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A Fallen Chapel: Abuse of Power and Bullying of Veterans Within the VA Portland Chaplains Department

Growing up in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and serving in the Air Force during the Lebanon conflict, I came to realize how important it was too many soldiers to know that a chaplain was with them. Soldiers do incredibly difficult tasks which are often hurtful, destructive, brutal and even horrific to other human beings and themselves. Chaplains are their anchor to maintain their sanity.  For many soldiers, Chaplains are the embodiment of that which is good, kind, sacred and holy. For many, Chaplains are the living presence of God in a hostile environment and an assurance of God’s presence, grace and forgiveness.

When my family was stationed at Hellinikon Air Base in Athens, Greece during my high-school years, I became very involved within the base chapel youth program. There was a mixture of youth from different faith traditions; the chaplain in charge of the youth program was an inspiration to me and too many others. My experience there instilled a desire to serve veterans through chaplaincy. Sadly, after returning home I soon learned that being Native American was not popular among mainline Christianity and racism was the norm among the Christian denominations which controlled access to ministerial education.

Many years later my hope was rekindled when I was offered a “no strings attached” Native American scholarship to Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Upon completing my Master of Divinity degree, I then completed my chaplain residency at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center, in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Talk about a culture shock! Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) is designed to be emotionally and spiritually challenging and that was certainly the case. However, having been a volunteer chaplain for the American Legion in Oklahoma for many years helped me realize how valuable a service I could provide to my fellow veterans and of how many veterans truly valued my non-judgmental presence and support.

So, it was with great hope that I committed myself to move to Portland, Oregon for a Palliative Care/Hospice/Substance Abuse Chaplain Fellowship at the Portland VA, knowing it would mean separation from my wife for a year and cost me money out of my savings to attend. The reward was knowing that I would be a prime candidate for employment as a VA Chaplain upon completion of the program.

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Disciples Institutional Racism Towards Native Americans

“The vision of a community dwelling in God’s unconditional and universal love may sound like an impossible dream, but in God all things are possible (Mark 10:27). The radical conversion needed to overcome the sin of racism is made possible by the Holy Spirit. Sent by the risen Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts and in our midst to empower us to live truly as God’s people. By the power of the Holy Spirit acting in us, we can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20). Jesus assured his disciples that the abiding presence of the Spirit would empower them to be faithful:

When the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father—he will bear witness to me. And you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning (John 15:26-27).

Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I
Dwell in my love: a pastoral letter on racism, 2011[i]

INTRODUCTION

For decades the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has professed a theology and polity of Christian Inclusion. This is evidenced by the Disciples of Christ Identity Statement and Principles found within the denomination’s web page. The Statement of Identity states that “We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one body of Christ, we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.” This statement portrays an image of compassionate and caring people who trust in God and are devoted to practicing the principles and teachings established by Christ.

Within the twelve Principles of Identity can be found those principles which specifically address the policy, polity and theology of inclusion of diversity. These include: 6) We participate in God’s mission for the world, working with partners to heal the brokenness of creation and bring justice and peace to the whole human family; and 10) We celebrate the diversity of our common life, affirming our different histories, styles of worship, and forms of service.

Yet, for nearly five decades Disciples have betrayed their commitment to God’s principles and ideals by turning a blind eye and deaf ear to the suffering and hopelessness of Native Americans. Disciples have demonstrated this conduct through actively and passively creating and sustaining a polity, culture, and theology of Institutional Racism towards Native Americans. This is evidenced by Disciples remaining silent about social justice issues pertaining to Native Americans and denying Native Americans access to equitable resources for missional ministry. In so doing, Disciples have permitted, and even been complicit in growing, a national culture of racism towards Native Americans to thrive.

As a result, according to the National Institute of Health, the magnitude and depth of poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse and health problems among Native Americans (American Indians), First Nations, and Alaska Natives is at an all-time high.[ii] Many Indigenous youth today present as feeling so powerless and hopeless towards overcoming the amount of racism they are being subjected to that an apparent epidemic of teen suicide spans the reservations and suburban communities across the nation.

This paper will demonstrate how Disciples have and continue to subvert the very principles and teachings they claim to hold dear. Many Disciples I have spoken with about this issue over the past few years have shamefully admitted that they didn’t even know about the plight of Native Americans and their role in it. On the one hand, I can see how this could be true, while on the other hand, so much has happened in the past fifty years that I find it difficult to accept.

While this paper is specific to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the issues raised are relevant to all European Christian denominations and churches. The harm caused by all European-based Christian denominations and churches who have perceived themselves to be morally superior to Native Americans can never be fully measured.

Do you have the courage to face the truth?

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A Resolution to the General Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

(Operational, Policy and Organizational Item Resolution)

REQUEST TO THE GENERAL BOARD TO LAUNCH A NEW SPECIAL OFFERING DESIGNATED AS:

SACRED HOOP SPECIAL OFFERING

Whereas, the historical institutionalized mistreatment of American Indians of North America combined with the continuing prevalence and escalation of enculturated racism against American Indians has resulted in a perpetual state of hopelessness and despondence among Native Americans in all aspects of contemporary life, from the reservation to the inner city[i], and;

Whereas, research facilitated by the American Psychiatric Association clearly reflects that 1) “more than twice as many AI/ANs (American Indians/Alaska Natives) live in poverty than the total US population”, 2) AI/ANs have a significantly lower life expectancy than the U.S. average, 3) “infant mortality is higher than the U.S. population,” 4) have a significantly higher risk of being victims of violent crime, 5) have a significantly higher death rate from disease, and 6) death from alcohol-related causes is 6 (six) times higher than the U.S. national average,[ii] and;

Whereas, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that during the period of 2005-2009 (latest available statistical data) “the highest suicide rates were among American Indians/Alaska Native males,” and that among all female race/ethnicity (including Non-Hispanic White females) American Indian/Alaska Natives had the highest suicide rate, and total suicide rates for AI/ANs, both male and female respectively, were higher than the suicides among the entire U.S. White population[iii], and;

Whereas, the CDC also reports that among teenagers during the 2005-2009 reporting period (latest available statistical data) the rate of suicides for American Indian/Alaska Native teens was three times higher than the national average[iv], and;

Whereas, the Christian Church Disciples of Christ denomination as a whole has historically made little missional effort towards sharing the living message of hope in Christ with the American Indian/Alaska Native peoples of North America[v], and;

Whereas, the Christian Church Disciples of Christ now has the promising opportunity to build a long-term, sustainable, and culturally competent missional ministry bridge across the chasm between the denomination and the American Indian/Alaska Native peoples that will endure for generations to come, and;

Whereas, the Sacred Hoop Native American Ministry (Disciples of Christ) has established, through the cooperation and support of the Christian Church Foundation, Sacred Hoop Native American Ministry Endowment (a permanent fund in which the principle can never be used), and:

Whereas, Sacred Hoop Native American Ministry is the only remaining Native American Ministry within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination and receives no funding from any Disciples Mission Fund source.

Therefore, be it resolved that the Christian Church Disciples of Christ denomination does hereby create the Sacred Hoop Special Offering, and;

Be it further resolved, that this special offering will be administered annually on the first Sunday of the month of May, during the American Indian time of new life and new beginnings, and that this annual special offering shall begin the first Sunday of May 2016;

Be it further resolved, that the facilitation and administration of this special offering shall be conducted by the Disciples Mission Fund, with the support of the Treasury Services, and;

Be it further resolved, that all proceeds and revenues collected from this special offering shall be deposited in the Sacred Hoop Native American Ministry Endowment administered by the Christian Church Foundation; the interest income therewith to be used by the Sacred Hoop Native American Ministry (Disciples of Christ) to recruit and train culturally competent ministers and to establish and support Native American community-based missional ministries throughout North America, and;

Be it further resolved, that the Chairman of the Governing Council (Board), or other such designated representative of the Governing Council (Board), of the Sacred Hoop Native American Ministry (Disciples of Christ) shall provide a report of the missional ministry to the denomination at each subsequent General Assembly, and;

Be it finally resolved, that the General Board shall submit this resolution to the General Assembly for affirmation.

Submitted for consideration on behalf of the congregation and board of:

Sacred Hoop Native American Ministry (DOC)

[i] Chavers, Dean. Racism in Indian Country. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 2009.

[ii] American Psychiatric Association, “Mental Health Disparities: American Indians and Alaska Natives,” American Psychiatric Association Division of Diversity and Health Equity (2014): 1-5, file:///C:/Users/Bill/Downloads/Fact-Sheet—Native-Americans%20(1).pdf (accessed January 1, 2015).

[iii] Center for Disease Control, “National Suicide Statistics at a Glance,” CDC Injury Prevention & Control: Division of Violence Prevention (12/16/2014): 1-2, https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=cdc+national+suicide+statistics+at+a+glance (Accessed January 1, 2015).

[iv] Center for Disease Control, “National Suicide Statistics at a Glance,” CDC Injury Prevention & Control: Division of Violence Prevention (12/16/2014): 1-2, http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/statistics/rates03.html (Accessed January 1, 2015).

[v] Cummins, D. Duane. Disciples: A Struggle for Reformation. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2009.

Disciples Missional Tokenism to American Indians: Legacy of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery

Disciples Missional Tokenism to American Indians:

Legacy of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery

 

“Disciples’ ministry to Native Americans is accurately described as weak. Ironically, the lack of a strong missionary effort may have ended up being something of a positive. Protestant and Catholic mission work among Native Americans in many instances is believed to have bred destructive effects: a degeneration of Native cultures, societies, and institutions-in some cases warfare and even extinction.”

D. Duane Cummins, 2009

Alexander Campbell, like many Protestant missionaries, viewed North America as a gift from God to the new chosen people of God. Unlike many Christian missionaries, Campbell came to recognize the inherent social injustice contained within the theology and polity, and especially the political, representations of the Christian movement spreading across North America. Campbell openly opposed the forced relocation of the Cherokees and supported missionaries to the Indigenous nations.

James Trott, a former Methodist missionary to the Cherokees who joined with Campbell, was devoted to the Cherokee and was deeply concerned about Christian injustice. He married a Cherokee woman and suffered the brutal loss of a child on the Trail of Tears. Despite the efforts of these two men and others like them, however misguided their theology may have been, after the end of the Civil War and the death of Alexander Campbell missionary support to American Indians disappeared. Disciples joined the ranks of other denominations and reasserted their affirmation of the Conqueror Model of Christianity.

Decades later, in 1921, the US Government passed the Religious Crimes Act, making it illegal for American Indians to practice their traditional religions. Offenders were often held without being charged, imprisoned and even sent to Alcatraz without trial. During this same year Disciples opened the Yakama Christian Mission. The Yakama Mission subsequently became the one and only ongoing ministry of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ denomination, the token effort by the Disciples to include Indigenous nations, albeit by becoming assimilated into the Disciples way.

Tokenism is a term most commonly associated with educational, corporate and government institutions. Tokenism is described as a form of racism in which a sole member of a minority group is represented within a certain structure in order to give the appearance of support for minority groups. Whenever an educational institution, corporation or government agency faces accusations of racism in hiring practices they can then point to a token minority person to demonstrate that they are not racist, despite however much they truly are, or are at least complying with enrollment and hiring regulations.

The Yakama Mission has represented the token Native American Ministry within the Christian Church Disciples of Christ denomination. In my years of working with Disciples I have asked many elders, deacons and ministers why they do not support missional work to American Indians. Time and again they have pointed to Yakama as the proof that disciples support Native Americans. In my journey I have also encountered many Native Americans who have assimilated into Disciples’ culture and as a result admit to knowing nothing about their Native cultural heritage, like Trisha and her mother.

Trisha was a sixteen year old African-American/Cherokee girl living in South Chicago. Her mother, Lisa, was a devout member of a local Pentecostal Church. Trisha wanted to receive a Cedar Blessing for her coming of age but her mother was opposed. Lisa had told me that her minister believed that the reason God wiped out American Indians was because they were heathens and it was wrong to participate in any Indian Religious ceremonies.

Trisha on the other hand recognized that the church was not sharing God’s love but was instead using Jesus to bully people into joining the church. Trisha liked and embraced her Cherokee heritage and knew that God loves everyone. Lisa decided to support her daughter and allow her to make her own choice in beliefs. So Lisa watched as I performed the Cedar Blessing ceremony on her daughter.

Like other egocentric and ethnocentric Christian denominations, Disciples have expected American Indians to abandon cultural identity and assimilate into mainline Christian culture. This has been the historical Christian model of missional work to American Indians and the Yakama Mission has been no exception. Furthermore, anti-racism efforts within Disciples has been focused on reconciliation and rebuilding relations with African-Americans, while no anti-racism efforts have been made to help build a bridge between Disciples and American Indians. Instead, as D. Duane Cummins points out in the opening quote, Disciples have ignored the plight of the American Indian while patting themselves on the back for their apathy.

In his book “Blaming the Victim” author William Ryan opened the door to exploring the many facets of how perpetrators justify racism, oppression, exploitation and violence against vulnerable populations for personal gain. It appears in many ways that Disciples have created and maintained a culture which supports blaming American Indians for their ongoing predicament.

Recently, Sacred Hoop Native American Ministry (Disciples of Christ) was created as a culturally-based ministry open to all who come in a good way. In addition to sharing Christ, goals of the ministry include bringing the Native Voice to Disciples and to help build a bridge between the Christian Church Disciples of Christ and American Indians.

Sacred Hoop recently engaged in three fund raising efforts, all of which encountered the Disciples enculturation of racism, apathy and rejection of unassimilated American Indians. The first was in the form of a request for new ministry funding support from the Northeast Area of the Oklahoma Region. In the past the NE Area had provided a standard amount of $5,000 to new minority ministries, all of which had failed. Sacred Hoop, knowing that a minimal amount of $20,000 was needed to get started and that funds were available, requested the full amount.

Several members of the NE Area executive committee supported full funding and pointed out the above facts, including the Disciples history towards American Indians. However the majority members of the executive committee chose to maintain status quo despite the fact that no policies or procedures existed to prevent providing full support. Instead, they informed Sacred Hoop that they could re-apply for additional funds after new policies and procedures for monitoring the use of funds were created, and without providing any potential time-line.

The second fundraising effort was in the form of a raffle. Oklahoma is beef country and many non-profits have held highly successful beef raffles. Sacred Hoop offered as prizes two halves of a processed steer and two new freezers with free delivery anywhere in Oklahoma. Flyers were sent on three separate occasions to the more than 160 Disciples churches within the Oklahoma region. Response was unbelievably dismal. Only a few churches responded and total Disciples donations was less than $1600. If it weren’t for Four Winds Native American Ministry, a non-Disciples Native American community, and their supporters, Sacred Hoop would have lost money on the raffle.

The third was at the Quadrennial. Sacred Hoop, with the help of the Christian Church Foundation, created the Sacred Hoop Permanent Fund. Sacred Hoop then reserved a booth and created a fundraising brochure that outlined the need for a Native American ministry within the denomination. Then, with the help and support of the staff at East Side Christian Church in Tulsa, Bill and Marty McCutchen took about 2,000 copies of the brochure to the Quadrennial for distribution to churches across North America.

Then Ron Degges, President of Disciples Home Mission (DHM), stepped in requesting editorial changes to the brochure, which from his viewpoint better represented Disciples and DHM’s historical involvement with American Indians, and offered support to Sacred Hoop. The Rev. Dr. Bill Blue Eagle McCutchen, who was raised in Disciples culture long before he learned of his Chickasaw heritage, took Ron at his word and decided to trash the brochures. When Bill Blue Eagle later spoke about his actions to the board for Sacred Hoop, he was distressed over what Ron Degges had actually committed to in writing versus Ron’s apparent verbal statements to him during their conversation at Quadrennial.

According to Bill Blue Eagle, Ron Degges had stated to him that DHM would a) pay for printing updated brochures, b) help with distribution to all Disciples churches, and c) would participate in efforts to educate himself and others on the influences of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery. Ron Degges put in writing that DHM would pay for 1500 new brochures, far less than what was started with, and that is it. Bill Blue Eagle has made repeated attempts to have Ron reaffirm his supposed verbal commitments but as yet has been unable to.

My own communications with Ron Degges have been around seeking to be provided evidence to support the assertions he has made as part of the rewriting of the original brochure. My many years as an Indian Religious Leader and clinician has taught me to be cautious of taking statements as authentic without evidence to back it up. I requested a written financial accounting of DHM support for Native American missional work and am still waiting to receive it. After two months it is supposedly still being created.

What is true is that Ron Degges effectively managed to shut down Sacred Hoop’s attempt to garner support for the Permanent Fund and a generational self-sustaining Native American Ministry within the Disciples denomination. It is also disturbing to find how information regarding DHM’s activities with the Yakama Mission is so challenging to gain access to.

Over the past year I have discovered that DHM terminated regular missional support for Yakama Mission in 2007 and that this was followed not long thereafter with the closing of Yakama Mission. A few months ago the Yakama Mission property was sold. I have also found that very few people are actually aware that these events have transpired. Now, any funds that go to support any form of ministry at Yakama must be applied for from DHM in the form of a grant application, like applying for a government social services grant. Since grants are competitive in nature, there is also no guarantee the applications will be approved.

In response to my recent blog in which I revealed some of the issues relating to the closure of the Yakama Mission, the Rev. Dr. Loy Hoskins made the following comment:

“The closure of the Yakima Mission was a difficult and long decision that saddens most of us in the DOC, but like the closing of many other NBS facilities years ago, had to be done.”

Now, I happen to know and like Loy and consider him to be one of the most caring Disciples ministers I have met. Yet I do also recognize that he is enculturated into Disciples theology, polity and culture. So I do not believe that he is aware of how American Indians interpret this statement.

To many American Indians, including myself, a statement like Loy’s appears to be seeking sympathy from Native Americans for Disciples failure of commitment to good missional service to American Indians. It sends the message that Native Americans are not deserving of God’s love and grace or the effort it would take for Disciples to invest in an ongoing culturally competent ministry. For two hundred years Disciples have participated, like other Christian denominations, in the exclusion and oppression of American Indians. The results of which are evidenced by the high levels of poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, teen suicide and substance abuse on reservations across North America.

In the Gospel of Matthew we find that John the Baptist rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to him for baptism. John the Baptist challenged them to “Bear fruit worthy of repentance” (MT 3:1-11) if they hoped to avoid the “unquenchable fire” of the Messiah. John the Baptist recognized the double standards and incongruities that the Pharisees and Sadducees represented and called them on their stuff.

Like the Pharisees and Sadducees who sought to be baptized by John the Baptist to avoid God’s wrath, so also Disciples have sought to avoid the “unquenchable fire” of the Messiah (MT 3:1-12). The Pharisees and Sadducees were challenged by John the Baptist to do good deeds that would prove their sincerity to God. In likeness to this, the Disciples denomination continues to promote themselves as true believers while turning a blind eye and deaf ear to the pangs of grief and cries of suffering of American Indians. Instead of doing good deeds towards American Indians to prove their sincerity to God and the people, Disciples have engaged in the practice of “Tokenism” while now gradually even phasing that out of existence.

How then shall Disciples hope to convince God of their righteousness? What good works towards American Indians shall they proclaim they have done? How shall they demonstrate to Christ that they have received and shared God’s loving grace to the Indigenous Peoples of this land in an honoring and respectful way?

Repudiation of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery is not enough. For Disciples to achieve wholeness and be viewed by history as inspirational representatives of Christ, walking with genuine integrity, it will take a fundamental shift in Disciples cultural context. The younger generations of today are adept at seeing through those who do not walk their talk and are opposed to racism in all its forms. For Disciples to inspire generations to come they will need to learn the art of taking people with them.

To accomplish this it might be a good idea to turn to David Novak and his book “Taking People with You: The Only way to make BIG things happen.” David points out how significant the culture of the organization is to long-term success. Having a culture which inspires others and helps them feel they are a part of a good missional movement is essential to the spiritual wellbeing of the community. As Co-Minister of Sacred Hoop I also suggest that Disciples can start by supporting the Scared Hoop Permanent Fund through the Christian Church Foundation, just as Disciples have supported so many other endowments both at the regional and national levels.

Walk in Beauty.

Wado,

Grandfather Bill Running Wolf, M.Div., MSW

Bibliography

Campbell, Alexander. “THE CHEROKEE INDIANS”, in The Millennial Harbinger vol. 1-1, 1830 by Faith and Facts, Inc. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996.

Chavers, Dean. Racism in Indian Country. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 2009.

Cummins, D. Duane. Disciples: A Struggle for Reformation. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2009.

Garrison, Winfred Ernest and Degroot, Alfred T. The Disciples of Christ: A History. St. Louis, MO: Christian Board of Publication, 1948.

Lane, Jr., Phil, Bopp, Judie, Bopp, Michael and Brown, Lee. The Sacred Tree. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press, 2012.

Moseley, J. Edward. Disciples of Christ in Georgia. St. Louis, MO: Bethany Press, 1954.

Newcomb, Steven T. Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2008.

Novak, David. Taking People With You: The Only Way to Make BIG Things Happen. New York, NY: Portfolio/Penguin, 2012.

Ryan, William. Blaming the Victim. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1976.

Trott, James J. “Letter to Brother Campbell”, in The Millennial Harbinger vol. III, 1832 by Faith and Facts, Inc. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996.

Trott, James J. “Query”, in The Millennial Harbinger vol. VII, 1836 by Faith and Facts, Inc. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996.

Trott, James J. “The Indian Mission”, in The Millennial Harbinger series V vol. III, 1860 by Faith and Facts, Inc. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996.

Watkins, Keith. A Visible Sign of God’s Presence: A History of the Yakama Christian Mission. Nashville, TN: Polar Star Press, 2009.

Illusion of Inclusion: Disciples of Christ rejection of American Indians

Illusion of Inclusion: Disciples of Christ rejection of American Indians
The resounding cry “All MEANS ALL!” echoed through the hallways as President and General Minister of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ, the Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, rejoiced at the passage of Resolution GA-1327 “Becoming a People of Grace and Welcome to All.” This context represented a sufficient majority of voters agreeing that Disciples should be openly welcoming and respectful towards all people regardless of real or perceived differences, and especially of gays and lesbians within their respective congregations. Passage of this resolution was a long hard struggle to finally move Disciples towards a theology and polity of treating all people with dignity and respect.

At this same General Assembly in Orlando, Florida during the second week of July 2013, and even on the exact same day as the passage of GA-1327, Resolution GA-1324 “Reflection on Christian Theology and Polity, the Christian Doctrine of Discovery, and the Indigenous Voice” was unanimously passed. The apparent intention here was to begin the process of exploring how Disciples have passively and actively participated in the exploitation, oppression and exclusion of American Indians from God’s table.

The passage of these two specific resolutions inspired hope among many that the day had finally come when the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) would seek to help establish a Native American Ministry and strive to help improve the quality of life for American Indians who had been set aside and given only token support for so long. Out of this came the creation of the Sacred Hoop Native American Ministry (Disciples of Christ) based out of Pryor, Oklahoma and currently seeded at East Side Christian Church, Tulsa, OK.
After many attempts to raise financial support from within the regional and national denominations to little avail, Sacred Hoop borrowed a successful fundraising plan to hold a raffle. This raffle would be held among all the regional churches and include two chances of winning a brand new freezer with each containing half of an 800-pound Black Angus steer. This raffle had been proven to be highly successful among other non-profits in North Eastern Oklahoma. As an added incentive to support, Sacred Hoop went the extra mile and included a guarantee that ten percent of the donations would go to large food bank operating exclusively in Oklahoma.

The board members of Sacred Hoop enthusiastically engaged in the process of doing the work to make this raffle a reality and success for everyone involved. The hoped for funds raised by this raffle would act as seed money for the development of the much greater effort of establishing a long-term Native American ministry within the DOC. Staff members of East Side Christian Church joined in by printing and tri-folding hundreds of flyers that were used to make three separate mailings to all the churches within the Oklahoma Region. The steer was purchased, grazed and processed at an Amish USDA certified processor, each cut being shrink-wrapped.

The raffle was held within just a few months in order to assure participants of quick result, in time for summer bar-b-ques. But it wasn’t long before the reality of Disciples Oklahoma apathy, disinterest and exclusionary polity raised its gruesome face. Hope turned to doubt and doubt turned to rejection. Of the over 160 active Disciples churches in the Oklahoma Region only two churches responded to the raffle. Sacred Hoop had invested nearly $3000 in the raffle and Disciples returned less than $1600 in donations. In a last ditch effort to prevent a loss, the co-ministers of Sacred Hoop turned to non-disciples family and friends and in the last week before the drawing managed to raise an additional $1500 to at least cover expenses and a little more. One of the winners was an elderly widower of a supporting church who had donated for just one ticket. The other winner was a non-Disciples contributor who promptly shared the freezer and beef with a local food bank and others in need, doing what Disciples in Oklahoma apparently were not willing to do.

Ironically, not long after this the board of Sacred Hoop NAM learned that Disciples Home Mission had sold the property of Yakima Mission and put a final end to the last vestiges of support for American Indians by the DOC of North America.

Believe me when I say I wish it were not so. My greatest hope for the Disciples in Oklahoma was that the many churches leadership, staff and congregation members would rise above their generational enculturation of the Conquest Model of Christianity. My hope that many of the “Bible Belt” Disciples would embrace this opportunity to right some of the historical and contemporary wrongs towards American Indians. My hope that the Disciples of Oklahoma legacy of apathy, narcissism and racism would be softened by the Holy Spirit’s desire for empathy, tolerance, inclusion, and compassion and caring. And yet the results clearly reflect that the normalized “Conservative Christian” theologies of the Christian Doctrine of Discovery continues to thrive among Oklahoma Disciples.

Evidence for this can be found in the poor support for our cause as well as several churches in the Oklahoma Region choosing to leave the denomination because they did not want to support acceptance of gays and lesbians within the community. It is unfortunate that excluding American Indians from inclusion, and neglecting to care for local poor children simply because they didn’t happen to be born into their congregations are only a couple of the many examples of hard-heartedness I have witnessed these past few years. But should we really be all that surprised. After all, over 150 years of culturally embedded Disciples Christian beliefs in moral superiority and exclusion of the “conquered peoples” is an awesome hurtle to overcome, despite the obvious steady decline of Disciples in the Oklahoma Region, and all other regions for that matter.

And yes, I know that many who read this will resort to the almighty defensive mechanism of minimizing the significance of this reality by repeating the tired refrain of “But we’re not the only denomination who is shrinking – they all are!” While this is certainly true it also avoids the cold, hard reality that Disciples are utterly failing to inspire younger generations and the online community to embrace the truth of God’s love for and inclusion of all human beings, regardless of who they are or where they come from. To embrace God’s desire for all Christians to treat all peoples with the dignity and respect all children of God deserve.

There is a ray of hope, however small it may be, for Disciples that still remains. Due to the courage and willingness of a smidgen of congregations who dared to challenge the historically embedded double standards and incongruities of Discipleship, some Disciples in Oklahoma will be thought of as ambassadors of good faith; of Euro-American Christians who choose to embrace living the heart of God and to walk their talk despite the myriad of religio-cultural-politico pressures to maintain the status-quo. Truly, these few are blessed of the Holy Spirit and are actively seeking to set a good example for other Disciples of Oklahoma and all across the land to embrace and follow.

Walk in beauty.

Christian Doctrine of Discovery

Osiyo Ditsadanvtli a le Ditsadalvi,

On July 17, 2013 in Orlando, Florida resolution GA-1324 regarding Reflection on Christian Theology and Polity, the Christian Doctrine of Discovery, and the Indigenous Voice was brought before the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The purpose of the resolution was to encourage the members of the denomination to begin the process of examining how the Doctrine of Discovery has helped frame the theology and polity of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) both historically and in the contemporary church. Within the past four years only two other denominations and the World Council of Churches have addressed this vital issue and repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery. In the resolution the Rev. David Bell states “The Christian Doctrine of Discovery (Doctrine) is a body of work beginning in the 15th century with a series of papal bulls and theological statements justifying the Age of Discovery and the colonization, conquest, subjugation of lands and peoples around the world. During the next 500 years, religio-political empires fashioned edicts, court decisions, treaties, and laws enhancing discovery efforts.” Today most Christian denominations and congregations actively and passively continue to treat Native Americans as second class and seek to fully assimilate Native Peoples into mainline Christian culture.

The General Assembly passed this resolution with a unanious vote. This was an enourmous step towards bringing the Native Voice into mainline Christianity and putting an end to over 500 years of religious abuse, oppression and exploitation. While there is still much to be done in order to bring the denomination to the place of repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery there is now great hope of that day arriving. This would not have been possible without the work of Rev. David Bell and his wife Belinda of White Swan, Washington as well as the support team who put the resolution together and the churches in the Northwest Region who sponosred it.

The next step proceeds now with the Chirsitan Church (Diciples of Christ) committee that was formed at the General Assembly. It’s members include many volunteers from across the country and with the Rev. David Bell to help guide the journey. The Rev. Dr. Bill McCutchen and I currently represent the Native Voice on the committee and hope that other Native Americans within the denomination will join in as this matter progresses.

This work takes many years both in preperation and in making progress. Change comes slowly to many people, especially those who have been normalized into a certain way of thinking and are suddenly faced with the realization that they too may be part of an oppressive system. With prayer, compassion, patience and tolerance change can occur. Please join with us in honoring this important work. Your contined prayers and support are greatly appreciated.

Wado,

RW

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