Christianity Today has now made its monthly magazine’s cover story publicly available (Jan/Feb 2014) on its website, and it’s worth the read. Written by Austin, Texas-based writer Andrea Palpant Dilley, the article features the scholarly work of sociologist Robert Woodberry, and it bears good news for the common good.
Handwringing about the effects of nineteenth-century missionaries – Protestant “conversionary missionaries” – has been abundant, both within the academy and within popular culture. The missionary movement has often seemed enmeshed in unseemly ways with nineteenth-century colonial ambitions (and its concomitant brutalities). But Woodberry’s meticulous, critical, long-range study upends and strongly challenges these far-reaching assumptions. As Dilley writes: “the work of missionaries . . . turns out to be the single largest factor in ensuring the health of nations.” This is big.
Specifically, Woodberry makes the case that non-state-supported Protestant missionaries contributed lasting, positive effects towards the liberal democratization of nations, even if that wasn’t their primary aim:
Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.