baptist irish society



The British Empire was a military, political and commercial creation that was long in the making.  It also produced religious controversy that extended and diffused the process of Reformation.  There was little doubt about the Protestant identity of the empire, but the extension of English, Scottish and Welsh Protestantism into diverse imperial regions involved a number of compromises and contingencies. Most commentators treated the historical experience of the Roman Empire as the precedent example.  But that exercise produced various conclusions.  Opponents of Christian missionary activity in India, primarily Old East India Company men, lauded the religious tolerance of the Roman Empire and insisted that British India must not seek to promote or establish Christianity in India because it would spark distrust and rebellion.  Proponents of missions, meanwhile, treated the Roman Empire as indicative of the role of Divine Providence in erecting a governing framework upon which Christianity might be established.  They expected Christianity to flourish in a similar way in India once the restrictive and monopolistic practices of the East India Company were revised. 

Such disagreement presaged further debates over whether native languages or English educational models should provide the basis for the modernization of India.  Some scholars have tended to see in such "Orientalist" rhetoric a language not merely of governance but of oppression. Nevertheless, the relationship between missionaries and empire was not hand-in-glove.

In the short selection that follows, William Carey's name was invoked as a support for imperial Christian missions at the annual meeting of the Baptist Irish Society.  The specific reference by J. E. Gordon, a Baptist evangelist in Ireland, was his "observation of Dr. Carey's opinion, that the best mode of facilitating the spread of Christianity in the world, was to establish it fully in the British Empire."  Nothing in Carey's An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens links "Christianity" with "British Empire."  But it is not surprising that an Irish Protestant should indulge rhetoric that provided more of an elaboration than an echo of Carey's views.  Even to the extent that Gordon's remarks distort Carey's attitude, they reveal that religion and imperial power were a potent combination capable of creating networks of interest around the world.

Vol. XIV    No. 35

Thursday, August 27, 1829



Newspaper Header, p. 137           



      p. 138                 p. 138 (cont.)





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Created:  December 8, 2005                    Updated:    December 8, 2005