Sunday, January 31, 2010

Christian Imperialism in a Time of Crisis

Updated: I found a link to this article, too.

We all know about the terrible devastation in Haiti, and we may be certain that many families have been torn apart by death and destruction. So why, in the midst of all this turmoil and chaos, would a group of Christians think it was a good idea to smuggle Haitian children across the border?

I get that they have good intentions in building an orphanage for children who've lost their families in this earthquake. However, how could these Americans possibly know that these children are, indeed, orphans? They did not bother to get proper papers, or investigate that these children had no family to care for them. They simply accepted the word of those who brought the children to them. Given the scope of international child smuggling rings, and the likelihood that many such children end up being sold as prostitutes or sex slaves, you would have thought that a group of committed Christians would have done at least a little due diligence.

They also did not think to keep these Haitian children in their native land - they planned to build a fancy orphanage at or near a resort in the Dominican Republic. One may say that Haiti is not at the rebuilding stage yet, but the entire nation has not been devastated. They could just as easily have worked to build an orphanage somewhere other than Port-au-Prince. Given the contentious relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, this just smacks of extreme cultural ignorance.

This entire situation is a perfect example of American Christian Imperialism. These people had it on their hearts to go do something about the devastation in Haiti, caring for the youngest and the poorest. That's all well and good, but what about what God has placed on the hearts of Haitians? Did these Christians even think to ask what God had said to the Haitians? Did they bother to LISTEN to what Haiti needs, or did they just assume that since they had heard God's word on their hearts, that the rest of the world would just line up behind it? Thinking you have a divine mission from God is not an excuse to be ignorant about the people you want to "save," and it certainly isn't a license to break international law to get what you want.

There is hearing God's word, but there is also discerning God's word. It is not enough to simply hear God's word - or to think you have - but you must also discern the meaning of this word. And when God's word involves other people, it's a good idea to discern God's word with those other people. It's not naivete to fail to take this step; it is willful ignorance. And it is, frankly, unconscionable. You can't just act like this - you have to think, to test your motives, to discern God's will. You can't just assume because your heart goes out to the orphans in Haiti, that this means God is telling you to go build them an orphanage for them (again, in another country, where you have to smuggle children to get there).

I am not surprised that this sort of imperialistic thinking goes on in American Christianity. We've gotten a bad name acting imperialistic for a long time, both as a nation and as Christians not working for the government. Deservedly so, given what we know of this situation. We strut around the world, thinking we know best. In the process, we destroy families, communities, and nations. Who is to say that a group of Christians from America know what's best for these Haitian orphans? Do these Christians even know anything about Haiti, its history, its culture, its people, its struggles, its dreams? Its relationship with the Dominican Republic, where the children were going to be smuggled to (hint: it's not a friendly one)?

I doubt these Christians considered the additional trauma these children they are trying to "save" are going to be put through - torn from families and communities, uncertain in many cases if their parents are even dead, probably encouraged to learn another language in order to communicate with their "rescuers" (because I'm willing to bet these Christians don't know French or any of the other languages [besides English] spoken in Haiti). Because fundamentally, it is not really about the children. It is about burnishing their credentials as "good Christians" who "sacrifice" for God's kingdom.

I am also not surprised that this group (and its pastor) is trying to put the best spin on it. "They were just trying to do good," seems to be the refrain. If all that do-gooding, however, breaks international laws, one has to wonder what the real motives of the people were. Sounds like they were more concerned with getting stars in their crown than they were truly helping these young, already-traumatized children. They had no prior relationship with Haiti or its people, and I am willing to bet they no absolutely NOTHING about transracial, transcultural adoption. (For information on both of those, go read this excellent article.)

Christ calls us to serve in his name, but he does not call us to do so in a vacuum. We are called to minister in communities, and to value the many voices at the table and the many ways God speaks to people. That means listening to the people we are trying to "save," and working as equal partners in that "saving."


bazalkryn said...

Once people believe they can hear the voice of God, then there is no objective standard by which to judge what they "receive." After all, human-made laws and doctrines and religions are obviously trumped by the direct word of God to me. And once someone has decided something and convinced him or herself that it is God's word, then no one on the planet can say otherwise.

LiturgyGeek said...

I know you're being sarcastic, Baz, but please. It's not that simple. And anyone who believes it is is a fool.

What about respecting the culture and identity of the ones you are trying to help? Or do they not matter as unique human beings made in the image of God; are they merely pawns in your religious psychodrama?

bazalkryn said...

My friend, I agree with you completely. People and their persons and culture and identity and dignity should all be respected at all times. My point is simply that when people firmly believe that they have heard God's word and are doing his will ("We're on a mission from God") then in their minds all these issues take second place. It isn't right, but it is the way people are. Christians forget that Paul and his companions managed to do some very effective evangelism without being insulting, breaking laws, stomping on peoples culture or devaluing anyone's dignity.

Bonnie said...

In 2005 I made a dream trip to Scotland and was privileged meet my cousins. When talking about world events I said the group I was most afraid was our religious right. My cousin quietly said the "the whole world is afraid of them".
That made me very sad. I grew up in a fairly conservative religious home. BUT this is not the right and wrong my parents taught me. My parents always taught me respect for others, their religion, and their ideas.
I now jokingly call my self a refugee from the religious right or part of the religious wrong (religious left isn't as "cute"). But it is not funny.
Can God be pleased by all the harm that has been done in His name?
Sorry if I strayed too far from your topic.

LiturgyGeek said...

Baz, I totally know what you mean. I just wanted to get a little more info/rant on.

And Bonnie!!! How nice to "meet" you - if you are Baz's cougar then I know you must be a dear!! And Baz will tell you that I am certainly (and proudly) a part of the "religious wrong." :)

Bonnie said...

Yes, I am Baz's Cougar. Nice to "Meet" you also. He has spoken of you often. You must have had some interesting debates.