A Better Ending

American_progress

This painting (circa 1872) by John Gast called American Progress, is an allegorical representation of the modernization of the new west. Here Columbia, a personification of the United States, leads civilization westward with American settlers, stringing telegraph wire as she sweeps west; she holds a school book as well. The different stages of economic activity of the pioneers are highlighted and, especially, the changing forms of transportation. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manifest_destiny

We live and worship on land that once belonged to a diverse mission field. Living on this beautiful continent, which we now call North America, were many civilizations — great and small, peaceful and warring, admirable and some less admirable. We now commonly lump them together as one people called American Indians or Native Americans.  They lived here in great numbers until the American experiment decided to forcibly take it in the name of a superior civilization and progress–often with the blessing of the church, both Catholic and Protestant, under the pretense of God’s work.  Rome’s Papal Bulls of the 15th century gave birth to the Doctrine of Discovery along with the millennial theologies in Protestant circles created the perfect environment for Manifest Destiny and euphemistically, ‘westward expansion.’

Living Up to Our Values

We have told ourselves and the world that our country was built on Judeo-Christian values, yet when someone found gold in Georgia, for instance, the Cherokee and other tribes were removed from their home lands, marched away on the infamous Trail of Tears. Many of them were our brothers and sisters in Christ. I thank the Lord for the missionaries like Presbyterian missionary Samuel Worcester and the Moravian missionaries who fought tirelessly for the rights of the Cherokee and served among them for the kingdom of Christ.

American missions was once an exciting venture for our early forefathers like Jonathan Edwards and David Brainerd, while the country was forming. It just seems strange to me that now our country is established, and so much damage has been done by a nation that declares itself to be Christian, that our zeal for missions to Native America has waned. Yet they remain. More than that, their populations have rebounded from 250,000 by the end of the 19th century to over 5 million today. Some chapters have closed, but the story is not finished.

God’s Perspective

Isaiah 52:10 tells us that our God is a God of the nations:

The Lord has bared his holy arm

before the eyes of all the nations,

and all the ends of the earth shall see

the salvation of our God.

Our Lord Jesus tells us to “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:18). There are 566 sovereign Native nations within the borders of the US, and many more to the north and south of our borders. The Great Commission is to every tribe, tongue, and nation. To not recognize the 566 Native nations is to not recognize Jesus’ authority over the Great Commission.

By Grace, It’s Not Over

Let’s have a better ending. The first 500 years of missions in this country is a story of praiseworthy successes and dismal and lamentable failures. Sadly, it seems our failures have had the most lasting effect. But I believe we are in a new and exciting chapter of Native missions. There is a better ending to be written in Native American missions. The fields are ripe for harvest. The door is open, and the Lord bids us go.

I hope you will want to be a part of this new chapter and go with us. You can do more than you think. Please read Five Things You Can Do and Contact Us.

Six Common Perspectives on Native Americans

Caricatures, Perspectives, and Reflections

I have met a lot of people with various perspectives on Native Americans. After a life-time of living among non-Indian Americans, and being one myself, I feel somewhat confident in my knowledge of what non-Indian Americans believe. Although not exhaustive, the list below provides a good cross-section of perspectives I have encountered during this past year in particular. I would like to say that they all are exaggerated caricatures, but I would have to cross my fingers behind my back. The reality is that many of us hold to a combination of these perspectives. The challenge for all of us is to read through the list and see where we find our reflection, and ask the Lord to give us His perspective through the lens of the gospel.

Six Common Perspectives on Native Americans

1. Relatively Oblivious – This person has little to no knowledge of Native Americans today. This person has never met a Native or at least has no knowledge of meeting one. This person doesn’t not know that reservations still exist, yet when they learn of that fact wonder if Indians still live in teepees. I have even met people who thought the Indians were all gone.

2. History buff/antagonist perspective – This person read a lot of American history and is very eager to point out the sins of Native Americans by educating you on Indian attacks on white settlers. Recent court cases ruling in favor of a particular tribe that resulted in restitution are often cited.

3. Hollywood-informed, sympathetic perspective – You generally cheer for the underdog. You saw some movies like Indian in the Cupboard and Dances with Wolves. You have actually memorized the epic scene with Wind in His Hair’s emotional farewell to Dances with Wolves. Just thinking about, you really want to watch it again. Go ahead and watch it here.

4. Hollywood-informed, unsympathetic perspective – This person saw a lot of John Wayne-type westerns and believes the narrative that the Indians were irrational, blood-thirsty savages who were getting in the way of the progress of American civilization. “The only good Injuns are dead.”

5. Politically-driven perspectives* – This person sees life mostly through political goggles, which usually have either red or blue lenses.

  • Blue lenses seem to create an overwhelming sense of the proverbial “white guilt,” which can only be relieved by creating new tenants of political correctness enforced by yet more big government solutions. Oddly, the blue-lens perspective is just as paternalistic as our forefathers on both sides of the aisle in Washington, which has caused most of our problems today.
  • Red lenses have a tendency to reject anything that smacks of political correctness. Typical mantras in this camp include: “Disband the reservations, tribes are socialistic anyway. Tax the casinos. Build that oil pipeline through their land, and frack, baby, frack! It’s all about jobs. Make them assimilate! Go Redskins!” The red-lens view often sees reservations as welfare states attributing all the social ills such as high addiction, crime, and suicide rates to the dependence on government subsidies. Although it recognizes the tragedies of the past, it believes that the best thing to do for Native Americans is to disband the reservations and take them off government “hand-outs.” Problem solved.

6. Pro-Western, seemingly biblically Reformed perspective **– This perspective is related to the politically driven perspective, but now mixed with just enough theology to sound biblical. Foundational tenets include: 1. God ordains whatsoever comes to pass, 2. This is a nation based on Judeo-Christian principles, and 3. Providence has shown that God judged the Indians using a Christian/Western nation. Therefore, the U.S. was justified in its conquering the land and Natives. There are multiple variations of this view.

More can be added to the list, but these common perspectives are the most frequent I encounter when talking with people about our mission to Cherokee.

Excerpt from HOW: Where you informed about Native Americans?