1992: A White Christian Perspective

Carl Starkloff, SJ

This reflection on 1992 comes from one who believes that God has given human beings the most powerful of gifts in the person of Jesus Christ. This, I would say, makes me an "evangelical". I have also brooded over the way we Christians of European origin have so often misrepresented that gift. This brooding leaves me "chastened."

My learning has continued for some thirty years now, mostly from hearing, and often from being a part of, your personal stories. I have been saddened and sometimes ashamed by stories such as one told to me by a young native woman student in the mid 1960s. Torn between her traditional family and demands from the modern world and the Church, she burst out, "Oh, I wish I wasn't an Indian!"

But I have also been challenged by the strong protests coming from a new awareness in the 1970s: "Did the Church have to take our children away and make whites out of them?" "You Christians gave us the Bible, and you took our land in return!" "Why do you think that our native religion is just superstition?"

I have also been frustrated. As we in the Church have tried to dialogue with the Native traditions, I have heard many protests of a different kind. Long-time or "born again"native Christians complain, "You are just confusing us with all this native spirituality you used ton condemn! It is just more oppression. Do you want us to go back to the devil?"

I am even more troubled when Church representatives respond, "Don't accuse the Church of committing the crimes of the secular conquerors!" This makes it look as if the armies came in warships and the Church came on the clouds of heaven! We so easily find ways to deny our complicity.

And yet, I do know that many non-native Christians have laboured on the side of the people whom George Manuel calls "The Fourth World." Some have been heroic, like Las Casas, and the martyrs in Latin America down to the present. Most have been less dramatic, but available, in responding to crises in Temagami, Labrador and the Northwest Territories.

In a limited way even the "official Church"has made some apologies. Realizing all this, I know that I must avoid brooding and do my work as a theologian.

Narrative theology

In order to do our theology in this situation, I believe, we especially need two approaches. The first will be to build on the stories, and thus join you in constructing a "narrative theology." This narrative reaches back to the earliest moments of biblical history, and the struggles of the Hebrew people to learn that God seeks to embrace all people and cultures.

The first Christians had to overcome the same problem, a problem which continued to plague the European missionary Church. We need the stories to help us find new insights and relationships.

Secondly, we need help from the social sciences. We need anthropology to help us understand how deeply culture affects us. We tend to identify our own particular culture with the Christian faith and, ironically, to reject the place of cultures in Christianity. Perhaps to help us to surface all of our deep cultural denials. Or maybe we must resurrect an old religious image, somewhat as Harvey Cox once did, and see the Church as a "cultural exorcist," called to drive out the demons of prejudice.

I would hope that we can enter into a very sober 1992 event, so that native Christians might be able to retrieve those symbols that will give them new strength. I would hope that God is acting now as a kind of psychoanalyst, fresh dialogue might continue between the Church and native groups not within its "fold".

And I urgently hope that sound social ethics will influence our theology to help us support the aboriginal rights struggle.

Karl Rahner has told us that the Church is in a new "epoch," or phase, of its story, where it must learn to be God's house of many mansions, as well as a body with a heart for all -- in the "fold"or not.

Carl Starkloff, SJ, has 30 years of ministry experience among Native Peoples in Canada and the U. S. Currently he is teaching theology at Regis College in Toronto and at Awshinabe Spiritual Centre in Espanola, Ontario.



See also:

Christopher Who? Discovering the Americas - Columbus seen as a conqueror. (CX5031).
Manifest Destiny: A Native Perspective on 1992 - 1992 will be a year of mourning for North American Indians; a mourning for the fragmentation and loss of our traditional way of life. (CX5204)
1992: Theology of Self-Discovery Offers Hope - (CX5205).


Subject Headings

Contact Connexions

Donate to Connexions

If you found this article valuable, please consider donating to Connexions. Connexions exists to connect people working for justice with information, resources, groups, and with the memories and experiences of those who have worked for social justice over the years. We can only do it with your support.