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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Are Christian Missionaries really Narcissists?

Ann Coulter-“…there is reason for annoyance at Christian narcissism.” I have no doubt that Ann Coulter knows exactly what she is doing when she verbally spars with everyone willing to listen to her on the radio, or to watch her on television, read her columns, or to invest in purchasing her books. She is well known for stirring the pot. She has had a definite success at getting people to pay attention to her.

Coulter is most recognized for challenging those who are on the political left. Nearly everyone is on the political left of Coulter. This time Coulter uses her August 6th column (Ebola Doc’s Condition Downgraded to ‘Idiotic’) in choosing the ebola tragedy in Africa to question the genuine intentions of the medical missionaries serving in Liberia in particular and to all foreign Christian missionaries in general.

What? I admit that I don’t have a clue as to Coulter’s intentions in criticizing missionaries as being narcissists. Surely she can’t be running out of topics to criticize Democrats. I’m confident that she doesn’t feel the need to challenge the missionary effort in order to call attention to her career. Maybe she’s had a bad experience investing in the missionary movement? Could it be that she thinks Christian missionaries are actually part of an organized political conspiracy to weaken the US? Maybe she is just confused theologically. I’m sure there was some intended literary technique in her recent column, but it was entirely lost on me. If the column was intended as satire, it was over the top. If she was sincere in writing what she did, I have to wonder who the real narcissist is.
Whatever her intention, I doubt that the real purpose of Coulter’s writing was to challenge Christian missionaries to reflect spiritually on why they do what they do.

It’s not the first time though that I have heard someone question the missionary’s real intent. The recent revival of “Objectivism” has grown out of the Ayn Rand philosophy stating that there is no such thing as real altruism and absolutely everything a person does is done to satisfy their own individual desire. It is a philosophy that takes God out of the picture and supposes that everything we do even as missionaries, is done for our own personal interest. Hence Coulter’s closing comment in her column, “There may be no reason for panic about the Ebola doctor, but there is reason for annoyance at Christian narcissism.

The desire to serve God as a foreign missionary is seen by many as a personal, selfish interest. That’s the theological part, salvation and rewards based on works righteousness. The accusation is that as missionaries we are trying to please God for our own benefits, to gain a sure ticket to heaven or to add benefits once we make it there. Missionaries are sometimes viewed as trying to get “one up” on normal Christians. It is theorized that missionaries are simply attempting to trade the good things of this life in order to gain something better in their future eternal life.

Another image that people sometimes have in their mind is that of the missionary tourist. They perceive that missionaries are selfishly serving their own personal interests when they are working among people living in remote parts of the globe. The foreign missionary lives the glamour life of traveling to distant parts of the world. According to some, missionaries simply can’t be successful enough in normal jobs to be able to afford to travel on their own dime. The only way they will ever be heroes is to be fantasy heroes to some remote tribe among the poor natives.  

I don’t know much about macroeconomics and global competition, but at times missionaries have even been challenged for sharing our capitalist secrets with the competition. By teaching people in other countries how to better care for themselves we are creating competition for our own country. No kidding, I’ve been personally told that I should not be teaching people how to grow better crops in another country. I have been accused of negatively affecting US exports. I would really have to be a narcissist to believe that of myself.

Part of Ann Coulter’s argument is that you don’t need to go abroad to be a missionary. There is plenty of work to be done here at home. That’s one of my favorite excuses I have ever heard for people not supporting the missionary effort.

First of all, I don’t consider Coulter’s own strategy to be particularly successful at winning converts. Those who typically use the excuse of not going abroad to evangelize others are often not willing to work at home either. In our case, I calculate that my wife and I as foreign missionaries have nearly 1000 people firmly behind us who are financially supporting, encouraging us, and praying for us. The vast majority of those people are also very invested in actively working at home. We represent .2% of that number. Surely, two tenths of one percent can be spared from here at home to take the Gospel to those in other lands.

Furthermore, I am convinced that our own involvement in foreign missions does not take away from God’s ability to use us to still do good at home. We certainly don’t see the mission effort as a select few people going into some “disease-ridden cesspool” in order to avoid “fighting the culture war of the U.S.” as Coulter so unartfully describes it. What we do as missionaries is not a threat to our own country. Human resources are not being wasted. Just the opposite is true. Investment abroad makes us stronger at home.

It is difficult to explain the concept of “radical discipleship”. It is not often understood by others when missionaries or other or other Christians are willing to put aside everything in order to answer the call of serving Christ simply because he calls us. There’s not a day that I don’t search my own soul, asking if my motives are clear. Over 40 years ago, I first dealt with the desire of my heart in a tent revival meeting in Mount Vernon, Ohio. I was changed at that moment, the desires of my heart were changed. No longer was I interested in serving myself. The desire of my heart is to serve God. Possibly Coulter confuses the real joy found in serving God as “Christian narcissism”. There’s no place I would rather be than in the center of God’s will.

Jesus was not narcissistic and was not serving His own interests when He said, “…nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” 

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