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Garace 1Stephanie GaraceHIST 232: Religion and Colonial Rule in AfricaNovember 13, 2014Essay Option 2: Christian Missionaries and ImperialismAlongside Islam, Christianity is one of the two most popular religions in Africa today.1However, this phenomenon is largely confined to the past century. Up until the beginning of the 1900s, Christian communities in Africa were, for the most part, confined to a small group of missionary outposts.2While these missionaries and their work were eventually integral to the spread of the Christian faith in Africa, their civilizing mission did not have the widespread impact we have seen the results of in modern times until the advent of European colonialism in the 1880s. In my research, I discovered two opposing views on the reactions Christian missionaries had to the new presence of European imperial powers. The first position, supported in Adrian Hastings’ essay “The Clash of Nationalism and Universalism within Twentieth-Century Missionary Christianity,” was negative: the missionaries were theologically opposed the heavy call to nationalism promoted by the Western government officials in Africa because it raised worldly goals (the glorification of a nation) above values that went beyond this world (the propagation of the faith).3The second stance, which Robert Gray writes about in his chapter on Christianity in A.D. Roberts’ The Colonial Moment in Africa: Essays on the Movement of Minds and Materials 1900-1940, is overwhelmingly positive. Gray acknowledges that secular European1Isaac Phiri and Joe Maxwell, “Gospel Riches: Africa’s Rapid Embrace of Prosperity Pentecostalism Provokes Concern - and Hope,” Christianity Today, July 6, 2007, . 2Robert Gray, The Colonial Moment in Africa: Essays on the Movement of Minds and Materials 1900-1940, ed. A.D. Roberts, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992),140. 3Adrian Hastings, Missions, Nationalisms, and the End of Empire, Brian Stanley, ed.(Grand Rapids: B. Eerdmands Publishing Company, 2003), 15.
Garace 2officials and settlers in did not always directly benefit the missionaries that had already been serving in Africa, but he argues that most missionaries saw the new wave of Europeans as “divine intervention,” because it allowed them to “intensify” the spread of their faith.4I am more inclined to agree with Gray’s argument, since the pros to colonialism for the missionary cause seems to ultimately outweigh the cons; it is possible, though, for the two viewpoints to be reconciled. We can say that missionaries who might have opposed the presence of secular Europeans on religious grounds otherwise could have viewed them as a necessary evil, because European colonial expansion and takeover of all aspects of African society allowed the Christian faith to penetrate the continent more thoroughly than had been possible ever before. However, by