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.

jesus_christ_is_lord_-_a_billboard_from_the_crow_nation

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

IMG_20180206_153328710

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

 

 

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

A couple of years ago, I attended a gathering of church leaders gathered to discuss racial reconciliation particularly in light of the PCA’s relations with the black community. Leading the discussion was a well-known and respected theologian and another gentleman who had recently authored a book relative to the topic being discussed. Following their presentation, there was a time of Q & A and discussion. As a missionary to Native America, I couldn’t resist voicing an observation. It went something like this, “I hear a lot about racial reconciliation being talked about, but I notice that it is nearly exclusively about black and white relations, and a little about Hispanic folks, but I have yet to hear anything about Native Americans.”

no-hope-beyond-pointUnfortunately what followed was anything but hopeful. The main speaker acknowledged the bad history with Native Americans, but then went on to educate the room about the fact that “never before in world history there has ever been such a great displacement of people from one continent to another” (paraphrase). He went on to cite the statistics concerning the 12.5 million African slaves brought across the Atlantic to the New World. It was as if he were saying that this issue is more important than the Native American issue simply by showing the immensity of the numbers.

He then said words to the effect that if you are going to talk about Native Americans, then we are going to have to address the Japanese-Americans who were put into camps during WWII.  Sadly, I heard that line of reasoning many times before. What was noticeably absent from the response was any kind of affirmation that there was a need to discuss Native America, as if it were a settled issue that does not need to be revisited.

My Issue

Here is my issue with that response. First, I must say that I am glad there were no Native Americans in the room to hear that answer. Additionally, I would like to emphasize that I don’t believe for a moment that the gentleman did not care about Native Americans. But his response revealed the common lack of knowledge of our history with Native Americans in this country, especially where the church was involved. It would be easy to believe that the government alone is responsible for the injustices against Native people, but that is simply not the historical record.

How much knowledge did he have concerning the relationship between the church and state regarding laws that were designed to outlaw, therefore, destroy hundreds of Native American cultures and everything that held them together?  Who today knows that it was the Presbyterian church (General Assembly 1887) that urged then U.S. President Grover Cleveland to push for legislation to outlaw all Indian cultural and religious practices? That meant all language, music, dance, art, etc. Essentially it was against U.S. law to be an Indian. How easy would the Great Commission be if everyone looked, talked, lived, and acted just like us?


Looking unto JesusDark Reality

Space will not allow to list all the grievances Native people have with the church, but one of the issues that is most pressing on Native American and First Nations peoples is the effects of the Indian boarding/residential school era in the U.S. and Canada. For more on that, see my blog posts, The Indian Boarding School Movement: Christian Complicity, pt 1 and The Indian Boarding School Movement: Christian Complicity, pt 2. We cannot begin to understand Native America today until we grapple with the dark reality of the Indian boarding school movement and the role the churches had with the government.


Secondly, concerning the statistics, my effort here is not to compare who is more important by showing which people group has the biggest numbers. That is not my intent. In fact, I resisted writing this response fearing that it would be seen that way. But I didn’t bring up the statistics.

By the Numbers

There are a few divergent estimates of the Native population on the North American continent prior to 1492, but 12 million is a number that has gained acceptance. By the end of the 19th century, there were less than 250,000 Native Americans in the U.S., perhaps as low as 230,000.

Much of the decline in the population was due to disease, but what must be remembered is that many Natives were exposed to disease by design. Many died due to the result of malnutrition, starvation and exposure resulting from displacement. Tribes were reduced to what we now call “refugees.” They were continually displaced and forced to live in places and regions of which they had no knowledge or skill to survive. Prisoner-of-war camps (many of which became reservations) provided inadequate and often spoiled rations. They were often killed by other tribes as they were forced westward. Population reduction was also due to tribes being splintered apart. With no land to call their own, always on the move, many tribes simply disappeared in oblivion. Space will not allow to list the effects the many massacres and wars had on the population. Whatever the proportions of each factor, the cumulative effect of European and American conquest on the Native populations in North America is staggering and heart-breaking.

Our speaker was quick to point out the sheer number of African slaves that were stolen and transported across the Atlantic Ocean. Yet only 3% of the 12.5 million were sent to North America, which is about 388,000 African souls, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database.* Pointing that out in no way minimizes the pain and suffering of those image-bearers of God. I would never suggest that, but if we are going to use numbers to measure historical import in the racial reconciliation discussion within our denomination, then I believe Native Americans deserve a place at the table — certainly more than a footnote or an add-on in any forthcoming resolutions. 

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Native tribes such as the Mobile — the namesake of the city in Alabama where PCA GA 2016 took place – are now an extinct tribe. Incidentally, the Alabama still exists, just not in Alabama anymore. They are now in Texas. What many folks didn’t know is that Native Americans also had to ride on the back of the bus in Alabama until the civil rights movement. During my time at this General Assembly, I asked person after person if they knew what Mobile was. Not a single person knew it was the name of an Indian tribe. I say this only to demonstrate our prevailing ignorance of the indigenous people of the land in which we live, worship, and carry out the Great Commission. 

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Numbers in Perspective

When the African slave trade began, there were approximately 12 million or more Native peoples in North America. Through the following centuries, European settlers, mostly confessing Christians, managed to take over the continent and reduce its indigenous population down to 230,000 by 1900.

There are many differences between the two people groups, i.e. Africans and Native Americans, yet there is kind of apples-to-apples comparison, even if they are different kinds of apples from the different orchards. For instance, the 12.5 million African, men, women, and children were displaced from their homeland, as were the Native Americans. It’s just that we cannot apply the word “transcontinental” to the Native Americans’ displacement, unless we count those who were sold and shipped to the West Indies.

Essentially, within the same relative period of time, both Native American and African peoples were displaced from their homelands by the same numbers (approximately 12 million) — the stark difference being is that the greater number of victims on U.S. soil belongs to the Native American side of the ledger, if we dare call near oblivion as displacement.

Where are They Now?

indian-reservatin-map-e1528593740796.pngBut there is actually hope. The Lord has given us a gracious gift. Our Native neighbors live among us everywhere, yet we often don’t recognize them unless they signal us with some kind of cultural symbol, e.g. long braided hair, turquoise or feather jewelry, etc. Not fitting our stereotypes, they have become invisible.

Today there are 573 federally recognized Native American nations in the U.S. and 638 First Nations in Canada. In the U.S., approximately 22% live on the 325 reservations, while others live in surrounding communities, or in major U.S. cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis. There are approximately 2.9 million U.S. Native Americans who identify themselves as full-blood. Of those who identify themselves as full or part Native, there are 5 million. Can you imagine if all of the tribes like the Mobile disappeared by 1900 rather than the remnant of 230,000 preserved by God’s providence?

The Lord of the Harvest has given us a vast field with 1,207 distinct and federally recognized nations. We have plenty to do. By His good providence, we live in the information and communication age. We have more than enough resources to reach the lost and assist those Native pastors in Indian country. And we have more than enough history to learn from regarding destructive methods that have contributed to many of the problems in Native America. We also have an opportunity to examine our own hearts to see if we still share the same attitudes with our forefathers that drove wrong-headed and destructive methodologies. Ultimately, we have an opportunity to reach our neighbors with the Great Commission rather than the Great Imposition. Let’s give Jesus a better witness in Indian country!

In a follow-up to this article, Reconciliation: Long History, Short Memories, New Beginnings, I would like continue these thoughts and to submit a possible way forward with efforts to reach our first neighbors.

*http://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/how-many-slaves-landed-in-the-us/

 

 

 

 

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.