Missionary Conquest: The Gospel and Native American Cultural Genocide

Missionary Conquest: The Gospel and Native American Cultural Genocide

Missionary Conquest: The Gospel and Native American Cultural Genocide

Missionary Conquest: The Gospel and Native American Cultural Genocide

Synopsis

This fascinating probe into U. S. mission history spotlights four cases: Junipero Serra, the Franciscan whose mission to California natives has made him a candidate for sainthood; John Eliot, the renowned Puritan missionary to Massachusetts Indians; Pierre-Jean De Smet, the Jesuit missioner to the Indians of the Midwest; and Henry Benjamin Whipple, who engineered the U. S. government's theft of the Black Hills from the Sioux.

Excerpt

Two separate, if related, concerns generated this volume. First was a graduate seminar on Indian mission history that I taught on some three times over a fouryear period at Iliff School of Theology. The seminar involved students in intensive primary research in a field that is nearly boundless in terms of archival materials, denominational involvement, complexities of tribal differentiation, and the interweaving of discrete mission history with the general history of the European invasion and occupation of what today is known as North America. Each student was asked to take on a piece of this whole and critically analyze the sources, reporting the results back to the seminar where we all read enough to engage in constructive dialogue with each other. Two things emerged repeatedly in the course of each seminar. One was the remarkable uniformity in motivations, strategies, and results of the missionary endeavor across the broad diversity of topics, tribes, denominations, time periods, and geographical regions. The other was the extent to which the research itself seemed to effect change in individual students, particularly white American students.

The second concern was the growing apprehension many of us have had over the then-impending celebration of the Columbus Quincentenary and the extent to which it seemed destined to strengthen and validate the unhealthy mythological illusion that white U.S. citizens have about themselves and their role in the world. The year 1492 seems to have triggered the “Western world” mythology that has come to dominate the entire globe's economics, politics, and academics, imposing itself as the natural, unquestionable norm of human existence. This illusion of Western world superiority has functioned implicitly, and at times brutally explicitly, to facilitate the conquest and enslavement of native peoples, the exploitation of their labor and the natural resources, and the genocidal destruction of whole cultures and peoples. The religious institutions of the “West” (that is, the churches of Europe and then the immigrant churches of the Americas) have been closely associated with this history of colonialism and conquest and have consistently lent legitimacy to those acts. At some level the church has ultimately functioned to provide theological justification for acts . . .

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