From the Blog and Mablog blog:
One of our central difficulties with missions is that we have not yet identified the bane of benevolence. We have not yet figured out how to protect the mission field from destructive do-gooding. Not only do we not prevent it, we still positively recruit for it.
We learn a great deal from the parable of the Good Samaritan. We learn the straightforward lesson, called moralistic by some, which is “help a guy, woodja?” We learn the more obligue lesson (for us), which is that the Temple worship in Jerusalem stood condemned. If the priest and Levite had stopped to help that man, and he turned out to be dead, or if he died on them, they would have been defiled, and unable to serve God in the Temple. But that Temple would be defiled with many more dead bodies than that, and soon enough.
But one of the lessons we do not glean from this parable is the need to take the victim off to a homeopathic hospital to make his condition worse with remedies we got off the Internet. One of the tenets of the Hippocratic Oath needs to mastered by us — first, do no harm. Don’t make things worse.
Because we have not yet really understood the deep connection between gospel and culture, between the need for widespread regeneration before anything significant can be done in a culture, we have simply gone in with boatloads of money (by their standards) and created cultures of entitlement and dependency. We have done this because we are not nearly cynical enough about our own benevolent motives.
Missions can have a god complex. Missions can go into villages and play dress up dolls with the people. Missions can be paternalistic. Missions can be clueless when it comes to sound economics, and can therefore create craters everywhere they go. Missions can have the same purblind approach to wealth and poverty that the World Bank has, only with Bible verses attached, and getting the same results despite the Jesus jargon.
And lest anyone mistake my meaning here, and write me a hot letter, there are of course missionaries out there who avoid these traps, and who warn the rest of us about them. May God increase their tribe. But we really ought to stop sending out people to the field unless they have a true and abiding hatred for a particular kind of benevolence.