by George E. Tinker
Fortress Press | 182 pp | $10.00
Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Entertainment. Discussion »
Earlier this year, the World Council of Churches Executive Committee last month released a statement that denounced the "Doctrine of Discovery." The Doctrine was used to subjugate and colonize Indigenous Peoples, including American Indians and Alaska Natives. The Executive Committee issued a statement calling the nature of the doctrine "fundamentally opposed to the gospel of Jesus".
Last month at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues' theme was the "Doctrine of Discovery." The Executive Committee statement stressed the need to sensitize churches on this issue.
The Episcopal Church responded with the issuance of a Pastoral Letter on the Doctrine of Discovery and Indigenous Peoples by Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori at the United Nations Forum on May 16, 2012.
One part of her Pastoral Letter states:
"The Doctrine of Discovery work of this Church is focused on education, dismantling the structures and policies based on that ancient evil, support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and challenging governments around the world to support self-determination for indigenous peoples."
With all of the gestures to denounce the Doctrine of Discovery and healing, I thought it would be reread "Missionary Conquest," a book by George E. Tinker that I read eight years ago after I attended a speech he made at a local college in my hometown.
Tinker is an American Indian theologian, whose mother was Lutheran and father was Osage, who was a traditionalist. Tinker earned a doctorate in Biblical studies from the Graduate Theological Union in 1983. A tribal citizen of the Osage Nation, Tinker serves on the board of directors of the American Indian Movement of Colorado.
"Missionary Conquest" is a harsh examination into missionary work in the United States. Throughout the book, Tinker argues missionaries were complicit in violence against American Indians which resulted in prolonged genocide of this countryâ€™s first peoples.
Tinker presents a unique perspective because of the duality of his Christian and educational credentials and his integration of traditional ceremonies Osage practices. He provides interesting examples of cross-cultural miscommunication that occurred between Christian missionaries and "converted" American Indians.
He writes about how in one instance a group of American Indians went through the formality of being baptized. In this particular example, the American Indians thought they were simply performing a ceremonial gesture pledging friendship with the French. It took the missionaries awhile to discover the Indians really were not aware they were accepting Jesus Christ.
Within the "Missionary Conquest," Tinker examines four missionaries: Junipero Serra, the Franciscan whose mission work took him to California; John Eliot, a Puritan missionary who ministered to Massachusetts Indians; Pierre-Jean De Smet, the Jesuit missioner to the Indians of the Midwest; and Episcopal Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple, who ministered in Minnesota and the Dakotas.
Tinker's examination does not stay in history. He fast forwards to the present. He discusses how todayâ€™s churches are still run by non-Indians who control the purse strings. He argues the churches on reservations or those who minister to American Indians in urban settings typically are underfunded. Thus, the Indian communities and the underfunded churches become co-dependent. Tinker argues the power to control that leads to underfunded programs ultimately do a gross disservice to American Indians.
When the book was first released, there were many who resisted it because its harshness. Perhaps, now with churches willing to admit their wrongs as they attempted to "save" American Indians, there can be some real healing and a real revelation as to the true power of the gospel.
posted June 2, 2012 6:00 am edt