Evangelization in colonial Latin America

Evangelization means bringing the ‘Good News of Jesus’ into every human situation and seeking to convert individuals and society by the divine power of the Gospel itself. At its essence are the proclamation of salvation in Jesus Christ and the response of a person in faith, which are both works of the Spirit of God. It must always be directly connected to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Missionary men inspired other men across space and time to eschew women, marriage, and home in order to actualize a new masculine self by becoming a Jesuit.Those who joined the Jesuits wanted to be with and be like other men already in the order. One need not revert to Protestant tropes of lascivious clerics, or resort for that matter to Freudian notions of sexual repression that are ill fitting for the early modern period, to recognize the deep significance that homo-social identification and desire held for the formation of the all-male Society of Jesus.

Its Constitutions, its founding narratives, its media, and its central spiritual technology, the Spiritual Exercises, facilitated homosocial ties and male mimesis. Behind every missionary lurked at least one other missionary or masculine exemplar stirring the desire for fellowship and imitation and providing a model for what it meant to feel, think, and act like a Jesuit.

In coastal West Africa, where disease and mortality reduced the number of European missionaries, the expansion of Christianity among the Fante, Yoruba and Niger Delta peoples had been largely directed and accomplished by African clerics and laity. Other Africans were also beginning to find in Christianity fresh answers. The pioneer pace-setters throughout the nineteenth century had been the great Protestant missionary societies, many of them originating from the evangelical revival at the end of the eighteenth century.

This clash over strategy was only one aspect of the differences which, at least at the level of missionary theory, divided continental Protestants, especially Germans, from the English-speaking missionaries. Led by Warneck, German Lutherans saw themselves accommodating ‘foreign peculiarities’ and fostering national churches tolerant of indigenous customs. In contrast, most British and North American missionaries, from their early alliance with the humanitarian anti-slavery movement, saw Christianity intimately linked with legitimate commerce and the introduction of African societies to Western ways of life.

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