Yesterday Ann Coulter, famous for her conservative political punditry, scathed Dr. Kent Brantly and others for doing mission work that puts them in harms danger. Brantly and his nurse recently contracted Ebola, a deadly disease, while treating patients with the disease in the African country of Liberia.
Coulter argues that American Christians forsake their country which is, “in a pitched battle for its soul” for the sake of personal narcissism and vanity. She goes onto essentially say that traveling to Africa to do good works and spread the Gospel is “idiotic” because of what it costs and because there are needy people right here in America. It’s Ann Coulter’s opinion that American Missionaries are a bunch of cowards afraid to fight the culture wars at home and thus go off to faraway lands where it is easier to become heroes for their good deeds. We annoy her with our self-serving narcissism.
So, I’m here to tell you why Ann Coulter isn’t my voice for Christian mission and why she shouldn’t be yours either. Ann Coulter, like many of her counter points on the left, are products of an American Christianity that is fundamentally not of Christ. It doesn’t look or act like Jesus. It likes the benefits of moral law without the messiness of grace. It loves platitudes more than people in poverty. It adores comfort and riches over sacrifice and generosity. It is religiously dangerous and damning.
Like many others on the right and left in the media Ann Coulter is a master of rhetoric, but incompetent in theology, church history and mission. Give a pundit a concordance and they can cut and paste a Bible verse that supposedly supports their agenda or proposition. My five year-old has a better grasp on these matters than just about anyone you’ll hear on TV or read in the media. Here is where Coulter and others like her go wrong:
1.) Christianity = “The American Dream”.
I love America. I live in the greatest country on the planet. But America didn’t invent Jesus and the Bible. America is in large a product of people who loved Jesus and the Bible. Jesus is greater than ethnicity and culture. The God of the Bible is awesome in majesty and power. He is a God of justice and mercy simultaneously. He is holy, righteous and full of grace. His thoughts and ways are higher than mine, Ben Franklin’s, Abraham Lincoln’s and Barak Obama’s. My Kindergarten daughter understands this. When our family went to vote this week she asked me what voting was. I explained to her it’s how we choose our leaders. Her response was: “But we already have a leader…It’s Jesus. He’s our King.”
In a culture consumed by hyper individualism Jesus calls us to give our life away for the sake of others. (Mark 8:35, Matthew 20:28) Paul writing to the church at Philippi explains that he is happy to give his life as a sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel being preached to the lost and needy. (Philippians 2:17-18)
I’m not arguing for brash risk devoid of wisdom, but there is no mistake – Jesus calls us to come and see, but eventually to fully surrender by dying to ourselves for Him and others. (Galatians 2:20) This is actually the truest form of freedom. (Galatians 5:13-14) This is the antithesis of narcissism.
2.) Missions is a fearful avoidance of the American Culture wars.
This is the most obvious error in Coulter’s column – maybe the most egregious as well. You need get to the third paragraph of Acts of the Apostles, the Bible’s historical record of the early church, to discover that the church’s very existence is for God’s glory in mission. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV) Her feelings about keeping your faith local and ethno centered aren’t new. After all, the first major church controversy is recorded in Acts 15. What was the controversy? Paul and Barnabas’ foreign mission work amongst those dirty, unclean and uncircumcised Gentiles.
What Ann Coulter ignores or fails to recognize is that when prayer was sanctioned in school, abortion was illegal and the most far lefty liberal couldn’t imagine gay marriage – Jim Elliot was one of five missionaries killed while participating in Operation Auca, an attempt to evangelize the Huaorani people of Ecuador. Their legacy 50 years later is a people group that knows Jesus and no longer mass murders one another. Maybe Ann is unaware of William Borden of Yale and Princeton. William served as a missionary in Egypt before contracting spinal meningitus in Cairo and then passing away on April 9, 1913. Let’s not forget Adoniram Judson, missionary to Burma in the 1800s or the thousands of other missionaries throughout history who gave up the comforts of their home to live and serve in a foreign land.
3.) The motivation for global missions is self-serving heroism.
Sure, people do charitable works for self-serving reasons. Foundations exist as tax shelters. But this is not the heart of most missionaries – certainly not the ones I know. My friends Jonathan and Erin could get plenty of pats on the back for serving the poor and needy in Nashville, but they make their home in Brazil. Most missionaries are serving in relative obscurity. Once or twice a year getting some promotion from their sending or supporting churches. A better description of their mindset would be lonely or weary. Yet they press on because they are motivated by serving for the Glory of God. He is their Lord, and so they carry the good news of redemption to lost and needy souls, often by building bridges, wells, medical clinics and churches.
Narcissism? Ann, look in the mirror.
4.) What about all the needs at home?
There is no doubt there is poverty, illness and injustice in America. However, I’d like to think that the richest people in the richest country the world has ever known can walk and chew gum. We can fund and serve local food banks, pregnancy centers, low income schools AND fly to Africa to love on orphans.
Make no mistake, I think Ann Coulter is entitled to her opinion. This is America after all – where we are allowed to have an express our thoughts. However, 100 years from now no one will remember Brad Raby or Ann Coulter, but you can bet there will be missionaries sent from churches and mission organizations still telling people about the most renowned and famous individual to live: Jesus the Christ, Son of the living God.