Pacific Studies 15.2 (1992) 39-60
Missionaries pose problems from a historical, social, and even religious perspective. They are the ground troops in a multifaceted war for souls. They carry the banner of a particular type of European or American culture, a conviction that their interpretation of God and the millennium is the only correct one, and a fanatical opposition to other points of view, be they religious, economic, military, or political. At first glance historians and anthropologists have found them to be cardboard figures with facades that reflect the bias of the viewer. Missionaries are imperialists of varying hues; they are the destroyers of indigenous culture; they are the best of a bad lot during the early contact years; they are stiff-necked, corrupt, dedicated; adventurers in sheep’s clothing. One thing they are not is representative of human foibles in the nineteenth century.
On second glance we often are able to construct a theory to justify our respective views. I suggest we take yet a third glance to determine who the missionaries were as human beings, their goals and misgivings, their fears and their faith. Such a look will not alter the result of their activities; it will not justify the disruption of indigenous cultures, but it may provide the historian, the anthropologist, the religious apologist with the reality of what the missionaries thought they were doing at the time they were doing it.
An event in the first year of missionary activity in Hawai‘i provides such a portrait. An account of it is presented here with the goal of illuminating the aspirations of the pioneer company (1820) to those islands through the records of an excommunication trial. This account presupposes the reader’s familiarity with Calvinist theology as it discusses the expectations placed on members of the mission and the failure of two individuals to meet those requirements. The trial and the issues leading to it demonstrate the insecurities, spirit of conformity, and religious zeal that afflicted early Protestant missionaries to Hawai‘i. The verdict of excommunication and the expulsion of the offenders from the missionary family reinforced these traits into a spirit of orthodoxy that restricted the admission of Hawaiians into the church until the revival of 1837-1838.
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