The Gospel of Freedom and Power

The Gospel of Freedom and Power: Protestant Missionaries in American Culture after World War II

Sarah E. Ruble
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 232
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Gospel of Freedom and Power
    Book Description:

    In the decades after World War II, Protestant missionaries abroad were a topic of vigorous public debate. From religious periodicals and Sunday sermons to novels and anthropological monographs, public conversations about missionaries followed a powerful yet paradoxical line of reasoning, namely that people abroad needed greater autonomy from U.S. power and that Americans could best tell others how to use their freedom. InThe Gospel of Freedom and Power, Sarah Ruble traces and analyzes these public discussions about what it meant for Americans abroad to be good world citizens, placing them firmly in the context of the United States' postwar global dominance.Bringing together a wide range of sources, Ruble seeks to understand how discussions about a relatively small group of Americans working abroad became part of a much larger cultural conversation. She concludes that whether viewed as champions of nationalist revolutions or propagators of the gospel of capitalism, missionaries--along with their supporters, interpreters, and critics--ultimately both challenged and reinforced a rhetoric of exceptionalism that made Americans the judges of what was good for the rest of the world.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0160-1
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-18)

    In 1959 James A. Michener published his first epic novel,Hawaii. Since World War II, Michener had carved a successful niche as a guide to the South Pacific. Rodgers and Hammerstein adapted hisTales of the South Pacificinto the musicalSouth Pacific.Hawaiinever made it to Broadway, but it did become a best seller, a Book-of-the-Month Club Selection, and the basis for a 1966 movie starring Max von Sydow and Julie Andrews. As a novel that Michener intended to be “true to the spirit and history of Hawaii,” the book narrated encounters among various peoples, such as native...

  5. chapter one PROTESTANT MAINLINE
    (pp. 19-54)

    In 1984 a small war of words broke out in the United Methodist Church (umc).Newscope, a weekly denominational newsletter, treated readers to accusations and counteraccusations of blasphemy, violence, and misrepresentation. The fight featured old combatants: members of Good News, a theologically conservative reform movement within the umc, and the General Board of Global Ministries (gbgm), the official agency responsible for missions. For seventeen years, Good News had bewailed the board’s “liberal” mission policy, particularly its support for liberation theology, a theological movement Good News believed substituted Marxism for the Christian gospel. By 1984 the conservatives had lost patience with...

  6. chapter two EVANGELICALS
    (pp. 55-90)

    In September 1945 the Free MethodistMissionary Tidingsfeatured a poem, “The Converted Heathen Speaks.” The author adopted the voice of a convert::

    Out of the Stygian darkness

    Of heathendom, brutish and base,

    Out of the black superstition

    That curses and crushes our race …

    We have been lifted and pardoned

    In answer to somebody’s prayer.

    Petition, according to the convert, empowered those “bringing the ‘Light into the Darkness’ / To souls who were sunk in despair.”¹ Reports in that and subsequent issues reiterated the theme in prose. Missionaries stood in stark white contrast to woeful black superstition.

    In 1989...

  7. chapter three ANTHROPOLOGY
    (pp. 91-120)

    In 1988 Jonathan Benthall could not explain why missionaries were at the American Anthropological Association’s (aaa) annual meeting. Benthall, the editor ofAnthropology Today, had “dropped into” an informal session titled “Christian Anthropologists” expecting to hear about scholarship at Catholic universities. Instead he found Protestant evangelical “missionaries and missiologists from the Summer Institute of Linguistics [sil] and similar groups.”¹ Benthall was surprised by the parochial character of the conversation—he surmised by their absence that Catholics “were not considered a subset of Christian” by the attendees. While he conceded that sil had produced one significant name in anthropology, linguist Kenneth...

  8. chapter four GENDER
    (pp. 121-152)

    In 1950 theChristian Centuryreported that female self-interest was impeding an important development in missions. TheCenturywas excited about joint efforts between the Foreign Missions Conference (fmc) and the National Council of Churches (ncc)—a movement toward organizational merger. Women, however, were blocking the road to cooperation. They demanded a “cosecretarial arrangement” in the new organization in which a man and a woman would share leadership duties. TheCenturydescribed the demand as “a resurgence of the ‘feminist’ movement” and lamented that movement adherents “often seem to put its demands ahead of the best interests of the Kingdom.”¹...

    (pp. 153-166)

    Some critics of U.S. power did attack its gendered logic. Barbara Kingsolver for one. In 1998 and 1999, Kingsolver’sThe Poisonwood Biblejoined John Grisham’sThe Testamenton best-seller lists. Her story garnered critical acclaim and a wide readership. Short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize, it received the commercially more important endorsement of Oprah’s Book Club. Spurred by reviewer’s acclaim and Oprah’s approval, many Americans made their way through 587 pages of political allegory in which a male evangelist with a messiah complex stood in for the United States’ destructive machinations in the 1960s Congo.¹

    While the novel itself rambled a...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 167-184)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 185-204)
  12. Index
    (pp. 205-214)