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Disciples Institutional Racism Towards Native Americans

June 15, 2015

What is Institutional Racism?

To begin our examination we must clarify a couple of terms:

Structural Racism

Definition: Structural Racism in the U.S. is the normalization and legitimization of an

array of dynamics – historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal – that routinely

advantage whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people

of color. It is a system of hierarchy and inequity, primarily characterized by white

supremacy – the preferential treatment, privilege and power for white people at the

expense of Black, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Arab and other

racially oppressed people.


Institutional Racism

Definition: Institutional racism occurs within and between institutions. Institutional racism is

discriminatory treatment, unfair policies and inequitable opportunities and impacts, based

on race, produced and perpetuated by institutions (schools, mass media, etc.). Individuals

within institutions take on the power of the institution when they act in ways that

advantage and disadvantage people, based on race.

Keith Lawrence and Terry Keleher
“Structural Racism”, 2004

In his paper “The Religious Origins of Manifest Destiny” author Donald M. Scott points out how many Jacksonian Era Christians were convinced not only of their moral supremacy but also of their God-given right of expansion across North America. This included the right to eliminate or assimilate all indigenous peoples upon the lands. Scott also reveals how the foundation for this expansionism and belief in a divine destiny for America was created by the religious leadership during what is now known as “The Great Awakening” and “The Second Great Awakening.”[iii] One of a great many examples of this can be found in the recounted pages of the Sand Creek Massacre, where Colonel Chivington, a Methodist minister, falsely justified his extermination of a great many women, children and elderly Cheyenne.[iv]

Not surprisingly, co-founders of the Stone-Campbell Movement, Alexander Campbell[v] and Barton Stone,[vi] appear to have been equally enculturated into the belief system of divine right and supported the expansion of Disciples throughout North America. However, by 1852 Campbell appeared to have wizened to the incongruity of being a Christian and supporting patriotism to the exclusion of moral and spiritual responsibility and accountability. In his letter “On the Destiny of Our Country” Campbell denounced patriotism as contrary to the Bible and the principles of self-love and charity towards others. In 1853, Campbell followed this up with a call for home missional support in this letter “On the Necessity for Missions.” While Campbell did not specifically advocate for Native American missions, it can be implied due to Campbell’s past support for Native American missional ministry and his challenge for Disciples to be missional at home as well as abroad.[vii]

By this time however, the polity, culture and theology of Institutional Racism towards Native Americans was deeply embedded within Christian expansion, including within the Disciples movement. Thus, while Disciples began to build communities and reach out to people in need, Native Americans were given little to no concern. When the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination was formed in 1968 the denominations members had already inherited the disregard for Native Americans passed by their forefathers and foremothers. Thus the foundations for the denomination resulted in cementing the policy, polity and theology of Institutional Racism towards Native Americans which continues to persist to this day.


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One Comment

    I’m so ashamed of these people who
    are racist.They are supposed to help
    all peoples. Native Americans have been
    used & abused.It’s time to give their land
    back to them & solve their many problems, that were caused hy the
    Europeas & our ancestors. SHAME ON

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