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.
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."
The differences between Christianity and Native religions are rather clear. Here are some statements of their respective values:
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.
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.