The Health of Nations
Sociologist Robert Woodberry of the Political Science Department of the University of Singapore has created a sensation in academia by publishing the results of his 14-year long study on the health of nations. Woodberry's conclusion is that Protestant Missionaries laid the foundations for democracy around the world. He identifies as the most significant factor in standards of living, literacy, political freedoms, women's rights, life expectancies, productivity and prosperity - the effect of Missions in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Fruit of the Greatest Century of Missions
For Missiologists, this is hardly news. The first World Missions Conference at Edinburgh, in 1910 presented overwhelming evidence for just that. My book: The Greatest Century of Missions, published in 2002, made the same observations.
However, what is newsworthy about this study is its source, a Sociologist from a major political science department in an Asian University. On the basis of over a decade of exhaustive studies, concludes: "Areas where Protestant Missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in non-governmental associations."
Woodberry's research has been published in the American Political Science Review, a source not known for its sympathy towards the cause of Christianity, or Missions. The Missionaries did far more than critique culture, they created new culture. They built hospitals, schools, universities, and publishing houses. They trained up entire generations of leaders for new nations. Even in an Islamic country, like Pakistan antagonistic to the Christian Faith, institutions like Forman College, established by Missionaries, trains many of its leaders.
No one did more to challenge injustice and evil, even in their own governments, and home countries, than the Missionaries. The benefits to countries which received Protestant Missionaries has been immense and, in many ways, is incalculable.
The World Was Changed by the Missionary Movement
The January/February 2014 issue of Christianity Today published the findings of Robert Woodberry in an article entitled: "The World the Missionaries Made." Woodberry's initial article was entitled: "The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy". In the American Political Science review, Woodberry defends his Thesis: "The work of missionaries turns out to be the single largest factor in ensuring the health of nations." This discovery he declares, landed on him like an atom bomb!
He said that he had thought of missionaries as racist and negative and had expected places which missionaries had influenced to become worse, and places where missionaries were not allowed, or were restricted, to be better. In fact, "We find exactly the opposite on all kinds of outcome."
The Protestant Distinctive
However, Woodberry makes a clarification stating that "there is one important nuance to all this: the positive effect of missionaries on democracy applies only to conversionary Protestants." Liberal Protestant clergy "financed by the state, as well as Catholic missionaries… had no comparable effect in areas where they worked."
The Nation Transforming Power of the Gospel
Woodberry points out: "Even though missionaries have often opposed unjust and destructive practices like opium addiction, slavery and land confiscation, nevertheless most missionaries did not set out to be political activists… but came to colonial reform through the back door. That is all these positive outcomes were somewhat unintended." Woodberry's conclusion is that the greatest social and cultural transformation occurs not by focusing on social and cultural transformation, but on the conversion of individuals from primitive religions to Faith in Jesus Christ and studying of the Bible.
The Fruit of Faith
This means that missionaries, pastors and churches lose their culture-transforming power if they make cultural transformation their energising focus. Conversionary Protestants changed the world, not because they focused on changing the world, but because they focused on changing people through Faith in Christ. Those missionaries who have done the most good for both time and eternity are those who concentrated on converting individuals to Faith in Christ and discipling them in that Faith. The fruit of that Faith has been greater literacy, lower infant mortality, better health, higher educational attainment, greater productivity and prosperity and more freedom in society.
A Tale of Two Universities
Woodberry gives the example of his travels to Lomé, the capital of Togo. This French speaking country's university campus library contained less than half as many books as his personal collection. Some of the most recent books in the library dated from 1977. The campus bookstore sold primarily stationery, not books. However, across the border at the University of Ghana's bookshop, Woodberry saw floor to ceiling shelves lined with many books, including recent books, locally printed by Ghanan scholars.
The Contrast Between the Catholic and Protestant Colonialism
He explains that during the colonial era, British missionaries in Ghana established a vast system of schools and printing presses. Whereas France, the colonial power in Togo, severely restricted Protestant missionaries.
Woodberry set up a statistical model to test the connection between missionary work and the health of nations. When he saw the results: "I was shocked! It was like an atomic bomb! The impact of missions on global democracy was huge! It was amazing! I knew, then, I was onto something really important."
Central to Civilisation
He had the historical proof that missionaries had educated women and the poor, promoted widespread printing, led national movements that empowered ordinary citizens and fuelled other key elements of democracy. Now the statistics were backing it up. Missionaries were not just part of the picture, they were central to it.
Overlooking the Obvious
Woodberry's results showed that more than 50 years' worth of research on the rise of democracy in the Third World had overlooked the most important factor. Philip Jenkins, Professor of History at Baylor University writes: "Try as I might to pick holes in it, the theory holds up. It has major implications for the global study of Christianity."
Daniel Philpott, who teaches Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, writes: "Why did some countries become democratic while others went the route of dictatorship? For Woodberry to show through devastatingly thorough analysis, that conversionary Protestants are crucial to what makes the country democratic today is remarkable in many ways. Not only is it another factor - it turns out to be the most important factor. It cannot be anything but startling for scholars of democracy."
The Best Analysis on Economical Development
Professor of Economics, Robin Grier of the University of Oklahoma, writes: "I think it's the best work out there on religion and economic development. It is incredibly sophisticated and well grounded. I haven't seen anything quite like it."
How Missionary McKenzie Protected Botswana
Woodberry addresses the stereotype about missionaries being closely connected to colonialism. In fact, Woodberry points out most Protestant missionaries were regularly very critical of their government. As an example, he gives John McKenzie's campaign which he took all the way to Queen Victoria to declare a protectorate over the land that is today known at Botswana. The country of Botswana would not exist today but for Missionary McKenzie's energetic initiatives to protect African land from white settlers.
Empowering Everyone Through Education
The Protestant emphasis on education, ensuring that all the people in their area were taught literacy and empowered through education was revolutionary. Literacy is the main determinant that lifts people out of poverty. Without universal literacy you cannot have a true democracy.
Evidence That Demands a Verdict
Robert Woodberry's 14 years of painstaking research has provided compelling evidence, even for the most cynical sceptic, that Bible-based, Evangelical, Protestant Christianity dramatically changes the world for the better. Missionaries have changed the world before. We can do it again.
"Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." 2 Corinthians 3:17
Dr. Peter Hammond
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa