Chapter 11 ‘Our Sacred Effort—Find Your Place in God’s Story’: Southern Baptist Global Missions and Evangelical Pilgrimage

In: Pilgrimage as Transformative Process
Scott Libson
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Despite superficial associations with religious travel, scholarship on missionaries and pilgrims has infrequently overlapped. Missions scholars ask questions about imperialism and paternalism, not about liminality and ‘communitas’. Pilgrimage has tended to focus on insiders and missions has always been about the outsider encounter. Other disparities include the centrality of place, temporal orientation (toward the future or the past) and the role of ritual. These profound differences and superficial similarities make it surprising that one of the most thoroughly evangelistic, non-liturgical and decentralised denominations in the United States, the Southern Baptists Convention, has recently begun to employ pilgrimage-like terminology to attract future missionaries and their financial supporters. This chapter analyses International Mission Board publications since 1995 through the lens of pilgrimage and religious tourism. In encouraging the active participation in missions by American supporters, the International Mission Board has recently emphasised the life-changing religious experiences that come from brief journeys to mission fields. In other ways, the Board has presented these trips as a productive form of tourism. This mélange of the rhetoric of missions, tourism, and pilgrimage, points to the similarities and differences between various forms of religious travel and underlines the value of pilgrimage as a heuristic device in missions scholarship.

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