Edinburgh 1910: Friendship and the Boundaries of Christendom

By Bonk, Jonathan J. | International Bulletin of Missionary Research, October 2006 | Go to article overview

Edinburgh 1910: Friendship and the Boundaries of Christendom


Bonk, Jonathan J., International Bulletin of Missionary Research


Several of the articles in this issue relate directly to the extraordinary World Missionary Conference convened in Edinburgh from June 14 to 23, 1910. At that time, Europe's global hegemony was unrivaled, and old Christendom's self-assurance had reached its peak. That the nations whose professed religion was Christianity should have come to dominate the world seemed not at all surprising, since Western civilization's inner elan was thought to be Christianity itself.

The Great War of 1914-18 soon plunged the "Christian" nations into one of the bloodiest and most meaningless paroxysms of state-sanctioned murder in humankind's history of pathological addiction to violence and genocide. At least for European missionaries, the war exposed the naivete of missionary apologetics. Missionaries were unable to offer any credible rejoinder to the charge that the West neither believed nor practiced what the Bible actually taught.

Christopher Anderson's article on the 1919 Methodist Missionary Fair is a reminder that although old Christendom's claim to moral superiority had been exposed as a farce, it would take some time before U.S. missionaries began to reach similar conclusions about their own nation. But within the fifty years following the Second World War, profound uncertainty arose concerning the moral legitimacy of America's global economic and military modus operandi, fueled by the nation's ethically indefensible and militarily disastrous escapades in Central America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. Only now, when it may be too late, have Christians on this continent--for long seeing nothing amiss in the unholy union between personal piety and blind nationalism--begun to sense the nation's precarious position. U.S. Christians, at least in some quarters, seem increasingly troubled by the thought that their nation may be on its way to joining the long list of expired empires, each blinded by hubris, deluded by self-absorption, addicted to exploitation, and--if need be--determined to wreak destruction on those who stand in its way.

It is appropriate, then, that this issue of the INTERNATIONAL BULLETIN OF MISSIONARY RESEARCH should pay modest tribute to Vendanayagam Samuel Azariah (1874-1945), whose picture (thanks to the Indian Missionary Society, Tirunelveli, Palayamkottai, South India) appears on the previous page. When he attended the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, he was serving with the Indian Missionary Society in Dornakal. Within two years, and until his death in 1945, he would be the first and sole Indian Anglican diocesan bishop. …

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