A Missionary Looks at Political Revolution
The murder of four Roman Catholic missionaries in El Salvador, and the more recent murder of a Wycliffe missionary in Columbia, are harsh evidences of the brutal political struggles going on in Latin America. Christian missionaries increasingly are getting caught in the crossfire of warring political groups. Even those missionaries who avoid all political activity sometimes fall victim to a radical group that assumes that the missionary is on the other side.
There is much discussion and difference of opinion as to whether or not missionaries are to be involved in political struggles in the countries where they serve. Those church leaders and missionaries who are advocates of the new Liberation Theology proclaim that social and political liberation are an essential part of the new life that God gives. They insist that missionaries have to identify with the people they serve and stand by them in their struggles for equality and freedom.
At the other extreme are missionaries who say that Christians should disassociate themselves from the wicked world. They see their task as missionaries to call people out of that world to faith in Jesus Christ, who promises them eternal life in heaven.
Most of us missionaries are somewhere between those two extremes. We are concerned about the suffering of the people among whom we serve. But we are unwilling to participate in or encourage violence to bring about political change.
Here in Chiapas, we missionaries of the Reformed Church partly because we realize that we are guests in this foreign land, and we have no right to force our political views on others. Non-intervention is a favorite phrase of all of the political leaders of the nations of the world. No one appreciates a neighbor who tries to get involved in their personal family affairs.
But there is another reason for not being politically active as a missionary. It is because we realize that the solution for Latin America's problems is not the replacing of one political party with another. Even when a political change takes place through elections or through revolution, there is so little improvement that it does not balance the violence, the bloodshed, the suffering, and the chaos that is costs. Often much more is lost than gained, as in a successful Communist revolution that ends up destroying personal liberty. Or as in Uganda, where a successful political revolt gave birth to a ruthless, murdering tyrant who destroyed hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens.
The dictatorships of both the right and left have much in common. When they come into power they empty the prisons, giving freedom to all the political opponents. And then they immediately refill the prisons with their political opponents. They point out the corruption of the previous regime and then proceed to exploit and rob the people in the same way.
Something much more fundamental must change than just a rotation of political parties. The root problem is in the unregenerate human heart, which is evil and in rebellion against God. We cannot expect fresh water suddenly to begin flowing from a salt water well — even though we may change the pump and piping. We cannot expect justice and truth from men who still are ruled by their own pride and greed. We cannot expect an increase in social justice and freedom as long as the society and its rulers are estranged from God.
The only way we will have justice and righteousness in our nations is if the political leaders are men who have been remade by God and belong to Him. When their lives and decisions are directed by God, then truth and honesty and freedom and justice and equality will thrive.
Consequently, the greatest contribution that a missionary can make to the political well-being of his adopted country is to share the good news of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible, with the hope that these servants of God may some day become the kings and rulers of their nations. That alone will open the door for peace and justice to enter.