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:
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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).
- He was, frankly, grandstanding. Whatever else he was doing, he was doing that. (I might be dissuaded on this point.)
- 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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