Among many of those involved in Native ministry today there is a great debate over Native American culture and its place in the Christian faith. Some Natives are beginning to follow Jesus without abandoning their cultures. Richard Twiss, a Lakota follower of Jesus, has been helping many to find new freedom in their faith for this. In his book One Church Many Tribes he brings some much needed insight.
“Native culture, like all the cultures of man, reflects to some degree the attributes of our Creator Himself. It is in Christ that we find the ultimate fulfillment of His holy and sovereign purpose for us as a people. If He has a unique role for us to play or a contribution for us to make in the fulfilling of His purposes for our nation in these days, then as the Church we must reconsider the place in the evangelical mainstream in America that we give to Native expression. Yes, there does exist [in our Native cultures] idolatrous and sinful practices that must be repented of; but the Word of God does not call us to turn away from being who God made us—Native people. When we come to Christ as First Nations people, Jesus does not ask us to abandon our sin-stained culture in order to embrace someone else’s sinstained culture.”
First Nations cultures and world-views have much to offer the church in America and the rest of the world. There is much, in their Greco-Roman influenced worldview, that blinds westernized Christians to portions of scripture. Everything is interpreted though this filter and grid. Someone from another worldview can offer insight and understanding of scripture that others are blinded to. The church of America needs its Native Peoples to help it break out of its culturally limited perspectives.
Often Native culture is judged by its peripheral beliefs and practices, rather than by its core values. In my own Ojibwe culture the central values are reflected in what is called the “7 Grandfather’s Teachings”. These are Love, Respect, Wisdom, Honesty, Courage, Humility, and Truth. Traditionally our ceremonies were practiced as a reinforcement of these teachings. Other tribes share similar core beliefs. These ancient ways reflect the same values that Jesus taught. This is only one of many examples of the God given worth our Native cultures carry.
Reconciliation must also include repentance by those in the dominant society of the judgments that have been made against Native peoples and their cultures. Cultural expressions of dance and music should be encouraged and welcomed into churches.
In April of 2012 Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio opened their facilities and their hearts to allow some Native American Christian leaders come and speak to their faculty and students. They didn’t impose their agenda on us but encouraged us to open our hearts and tell our stories. No restrictions were placed on any cultural practices including the use of burning sage and cedar during prayer times. The three day gathering has resulted in a continuing conversation and in the intentional forming of friendships.
Gatherings like this give me hope for the future!
Miigwech Bizandowiyeg (thank you for listening).