America’s early colonists were self-assured of their superiority, intellectually and culturally. This developed into a kind of ethnocentrism that frequently caricatured the Indians as bloodthirsty savages with no sense of right or wrong. Native culture was often mocked and ridiculed. They were looked down on and treated like children that needed to be disciplined and put in their place.
Early missionaries among the Puritans, steeped in their own European culture, often acted out the same condescending attitudes. Indian spiritual beliefs were judged as pagan and simplistic. They concluded that the only way Indians could truly be converted was if they became civilized first. That meant that Indians must become Puritans, in dress and language. In some cases Baptism was withheld until the Native candidate first dressed in civilized clothes, built a proper cabin, put up a fence and planted a garden. It was these Puritan Missionaries of New England that set the standard for future missions.
In the secular market pulp novels were written further reinforcing the negative stereotypes that had been developed. The Indian was characterized either as a savage or a romanticized tragic figure. In later generations movies made in Hollywood continued to infect the minds and hearts of millions of white Americans as Indians were further defamed and demeaned on the silver screen. This has only changed in the last twenty years where new movies have presented a more accurate account of this history. But the damage has already been done.
Even today there are younger generations whose minds have been shaped by the stereotypes in these films. In my own extended family one of my young nephews once asked me, “So are you part Indian and part human?” Where did he get the idea that Indians aren’t human?
These historic seeds have produced, especially among Christians, a harvest of suspicion and mistrust of Native cultural practices, in particular spiritual practices. I have personally encountered Christians who automatically associate being an Indian to being a witch or a Satan worshiper. These Christians encourage and often demand Native believers in Jesus to renounce all aspects of their Indian heritage. I know of two Indian friends, believers in Jesus, who were told by ministers to reject all their cultural ways. One was even told to renounce her Clan. Recently, when ministering in Michigan we met a young Native girl who was 8 years old. She had visited a local church where the other children told her that she was a “devil worshiper,” just because she is Native American.
The Bible never tells us to renounce our ethnic identities or our cultures. We can and should obviously renounce any forbidden practices, such as witchcraft or idolatry, which is found among all people groups. There is good and bad in every culture, and idolatry can disguise itself in many forms, including greed (Colossians 3:5).
Miigwech Bizandowiyeg (thank you for listening).