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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Good God, We Wouldn't Want to Offend Them

Christopher Johnson of the MCJ reports the unsurprising news that at the upcoming General Convention of the Episcopal Church, among the many resolutions to be introduced and passed, effectively transforming that institution into a branch of the Unitarian-Universalists, is one

[C]hanging all references from “missionary” to “mission partner” in recognition of “the reality that when we engage in work overseas, we are learning just as much from those we encounter as we are able to teach.”

Emphasizing “the reciprocal nature of mission work in the Anglican Communion today,” the report notes that the historical understanding of the term “missionaries” has caused tensions “with our brothers and sisters around the globe.”
I can certainly understand. Even the word itself, "missionary," must cause unbearable embarrassment to those good and sensitive Episcopalians who wouldn't dream of imposing their constructed faith system on an indigenous person of a different culture.

The Episcopalians, thus, have come a long way indeed from this grand hymn, found in the 1940 Hymnal.
From Greenland’s icy mountains, from India’s coral strand;
Where Afric’s sunny fountains roll down their golden sand:
From many an ancient river, from many a palmy plain,
They call us to deliver their land from error’s chain.

What though the spicy breezes blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle;
Though every prospect pleases, and only man is vile?
In vain with lavish kindness the gifts of God are strown;
The heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone.

Shall we, whose souls are lighted with wisdom from on high,
Shall we to those benighted the lamp of life deny?
Salvation! O salvation! The joyful sound proclaim,
Till earth’s remotest nation has learned Messiah’s Name.

Waft, waft, ye winds, His story, and you, ye waters, roll
Till, like a sea of glory, it spreads from pole to pole:
Till o’er our ransomed nature the Lamb for sinners slain,
Redeemer, King, Creator, in bliss returns to reign.
Those words must seem as strange to Episcopalians today as the missionaries of yore must have seemed to the heathens they sought to convert. Many of the heathen, however, were persuaded to be baptized. I wonder how much success those "mission partners" will enjoy.

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