Essay Dilley The World The Missionaries Made

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CHRISTIANITYT0DAY.COM

JANUARY

/ FEBRUARY

2014

COVER STORY

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THEY DIDN'T SET OUT TO CHANGE HISTORY.
BUT ONE MODERN SCHOLAR'S RESEARCH
SHOWS THEY DID JUST THAT. by ANDREA PALPANT DILLEY

OR MANY OF OUR CONTEMPORARIES,noonesums up missionaries of an earlier era like Nathan Price. The patriarch in Barbara Kingsolver's 1998 novel. The Poisonwood Bible, tries to baptize new Congolese Christians in a riverfilledwith crocodiles. He proclaims Tatajesus is bangala!, thinking he is saying, "Jesus is beloved." hi fact, the phrase means, "Jesus is poisonwood." Despite being corrected many times. Price repeats the phrase until his death-Kingsolver's none-too-subtle metaphor lor the culturally insensitive folly of modern missions.

;i StELEV HARRIS / PANOS ARCHIVES

For some reason, no one has written a best-selling book about the real-life 19thcentury missionaryJohn Mackenzie. When white settlers in South Africa threatened to take over the natives' land, Mackenzie helped his friend and political ally Khama
III travel to Britain. There, Mackenzie £ind his colleagues held petition drives, translated for Khama and two other chiefs at political rallies, and even arranged a meeting with Queen Victoria. Ultimately their efforts convinced Britain to enact aland protection agreement Without it the nation of
Botswana would likely not exist today.
The annals of Western Protestant missions include Nathan Prices, of course. But thanks to a quiet persistent sociologist named Robert Woodberry, we now know for certain that they include many more
John Mackenzies. In fact the work of missionaries like Mackenzie turns out to be the single largest factor in ensuring the health ofnations. 'This Is Why
God Made Me*
Fourteen years ago, Woodberry was a graduate student in sociology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC). The son of J. Dudley Woodberry, a professor of
Islamic studies and now a dean emeritus at Fuller Theological Seminary, he started studying in UNC'S respected PhD program with one of its most influential figures,
Christian Smith (now at the University of
Notre Dame). But as Woodberry cast about for a fruitful line of research of his own, he grew discontented.
"Most of the research I studied was about American religion," he says of early graduate school. "It wasn't [my] passion, and it didn't feel like a calling, something I could pour my life into."
One afternoon he attended a required

lecture that brought his vocational drift to a sudden end. The lecture was by Kenneth
A. Bollen, a UNC-Chapel Hill professor and one of the leading experts on measuring and tracking the spread of global democracy. BoUenremarkedthathekeptfindinga significant statistical link between democracy and Protestantism. Someone needed to study the reason for the link, he said.
Woodberry sat forward in his seat and thought That's me. I'm the one.
Soon he found himself descending into the UNC-Chapel Hill archives in search of old data on religion. "I found an atlas [from
1925] of every missionary station in the world, with tons of data," says Woodberry with glee. He found data on the "number of schools, teachers, printing presses, hospitcils, and doctors, and it referred in turn to earlier atlases. I thought. Wow, this is so huge. This is amazing. This is why God made me."
Woodberry set out to track down the evidence for BoUen's conjecture that Protestant religion and democracy were somehow related. He studied yellowed maps, spending months charting the longitude and latitude of former missionary stations.
He traveled to Thailand and India to consult with local scholars, dug through archives in
London, Edinburgh, and Serampore, India, and talked with church historians all over
Europe,…