Monday, November 2, 2015

All Saints Day and foreign missions

All Saints Day is November 1. On that day, some Christians annually remember all who lived the faith large and have died, especially those for whom the Church has not set aside a particular during the Church Year. Other Christians commemorate All Saints Day more broadly, remembering all of the faithful who have died. Consonant with this theme, a congregation may offer special prayers for those who died during the past year.

All Souls Day is November 2. On that day, Christians have historically offered prayers for all those who have died, especially Christians who have died.

I prefer All Souls Day to All Saints Day. Saints provide role models for people seeking to walk in Jesus' footsteps, people who want to live ethically and abundantly. Saints can be positive alternatives to contemporary celebrities whose claim to fame most often is rooted in their athletic prowess, ability to entertain, wealth, or political popularity. These may be good but none is the rock on which to build a truly abundant life.

Nevertheless, All Souls Day is more basic. All Souls Day is a time to remember that God loves everyone equally and always. There is no life apart from God.

Some time ago, an Ethical Musings' reader inquired whether Christian missionary efforts endanger people in other countries and whether Christians should attempt to convert non-believers. Recent news items reporting the diminishing number of indigenous Christians living in the Middle East and Southern Baptists downsizing their overseas mission presence because of funding constraints prompt these answers to the reader's questions.

Evangelism is and is not important. That sentence is neither the equivocation nor doublespeak that it may seem at first glance. Evangelism, defined as becoming a catalyst for helping people to discover and walk a path to more abundant living, is important. This type of evangelism best promotes love for God and expresses a profound love for one's neighbor. However, this meaning of evangelism is not the equivalent to converting people to Christianity. Walking in Jesus' footsteps is one path to God that many people find helpful. Other paths also lead to God. Numerous people find traveling a path other than Christianity helpful and life giving. Aiding those people on their journey, without attempting to redirect their footsteps toward another path, is genuine evangelism. (Readers interested in an in-depth analysis that supports this view might want to read Charting a Theological Confluence.)

Sending missionaries from one culture to another is fraught with dangers. Foreign missionaries have too often brought intentionally, and more recently unintentionally, the destructive baggage of imperialism (religious, economic, political, and/or cultural). The missionary enterprise frequently embodies an implicit assumption of superiority that precludes the mutual respect, friendship, and learning inherent in building community. The persecution causing Christians to flee the Middle East has its roots in a long history of economic exploitation, political oppression, and religious exclusivity that exemplify some of the worst Christian missionary endeavors.

Jesus fed the hungry, gave a drink to the thirsty, welcomed the outcast, and healed the sick. It is sufficient for contemporary Christians to emulate his example. Whether others choose to call themselves Christian or to walk the Jesus' path is ultimately unimportant. On All Souls Day, give thanks for everyone for all are God's people.

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