Digital Missionaries: The Neoliberal Sponsorship Rhetoric of Compassion International

Open Access
Author:
Geraths, Cory Paul
Graduate Program:
Communication Arts and Sciences
Degree:
Master of Arts
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
September 05, 2013
Committee Members:
  • Jeremy Engels, Thesis Advisor
Keywords:
  • Christianity
  • mission
  • technology
  • neoliberalism
  • rhetoric
  • feminism
Abstract:
This project is a feminist rhetorical criticism of the neoliberal contours of Compassion International’s sponsorship model. Compassion International is an evangelical, Protestant humanitarian organization that serves to connect a financially secure sponsor with an impoverished child in the Global South via a monthly monetary gift. Through a thorough rhetorical analysis of Compassion International’s website, this project argues that this sponsorship model is indicative of a corrupted model of Christian missionary rhetoric online. Coopted by parallel systems of neoliberalism, patriarchy, and racism, Compassion International’s sponsorship model commodifies, dehumanizes, and silences the children that it claims to sponsor. In doing so, the model redefines both sponsor and child positionalities via an affective economy of love that articulates sponsors as global caretakers and parents and children as objects for spiritual consumption. All told, Compassion International’s sponsorship model constructs a borderland space in which the very definition of both mission and commission is redefined as passive, rather than active. It is clear that Compassion International’s sponsorship platform is ripe for rhetorical criticism, and the problems it is perpetuating speak to the greater issues facing Christianity and online humanitarian work today.