A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Should We Evangelize Uncontacted Indigenious Tribes?

Survival International has released photos of an uncontacted indigenous tribe in the jungles of Brazil. Uncontacted means exactly that-- they have had absolutely no direct contact with human beings outside of their own village. They know nothing of TV or the Internet, and only God knows what they believe the airplanes are that they see flying overhead. Experts estimate that worldwide there are over 100 uncontacted indigenous tribes worldwide, most of them reside in Peru and Brazil in the Amazon rainforest.

The indigenous rights group released the photos to call attention to illegal logging that continues to move toward the land of these indigenous peoples. I support Survival International's desire to save the rainforest, not only for its own sake, but also because there is no good argument to be made for destroying these persons' habitat.

But here is my question: should the church send missionaries to these tribes in an attempt to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them? This is an issue that should elicit considerable response. So what do you think? If we have the opportunity to send missionaries to them, should we?

All are encouraged to respond and all views are welcome.


Robert Cornwall said...

I suppose the answer might depend on your theology. Being that I trust God's compassion and grace, my feeling is that whenever western Christians "contact" indigenous peoples, they bring not only Christianity, but all manner of Western ideas and technology, and disease.

So, unless they wish to be contacted, I say leave them be.

Earl said...

Sin is universal. Faith in Christ is the only answer. The Church is pre-eminently multi-national. Without qualification and without equivocation, every effort should be made to evangelize every single person in the world, regardless of where they might be located or what might be their culture.

Country Parson said...

Many Christians are faithfully certain that only believers will be saved. They feel a genuine moral obligation to proclaim the gospel in all places with no exceptions. Failure to do so could result in the damnation of millions who might have been saved, and whose fault would that be if not those who had the truth and did not share it. My own tradition operates from a different theology of God's grace that is less anxious about the need to convert everyone. It also makes us lousy evangelists, so I don't think we have much to brag about. But I have some other questions. Is it right to cordon off a small tribe to preserve them as if in a zoo where they can be studied by some and provide hours of entertainment to others? Is it possible to enable them to gently enter the modern world, preserving the essence of their culture as they choose it to be preserved while also gaining the skills needed to flourish in the greater community? Perhaps the right kind of missionaries could help make that happen by being Christ among them rather than saving them from eternal damnation.

Survival International said...

In 2008 the same tribe was photographed pointing spears and firing arrows at the plane from which the photographs were taken. This is a clear message to outsiders: ''Leave us alone!'

It's no coincidence that this tribe, and many others, have chosen to settle in extremely remote regions; many are likely to be descendants from survivors of the Rubber Boom during which almost 30,000 indigenous people were killed.

Contact with the outside has proven to be tragic time and time again for indigenous people in the Amazon and 'development' as we know it offers little for this community who are evidently healthy and have everything they require to sustain their way of life. Indigenous peoples are often given access only to the lowest level of society resulting in a life of poverty, disease, addiction and often death.

Taking into account the horrific fact that around 50% of a tribe is commonly wiped out after first contact, how can unwanted contact be justified?

It is not for us to decide the fate of these people, that is down to them. So as long as they chose to live on their ancestral lands and make clear their wish to be left alone, we must do our upmost to ensure that their right to their lands and lives are protected.

Danny Ray said...

Agree with Pastor Bob. Leave'm alone. Only if one was fortunate enough to have been born into the one true religion should a monopoly on religious truth be arrogantly marketed to others. On the other hand, might be neat to meet these people--could be inspirational to open one's axioms to another's take on the sacred. Cancel the meeting if they're cannibalistic! Only thing I like "axing" is to chop my erroneously held axioms, not my head. Country Parson has good attitude-sort of "share the gospel always and when desperate even use words" approach. Earl, I used to be exclusivistic myself. If you want to change, check out Diana Eck's ideas- a Methodist who is heading up Harvard's Religious Pluralism Project.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Thanks for the comments so far...

To Survival International, thanks so much for your informative and helpful response. And thanks for the work that you do.

CP: I'm greatly intrigued by your comments. I am wondering if you can fill them out just a little more.

And by the way... welcome back home.

Anyone else is free to comment as well.

hnb said...

By destroying these person's habitat, we actually will destroy our own. But, that's not what you wanted to talk about.

As they are surrounded by the beauty God created, I believe God is with them and they feel his presence. I can't imagine someone going in there and being able to evangelize without ruining their thoughts and way of life. It would take an incredible person.

But, it does bring up the question of whether you must believe in Jesus to go to heaven. Though Jesus is part of the Trinity. So, if you know God do you know Jesus? Thanks, I'll be thinking about this a lot.

Matthew Hirst said...

No, they are probably closer to God than we are. It's very likely that they live the simple, uncluttered, community-driven life we are supposed to be living, Allan.

Anonymous said...

I think it is important to tell them about Jesus. Even disregarding the point already made, just sending any random person in there won't help. Chances are, like most uncontacted tribes, tey have a language all of their own. Any evangalist that goes in there would have to be willing to devote years of their life to learning about the language and culture and people before they could even start to evangilise. That is assuming they don't get killed by suspicious natives first... I still think it nessacery and that it is possible to do it without destroying their culture it just takes a lot of patience but then God is good at patience.

Sharp said...

We will be studying this very type of question in a special class at church next week and I may use this example myself. I am a restrictivist in an inclusivist denomination. The class is led by an inclusivist. Feathers will be ruffled. No "converts" will likely be made to either position unless God wills it.

My short answer to your question, therefore, is "Yes."

I appreciate CP's gracious statement that my position can be held out of faithfulness. It's fashionable to say it's from ignorance, arrogance, or bigotry, as though I gave it no thought, sought no counsel, studied no scripture, nor struggled with the death of a loved one who had never professed faith in Christ.

I pray for the best outcome, I hold out hope that a decision was made of which I knew nothing, and trust that God will do what is just.

But I also feel that one has to eisegete a great deal into passages like Romans 10 in order to find ambiguity in the connection between hearing, believing, confessing, and salvation. For that reason, I find it much the better part of wisdom to operate on the assumption that we must tell unreached peoples rather than hope it'll all work out in the end.

John B said...

Every group of people who have had the gospel brought to them were at one time "uncontacted" by the teachings of Jesus Christ. The reason Christianity has spend throughout the world is because there have been individuals who took the gospel to uncontacted people. These individuals weren't concerned about preserving the culture of those they sought to win to Jesus, they were concerned about fulfilling his command to "make disciples of "ALL NATIONS."

Perhaps these missionaries of the past have something to teach us about our mission in the present.

John Meunier said...

I'm late to this topic, but I find a question comes up when I think about your question.

If we don't believe the good news should be shared with these people, then on what basis do we share it with anyone?

The gospel is always disruptive and always alien.

Brian B. said...

If you click through the link, there is a larger image and the caption below the photo indicates that the boy in the picture is holding a machete. Sure enough, he is.

How did this "uncontacted" tribe get their hands on a machete?

Eleanor D. said...

People who say that we shouldn't go to these people are telling us to calmly choose to let these people be damned. And that would be sinful. We need to go to these tribes! Yes,Survival International, they may say that they don't want us, but that is like a child that has never tasted sugar saying that they don't want cake. And have you ever heard of Jim Eliot? He was one of five men who went to a tribe... and were speared. You would say 'Stay away from them! They don't want you!' But instead of doing that the sister of on of those men went to that tribe and told them of Jesus. The tribe became christian. So saying that they don't want to be contacted is silly. Also, not all tribes are like that.There was one tribe that has actually tried to contact us... and of course we didn't let them. Now it's forcefully making them be uncivilized, and they might as well be animals. It's cruel, cruel, cruel! They are people living in darkness who will never know Jesus, and who are just waiting to be damned. And all we do is sit around and talk about them. We need to go to them, or at least pray for them!

Anonymous said...

I ran across this blog because after talking with a fellow Christian from Brazil I wondered if there were any tribes left to be reached. I will answer your question with a Bible verse: Matthew 24:14. Also, I think if God tells you to go to a particular place, even if it is at the risk of losing your life, then we must go or do like Jonah. But you'd better make sure God is directing you.

Unknown said...

Well Jesus himself said you can not know the father unless you know him, so without Jesus you can't go to heaven

Unknown said...

So many people here equate bringing Christ as to "westernize" them or "civilize them", this is the wrong way of thinking. Christ commanded us to bring the gospel to all nations, them being a nation who has not received the gift of Christ yet it is our duty as Christians to bring it to them. We need only to introduce them and plant the spirit of Christ. Yes it is risky, yes the people who bring the gospel must be careful not to introduce disease or to socially damage these people, but if they do not, how can there be hope for their souls? The bible says that only Christ brings salvation, and so as of now they are lost. I trust that the Holy Ghost will guide whoever is sent to teach them how to do it right so that they will not hurt these people or destroy their lively hood like so many ignorant missionaries have done in the past.

Unknown said...

Well Jesus himself said you can not know the father unless you know him, so without Jesus you can't go to heaven

Sean Zlatnik said...

I found this post thinking about the North Sentinelese who have never had any contact with the outside world. Okay, here's the thing. I don't believe they will NECESSARILY be damned simply because they never heard the gospel. That's too simplistic a view of the kingdom of God. They will be judged just like everyone else. I believe Paul actually talks about this, but I don't remember where. Nevertheless, I'm convinced missionaries need to reach them. There is a vast richness in God that people who know nothing of the gospel of peace need to receive. The trouble is, reaching people like this is quite difficult, and I'm really uncertain how one would go about it. As they say, people don't care about how much you know until they know how much you care. Uncontacted people need to be wooed; they need to be won over by the kind of patient love you can only find in Jesus. There is a certain degree of risk involved in this sort of ministry, on both sides of the equation. You open up the peoples you minister to to diseases that they may not be prepared to face, which to me is a meaningful argument against contact. I think the value of the kingdom is so great, however, that it's worth the risk. Also- they may kill the messenger. I really don't see this as a great argument against sending missionaries though- Jesus warned his people that following God may cost them their lives. The hard part about writing this post is my realization that I don't know if I myself have what it takes to do such ministry. It would be difficult work to say the least. That does not mean that it shouldn't be done- perhaps done by someone who was an uncontacted person saved by grace in the first place. I don't know. I hope God raises up people who are willing to reach these kinds of people. We have the presence of God- who doesn't benefit from having God in their lives?

Anonymous said...

Absolutely, 100% not. Research your own history. Look what you did to the Zo'e Tribe. Stop trying to destroy other cultures.