In section 7 of the Cape Town Commitments*, entitled “We love God’s world,” it states: “We love the world of nations and cultures.” Although much could be critiqued about the contemporary understanding of “nation” in light of Enlightenment philosophy in comparison with the biblical concept of ethnic group, a major problem with the draft version of this section was its purely positive evaluation of the effect of Christian mission on indigenous cultures. The draft of the Cape Town Commitments affirmed, “Historically, Christian mission has been instrumental in protecting and preserving indigenous cultures and their languages.” While we can affirm the respect of a culture by translating the Bible into its language and by learning its customs, Christian mission has also been destructive. We can think of those killed in Latin America and North America in the name of the church or “manifest destiny.” We can also look at the imposition of western culture in non-western cultures by missionaries. We should certainly name this and repent of it in this document.
While the final version of the Cape Town Commitments did not call for repentance, it does incorporate my suggestion of acknowledging the church’s failures, while also recognizing positive influences. It states, “Historically, Christian mission, though flawed by destructive failures, has been instrumental in protecting and preserving indigenous cultures and their languages.”