Jonathan Chau

There’s a fair amount of buzz about the death of American Jonathan Chau at the hands of Sentinelese islanders near India. Here’s the New York Times, for instance.

A secularist blogger at Patheos seized the opportunity to mock and vilify Christians, some (perhaps many) of whom are calling Chau a “martyr.” One group even wants the Sentinelese killers prosecuted. (That group is laser-focused on persecution of Christian around the world, so it has an incentive to see every Christian’s violent death as a persecution.)

Here’s my own initial and limited take.

There is no inconsistency between (1) recognizing the illegality and foolhardiness of Chau’s effort and (2) acknowledging him as a martyr because he was trying to preach the Gospel.

But I personally do not call Chau a Christian martyr because he is in almost every way not worthy of emulation:

  1. He was not in communion with the Orthodox Church, but rather with a group multiple schisms removed from it — a group I might even think heretical if I knew more about it than the debased label “Christian.” That he graduated from Oral Roberts University is no reassurance.
  2. He was deliberately violating a reasonable law that was not enacted to prevent evangelization of the Sentinelese. (That’s setting aside any question about what it was intended to do.)
  3. He was, from what I’ve read, totally unprepared actually to evangelize the Sentinelese; he didn’t know their language and he had no training to master languages from scratch. I’m not even sure that he was any kind of commissioned missionary (versus an enthusiastic world traveler).
  4. He was, frankly, grandstanding. Whatever else he was doing, he was doing that. (I might be dissuaded on this point.)
  5. The Sentinelese killed him for his invasion of their island, not for his faith.

In short, I see his letters home as a sort of “hold my beer (and don’t call the Coast Guard) while I go through the motions of declaring Jesus to these folks who won’t understand me and who I can’t understand. And tell Mom I love her.”

God is merciful and loves mankind, so I still can hope for a blessed repose for this foolish and willful young man.

UPDATE 11/29/18: I have just learned that Chau did have some preparation, including linguistic training, vaccinations and quarantine, and was commissioned as a missionary. I need to acknowledge that in light of my third and fourth points and my snarky summary—all based on what I knew or had reason to know at the time I wrote them.

If you want to understand what might motivate a young man to take a very high risk with his life (and his freedom if caught by legal authorities), Ed Stetzer’s “Acts of Faith” item in the Washington Post would be good to read.

UPDATE 2 (reaching this group was a long obsession of Chao, and the missionary agency boot camp was oriented to that, making the mission agency complicit in the illegality).

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