In the middle of March, the Jesuits of America pledged to give $100 million to racial healing organizations. The motivator for this was their partnership with the GU272 Descendants Association, which seeks to remember the 272 slaves that Jesuits sold in 1838 to help pay debts for Georgetown University. Though other denominations of Christianity are calling for reparations to be paid, the Jesuit effort is immense, and Christian denominations who rely on or have relied on missionary work in the past should take note of what this group is doing.
Though religion is very near and dear to the communities of many — even in countries where Christianity was introduced by white missionaries — the harm that it has caused worldwide must be taken into consideration. When European missionaries came to the Americas, they forced Native Americans to assimilate to their cultures and religions. They believed native religions were pagan and that Native Americans were less than human because they did not know about Christianity. There is, of course, nuance to these interactions, but in the long run, these attempts to force assimilation have led to the oppression of native religions that still occurs in the 21st century. Historical oppression such as this should force different sects of Christianity to re-evaluate their racist pasts and offer up reparations to heal the communities that still suffer today.
Christian sects should not only look at repairing their wrongdoings of the past. They also need to look at the impact their missionary trips are having in the present. For many religions, going on mission trips is an important part of being a member. And though most mission organizations these days do it for the sake of volunteer work, there are still plenty of sects, like Mormons, who go out to evangelize abroad. But despite their good intentions, these evangelical mission trips should be reanalyzed. Though they are a cornerstone of faith for many, some younger missionaries struggle with feeling a white savior complex, given the long history of oppression caused by missionaries before them. These feelings should not be ignored; the uncomfortable feeling of intruding on another person’s life and beliefs should speak volumes about the past of Christian missionaries, as well as those in the present.
As attitudes are shifting among Generation Z missionaries, religions themselves should examine what missions mean to them in the modern world. Considering that as of 2020 there are approximately 2.4 billion Christians worldwide, it’s not a stretch to conclude that there’s not too much “foreign land” to evangelize anymore. The majority of the population is aware of Christianity, and if they do not want to join the religion, then no amount of mission trips from privileged American kids could change their minds.
Christianity needs to examine its past and its present in order to improve in the future. The American Jesuits taking these steps to offer racial reparations for their organization’s wrongdoings are a great start. Other sects should follow suit in re-evaluating their stances on evangelization in the modern world, as well as examining their organizations’ wrongdoings against people of color. Though the line of race and religion is a tricky one to dissect, modern-day white Christians must admit the wrongdoings of their organizations by giving back to the communities that they harmed long ago. And though no amount of money will replace the lives and cultural values lost because of missionaries of older times, moves to help racial healing in the modern day where it is needed most is the most kind, Christlike motion that can be done.