RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Columbus Day sure ain’t what it used to be.
Time was, folks spent the day celebrating the way Christopher C. sailed the ocean blue in 1492 and discovered the New World.
Now, like nearly every other American holiday honoring a traditional hero, it’s a time to argue about whether the hero in question really was a great guy — or a bum.
The 500th anniversary of Columbus’ epochal first voyage got the debate going. Ten years later, some Native American groups, opponents of “Eurocentrism” and multiculturalists continue to insist Columbus didn’t discover anything. They say he was a greedy merchant mariner, an imperialist who, in his search for gold, brought nothing but misery, death and enslavement to the many peoples already living in the Americas.
Nonsense, Columbus’ defenders respond. Of course he had a profit motive; he never would have found investors to back his voyages without the promise of potential riches. But that doesn’t tarnish the greatness of his daring achievement, which ultimately opened continent-sized doors, united peoples and changed history for the better in countless ways.
So, as the holiday rolled around again this month, his admirers marched in Columbus Day parades and praised his exploits. His detractors, meanwhile, gathered in places like Berkeley, Calif., to observe alternate events like “Indigenous Peoples Day.” They also urged schools to focus on multicultural diversity instead of what they see as Columbus’ status as poster boy for European cultural superiority.
This year I’m going with the multicultural crowd.
Not to dis Columbus, mind you (he was a flawed hero, but a hero nevertheless). Nor to issue blanket condemnations of Western culture (the left’s favorite hobby). Nor to contend that all cultures are equally valid (history supplies abundant evidence they are not).
That said, the church ought to observe its own version of “Indigenous Peoples Day” every day.
Why? Of the planet’s nearly 13,000 distinct ethnic people groups, more than 2,100 have virtually no access to the gospel of Christ, mission researchers report. Forty-one countries have populations that are more than 99 percent non-Christian; 45 more are close behind.
Here’s a proposed redefinition of multiculturalism: All human cultures are equally fallen — including our own — and all peoples stand equally in need of God’s redemption through the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
In our eagerness to defend the traditional virtues under assault from many quarters, embattled American Christians sometimes forget that God’s priorities are global. He made that clear to the Israelites long ago:
“He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be my Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make you a Light to the nations so that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth'” (Isaiah 49:6).
If the chosen nation needed regular reminders of its mission, we surely do. The prayer of Psalm 67 asks God’s blessings for a specific purpose: “God be gracious to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us — that Thy way may be known on the earth, Thy salvation among all nations…. Let the peoples praise thee, O God…. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy ….”
But the peoples of the world cannot praise him until they know who he is.
“The world is a waffle, not a pancake,” explains Jerry Rankin, president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. “Like pouring syrup on a waffle and not filling all the squares, we have yet to reach all the peoples with the gospel despite generations of outreach.”
The ultimate waffle is India, Columbus’ original destination. India will overtake China within a few years as the world’s most crowded “nation.” In fact, it is a staggeringly diverse collection of nations.
“There are so many ways to divide India, but there must be 4,000 or 5,000 people groups at least,” says IMB overseas administrator Clyde Meador. “And many, many of those are unreached. Sometimes the barriers are linguistic. Sometimes the barriers are cultural. A significant barrier within Hinduism is caste, which has been illegal for a long time, and yet remains probably the most pervasive social force in the country.”
How to reach all peoples? Effective mission strategies help, but God could use a lot more “syrup” in the form of people, prayer and resources from his church. Much of that “syrup” continues to pool in a few gospel-saturated regions of the globe.
Christopher Columbus knew deep down the world was no pancake. That’s why he wasn’t afraid of sailing off the edge. What about us?
Bridges, whose column appears twice-monthly in Baptist Press, is a senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.