Syria, Egypt, Southern Sudan, The Central African Republic and Afghanistan are probably the five most talked about nations in Western media today. All five governments and their people have the nations of the west wringing their hands and asking “what’s the matter with the government of these nations? What’s wrong with their people? Why are they fighting?” And slightly quizzically and perhaps arrogantly, “Why are they not more like us?”
Three years ago, as the Arab Spring began, there was a western optimism that democracy would break out and peace would follow. At that time, I wrote:
The modern belief that democracy alone will solve the problems of undemocratic nations is naïve and overly simplistic. We need to understand western history to discover what made democracy work the way it does in the USA and Europe. The UN and many NGOs campaign for free and fair elections as if this in itself is enough to solve national issues around the globe. (See Lybia: why democracy alone can’t work.)
Democracy alone doesn’t work. That is becoming more and more apparent. And so it seems timely that a major academic research project into the stability of nations has come to the fore recently. Robert Woodberry, an American sociologist, has carried out extensive work on the correlation between 19th century protestant missionary work and modern nationhood. The outcome of his research shows an undeniable link between 19th century missionary activity and 21st century national attitudes and stability:
Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.
In short: Want a blossoming democracy today? The solution is simple—if you have a time machine: Send a 19th-century missionary. (see The surprising discovery about those colonialist, proselytizing missionaries.)
Democracy it seems, is a product, a fruit, of Christian faith and practice. If we want the nations of the world to be at peace then the Prince of Peace must rule all hearts and minds. We don’t need a time machine, just deep conviction and the corresponding missionary spirit.