Ann Coulter has rocked the conservative Christian world with her abrasive opinion article, “Ebola Doc’s Condition Downgraded To ‘Idiotic‘”. Her basic premise is that American missionaries are narcissists and want to be recognized and glorified for their service and proselytization internationally because,
“…American Christians go on ‘mission trips’ to disease-ridden cesspools. They’re tired of fighting the culture war in the U.S., tired of being called homophobes, racists, sexists and bigots. So they slink off to Third World countries, away from American culture to do good works, forgetting that the first rule of life on a riverbank is that any good that one attempts downstream is quickly overtaken by what happens upstream.”
Her perspective is that all missionaries (and specifically Dr. Kent Brantly) could “have done more good for the entire world” by serving in America than traveling to a third world country, because, she believes, that America sets the course for the rest of the entire world.
Is this true? Does her argument hold any weight?
Coulter’s positions assumes quite a few things. Firstly, that America has as much, if not more need than the rest of the world. She refers to the poor and needy living in Texas and the “virus of spiritual bankruptcy and moral decadence spread by so many Hollywood movies”. She argues that leading one movie producer to faith and conviction about such wickedness, to prevent the creation of such movies, would be a greater impact on the world than “maintaining himself in medieval diseases of the Third World”.
Unfortunately, this argument grossly misses the foundation and drive of Biblical Christian missions. While yes, it would be a wonder effect to see Hollywood transformed by saving faith in Jesus Christ, the ultimate goal is not morally excellent movies, or even America’s reputation around the world because of our movies. No, the goal is the eternal salvation of souls. So to elevate the salvation of one Hollywood mogul who has had access to the Truth of Jesus Christ his entire life over the thousands of people groups around the world who have no Bible, no access to a church or anyone who knows of Jesus Christ, is quite simply wrong.
Need is a difficult topic to understand. Americans have the disposition to think that we are the best, and everyone else is lesser. We shun those of lesser education and income here at home, and we pity the rest of the world who does not govern themselves by democracy, who do not have all of the pleasures and amenities that we have, and who live differently. We all have our own car, pity the country that survives on public transportation. We all have completely reliable electricity, woe to the family who still cooks on an open fire and has no television.
If American missionaries set out to improve the world by making them more like us, then yes. They are narcissists. If a people group has survived 2,000 years without electricity, then they probably have their systems down. They do not need electricity. We can offer it to them, and see if they want it! But to be culturally ethical, we need to let them determine to what end they use it, if they even want it.
But the one thing that every human being under the sun needs is salvation from damnation, which is the just judgment of God over our sins. So the best way to judge and assess need to is evaluate people’s access to the Gospel.
For faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.
– Rom 10.17
I live in Denver, Colorado, which many reports affirm to be one of the least evangelized cities in the country. It has one of the lowest percentages of professions Christians. But you know what? I pass by eleven churches on my way to work. All of which are open and have services weekly. There are four within walking distance of my house. Four. This is not the case worldwide. There are millions of people around the world who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ. Not even as a curse word. Now, you tell me. If eternal life and salvation depends on the grace of Jesus Christ, which only comes through hearing the Gospel, who has more need? The Hollywood mogul who was present for the screening of the Passion of the Christ, or the tribe in Asia of 500,000 people who are still sacrificing to spirits and casting spells on one another, never having heard the eternal hope of salvation?
Coulter’s perspective also assumes that the United States sets the stage for what happens “downstream”, or in the rest of the world. Yes. America has unprecedented impact with the globalization of everything, and with the internet and direct access. However. Our influence, however real it may be, does not directly meet the Spiritual needs of people around the world.
How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!”
– Rom 10.14-15
And that is why we go. Coulter argues that we go for accolade. Yes, I am sure that many do go for the praise of man. But the simple reality is that America’s narcissistic population quickly forgets the person living halfway around the world. Why? Because we do not think about the rest of the world and we live for our pleasure. Those people are out of sight, out of mind. When they come home, they might get to speak at a Church, might raise money to build an orphanage and might even receive an award for humanitarian effort. But missionaries in the third world are some of the most lonely and forgotten. Those who go for praise do no last on the field.
Nevertheless, Paul teaches us clearly:
Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; he latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.
– Phil 1.15-18
The greatest need is most certainly not in the United States. There is need here, undoubtedly. But Jesus Himself commanded us, as His parting words, to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28.18-20). So it is a matter of obedience. And when we encounter those who do go for the wrong motives, instead of getting angry and sending them home, we should rejoice that the name of Christ is going forward!