The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37
A few weeks ago, I published some remarks on "The System of Foreign. Missions," in reply to certain criticisms of the New York Independent. I had quoted as a common saying the statement that "it takes three dollars to send one to the heathen," which the Independent characterizes as a "stale slander." In reply to this, I said that Dr. Mullen, one of the best authorities on the subject, estimates the total expenditure of the fifty (Protestant) missionary societies throughout the world at $5,104,670, the total number of missionaries employed being 5,033. I then inquired—what is the annual total of "conversions" effected, and what proportion of this vast sum is expended directly on the heathen? I said I believed that fully seventy-live per cent. of these five millions is absorbed in salaries and running expenses of various kinds—quoted an English authority as estimating the probable cost of each good convert to Christianity in Siam at ten thous and pounds—and added that it would take more than the "Reports" of interested parties to convince me that the greater portion of this golden stream does not sink into the s and of ecclesiastical organizations. I then added some remarks on the general uselessness of this vast system of missions, characterizing it as a stupendous fraud upon credulous Christendom.
This article has elicited from some of my best friends keen yet kind and thoughtful remonstrances, which have induced me to select Christian Propagandism as the topic of one or two special lectures. I will begin by quoting the letters received, that the objections raised may be stated in their full force. The first says:—
"I thought you shifted your ground a bit about the missionaries. Your first ground was that the means page 2 were wasted in the machinery, and did not reach the end—your second that the end itself is of little value. This does not seem to me quite fair. Moreover, on the first ground I don't think you quite hold your own, for 'payment of salaries' includes salaries of missionaries themselves, which were legitimately the main objects of appropriation; as much as for an anti-slavery society to pay the salaries of its agents."
To this letter I would say that I do not think I shifted my ground, True, I did intend to say that the means are wasted in the machinery, to at least the extent of seventy-five per cent., and that they do not reach the end aimed at. But what is the end aimed at? Not the payment of missionaries' salaries, but manifestly the conversion of all the world to Christianity. It appears to me that I was arguing directly to the point, when I inquired very sceptically as to the annual total of conversions effected, to offset this annual outlay of live million dollars, and when I quoted the opinion of a competent English witness that in Siam, at least, it takes fifty thous and dollars to make one good convert. If this be the ease, there is plainly enough an enormous waste of means somewhere. What I afterwards added about the valuelessness of the end itself was supplementary—an addition naturally suggested by my subject. I cannot perceive, therefore, that I was at all unfair, although I could doubtless have expressed myself more fully and in a manner less liable to misunderstanding. My reasoning was too elliptical, but, I think, to the point.
The second objection made by my friend is that the payment of salaries to the missionaries themselves should be excepted in any estimate of waste involved in running the machinery of foreign missions, since these salaries are the main objects of appropriation. If this view of the matter is correct, I am of course in the wrong, and could not justly say that three-fourths of the money raised sink into the s and of ecclesiastical organizations. But it never occurred to me to make any such exception, nor did I ever imagine that it was made in the common saying I quoted about its taking three dollars to send one to the keathen. The words originally criticised by the Independent were these:—"Seventy-five per cent, of all moneys contributed for foreign missions goes to pay page 3 salaries and keep the ecclesiastical machinery in running order." I meant, of course, to include the salaries of the missionaries, who are the chief part of the machinery. In estimating the running expenses of a Baptist or Methodist church at home, is it usual to throw out of the account the salary of the minister, which usually constitutes, at the very least, half of the annual expenditure? Certainly not. Then why throw out the salaries of the missionaries from the running expenses of the missionary societies? I see no more reason for doing so in this than in the other case.
Moreover, is it quite correct to say that the missionaries' salaries are the "main objects of appropriation?" The main object of all appropriations by missionary societies is ostensibly the conversion of the heathen; and all salaries, whether of home officials or of missionaries in the field, are simply means to this end. I see no essential distinction between these two classes of salaries. Whether the money spent in paying these salaries, of one class as well as of the other, is wasted or not, and, if wasted, to what extent, depends wholly on the success or failure of the entire machinery in accomplishing its purpose—namely, the conversion of the heathen. If the heathen are converted, the money reaches them; if not, not. If they should not be converted at all, the money spent would be wholly absorbed in running a machine which effects no results. When I said that I believe fully three-fourths of the money spent to be thus absorbed, I think I understated, not overstated, the truth. Further on I will at least make good my charge.
"I fear you have fallen into a mistake that will give you trouble. The charge that 'it takes three dollars to send one to the heathen—in other words, that seventy-five per cent, of all moneys contributed for foreign missions goes to pay salaries and keep the ecclesiastical machinery in running order'—cannot be sustained. Few persons have had better opportunities than I of observing the doings of Protestant and Catholic missionaries and missionary societies, at home and abroad—in Boston, New York, and London—in India and China, the Indian Archipelago, Cape of Good Hope, and the Mediterranean; and I page 4 have never known of any facts that would at all justify the above charge. The quotations you make do not touch this point. I believe these societies are as honestly and economically managed as the better sort of public institutions'—colleges, banks, insurance companies, for instance. Doubtless the whole systhem of Christian and sectarian propagandists—home as well as foreign—liberal and even radical as well as orthodox—is a mistake. But that is not the point in dispute between The Index and the Independent. The charge made by The Index and denied by the Independent is that three-fourths of the receipts for foreign missions are absorbed by running expenses. I believe with the Independent that 'none of them has ever expended anything like the proportion Mr. Abbot charges them with using.' I think that the Independent is right in calling it a stale slander. I used to hear it forty years ago, and have looked in vain for proof ever since. Christian missions are the modern and improved form of crusades, and, like the crusades, will probably be followed by important and valuable results,—though not the kind of results especially hoped for and died for by crusaders and missionaries. I dislike the pushing, aggressive, provoking, 'propagandist spirit of Christianity' and of Mohammedanism; and I dislike the same spirit, when found, as it sometimes is, in The Index,—often, in other religious palmers,—seldom, almost never, in the Independent during these last few years."
Now it is plain that the writer of this letter has understood the charge I made in a very different sense from that I intended. In the article which originally drew out the strictures of the Independent, I said substantially that the officials of the various ecclesiastical organizations, including those devoted to the support of foreign missions, derived their entire living from the donations made by the churches for the various objects proposed; that they were thus consciously tempted or unconsciously biased to represent these donations of money as paramount Christian duties; but that fully three-fourths of the money thus raised produced no result beyond giving these officials a livelihood,—in other words, failed to that extent to accomplish the objects for which the whole was raised. If the Independent understood me (and it page 5 did not occur to me to doubt that it did), it was these charges it denied; and it was only to make these charges good that I noticed its criticisms at all. But the writer of this letter evidently understands me to hint, at least, that the missionary societies are fraudulently or extravagantly managed—a thing it never entered my head to suggest. I donbt not that they are "honestly and economically" managed, except in rare cases analogous to the Methodist Book Concern. Consequently his wide experience, cited against my charge, fails itself to "touch the point," or to have any bearing on my argument, unless it can prove that the missionary societies accomplish their purpose of converting the heathen. If they do not do this, they accomplish no purpose but that of supporting a swarm of officials at home and abroad who beat the air in vain; and that is what I meant at first and mean now by saying that this golden stream of five millions of dollars expended annually on foreign missions sinks mainly into the s and of ecclesiastical organizations. I regret that I did not make my points plainer, and admit that there was sufficient vagueness in my statements to justify misapprehensions; and it has been my purpose in this re-statement to make them so plain that no one who chooses to underst and can misunderst and them. Nothing is less my desire than to be unfair to the missionaries or their home societies; but I do not credulously accept their own estimate of the importance, the value, or the success of their own operations, nor do I see anything but strict, however unpleasant, truthfulness in characterizing the entire missionary system as a stupendous, even if unconscious, fraud on credulous Christendom.
If to oppose this system in the interest of sound sense and right reason and human welfare appears to be the manifestation of a "pushing, aggressive, provoking, propagandist spirit," I must submit to the reproach. The task of warring against the great spiritual tyranny of Christianity is not a sweet or beautiful one, I often wish it had fallen into other hands than mine; but the duty of battling for human freedom breaks in roughly upon our pleasant pursuits and quiet tastes—and I count it just as imperative a duty to me to-day as it was to the young brother of mine who buckled on his sword-belt and page 6 went forth manfully to die at Gettysburg. I am sorry—extremely sorry—if I manifest at any time a spirit unworthy of the sacred cause I would fain serve in a temper worthy of it; but it is hard to keep a smooth brow or smiling face in the thick of the fight. The task of propagating liberal principles and high ideas may be, after all, a "mistake;" it would Telieve me of much hard and distasteful work to be convinced that it is such. But I believe differently, and must act accordingly—even at the risk of appearing a "propagandist." If life were play or pleasure only—if on each soul there lay no high obligation to make known to others whatever truth seems most precious and most, sorely needed.—then The Index would never have been born. But it lives; and no one who sympathizes with its great purpose will, at least on second thought, blame it for "pro-pagandism." It aims avowedly at nothing but "pro-pagandism;" but what it seeks to propagate is truth instead of senseless superstition, manly and rational conviction instead of childish and mind-benumbing "faith." the spirit of freedom instead of the spirit of slavery. If to any there seems no need of such pro-pagandism as this, there will also seem to him no need of The Index; but to me nothing seems more needed by the world than the multiplication of just such influences. So thinking, so I shall act.
But this is a digression, prompted incidentally by the frank and brave rebuke of a true friend. I must return to the subject of foreign missions, on which I have more to say.
Since the general truth or falsehood of my charge against the mission-system turns entirely on the degree of success it achieves in converting the heathen, I propose first to inquire what results, judged by its own standards of success, it has actually accomplished in this direction, comparing these results with the sums of money spent in accomplishing them; and afterwards to inquire what actual results it has accomplished, judged by our standards of success.
First, then, I must discover, if possible, how many converts are annually made to offset the annual outlay of over five millions of dollars. I confess that this method of testing t he success of the missionary system may be challenged by Protestant Christian ad- page 7 vocates. Every intensely earnest Christian who believes his own professed doctrines would say at once, that the salvation of one single soul from the awful miseries that await the unconverted will infinitely outweigh all the wealth, principal and interest, of the whole world—that, the salvation of one single soul will alone justify the continuance of the missionary system with all its vast expense. Now on Christian grounds there is no gainsaying this argument. It is true and overwhelmingly conclusive, if Christian premises are true. Hut the latent common sense, even of the vast majority of professed Protestant believers, would notwithstanding revolt at the conclusion. If it could be proved to the satisfaction of the Protestant world that it took five million dollars a year to save a single heathen soul, the money would not he forthcoming. People would feel, whatever they said, that this was too expensive a job. They would lose all enthusiasm, in this advanced stage of human progress, and keep their cash in their pockets. This would be the case even with those most swift to challenge my test. They know that even the Protestant world has lost faith to a large extent in the terrors of hell, and that its interest in missions must be sustained by showing that they exert a wide influence in civilizing savages, in improving their morals, and in ameliorating their condition, here on earth. Without a fair show of success in this purely secular direction, the Protestant world's interest in "missions would be speedily and wonderfully cooled. It will not give live millions of dollars a year to save one negro or one Papuan or one Chinaman from everlasting damnation after he is dead. But' it will give this sum to save a great many such from this possible fate, provided civilization here on earth is thrown into the bargain.
We see here that mixture of religious and secular objects which is characteristic of Protestantism; the Catholics will give their money for the simple salvation of souls from hell, while the Protestant wants a little temporal improvement to boot. Hence the difficulty I referred to of making any fair test of the mission system satisfactory to Protestant Christians. Ostensibly the salvation of souls is the object practically civilization is also demanded, I hold it to be perfectly fair to judge the system by the amount of page 8 Christianization it accomplishes; and I will accept, church-membership as the recognized test of valid conversion. The Christianizing and the civilizing results are to be separated from each other,—the one class being the proper and direct fruits of the missionary theory, the other tin? indirect benefits flowing from it incidentally. I shall therefore judge the success of the missionary system by the number of converts it makes to Christianity, as compared on the one h and with the whole number to be converted, and on the other h and with the amount of money it costs to convert them. I see no other fair method of judging the success of Christian propagandism at the present day.
Now in forming my estimate of the degree of this success, I shall go at once to the highest authorities, relying mainly on the last edition of the "Encyclopedia Britannica." I have spent many hours in studying and comparing all the articles I could discover in this magnificent work bearing on the subject. Tables are here given of the operations of forty-seven Protestant Missionary Societies, embracing all the important ones throughout Christendom. These societies, about a dozen years ago, spent annually $3,000,000 on their missions. I do not underst and how Dr. Mullen's estimate of $5,000,000 is formed. The total number of their converts, communicants or church members in all these missions was at that time a little over 215.000—the entire fruits of their activity from their foundation. How large the annual increase had been, I cannot learn directly from these tables. But I have reached proximate results in the following manner.
The date of foundation is given in one of these tables in the case of each of these forty-seven missionary societies. Adding together the different numbers of years during which these various societies had been in operation down to 1858, and dividing the sum by forty-seven, I find the average duration of their activity, from their organization to that date, to be thirty-nine years. The total number of converts at that time (disregarding, of course, all those who had been previously converted and died) was 215,000. Dividing tins number by thirty-nine, we have 5,588 converts as the average annual increase of church-membership during that period. In some page 9 years more, in other years less may have been converted; but on the average 5,538 heathen must have been converted every year for thirty-nine years, in order to give the missions 215,000 communicants in 1858.
Now I do not know the average annual expenditure of these forty-seven societies; but in 1858 it amounted to about $3,000,000. It seems fair to assume that the annual expenditure, which of course began with a very small amount and gradually increased to $8,000,000. Amounted on the average to half this sum, or $1,500,000. Dividing, then, this average annual expenditure by the average annual gain of new converts, we arrive at $270 as the average cost of each convert to the missionary societies. This, then, may be set down as the cash price paid, on the average, by Protestant Christendom for the salvation of a heathen soul.
|Asia Minor, Syria, and Armenia, Population||10,000,000,||Converts||558|
|Farther India, Population||42,000,000,||Converts||13,844|
These figures give a striking idea of the trifling impression made by all the Protestant missionary societies of entire Christendom combined, on the page 10 vast outlying swarms of "heathenism." It is well to note in passing, as incidental confirmation of the passage I quoted from Mr. Alabaster, that I find only thirty-seven converts credited to the kingdom of Siam, with its 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 of inhabitants.
|1.||Each new convert costs at least $270 in cash to the missionary societies, on the average.|
|2.||Each missionary, on the average, makes only 3.7 converts in the course of a year.|
At this rate, allowing 3.7 converts annually to each missionary, it would just about require the 36,000,000 of the whole American people, emigrating en masse on a missionary crusade, to convert Hindustan alone with its 130,000,000 in one year,—to say nothing of the rest of Asia or the world.
Or let me put the matter in a different light, and inquire how long it would take to convert heathendom at the present rate of Protestant Christian propagandism. Protestant Europe and America combined, as I have shown, with an average annual expenditure of $1,500,000, made for thirty-nine years an average annual increase of 5,538 new converts. At the same rate, with an annual expenditure of $5,000,000, they would make an annual increase of 18,460 new converts. Supposing, therefore, that the present rate of ex- page 11 penditure should continue unchanged, how long would it take to convert the 725,000,000 of the pagan world? and how much would it cost? It would take 39,273 years; and it would cost $196,365,000,000.
But this estimate of the time required to convert, the heathen world is much too small. The required period is much reduced by a disproportionate apparent success achieved by the missionaries in the West Indies, where the work of conversion was really accomplished in great measure by other causes, and in the Pacific Islands, where a small population of very simple-minded savages was exposed to missionary influence under peculiar circumstances. The true test of the power of Protestant Christianity to convert the world must be applied in such cases as that of India and China. In India eighteen missionary societies have been zealously at work, probably the full average of thirty-nine years; and out of this vast population of 130,000,000 inhabitants, the table I quoted shows that only 19,370 converts were made. At this rate, it would take 202,096 years to convert India alone. In China eighteen societies have been at work many years, though probably for a considerably less period than in India, and their converts numbered only 924. But allowing them to make full 1,000 converts annually, it would even then take 369,000 years to convert that vast hive of humanity, with its strong and stubborn civilization. Here the missionaries have to deal with no naked and childish savages, but with highly intellectual nations which were civilized while our own ancestors were wild barbarians; and they are brought into contact with religions which, as held by the better classes, are far superior to their own. This may seem a strong statement; but it must be remembered that the Christianity which is trying to convert India and China and the other so-called pagan nations teaches that all the unconverted are doomed to an everlasting hell for simple want of faith in Christ, while the religions it seeks to convert, make in their turn no such monstrous claim. [See the appended article, entitled, "How the Pagan answered the Missionary."] These facts vastly increase the improbability of a speedy conversion of the world, and indefinitely lengthen the period required for the task. Unless an unprecedented increase in the rate of conversion page 12 should be made, which there seems no reason to expect, the world will remain unchristianized until a better religion than Christianity shall have come to take its place.
The task, therefore, which the Protestant missionary societies have set before themselves in the conversion of the entire world to Christianity, in order to be accomplished within one year, would require that about 196,000,000 missionaries should be employed instead of only 5,000. If, perceiving the impossibilty of such a crusade as this, they prefer to work on as they now are working, it will take them at the very lowest estimate about 40,000 years to accomplish their task. The attempt, therefore, to con veil the world by the machinery now employed is so miserably, nay, so ludicrously inadequate, that I can compare it to nothing but an attempt by a little boy to dig down Mount Washington with a tea-spoon." Ever since September, 1550, when the first Protestant missionaries, fourteen Swiss reformers, went from Geneva to Brazil to labor among the Indians, Protestantism has kept in motion its missionary machinery; and the net result of all this activity, kept up for centuries, is a little over 215,000 converts to-day—or about 1-3600 of the vast mass to be converted. The work to be done is avowedly the conversion of the world to Christ; but ii is a work that practically can never be accomplished. A very expensive machine is set to work on an impossible and endless job; it is a paying operation only to those who get their living out of it. Looked at in the light of Christian philanthropy alone, as the rescuing of a few brands plucked from the conflagration of a guilty world, of course it pays; but looked at in the light of common sense as the adaptation of professedly adequate means to an openly avowed end: it can be fittingly described by no word but fraud. The managers who publicly pretend to believe in the possibility of thus converting the world, and boldly assert it to credulous congregations for the sake of securing large contributions for missionary objects, are guilty of the old priestly trick of swindling the people while they laugh in their own sleeves. The missionary system is a bottomless box for the reception of the people's money; and no one knows this better than they.page 13
In saying, then, that it takes three dollars to send one to the heathen, what did L mean? Whatever the saying has meant to other minds (and I see it has had one meaning I never attributed to it), it meant to me, in effect, that four dollars spent on foreign missions accomplish only the work of one dollar spent on home evangelization,—that, before equal results are attained abroad, four times the money must be spent that is required here,—that it takes three dollars to make one dollar really do one dollar's worth of evangelical work among the heathen. For unless the dollar converts the heathen, it does not get to them at all, but stops with the missionaries; it accomplishes no result but that of supporting an official for doing nothing. In the strict sense, the one dollar never gets to the heathen at all, since of course it is not paid to them in cash; it can only be said to get to them when a fair dollar's worth of good, as estimated by church-standards of value, is done to their souls. I have always understood the common saying I quoted in this manner, as exposing in a pungent phrase the costliness and inefficiency of the foreign mission system its compared with the home system of evangelization. If it is a charge of financial corruption against the managing boards of missionary associations, it is enough to say I have neither understood nor used it so.
Now the only exact way of finding out whether the saying, as I have used it, is true or not, is to compare the cost of a new convert made by the home missionary societies with the average cost ($270) of a new ileal hen convert. If the saying is true, the cost of a home convert should be $67.50. I have not the statistics for such a comparison. But I believe that a home missionary who should only make fifteen converts a year would not be considered as earning his salary, but soon be cashiered for inefficiency. Yet he would accomplish four times the work of a foreign missionary, who on the average makes only 3.7 converts a year. If fifteen converts a year are a fair average for a home missionary (and I think this a very low estimate), then the common saying is true,—that is, it takes at least the cost of fifteen converts here to make 3.7 converts abroad, or three dollars to get one to the heathen, or seventy-five per cent, of all moneys raised for foreign missions simply to run page 14 their necessary machinery. The charge I made is thus made good, at the very least. If I am mistaken in my reasoning or my data, I shall be very glad to be corrected; but I seem to be confirmed in my first impressions by a careful analysis of facts.
I have by no means finished what I have to say on this subject of "Christian Propagandism," but I must defer all further consideration of it to a subsequent lecture.
[Note.—Since the above lecture was first published, I have found pertinent statements credited to the last Annual Report of the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions, presented at Chicago, May, 1871. From this Report it appears that the annual receipts were over $250,000; that the number of missionaries employed was over 1200; and that the number of conversions effected was over 5,000. It follows from these data that each missionary on the average made 4.10 converts in the year, and that a home missionary is only a very little more successful than a foreign missionary. It also follows, however, that the average cost of each home convert is but $50; and that a heathen convert, costing $270, is five and two-fifths times as expensive as a home convert. Instead, therefore, of saying that it takes three dollars to send one to the heathen, it would be correct to say that it takes four and two-fifths dollars to send one to them. It is thus evident that, as I supposed, I understated the truth. As to the lower average of conversions accomplished by home missionaries than I had supposed, it is plain that many were reckoned among the latter who gave only a part of their time to the work of missions, inasmuch as the more than 1200 missionaries are reported as having performed an aggregate of only 965 years of service. Probably fifteen converts a year would not be regarded as a large number of conversions, if effected by a missionary who gave his whole time to the work. My original statement, understood as I used it, was too favorable to the foreign mission system, and understates its costliness as compared with the system of home missions.]