But they aren't.
They are risking their lives in difficult situations for no temporal reward for Christ.
An atheist looks at his bias against missionary medicine.
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.//