As a sophomore at Calvin College, I began hearing a refrain from classmates who had shed their evangelical heritage like a bulky fur coat at the start of spring. "Evangelicals only care about abortion and gay marriage," they sighed, parroting headlines of the time. It was 2004, and the "values vote" had apparently secured George W. Bush's reelection. We rushed to show that no, really, we cared about poverty and social justice too (unaware that Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, and others had been saying this since before we existed).

Like a stellar magazine should do, CT set the story straight. Over Christmas or spring break, I'd pick up a copy at my parents' house and read about Christians who supported the partial-birth abortion ban—and also resettled refugees and reconciled Arabs and Israelis and turned the tide on HIV/AIDS. "A magazine of evangelical conviction" taught me that those convictions, rooted in the gospel of Christ, were broader and deeper than media wisdom suggested.

Our cover story this month lands another nail in the coffin of bad Christian stereotypes. Or, to borrow a metaphor from the sociologist whose award-winning research we debut on page 34: It sets off an atomic bomb over the recycled story about missionaries of an earlier era.

The pith helmet on our cover says so much. It was worn in earlier centuries by Europeans manning the jungles and deserts of Asian and African colonies. It connotes privilege, paternalism, and unfettered power. It is Heart of Darkness and Things Fall Apart and The Poisonwood Bible. And, so the story goes, it was donned by Protestant missionaries with as much ignorant pride as colonial rulers.

Sociologist Robert Woodberry (PhD, University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill) has dedicated his career to demonstrating why that story is plain wrong. Not only did these missionaries found schools, start printing presses, open hospitals, and ignite other initiatives crucial to societal health, but they were crucial to the spread of democracy in former colonies. Without these missionaries, the world today would have more authoritarian rulers and sick children and fewer books, hospitals, and educated women. With nary a Twitter hashtag or e-blast campaign, these missionaries did, actually, change the world.

And their spiritual descendants still do. On page 65, political scientist Mark Amstutz explains evangelicals' continued engagement in global affairs. And on page 56, Gary Haugen highlights how International Justice Mission, the evangelical nonprofit he founded in 1997, is stemming the violence that keeps the global poor in their place.

Surveying this issue of CT, I wish my 19-year-old self had a copy. She would have known a bit more about her evangelical heritage—and, I imagine, carried it with pride.

Follow Katelyn Beaty on Twitter @KatelynBeaty

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