If we lived in a rational world, Laura Silsby will have had her 15 minutes of fame and we could all move on. That, of course, will not happen. Nevertheless, I think that Timothy Egan has managed to have the final word on the whole Silsby affair in his commentary The Missionary Impulse. In the article, Egan, rightly I believe, characterizes the case as one more example of Cultural Imperialism.
At the least, the curious case of Laura Silsby raises questions about cultural imperialism: what makes a scofflaw from nearly all-white Idaho with no experience in adoption or rescue services think she has a right to bring religion and relief to a country with its own cultural, racial and spiritual heritage?
Imagine if a voodoo minister from Haiti had shown up in Boise after an earthquake, looking for children in poor neighborhoods and offering “opportunities for adoption” back to Haiti. He could say, as those who followed Silsby explained on a Web site, that “the unsaved world needs to hear” from the saved.Who says they are “unsaved?” And who says the world needs to hear from them? Haiti is a predominantly Roman Catholic country, and a nation full of passionate believers at that.
As it turns out, there was no orphanage for the Silsby children, just plans, many, many plans. And some of the young Haitians were not even orphans. As to what qualified Laura Silsby to jump into international relief work with a side of adoption services, well, she had once run something called Personal Shopper. And she was a charismatic Christian, with a golden tongue.So, despite the fact that she’d been subject to numerous civil lawsuits for unpaid wage claims, and had a history of flouting the law, she could convince fellow Baptists to follow her to Haiti after the devastating earthquake last month. Under the banner of heaven, they would try to help “each child find healing, hope, joy and new life in Christ.”
I give Egan the last word:
The missionaries say they have found the Word, the Truth, and feel compelled to spread it. Indeed, Paul Thompson, one of the Idaho pastors who followed Silsby to Haiti, expressed these feelings in his pastoral newsletter just before the earthquake.
“War is declared!” he quoted a 19th century British missionary approvingly. “In God’s Holy Name let us arise and build!”
But the Silsby case calls for a different type of refrain: Missionary, heal thyself.