February 25, 2008

Why Natives aren't Christians

Listening post explores Native American issuesThe Rev. Chebon Kernell was raised in two spiritual worlds that some people say have little in common.

He's a lifelong United Methodist who responded to a call to Christian ministry at age 17. And he's a Seminole Native American, no stranger to the ceremonial traditions of his ancestors.

"As a minister," he said, "I've wondered where to draw the line between the two-or whether it should even be drawn."

That issue and others faced by Native Americans in The United Methodist Church were analyzed Feb. 16 at a "listening post" hosted by the denomination's Native American Comprehensive Plan.
Some of the issues:No more than 6 percent of the 2.7 million Native Americans in the United States identify themselves as Christian--a statistic often blamed on mistrust of the church.

Mission schools operated on Indian reservations from the late 1800s through the first half of the 20th century, many of them founded by Methodists. Children were forced to adopt Anglo-European culture, abandon their tribal languages and convert to Christianity.

Today the Native American Church, an indigenous denomination that mixes elements of Christian faith with tribal sacraments, thrives in Native communities where mainline churches don't.

"They attract larger numbers of young people," said the Rev. David Wilson, chairman of the plan's task force and superintendent of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. "That's partly because those settings celebrate who they are as Native people. Our (United Methodist) church hasn't always affirmed that."
And:"We've always been a spiritual people," said the Rev. Wil Brown, a member of the Kiowa and Acoma tribes and former director of Native American Ministries for the American Baptist Church. "The task isn't to introduce God, but to introduce Jesus Christ in a way that isn't offensive to Native people. It's a hard nut to crack."Comment:  I suspect most Natives eschew Christianity not because they mistrust the church but because they already have perfectly good religions.

The differences between Christianity and Native religions are rather clear. Here are some statements of their respective values:And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

And God blessed them: and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Genesis 1:26-28
Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors, the dreams of our old men, given them by the great Spirit, and the visions of our sachems, and is written in the hearts of our people.

Your dead cease to love you and the homes of their nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb. They wander far off beyond the stars, are soon forgotten, and never return. Our dead never forget the beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its winding rivers, its great mountains and its sequestered vales, and they ever yearn in tenderest affection over the lonely hearted living and often return to visit and comfort them.

Chief Seattle (Suquamish), from a speech, 1855?
For more on the subject, see Hercules vs. Coyote:  Native and Euro-American Beliefs.

8 comments:

dmarks said...

The United Methodists are, genereally, an admirably multi-cultural and tolerant and inclusive denomination.

THE Michael said...

The Northern Europeans also had perfectly good religions before Christianity was forced down their throats. We laugh at your "Christian" holidays that are nothing more than altered versions of our pagan ancestor's Earth celebrations.

dmarks said...

One religion laughing at another with derision really does show some intolerance.

Besides, if religions are to laugh at others, just about any religion (except maybe Scientology) could laugh at Wicca, which was invented by a writer 60 or so years ago and has little to do with ancient pagan traditions (and in fact Wicca glosses over and disrespects several very different and opposing ancient traditions by mashing them together in a New Agey sort of stew).

russell said...

Writerfella here --
But the person is correct. Modern computations anent the calendar as it exists now and as it once existed (three or more prior permutations) reveal that the Christ figure actually was born in May and his crucifixion and death was in September. Thus, the Christ figure's birth and death dates were MOVED to coincide with pagan ritual celebrations in December (winter solstice) and March - April (spring equinox), so that converts, if any, would continue to recognize the newer rituals as they coincided with their older ones. Nice work, if you can get it...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

I'm an agnostic, so I wouldn't call Christmas "my" holiday. I enjoy the conviviality, presents, trees and decorations regardless of where they come from. I don't celebrate Jesus's birthday except as an excuse to see friends and family, eat good food, and take a little time off work.

Rob said...

Some background on Wicca:

http://www.angelfire.com/realm2/amethystbt/howwiccastarted.html

Modern Wicca began in England in 1939, when Gerald Gardner was initiated into a traditional British coven by Dorothy Clutterbuck (Old Dorothy). He later broke the coven's seal of secrecy and published books about the beliefs and practices of British Wiccans, because he feared the religion would die out. This began what continues to be a groundswell of people converting to Wicca.

Debate currently rages over whether Wicca is a new religion or the oldest of all religions. Some say that Wicca has been practiced continuously in Europe at least since the Ice Age. They cite paleolithic carvings of female figures, such as the Venus of Willendorf, as evidence of Goddess worship having been the origin of all religions. No, say others, Wicca is a neo-pagan faith, a 20th century construct.

russell said...

Writerfella here --
But, Rob, aren't the things you acknowledge, "conviviality, presents, and decorations" supposed to occur ANYTIME during the year that one acknowledges your own family and origins? Birthdays, anniversaries, and other familial benchmarks? Why, then, should such events become landmarked to one certain time of year? Just asking...?
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

Birthdays and anniversaries generally don't have trees and decorations, not to mention carols, feasts, and parades. In other words, Christmas fosters a community spirit that no individual birthday or anniversary could. That's true of several national holidays, which is probably why we have them.

But I wouldn't mind if we replaced Christmas with a Winter Solstice holiday. Many Indian tribes celebrated and continue to celebrate such an occasion. If it's good enough for them, it's good enough for me.