September 29, 2012
Some minds are well organized; others grasp information and hold onto it like a steel trap. Mine is neither. Yet something I read must have stuck. I know this because it sidled up as I walk around the farm. A while back a friend suggested I read a question posed by Ms. James on Reconciliation Ministry’s (organization) facebook page (I’d give her full name as given on the site, but I’m still not sure how public folks really intend to make their names when posting…so, take a look at the facebook page for her full name.). She asked, “What would a ministry to a people who want to “restore” an older set of values look like if it is led by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) who emerged from its beginnings in a “restoration” movement?” The question ties to core values. For Ms. James, American Indians who are trying to restore ancient core values of land might benefit from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (Disciples) because their roots were about restoring core values of the early church. The question is fair, though finding the answer is like giving Dali’s clocks structure.
The question births other questions making the answer multifaceted. Therefore, I will not try to jump into the middle of it at this time, but work on questions that rise up for me (American Indian Heritage Month is in November so ruminating on questions concerning American Indians and Christianity in this season seems appropriate). However to begin, it is important to say Disciples had a run at ministering to American Indians (Yakama’s) between 1921 and 2007. This Christian ministry, like all other Christian ministries, on and off reservations, ministering to American Tribal people, spoke out of a theology and polity based in the racist structure of the Christian Doctrine of Discovery (DoD). Though the eighty-six years of ministry saw clergy and lay folk provide invaluable medical, food, and housing resources, it is important to recognize they lived out ministry due to core values that called for civilizing an already civilized people and Christianizing an already faithful people. Later and recent decades saw Disciples make multiple attempts at restructuring their Yakama ministry; however, by then the DoD had become normalized in the Disciple consciousness. Such normalization blindfolded denominational leaders, which meant the restructuring of Disciples Yakama ministry simply repackaged core values of civilizing and Christianizing leaving true change withering on the roadside.
Ms. James question is an interesting one and one by which Disciples might grow and gain insight as to who they’ve been and whom they have become. However, delving into Ms. James question requires a faithful journey into the dark abyss of Christian and American Indian relationship, exposing self and denomination structure to repugnant realities, and opening the very being of a movement to the fearful possibility of radically restructuring thought, theology, and polity; which raises the question, “are Disciples capable of standing up from a comfortable table of values, morals, theology, and polity, that serves them so abundantly, and risk a reflective journey that my never allow them to return?”
© David B. Bell 2012