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Disciples Institutional Racism Towards Native Americans

June 15, 2015

Formation of Sacred Hoop

“And to some, the gift they were given is that they should be apostles; to some, prophets; to some, evangelists; to some, pastors and teachers. These gifts were given to equip fully the holy ones for the work of service, and, to build up the body of Christ – until we all attain unity in our faith and in our knowledge of the Only Begotten of God, until we become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

Ephesians 4:11-13
The Inclusive Bible, 2007

After much effort and preparation, Sacred Hoop Native American Ministry (Disciples of Christ) was created in 2013 as a Native American, culturally competent ministry open to all who come in a good way. In addition to sharing Christ in many forms of ministry, goals of the ministry include bringing the Native Voice to Disciples and helping to build a bridge between the Christian (Church Disciples of Christ) and American Indians. Also, shortly after Sacred Hoop NAM was established the Council worked with the Christian Church Foundation and created the Sacred Hoop Endowment as a Permanent Fund (the principle can never be used). This fund was formed in order to provide a generational missional support fund for Native American Missional Ministry, something which DHM has failed to do.

Since its formation, Sacred Hoop has engaged in numerous fund-raising efforts, all of which encountered Disciples enculturation of racism, apathy and rejection of unassimilated Native 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 of racism towards Native Americans. However the majority of members of the Executive Committee chose to maintain the status quo on an initial basis. This was done 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 for a reapplication. This reflects a perfect example of how Disciples Institutional Racism towards Native Americans is interfering with Native Americans having equitable access to new ministry and missional funds in all its forms.

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 the members of Four Winds Native American Ministry, a non-Disciples Native American community I am co-founder and Elder Spiritual Leader off, Sacred Hoop would have lost money on the raffle. I have since been informed by ministers in the region that a great many Disciples in Oklahoma really don’t care about supporting new ministry formation, and especially Native American ministry.

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, 2,000 copies of the brochure were sent to Quadrennial for distribution to churches across North America.

It was reported to Sacred Hoop council members (Board members) that Ron Degges, President of Disciples Home Mission (DHM), stepped in requesting editorial changes to the brochure. Apparently, Ron felt his information better represented Disciples and DHM’s historical involvement with American Indians. Then Ron supposedly offered support to Sacred Hoop in future distribution of a revised brochure and future fund-raising efforts. What Ron Degges actually committed to in emails to Sacred Hoop were inconsistent with what was reported to the Council members. Since then no support has been provided to Sacred Hoop NAM by DHM. Furthermore, the Council Members of Sacred Hoop, including myself, learned from Ron Degges at the Winter Talk 2015 that funds from the sale of Yakama lands was used to create a Permanent Fund just like the one Sacred Hoop created. We were also informed that there are no monies available to Sacred Hoop from this fund.

Earlier this year Sacred Hoop NAM (DOC) again reached out to the Northeast Area Conference of the Oklahoma Region for additional new ministry funding support, monies which the Council for Sacred Hoop had been led to believe were available for use by the area minister. Several times the Council received word of delays in the making of a decision. Finally, the representative of the Area’s Executive Committee informed the Council that Sacred Hoop would be subject to the same requirements as Cargile Grant recipients and that a decision would be made on May 27, 2015.

On June 2, 2015, the Moderator for the Northeast Area of the Christian Church in Oklahoma notified Sacred Hoop NAM (DOC) that only $5,000 of the requested $20,000 for new ministry support would be granted for use solely for Wellbriety, Prison Ministry, Worship (Prayer Circle) and website. Additionally, Sacred Hoop is required to use or return the funds not spent by December 31, 2015. On top of this Sacred Hoop is to send photos, stories, and an evaluation of our goals to be shared with churches throughout the area. Pitiful. Not only do some of these demands conflict with Native American cultural and spiritual values, they also are in opposition to Christ’s intention when he states “But when you do acts of charity, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing;” (Matthew 6:3, TIB)

Ironically, a week earlier the President of the Christian Church Commission in Oklahoma City offered Sacred Hoop $20,000 to start a new ministry in the Oklahoma City area. The new ministry funds of their program are restricted for use in forming new ministries in Oklahoma City only. While this is currently a logistical challenge it is good to know that at least a few Disciples are concerned about being of good service to Native Americans.

At this juncture I would also like to acknowledge the support extended by the Board of Trustees, Faculty and staff of Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Their commitment to social justice and providing scholarships to Native Americans with no strings attached has been truly inspiring and the reason I have hope that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination and its leadership have the capacity to change. Without their unconditional support I would not have completed my Master of Divinity. Of course, providing Christian education to Native Americans without having access to equitable missional ministry resources is extremely frustrating.

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One Comment
  1. BARBARA ANN MITCHELL REXFORD permalink

    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
    US ALL, DAMMIT …

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