Reconcilation: Long History, Short Memories, New Beginnings

When I talk with average church folk, pastors, and most mission committees about Native America, it becomes quite apparent very quickly that they have very little knowledge about our first neighbors. This is not a condemnation of any kind, just an observation. I have said it before, and it bears repeating: If all your knowledge of Native America comes from High school text books, headlines, or Hollywood (yes, even Dinesh D’Souza), then you simply don’t know about your Native America. You may have picked up some facts, as accurate as they may be, and you may have in-depth knowledge of a particular historical event, but that doesn’t give you real knowledge of your Native neighbors.

That Was Then, This Is Now. Right?

People often have a default line of demarcation with Native history ending at the final Wounded Knee Massacre, December 29, 1890. Although that date certainly ended an era in Native history (the so-called Indian Wars), their history as a people continued with more assaults to their way of life and existence. As I mentioned in my last post, Reconciliation: It’s Not as Black and White as It Seems, the twentieth century was one of the worst centuries for Native peoples. After all the land was taken and the people conquered, then the U.S. government came for the children — and the church participated. Their history continues.

Read more about our common views of our Native neighbors HOW: Were You Informed about Native Americans?

To be sure this issue here is not whether our Native American/First Nations neighbors are more important than our black, Hispanic, or Asian neighbors. And although we just referenced a lot of historical data, we don’t need to get lost in the details of that. Again, my concern is not about the big numbers, but they do serve as the backdrop and give perspective to the issues today that plague Indian country and cannot be ignored.

What must be remembered is that the church played an important role in the destruction of Native cultures, which has led to so many problems in Indian country today.  It is extremely important for our denomination to have a fuller understanding of our Presbyterian heritage, warts and all, so we can be better witness to our Native neighbors and even more so, to our Native brothers and sisters who have long embraced Christ, but still live with the effects of this painful history, which that most of the non-Native, American church knows nothing about.

Doctrine, Destiny, and Dollars

American_progressAs Protestants, we need to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny, if we want to have better open-dialogue with our Native neighbors.

The first slaves ever sold from the North American continent were the Native peoples. Untold numbers were sent to the Caribbean (West Indies) and other places throughout the world. Both Catholics and Protestants participated.

The two initial Roman papal bulls that gave “divine” license to Christian Monarchs to enslave Native peoples throughout the world and take their land were Papal Bull Dum Diversas, 18 June 1452, and Bull Romanus Pontifex, 8 January 1454. These deleterious doctrines ultimately became the foundation to our U.S. Doctrine of Discovery (Johnson vs. Mc’Intosh 1823) and Manifest Destiny and is the economic reason for the success of the United States of America. “This land was made for you and me.”

Where does reconciliation begin?

How is Native America not like the man who was overtaken by robbers, beaten and left on the side of the road? How are we not different from the priests and Levites who crossed the road when they saw the man on the side of the road? (Luke 10:25-37). Many Native voices would say we were the robbers who overtook them. Today, political and theological liberals are acting as the good Samaritans. Perhaps what is worse is that we don’t even cross the road anymore. We don’t even know they are there. They have become invisible.

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Jesus is at work in Indian country. Above is a tribal sponsored sign in the Crow Nation.

Part of reconciliation begins with the confession and regret of us not knowing about the reasons behind the pain in Indian Country inflected upon them. Native people know that most non-Native people do not know about their real history and suffering through the 20th and 21st centuries. They also know that most people don’t even want to know.

Reconciliation would require a repudiation of the pernicious Doctrine of Discovery that has caused so much suffering in Native America, as well as throughout the world. As Reformed Protestants, who have benefitted from the doctrine, we should be more than eager to repent and reform.

Reconciliation would  be a recognition of the darker moments in our Presbyterian heritage and history, in particular, the attitudes and actions that led to the destruction of Indian culture in the name of the Great Commission.

There is certainly more that could added to this list, but but at this point enough has been said to start a real conversation within the PCA. Am I calling for repentance for sins of past generations of Presbyterian denominations? No, actually they have already done that themselves. In fact, the PCUSA has done extensive research on this subject and has given a great response to our first neighbors.

What I am asking for is an open letter to our Native neighbors that we recognize the sins of our fathers and that we will strive to examine our own hearts, thoughts, and actions with a commitment to study our own history and theirs and strive to not repeat our past.

Recommended readings:

Dear Missions Commitee

RECONCILIATION: It’s Not as Black and White as It Seems

Who Needs Fixing?: A New Perspective on Native American Missions

Native Americans: Reached, Unreached, or Mis-reached?

Now You Know: Answering the call to Native America

The Indian Boarding School Movement: Christian Complicity, part 1

The Indian Boarding School Movement: Christian Complicity, part 2

Let’s talk at GA booth #249.

Patrick Lennox

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Patrick & Regina Lennox

Missionaries to Native America

Mission to the World

Phone: 407.416.1482

Email: LennoxLetters@gmail.com

Blog: www.lennoxletters.com
Facebook.com/patrick.r.lennox
Twitter: @patricklennox

Instagram: @patrick_lennoxletters

 

 

Who Needs Fixing?: A New Perspective on Native American Missions

Jonathan_Edwards

Jonathan Edwards (1703 -1758), Puritan pastor and missionary to the Mohawk and Mohican Indians, and author of The Life and Diary of David Brainerd

Are the best days behind us? Have we missed out on a golden age of missions to Native America? The history of missions to Indigenous peoples of North America is extremely complicated with much to rejoice and lament about.  One particular lamentable observation came from the revered Jonathan Edwards in the early 18th century while reflecting on his predecessors. He said, “The English of Massachusetts were too interested in fixing the Indians…than giving them the gospel.” How true that was then, and sadly, that sentiment was an underlying motivation for many churches all throughout the history of missions in the U.S. And where has that actually brought us?

Why bother?

I’ve been reading Paul Miller’s book A Praying Life lately. It is truly one of those books that makes you want to pray. Really. I have been recognizing my own personal shortcomings in prayer. One thing in particular that Miller points out is that many of us have become cynical regarding prayer. After pondering that idea, it hit me. I realized that I was able to identify something I have been sensing over the years regarding a common attitude toward Native American missions. I just could not put a name on it, but now it is clear — cynicism.

Too often when I bring up the topic of Native American missions, I continually hear the predictable mentions of casinos, animism, alcoholism, and government handouts. When folks hear of the plagues in Native America such as alcoholism, addictions, violence, and suicide, they are so quick to attribute it all to government handouts that are keeping Native Americans lazy, which in turn causes them to drink because of all the time on their hands, and so goes the vicious cycle.

With that as the accepted backdrop, the shrewd potential donor would ask, “What is the point in sending missionaries to Native America? They are not really poor, just lazy.” I don’t have enough space to address that position, but if I am reading the tone correctly, it seems that many Christians simply have become cynical regarding Native American missions. Why do we keep giving to them? Is it really helping? We will never fix them.

Then there others who, although seemingly hopeful, speak very fondly of a short-term mission trip to a reservation where they helped build a porch, paint a house, or met some other material need. I hear those stories again and again, and I rejoice with them.

As much as I wholeheartedly believe in those outreach efforts, I am afraid that that is all those people imagine Native American missions to be about. I am proposing that they, too, are affected by cynicism without knowing it. They don’t really think there is anything else to do but to ease the pain in Indian Country with mercy ministry efforts. Is it that these folks don’t really expect anything more out of Native Americans other than to be passive recipients of a generous church group?

Let’s fix our perspectives

How about this? Let’s stop trying to “fix” people. Let us not be condescending or paternalistic. Let’s come along side our Native American brothers and sisters and walk with them. Let’s expect great things from the Native Christian church. Is it possible that such a suffering people empowered by grace can display and proclaim God’s kingdom in ways that we have not witnessed in a long time? Let’s believe that God can heal the brokenness in Native America.  Let’s believe that the Native Christian church can strengthen the rest of the body of Christ and teach us something about forgiveness and perseverance. Let’s actually believe that the best years are ahead of us starting today.

To learn more about how can help serve Native America, click Five Things You Can Do.

To learn how best to give to our mission and support us, click GIVING.

Footnotes:

*Source: Jonathan Edwards DVD series by Dr. Stephon Nichols, Ligonier Ministries.

**Tribal sponsored sign in the Crow Nation. Source: http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com