Have we taken the term decolonize too far? The resounding answer from Black Twitter when confronted with whether we need to “decolonize” missionary work, appears to be yes.
“I would love to do Ph.D. on decolonizing mission work,” wrote Nia Cerise, a Black Christian YouTuber. “As a missionary, I’ve seen so much racism and scorn from people who hate the same people they are going in to minister to. Just go home.”
The responses to Cerise’s tweet were swift and kinda brutal.
“Lord they’re trying to decolonize colonizers,” wrote twitter user Dwayne David Paul.
“Here’s how you decolonize missionary work — you stop doing it,” wrote Deondre A. Smiles.
For those who don’t know, Christian missionaries often played a critical role in the European colonization of Africa, the Americas, and India.
For example, in the Congo, King Leopold II of Belgium used bringing Christianity and “civilization” to the Congolese as a justification for his oppressive colonial regime.
In an 1883 letter, Leopold II implored Belgian missionaries in the Congo to “inspire above all Belgium interests,” writing:
Your essential role is to facilitate the task of administrators and industrials, which means you will go to interpret the gospel in the way it will be the best to protect your interests in that part of the world. For these things, you have to keep watch on disinteresting our savages from the richness that is plenty [in their underground. To avoid that they get interested in it, and make you murderous] competition and dream one day to overthrow you.
Leopold II’s reign in the Congo was unimaginably horrific. Millions of Congolese civilians were killed or had their hands chopped off as a part of the brutal rubber trade.
In the United States and Canada, “Indian Boarding Schools,” often run by Christina missionaries, were the sites of horrific violence and abuse of Native children, who were forced to give up their tribal languages, cultures, and spiritual practices. The US government has confirmed the deaths of 500 children who attended these schools, but some experts believe the death toll is in the tens of thousands.
There are undeniably missionaries who have built schools and provided infrastructure to communities that lacked housing or roads. But for a lot of the Twitter-sphere, the contradictions between decolonization efforts and missionary work’s history were a little too hard to square.
As one Twitter user Wicked Gyal Rissa put it, “you can’t decolonize something that embodies colonialism itself. That’s like wanting to dehydrate water.”