I wrote Native Americans, the Mainline Church, and the Quest for Interracial Justice not as an attack on either Christianity or the mainline church. Rather, it is a work in constructive theology. It is call to action to those of us in North America are or were members of a liberal Protestant denomination, and for people who care about interracial justice in our increasingly multicultural society.
We have to make a choice about where we stand on the civil rights of Native Americans and their quest for self-governance. To do nothing is to surrender to the status quo, continuing our history of expropriating indigenous lands and subjugating and exploiting Indian peoples. To stand with Native Americans in their quest for self-governance is to affirm and embrace what I believe is one of the most important civil rights movements of the twenty-first century. We are becoming an increasingly multicultural nation—really a “nation of nations,” to use Walt Whitman’s visionary phrase.
What we choose to do depends primarily on three factors, which I examine in Native Americans, the Mainline Church, and the Quest for Interracial Justice. We need to know why and how Christianity became a religion of conquest, and decide if we want to continue this mode of Christianity or not. That is our first choice. I examine this history in some detail in the first part of this book. I can say with some confidence that it is a history most white people do not know—and many Native Americans know only too well. We cannot change this history, but we do not need to allow ourselves and our future to be defined by it either.
Our history is shaped and legitimated by our quasi-religious sacred story, which is rooted in the Exodus tradition. A secular version of this sacred story is recited and reinforced on national holidays, at sporting events of all kinds, and by politicians on a regular basis. In a variety of ways this story reminds us that the United States is an exceptional nation—a chosen nation—and that we are, in President Lincoln’s famous words, “an almost chosen people.” We may rue our history of expropriation, exploitation, and conquest, but as long as we cling tightly to this sacred story in its varied forms we will not change. In the second section of Native Americans, the Mainline Church, and the Quest for Interracial Justice, I examine one version of our sacred story, and argue for a new story. We can keep this sacred story of origin that forms our identity and inform our interaction with others, or we can adopt a new story. This is our second choice.
Regretting the mainline church's participation in the mission to "civilize and Christianize" Native Americans and repudiating the narrative that underwrote and legitimated this mission is one thing. Revaluing our values and reforming institutional priorities accordingly is a different and more difficult task. I contend that we--those of us in the mainline church and white people in general--must learn to think in new ways about money, markets and land. We will not change our behavior and become the nation we profess that we want to become unless we change the way we think about and measure success and security. We can continue to rely on a philosophy of excessive individualism and free-market fundamentalism, or we can adopt standards of justice that prioritize well-being and the common good. This is our third choice.
Many mainline denominations have renounced their historic mission to “civilize and Christianize” indigenous peoples. A growing number of mainline denominations have repudiated the doctrine of discovery. These are hopeful signs. In Native Americans, the Mainline Church, and the Quest for Interracial Justice, I offer my vision of the future to which these signs are pointing and a path to get us there. There is no assurance that we will choose to take this path or embrace this future. Yet it is my fervent prayer and abiding hope that white people, many of whom are Christian, are prepared and willing to make this journey in deep solidarity with Native Americans and other justice-seeking people of good-will.