by Jerry Richardson 8/10/14
I have issues with an Ann Coulter article. Let me state, right at the start, that I like, admire, and respect Ann Coulter. I admire her obvious intelligence, her talent for writing, and her courage and ability to successfully engage in public debate with opponents who are often very hostile to her.
I read practically everything she writes, even though from time to time I disagree with her opinions. This is one of those times when I disagree with her, strongly.
In Ann’s August 6, 2014 article, EBOLA DOC’S CONDITION DOWNGRADED TO ‘IDIOTIC’, Ann presents an argument whose essentials are, in my words, the following:
- •Dr. Kent Brantly should not have gone to Africa as a medical missionary, because it was too dangerous.
- •He and other Christians as well can serve Christ in America.
- •Christians should stay in America and concentrate their ministry here.
- •The reason that Dr. Brantly went to Africa was for acclaim and to appear “heroic.”
- •The reason that American Christians go on “mission trips” is because they are tired of fighting the culture war in the U.S. and they need an escape.
- •The Christian actions criticized in the article are the result of Christian narcissism.
I have two primary issues with Ann’s article: 1) Unjustified impugning of group motives, and 2) Unjustified impugning of an individual’s motives.
UNJUSTIFIED IMPUGNING OF GROUP MOTIVES
Ann Coulter, in her article, presumes to explain why American Christians go on
“ ’mission trips’ to disease-ridden cesspools.” Here’s what Ann said:
“Of course, if Brantly had evangelized in New York City or Los Angeles, The New York Times would get upset and accuse him of anti-Semitism, until he swore — as the pope did — that you don’t have to be a Christian to go to heaven. Evangelize in Liberia, and the Times’ Nicholas Kristof will be totally impressed.
“Which explains why American Christians go on ‘mission trips’ to disease-ridden cesspools. They’re tired of fighting the culture war in the U.S., tired of being called homophobes, racists, sexists and bigots. So they slink off to Third World countries, away from American culture to do good works, forgetting that the first rule of life on a riverbank is that any good that one attempts downstream is quickly overtaken by what happens upstream.”
There has been a tremendous amount of online discussion and criticism related to Short Term Missions (STM)—sometimes termed (approvingly or disapprovingly) “mission trips.”
What does Short Term Missions (STM) mean?
“One generation ago, the term “short-term mission” was defined by traditional mission agencies. Today the term “short-term mission” is being defined in many ways, usually by the local churches that send them.
In the United States, this could mean up to 350,000 churches each separately creating their own definitions of what constitutes “short-term mission.” Whether right or wrong, short-term mission is being defined in any way needed by those who choose to use the term.”
“…in contrast to traditional longer-term or career missionaries:
“1. Short-termers are generally mobilized and sent swiftly (specialized education and a year or two of deputation are not needed);
“2. Short-termers go temporarily (often for 2 weeks to a month);
“3. Short-termers are usually volunteers who donate their time and are often non-professionals in both the employment and vocational sense.”
— Definition of Short Term Missions
The reason I used the heading, UNJUSTIFIED IMPUGNING OF GROUP MOTIVES for this section of my article is because I believe that Ann Coulter has improperly criticized the motives of all, or many, of the individuals who participate in “mission trips.” Obviously, Ann Coulter can only surmise, but not know, the motives of a multitude of different individuals.
And, the number of individuals we are talking about is large:
“The short-term-mission movement began in the 1960s and grew dramatically through the 1980s and 1990s. Today it draws upwards of 2 million participants each year from America alone.
If you are looking for statistics about U.S. participation in short-term missions, the best study was conducted by Robert Wuthnow based on data from 2004. His findings, widely cited, estimate U.S. participant levels for that year at 2.4 million, including youth groups and those serving in the U.S. His research also states that approximately 1.6 million Americans went abroad on mission trips in 2005. Current figures would likely be similar.” —Short Term Missions
The debate about STM is indeed intense:
“Even now [July 2012], some 50 years after the STM movement first started, there is fierce debate about whether or not STM is a net force for good.”
—STM in Moldova, Chapter 2
Here are two of the main issues, as I see it, related to STM:
“This author strongly recommends that the focus of short-term mission be on the material and spiritual needs of the receiving community.
“As Jeffrey laments, ‘North Americans often come seeking the emotional rewards of hands-on involvement rather than a way to make an investment in long-term empowerment’ (2001, p5). The situation is exacerbated when such “emotional rewards” are spiritualised and made to sound worthy but actually draw attention away from the needs of the host community.” —STM in Moldova, Chapter 8
“Short-term mission trips to Africa, South America and Southeast Asia have become very popular in the past few years. They are a keystone strategy of evangelical pastor Rick Warren’s plans to help Rwanda. These trips, like Christian missionary endeavors overall, encompass a wide variety of activities, from evangelization and “church planting” to health care and economic development. The billion-dollar question, however, is whether they’re worth the cost. Are short-term missions the best way to achieve the goals of Christians? Critics argue that sightseeing often takes up too much of the itinerary, leading some to call short-termers “vacationaries.”
“It’s hard to judge the fairness of this characterization, since almost no one runs the numbers. Estimates of how much churches spend on short-term missions go as high as $4 billion a year, according to the Capital Research Center. The literature is sparse, most of it focusing on the spiritual aspects, for the missionaries themselves. And these aspects are sometimes oversold.”
—The Wall Street Journal
I think that these are the two primary issues (focus and cost-effectiveness) related to STM that Ann Coulter is addressing in her article. I don’t completely agree with her assessment, but I’m not, in this article, disputing Ann’s opinion of STM.
I am, however, strongly disputing Ann’s unsubstantiated impugning of the motives of a multitude (group) of people she doesn’t know.
In rebuttal let me offer one item of concrete, counter evidence.
I know from personal experience, that there are pastors, in America, who have chosen to extend their Christian service: Serve primarily in America but also serve secondarily abroad.
My personal experience is based, in part, upon the fact that I have a relative who is a hard-working, dedicated pastor right here in the USA; and, in addition to competently performing his demanding pastoral duties, he periodically travels, with the encouragement and approval of his church, to other countries, including Africa, on Short Term Missions (STM), aka “mission trips.” In this man’s actions and words, relative to any of his ministries, I have never seen or discerned any indication of primary-motive other than the desire to do what he firmly believes the Lord has called him to do.
There are many pastors and churches in America who encourage and support STM in the USA and abroad. Are we to impugn the motives of all? Without even knowing them or hearing from them?
I am disappointed that Ann Coulter has chosen to take a hectoring-foray into nannyism by presuming to lecture all, or many, American Christians on where and how they should answer the call of God in their own personal lives.
In answer to Ann’s final criticism in her article:
“There may be no reason for panic about the Ebola doctor, but there is reason for annoyance at Christian narcissism.”
I offer the following counter-criticism:
“There is no reason for undue anger at Ann Coulter about her article, but there is reason for annoyance at her Christian nannyism.”
UNJUSTIFIED IMPUGNING OF AN INDIVIDUAL’S MOTIVES
In her article, Ann Coulter harshly (in my view) impugns the motives of a medical missionary, Dr. Kent Brantly.
I find no evidence offered, in the article, for her statements that undertake to characterize the motive that Dr. Brantly’s had for going to Africa as a medical missionary.
Here are Ann’s pertinent statements concerning Dr. Brantly’s motive:
“Why did Dr. Brantly have to go to Africa? The very first “risk factor” listed by the Mayo Clinic for Ebola — an incurable disease with a 90 percent fatality rate — is: “Travel to Africa.”
”Can’t anyone serve Christ in America anymore?
”Right there in Texas, near where Dr. Brantly left his wife and children to fly to Liberia and get Ebola, is one of the poorest counties in the nation, Zavala County — where he wouldn’t have risked making his wife a widow and his children fatherless.
“But serving the needy in some deadbeat town in Texas wouldn’t have been “heroic.” We wouldn’t hear all the superlatives about Dr. Brantly’s “unusual drive to help the less fortunate” or his membership in the “Gold Humanism Honor Society.” Leaving his family behind in Texas to help the poor 6,000 miles away — that’s the ticket.”
According to all-knowing Ann, Dr. Brantly’s motive for becoming a medical missionary to Africa was to be “heroic”. But shouldn’t we at least hear what Dr. Brantly had to say about his motive? Here’s what he said:
“ ‘In October , [my wife] Amber and the kids and I are moving to Monrovia, Liberia, to work as medical missionaries at ELWA Hospital,’ Brantly told the congregation at Southeastern Church of Christ in Indianapolis. ‘For two years we will live and work and serve among the people who, until the last 10 years of peace, had known nothing but the violence and devastation of war for the previous 20 years.’
“He added, ‘I’ve never been to Liberia.’
“Why did he decide to take his family to ‘this far-off place’ he knew nothing about?
“ ‘It’s because God has a call on my life,’ Brantly said.
“Quoting the Apostle Paul, Brantly urged the congregation to live boldly, saying, ‘God did not give us a spirit of timidity.’
“The sermon offers a deeper look at the man whose life has been permanently damaged by his work, and how his faith drove him to sacrifice.
“ ‘On difficult days,’ Brantly said, ‘when I want to give up or when I wonder if I’ve made the right decision, retelling my story reminds me of how God has brought me to where I am.’ ” —Dr. Kent Brantly
Being a Christian does not make anyone omniscient or a mind-reader. Only God can truly judge, perfectly and objectively, the motives (heart) of a person.
“The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?
” ‘I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds.’ ”
—Jeremiah 17:9-10 NASB
So, according to the Bible, who can properly discern people’s motives, i.e., understand the heart? Answer: “I, The Lord…” No one else is mentioned. Not even Ann Coulter.
I believe the Bible clearly teaches that God calls certain people into special areas of Christian ministry. And yes, I am fully aware that there are phonies who claim to have been called by God to do whatever it is they are doing. Anywhere there is the real thing there will always be a counterfeit.
Jesus himself provided a method for Christians to use to recognize phony ministers:
” ‘Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.’
” ‘You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?’
” ‘So then, you will know them by their fruits.’ —Matthew 7:15,16,20 NASB
My question to Ann would be: “What fruits of Dr. Brantly and his ministry have you examined in order to arrive at your conclusion about his motives?
As far as questioning whether Dr. Brantly should have gone to Africa because of the “risk factor” of the “Travel to Africa”; I invite Ann to study, or re-study the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul. He seemed to always be in danger. Why didn’t he just stay in Jerusalem or the immediate vicinity? There were certainly plenty of Jews and Gentiles, in the Jerusalem area, who needed the Gospel. Here’s what The Apostle Paul recorded about his “risk factor”:
“ ‘Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.
“Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.
“I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren;
“I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
“Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.’ ” —2 Corinthians 11:24-28 NASB
I think it is plausible (and amusing) that some Jerusalem-journalistic Ann Coulter might have commented on Paul’s highly-risky missionary journeys with the statement:
“Can’t anyone serve Christ in Israel anymore?”
Now if Ann Coulter wishes to criticize anyone, especially including the US government, for the fact that Dr. Brantly, infected with Ebola, was brought into America, that’s an entirely different issue. She did not really address that issue, and neither will I in this article. However, here’s what Dr. Ben Carson said about it:
“Renowned neurosurgeon and possible 2016 presidential hopeful, Dr. Benjamin Carson criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Monday for bringing two Ebola infected missionaries to the U.S. for treatment, citing the highly contagious and deadly nature of the disease.
“ ‘Why would we bring that into our country? Why would we expose ourselves when we already know that there are problems that can occur and have occurred,’ said Carson, who is a former director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University and Hospital, in an interview with Newsmax TV.
“ ‘Ebola is a terrifying disease. If you don’t treat it, close to 90 percent of the people will die,” said Carson.’ ” —Dr. Benjamin Carson
I think that Ann Coulter owes Dr. Kent Brantly and his family an apology.
Why? For impugning his motives which she has not shown sufficient evidence to characterize.
I also think that she owes an apology to the many dedicated Christians who choose to spend some of their discretionary time and effort spreading the Gospel in other nations.
© 2014, Jerry Richardson • (2927 views)