Mission World - November/December 2023

World Mission and Neo-Colonialism

In my last article I reflected upon how missionaries were complicit in, remained apart from, or were actively opposed to the so-called “civilizing” endeavours of colonial powers and how this relationship affects the ongoing work of World Mission. In this article I look at new forms of global control, whether it be through corporations, instruments of mass communication, or through the imposition of cultural values and lifestyles that often lead to the demise or local cultures.

In recent times, Church leaders have spoken out clearly against the impact of neo-colonialism.

During his visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo earlier this year (2023), Pope Francis had this to say, “Political exploitation gave way to an ‘economic colonialism’ that was equally enslaving. This country and this continent deserve to be respected and listened to.”

In a communiqué (21 September 2023) from the New International Financial and Economic Architecture (NIFEA), a body set up by the World Council of Churches, the Council for World Mission and other international bodies, the Churches had this to say, “All international financial institutions are dominated by neocolonial powers and developing economies with imperialist objectives and play no part in democratic governance … (The investments by these institutions) have led to the occupation of land and territory by corporations, the displacement of local populations, the commodification and privatization of natural resources and environmental degradation ….”

They go on to conclude that, “A theology and ideology of the commons and labour are emerging as an alternative architecture to the development models paraded as people’s well-being.” And they “call upon the G20 to reiterate its commitment to achieving an inclusive, gender-just, equitable global order in line with the Paris Climate Agreement... “

This is strong language coming from Christian leaders and their messages send out clear challenges to today’s cross-cultural missionaries.

However Christian churches can sometimes overlook the ways in which they themselves can be accused of forms of neo-colonialism. This is what one Professor in Mission Studies and Ecumenics at Lund University, Sweden, has to say. As “young churches” came under local leadership “economic dependency on the missions continued. This led to a situation in mission-established churches where the formal decision-making mechanisms were often in local hands, while financial power resided abroad. Often missionaries who no longer had formal positions of power could still exercise indirect power through their connections to the financial power bases in their home countries…” (Mika Vähäkangas, Mission, Money and Power, Chapter 39 of The Oxford Handbook of Mission Studies, p. 695)

Missionary demographics may help to change this dynamism. For example, as the future membership and leadership of our own Columban Missionary Society changes, it will lead to changes in governance structures whereby priests and lay people from what used to be called our “receiving” or mission countries begin to assume leadership of or co-responsibility for newly integrated regions.

Is it possible to be inclusive, gender-just and equitable in the exercise of mission? I hope so because that is the future of World Mission. 

Columban Fr Tom Rouse lives and works in New Zealand.

Mission Intentions

November - For the Pope: We pray for the Holy Father; as he fulfills his mission, may he continue to accompany the flock entrusted to him, with the help of the Holy Spirit

December - For persons with disabilities: We pray that people living with disabilities may be at the center of attention in society, and that institutions may offer inclusive programs which value their active participation.

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