American Expansionism and the Missionary Movement

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American expansionism and the missionary movement are closely associated. The progressive movement had energized social reformers in America, inspiring social justice, social change and moral responsibility. America was emerging as a proud, patriotic society and felt empowered by their democracy. Americans believed their nation was exceptional and that they had a “moral responsibility” to bring Christianity and democracy to the world. Encouraged by political leaders, this moral responsibility spurred the growth of missionary work around the globe. Missionaries were a contradiction, one that is not easily sorted. The goals and objectives of the missionary themselves were often purest of heart. Missionaries’ goals were to spread of the gospel, the convert heathens to Christianity and enrich the communities they work in by providing education and medical assistance. On the contrary missionaries were also often “agents of cultural change.” (Stipe p.1) They carried with them American ideals, democracy, individual rights, free enterprise, universal education, and delayed gratification. (Clifford Putney p.7) This aspect of cultural change made missionaries an ideal government tool for expansion and imperialism. The Franciscan missions had set an historic precedent for strategically using religion and missionaries to conquest native populations or oversee new territories. The American government and businesses viewed missionaries’ quests with self-interest. They saw missionaries as a way to spread American culture and ideals. Their subsequent goals for missionaries’ were for American expansion, domestic prosperity, and to ensure the world’s well being (or defending democracy). Korea is an interesting example of the missi... ... middle of paper ... ...ntrinsic motivation for democracy and the protect people. They seem to have both wanted to defend ‘weaker people’ against imperial empires and grant them rights for self-determination. Self- determination was one of Woodrow Wilson’s fourteen points for peace. The missionary expansion and their work within different nations is a dilemma of well intentions versus prosperity and power. Many missionaries remained out of politics and out of local culture and only served the communities for the better. They increased educational opportunities and provided medical care; most importantly they served to ensure the communities could actively participate in the international community. While the government and businesses reaped the rewards of increased prosperity and power, these rewards were in many ways not the purpose of missionary expansion but merely an outcome.

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