TR 3:00-4:15 pm
Cross-listed with THEO 346X.
Fulfills upper level theology requirement.
Medical missions, both secular and religious, are held in high esteem. They are looked at as something unquestionably benevolent and thus exert a notable fascination. They stimulate commitment to dedicated service in response to urgent health-care needs of mainly poor people at home or abroad. While such service is a demonstration of genuine humanitarian concern and solidarity to the common public, medical missions to Christians is a kind of tangible witness for God’s loving and caring presence amidst all suffering. However, Christian medical missions’ personnel were among the first who realized that such ministry cannot stay content with relief work and emergency services only. Prevention of diseases caused by lack of safe drinking water supply, by malnutrition, leprosy and/or by AIDS especially among poor and disadvantaged populations has also to be addressed. Consequently, community based health-care programs and related political advocacy became part and parcel of all contemporary Christian medical missions’ activities, too, conceiving sustainable health-care provision for all as genuine witness to the Gospel.
This course will unravel in its first section the fascinating history of the emergence of medical missions from modest beginnings in the 16th and 17th centuries until its hey-days in early 20th century, its global expansion and its contribution to the development of the Primary Health-Care concept (PHC) becoming the adopted official public health-care policy by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1978. In the second part the course addresses the philanthropic as well as the theological rationale of medical missions, the various arguments advanced for its support, and the controversies such concern for the wellbeing of people created among mission boards and churches placing special emphasis on the theological arguments implicit in these disputes like the valuation or devaluation of the human body and its needs as God’s creation (and the subsequent repercussions on the meaning of the incarnation). The final section looks into the problems entailed by any medical missions’ initiative (clash of cultures; danger of dependency; medical missions as subtle justification for other vested interests etc.) as well as at the enduring legacy of the ethos of medical missions.
Students will come to see that medical missions provide a powerful critique in action of conventional perceptions not only of faith, Christian theology, and the life of the Church; medical missions also question the established practice of medicine and of the provision of health-care. Coming to understand this will enable students to argue the cause of medical missions competently and to formulate a personally authenticated answer to the challenge.