Conservative columnist Ann Coulter posted an acerbic opinion piece excoriating the two missionary health workers who had been shipped back to the US to be treated for Ebola, which they contracted in Africa.
Her column did not scold them for bringing their disease back to America. She did, however, take issue with the money spent in bringing them back here. But her column spent the most time taking them to task for leaving the US at all in order to bring the Gospel to the people of Africa. “If Dr. Brantly had practiced at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and turned one single Hollywood power-broker to Christ, he would have done more good for the entire world than anything he could accomplish in a century spent in Liberia. Ebola kills only the body; the virus of spiritual bankruptcy and moral decadence spread by so many Hollywood movies infects the world.”
In one respect Coulter got it right. In another, though, she missed the boat.
Should missionaries leave their home country to take the message of the Gospel to another country? Why leave the US, when there are plenty of unbelievers here?
Answers to the first question can be found in God’s word, where we see a promise and a command. Psalm 96:3 commands, “Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples” (NASV). And Isaiah 12:4 also urges, “And in that day you will say, ‘Give thanks to the LORD, call on His name. Make known His deeds among the peoples; Make them remember that His name is exalted.'”
In the New Testament, Jesus specifically combines the directive with the promise: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). He directed his disciples again in Acts 1, where in the second half of verse 8 he said, “and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
Jerusalem, where those disciples stood at that moment, was the local preaching of the Gospel. Judea and Samaria were the nearer regions, and then, they were directed, take this message to the far points of the earth! Jesus did not equivocate here; he was very clear. Yes, preach the Gospel locally, AND yes, take it to the rest of the world. And we, who have been recipients of the Gospel outside of Jerusalem, can be very thankful that the Gospel did spread! Men and women took that command and promise to heart, and they went forth!
Coulter implies, but perhaps does not mean to say, that people in impoverished third world countries are not “worth” the effort and expense it takes to bring them the Gospel. Truly, not one of us is “worth” it. My sins are no better, nor no worse, than anyone else’s. To rate the value of preaching the Gospel to one people group over another’s devalues the meaning of that Gospel.
The Gospel–the message that Jesus Christ, who is God and Man, lived a perfect, sinless life and died on a cross and was brought to life again so that our sins would be completely forgiven–is not America-centered. No, the Gospel is Christ-centric. God saves sinners to glorify himself, not to glorify any one person, country, or people.
What I believe Ann Coulter did intend in her column was to take American Christians to task for not making their own cities and neighborhoods their mission fields. “Which explains why American Christians go on ‘mission trips’ to disease-ridden cesspools. They’re tired of fighting the culture war in the U.S., tired of being called homophobes, racists, sexists and bigots. So they slink off to Third World countries, away from American culture to do good works, forgetting that the first rule of life on a riverbank is that any good that one attempts downstream is quickly overtaken by what happens upstream.”
She’s partially correct. However, take a look around the US: there are churches everywhere. The people of this land received the benefit of Gospel-preaching for more than three centuries, and now it has chosen to turn away and pursue its own degradation. Yes, America needs missionaries in its own streets. But I’d venture to guess that most of our “cultural leaders” in Hollywood have deliberately chosen to turn aside from the Gospel.
What about the people in other nations? Some have turned aside, yes, but most have never heard the Gospel.
If anything can be taken from Coulter’s column, it is the cry for the American Christian church to wake up. Wake up, she’s shouting, and see the mission field right in front of your eyes! We are happy to say we have gone to Africa on a short-term mission trip to preach to the lost. Can we be as eager to go to our own “Jerusalem,” our own cities and neighborhoods, and preach to the lost and dying here? It certainly doesn’t seem as glamorous or praise-worthy. But it is so very necessary.
Additionally, there is something to say about the importance of doctors going where there is disease in order to work on a cure. The history of medicine is rife with stories of men and women who lived among diseased people and developed a cure: polio, smallpox, strep, leprosy, and more. The health workers who lived among Africans in order to minister to the sick and the dying knew what they were doing, and they believed they could not only bring comfort to the sick, but perhaps play a part in discovering a cure.
So while I find some points in Coulter’s column that don’t ring true to the intent of God’s commands to teach and preach, I also find, hidden in her acid tone, the challenge to the church in the US: wake up! Go, teach, preach!