|Dearmer, Percy (1904). The Little Lives of the Saints illustrated by Charles Robinson. London: Wells Gardner, Darton & Co.|
In today’s Huffington Post blog, Diana Butler Bass wants to Retire St. Boniface.
Boniface was an 8th century English missionary to Germany. See what I wrote about him last year. What I remember about him is how his last confirmation on Pentecost ended badly.
It's not that surprising that I forgot the other thing he is known for. He was trying to convert pagans who worshiped trees. So to show them that there was nothing divine about trees, he felled an ancient sacred oak tree. When nothing bad happened to him, the story goes; people switched sides and became Christian.
Now to our sensibilities, this is a horrible thing to do. And our Christian history is stained with too many incidents of lack of respect for other cultures and the environment. And it still goes on. Lots of Christians still think that God is going to blow this earth up anyway so we might as well exploit and squeeze as much out of it as we can. Save the earth? Why the hell should we save the earth? Jesus is coming back pretty soon and he’s bringing the nukes with him.
Of course that’s not a biblical worldview at all. And I don’t think that was Boniface’s worldview either. I want us to stop judging ancient people’s by our standards. Boniface was doing what seemed right (and pretty courageous) by his time, his place and his worldview. Look at it from his perspective. To him these people were beholden to trees, which were simply another part of God’s creation. As far as I read the story, he didn’t advocate a mass deforestation to exploit the commercial value of the land. He destroyed one tree to show them that tree had no power over them.
Would it be okay to do that today? Absolutely not. But we can say it is not right to do that today without vilifying a brave man of God who wanted to show the people that they were not beholden to trees.
We progressives are always wanting to be sensitive to other cultures (to such a fault that some people don’t want to denounce female genital mutilation for fear of “interfering with culture”). And yet we are quick to judge people in history by our modern (or post-modern) standards. Do not historical figures deserve the same willingness to understand their culture and their world view as other cultures today? And if we are not willing to do that for history, what makes us think we can do it for cultures today?
So I say give Boniface a break. We don’t have to throw him under the bus to find other ways besides destroying other culture’s sacred objects to share the Gospel.