There was an interesting article by David Griffiths in the Guardian ‘Comment is Free’ column yesterday discussing the cultural context of missionaries and the free exchange of ideas:
I am often bemused by the chronic and deliberate muddling of the term, “missionary”, especially when used in reference to Christians. It is a tag applied indiscriminately to local pastors, foreign aid workers or preening televangelists. For some it is a noble calling, for others a convenient label to sully credibility. In the popular imagination, it has become tarnished by memories of colonialism, and by the impact of western secularism. I will use it in the sense of those who seek deliberately and openly to propagate their religious beliefs.
For all its multifarious justifications, aversion to missionaries is often rooted principally in the determination to preserve a particular status quo. Is it no longer acceptable to challenge others? Or to be challenged? What is there to fear? Can my truth not stand up to yours?
I would recommend that you read the full article (here), but in summary, Griffith’s basic conclusion is that prejudice and the desire to maintain the status quo blinds a contemporary cultural recognition of the value of Christian mission, branding it as peddling a coercive form or proselytising rather than acknowledging the positive social impact of both missionaries and faith-based charities.