colonialism

Some See Junipero Serra, Pope Francis’ Next American Saint, as Less Than Holy

Photo via Wikimedia Commons / RNS
Oil painting of Father Junípero Serra from the 1700s. Photo via Wikimedia Commons / RNS

When Pope Francis unexpectedly announced last month that he would canonize the Rev. Junipero Serra during his visit to the U.S. in September, he thrilled the many fans of the legendary 18th-century Spanish Franciscan who spread the Catholic faith across what is now California.

But the pontiff who has decried the “ideological colonization” of the developing world by the secular West is now facing criticism from those who say Serra — called “the Columbus of California” — abused Native Americans and pressured them to convert, aiding in the devastation of the indigenous culture on behalf of the Spanish crown.

“Serra was no saint to us,” Ron Andrade, executive director of the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission, told the Los Angeles Times.

Some of Serra’s sharpest critics say he was part of an imperial conquest that beat and enslaved Native Americans, raped their women, and destroyed their culture by forcing them to abandon their traditional language, diet, dress and other customs and rites.

Add in the diseases introduced by these Old World invaders, and the original indigenous population of perhaps 300,000 was decimated by as much as 90 percent.

“If (Serra) is elevated to sainthood,” Nicole Lim, the executive director of the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center in Santa Rosa, told The New York Times, “then (Serra) should be held responsible for the brutal and deadly treatment of native people.”

How To Overcome Evil

LIKE MUCH OF the world, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about ISIS over the past few months. I’ve been horrified by the accounts of the so-called Islamic State’s barbarism, and I lament their perversion of one of the world’s great religions.

Most of all, I’m outraged at their disregard for human life—at their wanton killing of Shia Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, and anyone else who doesn’t share their radical vision. Pope Francis has said that it’s legitimate to act to protect innocent lives in this case, and I don’t disagree with him.

Yet I believe that Jesus calls us to be peacemakers, which requires us to think beyond short-term military solutions and address the systemic issues that breed crises like this one. And I strongly believe that to have any moral authority in the current crisis, we must first confess the Western policies and attitudes that have contributed to where we find ourselves today—and then repent of those policies and attitudes.

The first thing we need to confess is a shallow and, at best, incomplete understanding of ISIS. Alireza Doostdar of the University of Chicago Divinity School wrote, “[We] seem to assume that ISIS ... has suddenly materialized out of the thin ether of an evil doctrine. But ISIS emerged from the fires of war, occupation, killing, torture, and disenfranchisement. It did not need to sell its doctrine to win recruits. It needed above all to prove itself effective against its foes.”

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African Church Leaders Resist Gay Rights, Call it a Colonial Import

Bishop Arthur Gitonga, center, of the Redeemed Church in Kenya. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili

A call for greater acceptance of gays and lesbians has put African and Western churches on a collision course, as some African clerics liken mounting criticism from the U.S. and Europe to a new wave of colonization by the West.

Consider some of the statements at a news conference last week led by Bishop Arthur Gitonga of the Redeemed Church in Kenya:

“Homosexuality is equivalent to colonialism and slavery,” said one participant.

“We feel it’s like a weapon of mass destruction,” said another.

“It is not biblical and cannot bring blessing to Christians,” said a third.

Gitonga, a powerful East African Pentecostal church official, is among a group of Kenyan leaders who have launched “Zuia Sodom Kabisa,” Kiswahili for “Stop Sodom Completely.” The campaign seeks 1 million signatures to petition legislation to criminalize homosexual acts in Kenya.

A Tribute to Mandela

Nelson Mandela was “the most important political leader of the 20th century,” writes Jim Wallis in “A Prayer for Mandela” in the February 2014 issue of Sojourners magazine. Following Mandela’s death on December 5, 2013, the world has stopped to reflect on the life of a man who dedicated himself to justice and reconciliation despite decades of imprisonment to a brutal apartheid.

These magazine articles and blog posts published by Sojourners through the years pay tribute to the great South African leader.

Sojourners magazine articles:

  • In the Wake of A Miracle (November-December 2003)
    Linda Martindale writes on “being ‘real Christians' in the post-apartheid era.
  • South Africa: The Spirit of Reconciliation (July 1994)
    Will Winterfield, an international church observer of Nelson Mandela’s presidential election, interviews Beyers Naudé—one of the first leading Afrikaners to oppose apartheid openly.
  • The Miracle of South Africa (July 1994)
    Jim Wallis writes that South Africa’s transformation means “never again can I say that hope is not a concrete reality.”
  • With the Eyes of Christ (January-February 1998)
    Joyce Hollyday writes that, “President Nelson Mandela modeled a rare forgiveness when he invited his jailer of 27 years to sit on the platform with him at his presidential inauguration.”

Blog posts:

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A Prayer for Mandela

NELSON MANDELA was the most important political leader of the 20th century. While Roosevelt and Churchill helped protect the West and the world from Hitler’s Nazism, Mandela heroically exemplified the movement against the colonialism and racism that oppressed the global South, shown so dramatically in South Africa’s apartheid. And from a Christian point of view, he combined justice and reconciliation like no other political leader of his time, shaped by the spiritual formation of 27 years in prison.

Shortly after Mandela was released from prison, he came to New York to meet with a small group of Americans who had been involved in the anti-apartheid struggle, and I was blessed to join them. From the start, I felt in Mandela a moral authority I have never experienced with any political leader.

Attending Mandela’s inauguration in 1994 was a highlight of my life. We were picked up at the airport by friends, a couple who had both been in prison and tortured, but now she was about to become a member of the new South African parliament. We saw a group of the infamous South African security police. Having been interrogated by these thugs before, I immediately said, “Let’s get out of here!” To which they replied, “Don’t worry, Jim, they’re ours now.”

At the ceremony, joined by my South African friends, we watched Nelson Mandela announce his vision for a new rainbow nation. More than 100,000 people (and a billion or so more via TV) listened with tears in their eyes and great hope in their hearts.

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Coloring in Oppression

THIS SHORT VOLUME by Jacqueline Battalora, a professor of criminal justice at St. Xavier University in Chicago, addresses a very important topic in American history and society: The legal, social, and political invention of the category of “white people” as a privileged group, which defines them as the normative Americans over against others, variously defined as “black,” “colored,” “Indians,” and “mulatto.”

When English settlers founded the New England colonies, they referred to themselves as British. As more people from other countries of Western Europe arrived in the area, they tended to group those they saw as similar to themselves as Christians, Germans, etc.—the term “white” was not used—over against “Negroes,” Indians, and rival colonizers such as the Spanish and French.

The term white was first used in colonial law after Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, during which some African and European indentured servants formed an alliance. Virginia’s colonial leaders responded with a package of laws that created a racial caste of African-descended slaves, distinguished from European servants. These laws decreed that African slaves could not be freed and free Africans could not hold office, serve in the army, or hold European bond laborers. This group was thus disprivileged, in contrast with those of European descent who were defined as “white.”

The term white also soon appeared in Maryland colonial law, forbidding African-descended people from owning weapons and testifying against “whites.” Anti-miscegenation laws also developed, forbidding “white” people from marrying those who were “black” or “Indian,” fining them if they did so and taking away any children from such unions, who were labeled “abominations.” These laws actually only applied to “white” women, since “white” men often had concubines from these forbidden groups without penalty.

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The Cost of Being 'Christian'

Richard Twiss teaching on indigenous worship. Photo by the International Worship Institute.

ALL EYES WERE fixed on Richard Twiss, the Lakota/Sioux co-founder and president of Wiconi International, who stood center stage at the 2011 Christian Community Development Association conference.

Twiss pulled no punches as he told the truth about the church's role in colonization: The global genocide of indigenous peoples and the eradication of indigenous cultures by requiring people to cut their hair, leave their families, forsake their languages, and forswear their drums. Coaxed to convert or be damned, indigenous people exchanged their own culture for guitars and mission schools in order to be "Christian."

On Feb. 9, 2013, Richard Twiss passed to the other side of life. For many he was a key voice for indigenous people finding a way to reclaim their culture while keeping hold of Christ. While Twiss was a primary voice of the movement, he was also a member of a larger circle of indigenous leaders, each of whom has played his or her part to establish and spread the good news of cultural reconciliation after "500 years of bad haircuts," as Twiss liked to put it.

Twiss had enormous impact on the indigenous "contextual ministry" movement. "Contextualization means to present the good news of the shalom kingdom of Jesus Christ in a way that people can understand and relate to in their own cultural context," explained Randy Woodley (Keetoowah Cherokee), distinguished associate professor of faith and culture at George Fox Evangelical Seminary.

From the time the Europeans hit Plymouth Rock, Woodley said, there have always been individuals who did not require indigenous peoples to forsake their culture in order to be Christian, but for centuries they were in the minority.

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In The Stacks: Friday, March 9, 2012

Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com.
Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com.

Among my must reads are the Sunday New York Times Book Review and other book reviews I come across in various media outlets. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but just don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written. 

Here are my picks in this week’s books of interest:

Neocolonialism and Cowboys & Aliens

1100801-cowboysandaliensAmericans have a hard time knowing how to respond to the sins of our colonial past. Except for a few extremists, most people know on a gut level that the extermination of the Native Americans was a bad thing. Not that most would ever verbalize it, or offer reparations, or ask for forgiveness, or admit to current neocolonial actions, or give up stereotyped assumptions -- they just know it was wrong and don't know how to respond. The Western American way doesn't allow the past to be mourned or apologies to be made. Instead we make alien invasion movies.

8 Inspiring Movies About Social Change

1100629-gandhifilmAh the joy of watching movies in the summer! Of course, there are a number of summer blockbusters coming out that will woo crowds to the theaters, but with the sky-high prices of theater tickets these days, nobody will fault you for wanting to stay home and kick back with a rental. If you're looking for a film that will entertain and inspire you, consider adding some of these excellent films about social change to your online queue. If you have any other films to add to this list, please contribute your favorites in the comments section below. (To read more of my film reviews, check out my monthly column in Sojourners magazine.)

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