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Oh Yuck, Christian Doctors

Brian Palmer notes that many Western doctors working in Africa today are doing so for God’s sake. They are missionaries. He doesn’t like it. Excerpt:

And yet, truth be told, these valid critiques don’t fully explain my discomfort with missionary medicine. If we had thousands of secular doctors doing exactly the same work, I would probably excuse most of these flaws. “They’re doing work no one else will,” I would say. “You can’t expect perfection.”

I’m not altogether proud of this bias—I’m just trying to be honest. In his Lancet article, Lowenberg quotes a missionary who insists he does not proselytize, even though he tells his patients, “I’m treating you because of what God has given me and his love for me.” That statement—which strikes me as obvious proselytizing— suggests that some missionaries are incapable of separating their religious work from their medical work. Whether implicitly or explicitly, some missionaries pressure their patients, at moments of maximum vulnerability and desperation, to convert. That troubles me. I suspect that many others have the same visceral discomfort with the mingling of religion and health care.

Like it or not, though, we are deeply reliant on missionary doctors and nurses. The 2008 ARHAP report found that in some sub-Saharan African countries 30 percent of health care facilities are run by religious entities. That system is crumbling due to declining funding, possibly motivated in part by growing Western suspicion of missionary medicine. We have a choice: Swallow our objections and support these facilities, spend vast sums of money to build up Africa’s secular health care capacity immediately, or watch the continent drown in Ebola, HIV, and countless other disease outbreaks.

As an atheist, I try to make choices based on evidence and reason. So until we’re finally ready to invest heavily in secular medicine for Africa, I suggest we stand aside and let God do His work.

Sam M., who sent that Slate item in, writes:

Doesn’t this call his atheism into question as much as anything? Why aren’t secular doctors doing it? Because they aren’t willing to make that sort of sacrifice, presumably. Or not enough of them are willing.

It’s part and parcel with the larger discussion about religion. On recent threads, lots of people keep saying, “If Christians REALLY believed what the bible says, they would stop worrying about sex and start saving poor people.”

OK. Great. Lots of doctors are doing that! In fact, it’s a good thing they are because it seems like super Christian doctors are the only ones willing to take it in the teeth and try to heal the poorest of the poor.

“Oh really? OK, then. That’s bad, too.”

So to be clear, Christians should stop worrying about teh gayz and start making huge sacrifices, in the image of Christ, and help the poor. Unless they are making huge sacrifices in the image of Christ and helping the poor. In which case… maybe they should keep doing that, but only until non-Christians decide to. Because it’s deeply concerning when Christians make huge sacrifices in the image of Christ and help the poor.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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