The Church-Sponsored Cultural Genocide in Haiti
Author and professor of literature at Claremont McKenna College in California, Jamaica Kincaid (a native of Antigua), recently visited Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). In remarks made there to the media she talked about the earthquake and expressed wonder at what it had to happen for the United States to take notice of Haiti’s impoverished state.
To this an IPFW employee responded that a number of American church groups had been in Haiti for years, “trying to help.”
Jamaica Kincaid responded that “I think, on the whole, church groups should be banned from these places” because given the predominance of Vodou the Christians visiting there are trying to spread Christianity. This is not a surprising charge, given the activities of such groups in the US, who often coerce or force the people they purport to help to accept their religion in exchange for help.
Kincaid said, “Their main reason for going there is to eradicate this belief.”
She was worried that Christians in the audience would be offended, but she had the courage to say what needed to be said, what no doubt many of us had been thinking: this writer included.
As it happens, the facts support Ms. Kincaid’s contention: The Guardian reports that “Christians have… been inundating radio stations asking anyone who has committed a crime to confess, thereby saving the nation from future disasters. Inspiration, an evangelical station, said 11,000 people had rung up to pledge themselves to God since the earthquake.”
A Brief History
What is happening in Haiti is another example of cultural genocide (also sometimes called “ethnocide”) – the destruction of native cultures – a process that has been taking place since the fourth century everywhere Christian missionaries set foot.
Anthropologists recognize what is taking place; missionaries are agents of cultural change. The process, without naming religions, is recognized as taking place by the United Nations in 1948: it is destruction with intent to destroy a racial, religious, ethnic or national group.
Genocide is genocide, whether you destroy their culture with bullets or with Bibles.
When aid workers go into a country with a sense of missionary superiority, with as much interest in the “moral evolution of the indigenous communities” in the words of anthropologist Raymond Firth, as in providing them with their daily physical needs, all sorts of problems arise for those indigenous people (Firth 1976). As another anthropologist points out, in many regions the “wounds to peoples’ self-conceptions and to the integrity of their cultures remains deep and unhealed” (Keesing 1976).
What does the Christian god have to do with helping those in need? Or, as we will see below, helping some, and not others?
It is therefore not unreasonable to question the motives of the church group that was recently charged with kidnapping Haitian children to take across the border. What kind of saving, precisely, did they have in mind?
It is significant that the missionaries in question are from Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, which places a strong focus on Evangelization:
It is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations. The new birth of man’s spirit by God’s Holy Spirit means the birth of love for others. Missionary effort on the part of all rests thus upon a spiritual necessity of the regenerate life, and is expressly and repeatedly commanded in the teachings of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ has commanded the preaching of the gospel to all nations. It is the duty of every child of God to seek constantly to win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ.
The problem for them is that in their zeal, they forgot to ask permission. They were going to just whisk the children across the border into the Dominican Republic without asking. They were going to put them into an orphanage and you can be certain that they would be taught there to be good little Baptists, whatever form their own religion might be.
Let’s not play ignorant here: the removal of Aboriginal children from their families is an ancient tactic used by missionaries to break down cultural barriers, not only in the 19th century but in the 20th, not only in the New World but in Australia and elsewhere.
The situation is not limited to the appropriation of children but extends to relief supplies as well. The Guardian reports that “Max Beauvoir, Haiti’s “supreme master” of voodoo, alleged his faith’s opponents had deliberately prevented much-needed help from reaching followers of the religion, which blends the traditional beliefs of West African slaves with Roman Catholicism.”
His cry will seem familiar – and believable to progressive Americans: “The evangelicals are in control and they take everything for themselves,” he claimed. “They have the advantage that they control the airport where everything is stuck. They take everything they get to their own people and that’s a shame.”
Understandable behavior for people who, like Pat Robertson, think those who practice Voodoo are in thrall to Satan. But what kind of excuse is ignorance?
Does the “Great Commission” give Christian missionaries the right to trump the natural rights of others, particularly those who are at a disadvantage culturally or economically?
People talk about “Coca Cola culture” and “American cultural imperialism.” The German group Rammstein even wrote a song about it, “Amerika.” But why is nobody talking about religious imperialism?
This is a discussion which needs to take place, a debate we must have.
Anyone unfamiliar with the Joshua Project should right this moment correct that hole in their knowledge base: Joshua Project – Unreached Peoples of the World
“Joshua Project is a research initiative seeking to highlight the ethnic people groups of the world with the least followers of Jesus Christ.”
(Jamaica Kincaid’s visit to IPFW was originally reported in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, February 12, 2010)