Good Citizens

Good Citizens: British Missionaries and Imperial States, 1870-1918

Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Good Citizens
    Book Description:

    The authors examine the interaction of missionary organizations with local political powers and with their home government, arguing that in trying to decide which course of action to pursue, missionaries became knowledgeable students of imperial politics and the shifting state of international affairs. They show that leadership of British missionary societies was split between those who wanted to be treated without favouritism by the British government and those who had more aggressive expectations. In doing so they explore the pressures that contributed to the formation of imperial policy and perspective during a significant period of the evolution of the British empire.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6752-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Origins of the Missionary Societies
    (pp. xvii-xix)
  6. Secretaries of British Missionary Societies
    (pp. xx-2)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 3-5)

    Privately organized and financed, British missionary societies solemnly disavowed formal political ties at home and abroad. Sturdy voluntarists in the main, they felt it wise to keep Caesar at arm’s length. Metropolitan partisanship and frontier meddling were not only unseemly but could also be downright poisonous to long-term endeavour. Such, at least, was the official position of most missionary bodies, especially before the 1890s. Even so, in their more candid moments, all but the most fastidiously neutral recognized that the missionary enterprise had an inescapable political dimension. There was, of course, plenty of room for interpretation on this point. Indeed,...

  8. 1 The Politics of Spiritual Free Trade
    (pp. 6-38)

    Spiritual free traders could be found in all missionary societies between 1870 and 1918. Some people took official proclamations of political neutrality very much to heart. Some did so out of theoretical conviction. Others simply saw no practical, long-term alternative. In any case literalists were rare since most recognized the force of Henry Venn’s argument about the overlap of politics and evangelism. But given a choice, evangelical Cobdenites preferred to keep Caesar at arm’s length and assigned him a limited role in the process of global redemption. Their most basic political avowal was that missionaries were, or ought to be,...

  9. 2 “God’s Greater Britain”
    (pp. 39-68)

    According to J.A. Hobson it had been a short step from the muscular religiosity of the previous generation to the “Imperial Christianity” he denounced in 1902. The jaded political economist set this down to “a lie in the soul” whereby well-meaning but deluded missionaries conflated the sacred and the profane as they fell victim to imperial “kilometritis.”¹ While a caricature of some missionary thinking, the observation vividly underscores the evangelical community’s rising consciousness of empire, particularly between the Golden Jubilee and the South African War. Indeed a growing number of missionaries found positive connections between their own endeavours and those...

  10. 3 Citizenship in Crisis I: The Boer War
    (pp. 69-97)

    As the century drew to a close, John Clifford was not alone in his call for a “true imperialism” that would hurl the combined weight of British influence into the struggle for world evangelization. Between 1899 and 1914, however, many missionaries grew increasingly skeptical about cosy relations with Greater Britain or any other secular agency. Rather, ecumenical communion came to be seen as a better path to global salvation. Thus old denominational rivals began pooling their resources and coordinating their efforts, or at least contemplated doing so. Besides being financially prudent, this also reflected the disenchantment of mission houses with...

  11. 4 Citizenship in Crisis II: The Boxer Rebellion
    (pp. 98-119)

    As it turned out, events in South Africa had to compete for attention with a major international crisis half a world away, one that also profoundly affected missionary attitudes to Caesar. Bishop C.P. Scott of the SPG made the strategic connection when he wrote from China in the spring of 1900. Relieved by what he thought to be the war’s end in the Transvaal, he assumed that this would“mean the saving of the situation out here,for it sets the home Government free to prosecute a policy of vigour in compelling the Chinese to stop these disgraceful proceedings.”¹ He...

  12. 5 “Higher Citizenship”
    (pp. 120-156)

    Even as missionaries scrambled to defend their roles in South Africa and China, other major problems loomed. The BMS in particular was caught in the floodlights of a bitter international scandal. As longstanding “good citizens” of the Congo Free State, its agents squirmed in acute discomfort when Leopold II’s regime was charged with spawning atrocities that smacked of the worst that the old slave systems had to offer. Though not as compelling and dramatic as the Boxer imbroglio, the Congo question none the less engaged humanitarian attention for the better part of a decade. Along the way, and all too...

  13. 6 Armageddon
    (pp. 157-194)

    Early in 1910 the secretary of the SPG wrote a disquieting letter to the Archbishop of Cape Town. After lamenting the chronic underfunding of missionary effort, he prophesied bleakly that “An European war, which I suppose is not an impossibility ere long, may reduce every grant to every Diocese in the world.”¹ The perennial grant problem and the looming prospect of war were, to be sure, hardly news by 1910, the year that missionary conferees had hopefully assembled in Edinburgh to address those and other questions. Preoccupied almost to the point of obsession with funding, mission houses had crises enough...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 195-200)

    Over the half-century that ended with the armistice in 1918, missions had done battle on a variety of fronts and with diverse foes. Thus at home they had consistently warred against the sins of materialism, secularism, “ethical lethargy,” and downright indifference. But overseas had been their paramount theatre of operations, and there they had been preoccupied with the travails of planning and waging their global crusades. Not unlike imperial expansionists, they had willingly shouldered a heavy strategic task, the so-called White Missionary’s Burden, an evangelical play on the well-worn cliché of the day.¹ This was nothing less than the evangelizing...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 201-258)
  16. Note on Sources
    (pp. 259-266)
  17. Index
    (pp. 267-274)