Document Type


Publication Date



As an American, and a missionary of various shades among my own Native American peoples for 30 years, I have observed as much about Western (White) culture in North American missions as I have among the many Indigenous tribal cultures. This article is meant to provide an opportunity for a self-critique of Western missionary culture, particularly concerning some of the roots of colonial and neo-colonial practices of mission in the United States. In other words, I want to provide an opportunity for us to learn how those who have been the recipients of North American mission the longest may understand Western missionary culture. The most blatant contrast of Western missionary culture compared to Indigenous cultures is hierarchy as the structural norm. Hierarchical structures do not intuitively generate equality. Such structures require power to be used over the other in order to retain power and maintain homeostasis. By diminishing notions of dignity in the (subaltern) other, whether the other is such by ethnicity, gender, class, or simply by being considered a less important part of creation, we dehumanize them or desacralize them, robbing them of their dignity. Once a person, group, or another part of creation is identified as having less dignity or sacredness than ourselves we can, within a hierarchical norm, find rationalizations to use power over them. These rationalizations are then codified in societies and systemic structures to create the norm. Throughout the centuries, Christians have settled for hierarchical governance as the norm. In a very real sense, a significant root of slavery, patriarchy, racism, and classism involves accepting this hierarchical norm. Christian mission has not been immune to the same hegemonic tendencies and must be re-examined in order to resurface in a form worthy of the message of the pre-colonial Jesus.


Originally published in Missiology: An International Review, Fall 2015 issue.

Included in

Religion Commons