Type of Document Dissertation Author Elliott, Kelly Rebecca URN etd-04082010-151331 Title "Chosen Race:" Baptist Missions and Mission Churches in the East and West Indies Degree Doctor of Philosophy Department History, Department of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Charles Upchurch Committee Chair Bawa Singh Committee Member Darrin McMahon Committee Member Matt Childs Committee Member Sarah Irving University Representative Keywords
- Baptist Missionary Society
- British Empire
Date of Defense 2010-04-06 Availability unrestricted AbstractIn 1792, a group of preachers and artisans from the north of England responded to contemporary currents of revivalist religion by founding the Baptist Missionary Society to preach the gospel to the “heathen” abroad. These young Baptists, whose identity was deeply marked by a persecuted past and an ambivalent relationship with state power, carried their free church tradition with them into the mission field, where their belief in divine providence and their commitment to biblical primitivism deeply informed their work. Baptist identity and approach to missions changed over the nineteenth century as Dissenters gained socioeconomic status and political power, and independent voluntarism gave way to the organization and bureaucracy of the modern humanitarian movement. These shifts affected missionary identity and approaches, as well as the way the society leadership and its missionaries viewed converts and the possibility of independent mission churches.
In South Asia and the Caribbean, secular colonials and officials viewed mission work warily, suspecting with reason that proselytization would undermine the racial and social hierarchies necessary to imperial success. Missionaries therefore faced significant political persecution in both spheres of empire, where they were viewed as subversive and undermining of colonial authority. Indigenous peoples in South Asia, particularly Bengali brahmans, also often looked upon missionaries with hostility; some, such as Brahmo Somaj founder Rammohun Roy, altered the Christianity they preached to serve their own needs and purposes. Converts lost caste as well as employment, and were often forced to cut all social ties upon professing Christ. Evangelism was more successful in the Caribbean, where slaves who converted often gained literacy, political advocacy, and a sense of community. Overall, convert decisions and experiences show that when colonized peoples chose to adopt Christianity, they built distinctly Asian or West Indian Christian communities which they increasingly led and supported themselves. Despite the fracturing and self-examination occasioned by changes within Baptist identity over the course of the century, the missionary society's commitment to a family of Christ that razed the boundaries of race, caste, and nation did make independent indigenous churches possible.
Current historiography frequently links British missions to imperialism, viewing missionaries as importers—and constructors—of Englishness and converts as passive receivers of a colonizing Christianity. I hope to redirect our understanding of the missionary enterprise towards a greater sensitivity to the multivalent nature of missionary identity and, most importantly, the crucial contributions of indigenous converts and the communities they forged in the Empire. Baptist emphasis on native Christian church leadership and involvement, as well as missionary children’s intermarriage with converts, help underline that, for the Baptists, the “chosen race” referred not to skin color or the burden of empire, but to election and sanctification by God.
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