Missionaries: Protestants

Although the first European contact with the Marshall Islands was with the Spanish who maintained control of the islands for roughly 300 years, the Marshall Islands, today, are overwhelmingly Protestant, not Catholic as it is the case today with many former Spanish colonies. Protestantism was first introduced to the Marshall Islands by American and Hawaiian missionaries in the 1860s who were part of whaling expeditions near the Marshall Islands and Micronesia. Reverend George Pierson is credited with being the first Protestant missionary to the Marshall Islands arriving on a trading boat in Kosrae. After being given permission by the local irooj, Kaibuke, he set up a permanent mission, ironically, after their respective wives struck up a close friendship. (Kaibuke, himself, was well known for his ferocity toward whites in battle.) Early missionaries were not well received by the local inhabitants as the missionaries often spoke against local customs such as tattooing and dancing. On other islands, Protestantism was more successful in taking hold as missionaries were able to marry both Christian and traditional Marshallese practices. For example, missionaries found that their major holidays (Easter and Christmas) paralleled key periods in their tribute system.

While American missionaries had a limited impact on the Marshall Islands largely due to the fact that they would only stay for short periods of time, the Hawaiian missionaries were able to make greater inroads as they, more often than not, stayed in the Marshall Islands permanently. As American missionaries continued their transient trends, they unintentionally provided for increased economic opportunities as missionaries would trade goods with the local people for coconut oil, which was shipped to foreign trading posts for sale.

In the mid–20th Century, as the number of local Protestant converts increased, the number of American missionaries present decreased. The church began to be turned over to the locals, decreasing the need for American missionaries. (Although, part of the decrease in American missionaries can be explained by the end of World War II and gradual withdrawal of the US military from this region.) These local church leaders became more instrumental in social matters, establishing schools, opposing prostitution, and opposition to legislation legalizing gambling.

The Marshall Islands are over 75% Protestant. Today, an increase in the number of Seventh-Day Adventist, Catholic missionaries, Later Day Saints and Muslims are beginning to cause this number to decrease, albeit only slightly.

Morning Star

Morning Star – Ship used by Dr Pierson  https://www.trussel.com/kir/mornstar.htm