Will You Be Found Faithful?: Chapter Eight

The Unfaithful Social Darwinists Versus the Faithful Missionaries

As time went on scientific racism would die out, mostly due to the rise of Darwinism and its claim that all of humanity had a common ancestor, but racism would live on, taking on a new form called social Darwinism. Proponents of this racial theory would make the claim that the lighter races may not have had different parentage, but they were further evolved than the darker races.

An example of this view was on display at the 1893 Columbian Exposition, the Chicago World’s Fair. Along the Midway, a type of human zoo was set up, which allowed those who attended to walk through the evolutionary history of man. Beginning with the African race and moving forward through the red and yellow races, villages were set up and people of color were put on display. The exhibit ended with European villages and culminated with the glorious “White City,” which was the final goal mankind was moving toward.

This wasn’t some kind of sideshow; it was a scientific endeavor! The best minds were put to the task since the goal of the Columbian Exposition was to showcase humanity’s progress.

To lend anthropological legitimacy to their enterprise, Chicago’s exposition directors placed the Midway under the nominal direction of Harvard’s Frederic Ward Putnam, who had already been chosen to organize an Anthropology Building at the fair. Putnam envisioned the Midway as a living outdoor museum of “primitive” human beings that would afford visitors the opportunity to measure the progress of humanity toward the ideal of civilization presented in the White City. [1]

Putnam was a museum builder. He traveled around the world to find material for the Columbian Exposition which would be donated later to the Field Museum of Chicago.

Social Darwinism, while an embarrassing philosophy now, was on the cutting edge of intellectual thought in the Victorian world of the late nineteenth century. Believers in social Darwinism could read like a who’s who of money, power, and intellect. Darwin’s evolutionary theory would be applied to history, psychology, theology, law, architecture, art, education, economics, political science, anthropology, and sociology. Its “survival of the fittest” ethic would be used to justify the division in income between industrialist capitalists and the labor force. it would also be used to support the patronizing idea that the Anglo-Saxon race (the “finest product of natural selection”) had a duty (it was the “white man’s burden”) to bring order and to uplift the darker peoples everywhere. (Incidentally, Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was a social Darwinist.)

Unfortunately, many Christians would go along with this latest scientific and intellectual endeavor. Josiah Strong, a Congregationalist minister, would be one of the strongest proponents of social Darwinism. His hugely popular book, Our Country, would insist that the Anglo-Saxon was divinely commissioned to be his brother’s keeper, and God was using white people to Christianize and civilize the weaker races.

The Episcopal clergyman and Yale University professor William Graham Sumner and Sir Henry H. Johnston were also social Darwinists (meaning they were evolutionists and racists) who claimed to be Christians.

Senator A. J. Beveridge often shared his blend of Christian/social Darwinist beliefs before the United States Congress. The great captains of industry: Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and J.P. Morgan, while claiming to be Baptists and/or Episcopalians, all subscribed to social Darwinism (through the ideas of Herbert Spencer). [2]

The age of empire, coupled with the racial theory of social Darwinism, would lead to the abuse of the darker races. For example, in Africa, Cecil Rhodes, the diamond magnate, was a social Darwinist whose dream was to spread the British Empire, led by the Anglo-Saxon race, all around the world.

In his last will and testament, he said of the British, “I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race.” [3] He would abuse the darker races and exploit them for cheap labor.

Battling against Cecil Rhodes was John Mackenzie of the London Missionary Society. He was an evangelical who became the leading voice of a humanitarian lobby appealing to the British parliament for justice for the darker races against the abuse of Cecil Rhodes. The website of the History Department at the University of Botswana describes the clash between Rhodes and Mackenzie:

On the one hand there was the Reverend John Mackenzie, one of the most articulate spokesmen among Christian missionaries of the late 19th century and prime exponent of ideas of protection of “native” interests. On the other hand there was Cecil John Rhodes, the diamond magnate whose name has become synonymous with monopoly capitalism and territorial expansion in later 19th century Africa, who stood for colonization, development, and exploitation of African lands by European settlers. [4]

Like Mackenzie, William Knibb, a missionary to Jamaica, would also fight against the ideologies of scientific racism/social Darwinism and beg for racial equality, saying:

All I ask is, that my African brother may stand in the same family of man; that my African sister shall, while she clasps her tender infant to her breast, be allowed to call it her own; that they both shall be allowed to bow their knees in prayer to the God who has made of one blood all nations as one flesh. (italics added) [5]

Knibb would start a school, train teachers, publish a newspaper to give blacks a voice, found a seminary, and buy land for emancipated slaves with his own money. He would also baptize three thousand blacks who were each readied for the event.

Today Knibb is known as a national hero in Jamaica. He was the first white man to be granted the Order of Merit, Jamaica’s highest civil honor. His award reads as follows:

  • For Knibb’s work as Liberator of the slaves; 
  • For his work in laying the foundation of nationhood:
  • For his support of black people and things indigenous;
  • For his display of great courage against tremendous odds;
  • For being an inspiration then and now. [6]

Most Christians don’t realize that the great missionary movement of the nineteenth century was often a conscious attempt to counter scientific racism and/or social Darwinism, but evangelical missionaries stood alone in the world in their opposition to abusive racial theories. As a result, they were one of the only groups (which included most Catholic missionaries, traders/colonialists, and social Darwinists) who went into the world to bless it rather than to take from it and to serve it rather than to dominate it.

Benjamin Harrison, who was a former president of the United States, gave the opening address at the Ecumenical Missionary Conference held at Carnegie Hall in 1901. In his speech, he countered racial imperialism and spoke of the giving attitude the Christian should have:

The highest conception that has ever entered the mind of man is that of God as the father of all men–the one blood–the universal brotherhood. It was not evolved, but revealed. The natural man lives to be ministered unto –he lays his imposts on others. He buys slaves that they may fan him to sleep, bring him the jeweled cup, dance before him, and die in the arena for his sport. Into such a world there came a King, not to be ministered unto, but to minister. (italics added) [7]

The evangelical missionaries believed that all races were equal and went out to prove it. They thought that the darker races simply needed to hear the gospel, receive Jesus, and then be educated. As a result, they traveled to the ends of the earth to share the gospel with all people, and as they went, they taught them to read the Bible. After this, in order to prove that God is true and all other views are lies, they started universities around the world in order to show that darker races were capable of intellectual endeavors.

Many people may know that nearly all the Ivy League colleges and universities (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, and Dartmouth) were started by Christians, but how many people know that most of China’s universities were started by missionaries who wanted to disprove social Darwinism? [8]

Instead of believing the Genesis account, many Christians added Darwinian evolutionary theory to the biblical account. This led to their skewed views on racial inequality. As a result of this spiritual adultery, the darker races would continue to be abused, especially by greedy businessmen who embraced this theory as a justification for their actions.

There were two groups of believers involved in the dispute over Darwinism and racial theory. One group heroically stood fast on the Word of God and shared the love of Jesus with the darker races, while the other group compromised the Word with the latest scientific views. One group was faithful to God and loved and cared for their neighbor while the other group believed in “truths” that countered the Bible and ended up abusing their neighbor.

Consequently, the social Darwinist “Christians” have been relegated to the ideological trash bins of history. Their “scientific” beliefs are now an embarrassment. On the other hand, faithful Christians of this era are the heroes of history. Their faithfulness to the scriptures has brought glory to God and blessed the nations where they lived and served, while those adulterous and unfaithful Christians have become scourges on their societies and have caused the name of God to be reviled.



[1] Robert W. Rydell. “World’s Columbian Exposition.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago Historical Society, 2006.

[2] Jerry Bergman. “Darwin’s Critical Influence on the Ruthless Extremes of Capitalism.” Creation Journal, August 1, 2002, 105-109.

[3] Cecil Rhodes, The Last Will and Testament of Cecil John Rhodes: With Elucidatory Notes to which are Added Some Chapters Describing the Political and Religious Ideas of the Testator By Cecil Rhodes, comp. William Thomas Stead (London: “Review of Reviews” Office, 1902).

[4] Neil Parsons. “Colonial Administration Page 2: Charles Rey And Previous Commissioners Of The Bechuanaland Protectorate.” Lecture given to mark the publication of Sir Charles Rey’s Monarch of All I Survey: Bechuanaland Diaries, 1929-37, at the Botswana Society, Gaborone, January 1, 1988. Accessed February 16, 2015. http://www.thuto.org/ubh/bw/colad/colad2.htm.

[5] John Howard Hinton, William Knibb: Missionary in Jamaica (London: Houlston and Stoneman, 1847), 148.

[6] Alan Jackson. “William Knibb, 1803-1845, Jamaican Missionary and Slave’s Friend.” Victorian Web. January 1, 2003. Accessed February 16, 2015.

[7] Benjamin Harrison, “Speech Given at the Ecumenical Conference on Foreign Missions Held in Carnegie Hall and Neighboring Churches, April 21-May 1, 1900” (New York: American Tract Society, 1900).

[8] “Christian Universities in China.” China Culture.org. February 4, 2008. Accessed February 16, 2015. http://www1.chinaculture.org/library/2008-02/04/content_26029.htm.




1 Comment

  1. Those who called themselves Christians but enslaved others I would think didn’t have the spirit of God working in them. Just the thought that others are inherently inferior is demonic. Great page! On to Christian 9!

    Liked by 1 person

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