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Illusion of Inclusion: Disciples of Christ rejection of American Indians

June 30, 2014

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.


From → Faith, Uncategorized

  1. greyrobedsr permalink

    Well said.

  2. Guy Swimming Otter permalink

    Thanks for giving me something to carry over into my (everyday) life and reflect on. Who do I include and who do I exclude in my relations with others and in seeing their value to God. We are all brothers and sisters, no mater the differences that separate us.

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