June 20, 2012
Was First U.S. Missionary Black Not White? SBC Dodges Answer
Southern Baptists officially recognize that many believe freed slave George Liele's departure to Jamaica beats Adoniram and Ann Judson's dispatch to Burma.
Who was really the first Protestant missionary from America?
This title has traditionally been bestowed upon Adoniram Judson and his wife Ann, who left for Burma in 1812. But last week, Southern Baptist pastor Dwight McKissic proposed that delegates to today's SBC annual meeting challenge this tradition and instead recognize George Liele, a freed slave who started a church in Jamaica 30 years before the Judsons left New England, as "America's First Missionary."
Today the SBC acknowledged but dodged McKissic's request by passing a resolution affirming "African American Contributions to American Baptist History." Delegates affirmed that "historiography has not always reflected the contribution of African American Baptists," thus "we celebrate pioneers such as African Americans George Liele, who many acknowledge as the first overseas missionary from the United States in 1782."
The debate over whether Liele trumps the Judsons largely rests on the fact that the Judsons were "sent out" as missionaries, while Liele was not. CT's sister publication, Christian History, tells the story of how Liele had to emigrate to live and worship freely.