary has been the victim of barbed wit in undergraduate anthropology classes. However, since the development of applied anthropology anthropologists, helping with technical aid, health, agricultural and other programs, often have found themselves in the "missionary shoes," and the literature they have created on directed change has frequently treated missionaries as human beings, and distinguished between good ones and bad.
A good example of anthropological refusal to generalize about missionaries is Maxwell Huxley’s Farewell to Eden. This anthropologist, working among Indians in South America, found himself dealing with three different kinds of missionary. One sought to rescue children out of their culture and put them in Christian institutions on the assumption that the tribe had to die out anyway. At the opposite pole was the missionary, who tried to keep, the Indian traditional by isolating him from acculturation and the outside contact of the country at large. Then, in between he found another type, working in the vernacular, preserving worthwhile cultural values within a program of community development. I do not intend discussing those types. I merely cite this as a case of a perceptive anthropologist who refused to dehumanize missionaries as a category. The Barbados Declaration fails miserably at this point, and thereby largely invalidates itself. It does not even distinguish between Roman Catholic and evangelical missions. Yet the very nature of the ten criticisms of missions (pp. 3-4) demand some identification. They cannot possibly be all true of all missions. Just as each Indian tribe is unique so also is each missionary project, and in the final analysis each has to stand on its own merits.
Neither does the Barbados Declaration allow for the changes in missionary policy and training that have been taking place in the postwar period. Missions are conceptualized as static structures, unrelated to time or change. One would imagine that Christian missions today are the same as they were a century ago. This is not true. Missions and missionaries are part of the yeast of life, the changing scene. They are a "fact in the modern world," as Neill said. They have dynamic continuity. They are not static. They effect change and are affected by it. The equation of missionary programs with historical, social and political factors of a century or more ago, and value judgments that stem from such presuppositions suggest that the deliberations took inadequate cognizance of the development of modern missionary techniques and theory. I do not deny that paternalistic and westernized missions survive to our discomfort, but the point should be stressed that these are out of step with current mission theory. One would assume that a body of professional anthropologists, wanting ‘to evaluate a social institution, would equip themselves with the basic background information concerning the participants and organization of that social institution and what they imagine themselves to be doing. The condemnation of missions without any inside research is certainly a strange kind of anthropology.
Whether the findings are right or wrong, the methodology is certainly wrong.
It seems to me that in a multi-ethnic state (which was specified as the subject) diverse groups and persons have to learn to live together. There was a day when Malinowski was trying desperately to save the communal structure in the colonial situation, which was for him at the time the given. He challenged the idea of culture clash between a dominant and aboriginal race. He urged the administrator, trader, missionary and the tribal chief to recognize that they were bound together in the bundle of .life, and to relate to each other with mutual and appropriate acceptance – the new autonomous entity, he called it. The colonial situation changed shortly afterwards, but his theory was basically right for any multi-ethnic situation. The administrator was replaced by the national leader. The missionary became a fraternal worker, or servant of the national church. A new era of mission had begun. The theory of mission today agrees that the missionary should not dominate; that he should not be paternalistic; and that he should operate within the givens of the cross-cultural situation.
One is amazed that at no point in the Declaration of Barbados have the anthropologists who composed it asked a question about, or shown any knowledge of the current theory of mission, or what, in point of fact, missions are really trying to do. How can you evaluate the real (including the failures, achievements, survivals and innovations) unless you know the ideal (the goals believed in, and the criteria accepted for testing)? If you take an anthropological monograph – say about a fishing community – surely you start by researching the nature, purposes and techniques of the fishing operation. Yet these anthropologists would evaluate Christian missions, and give their findings to the world, "without a clue" on the current theories of which missions operate! Neither do they seem to be aware that those points of their statement, which might be accepted as valid, have been well articulated in missionary anthropology for years.
Thus, for example, the Indian is seen as the "Agent of his own Destiny." Translated into missionary terminology, this is known as "the idea of the indigenous church." The notion itself has been pushed by missionary writers for 130 years, in some places with good effect, and there is a large body of literature on it. I myself have seen Indian indigenous church life in Mexico and Guatemala. Perhaps the concept is less developed among Indian people in South America. If this is so, then, instead of generalizing unreliably, the declaration should have pointed out this backwardness. The WCC would have been entitled to expect this.
To me, the most astonishing thing in the whole document is found under this same head of "the Indian as Agent of his own Destiny" namely, the statement that "when non-Indians pretend to represent Indians" that "a new kind of colonial situation is established" (p. 5), when the eleven signatures to the document are Iberian, German or English – not an Indian name among them. The Indian groups which I have visited have different thought-forms and viewpoints from their Iberian and Mestizo fellow-country men, and! have disliked the latter speaking on their behalf. One might well ask what is the difference between a Euro-American (North) and a Euro-American (South) when it comes to being the spokesmen for the aboriginal people. Latin American thought is by no means Indian thought.
These criticisms of the document are based on anthropological values. The statement purports to evaluate a certain institutionalized social organization, after a six-day consultation by a team of professionals. The full report has not been published yet. We have this six-page statement only, which has to be evaluated by its own internal evidence. I find it methodologically untenable.
One does not dispute that the Indian people have been subjected to much injustice which demands correction. But the form of liberation suggested by the Barbados Declaration has a particular political flavor. The jargon about liberation is revolutionary. It fails to consider the diversity of Indian communities. There is no universal formula because these communities are neither culturally nor linguistically uniform, nor at the same level in their degrees of sophistication and acculturation, as was established by Linton’s study of seven tribes.
However philosophically desirable it might be for them to learn to take their places in the modern world of change, say, for survival’s sake, many o€ them still firmly believe their security lies in their tribal customs and forest isolation. For many, their own selfhood will perish the moment they become aware they are not free, but are absorbed in some national state. Equal (standardized) education, for example, denies the tribal group the right of indigenous processes of enculturation. The Declaration of Barbados seems to advocate economic, educational and political liberation in terms of "civilizing" or "progress" and equal (standardized) opportunity for all. This can only come about through imposition by the state (the majority or the strong) and the denial of tribal rights within the larger entity. The declaration says to me that liberation for the Indian is conformation to the Latin American public image.
Thus the symposium failed to recognize that (1) this ambivalence is untenable, because preserving Indian selfhood rights destroys Latinizing citizenship rights, and vice versa, and (2) liberation in terms of any kind of progress means some form of imposition from outside the tribe. Once acculturation accelerates, and indigenous religion feels external secular forces, some form of Christian liberation is desirable if society is to maintain equilibrium. The history of population decline under culture contact suggests this. Once the notion of the inevitability of culture change is accepted, the danger is the old colonial situation will be replaced by a new colonialism. Nothing brings this about more simply than revolution.
The symposium made a sweeping charge of dishonesty against many professional anthropologists, classifying them under three types. Yet it seems to me the symposium itself would fall into one of its own categories, for were they not opportunists, who manipulated the responsibility placed in them by the WCC to serve politically revolutionary ends? A friend of mine from Latin America, who knows the continent and has written books about it, described the Barbados Declaration as "an anthropological smokescreen for promoting a questionable ideology."
THE BARBADOS DECLARATION AND CHRISTIAN MISSION
Ultimately the declaration offers no valid scale or criteria for testing the value or function of a Christian missionary project, as one might have expected from a WCC symposium, except its own self-imposed version of liberation.
The validation of Christian mission, of course, must be first theological and then anthropological. There is no divine decree which places the missionary under the anthropologist. The missionary (apostle) is sent by another Authority (Matt. 28:18-20). However, as the science of man, anthropology comes in at the point of man-with-man relationships. It gives warnings, and shows the courteous and culturally-oriented way of making approaches and doing things cross-culturally. This should help missionaries introducing men to Christ and thus liberating them. And, of course, no missionary today should go forth without anthropological training. Let us keep these roles and functions discrete. I cannot imagine the WCC giving a group of secular anthropologists authority to make pronouncements about the mission of God. Their recommendation of the termination of missionary activity stands in conflict with the theological mandate of the Great Commission.
The Declaration of Barbados is an extremely dogmatic statement, implying (it seems to me) that the symposium assumed a role to which it was not entitled. The withdrawal of Christian missions is a theological policy change in conflict with Scripture. As anthropologists the symposium was entitled to say that "culturally and methodologically this or that was badly done, and missions may be criticized at these points. We recommend you change this method or that." But there their prerogatives end. The "whether or not" of mission is not for them to say. Certainly missionaries and mission supporters should ponder their criticisms. I have no doubt that many old mistakes are still being made and need correction. We ought to reflect on their historical antecedents to understand some aspects of the current situation. We should listen and learn. But we should not overlook that in the Barbados Declaration the theology of mission is non-existent, the politics are loaded and the self-assumed authority over the mission of God is presumptuous.
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