One of the unexpected gifts that has come with White Awake has been the opportunity to travel to a variety of different locales throughout the United States. Within each city I have met vibrant, young, driven, intelligent, transformation-oriented leaders who hunger to see God’s justice and shalom brought from heaven to earth, and meeting them has been a source of significant inspiration for me.
One of the young leaders that I was grateful to meet, and then to stay in consistent contact with, was Hailie Henderson. Hailie is a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, a student at Whitworth University (Spokane, WA), and is a change agent filled with passion and energy to participate in the renewing ministry of Jesus.
For one of her final projects at school, Hailie did a research paper on how the Bible can be such a beautiful piece of Spirit-filled literature – when used properly – but can also be such a dangerous and oppressive document when used manipulatively. She documented the ways that the Bible has been used to justify both colonization and slavery, and lamented the ongoing results of that. But she also ended with a sweeping vision of God’s love and desire to make all things right.
I was very inspired by her project, and I admire the way that Hailie can so openly address the pain and destruction that has been caused by misuse of the Bible, while simultaneously looking to the God of the Bible as the source of hope moving forward. I asked her if she’d be up for sharing the paper on the blog here, and she agreed. So see Hailie’s bio below, as well as her important research paper!
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Oki nitanikko Makoyi-oápsspi. Hello, my name is Wolfeyes or, as most people call me, Hailie Henderson. I am a member of the Blackfeet Tribe and am also a believer of God. In my walk of faith I’m perpetually being challenged by both my religious beliefs and my cultural beliefs. I’m currently a student at Whitworth University working hard towards a Bachelor of Science in Nursing so that I may return to the community as a role model for my fellow Indigenous people.
As many of you know, there are very few Indigenous role models within society. Because we need more role models within the Native community, I have done many interesting things throughout my life thus far in hopes to express the voice of the Native people. While I work hard in creating a voice for the Indigenous community, I also strive to be a vessel for God to spread his love.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Revelation 7:9-10, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” This enlightens me with the idea that there is no single race that God excludes. Our God is a God who loves all for he is the one who had created each of us fearfully and wonderfully. There is nobody who is of greater or lesser value than you. We are all as one and there should be equality for all.
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Misinterpretations of the Bible
The Bible has been an agent for God to share his word for the world. It has been written in over 1500 years by 40 different writers. In the Bible, God teaches us who he is and what it’s like to know him. Through the different books within the Bible, the central message each author was trying to get across is that God wants a relationship with the people he has created. Much of the Bible’s content explains life’s mysteries to an extent that satisfies us, giving us advice and knowledge on how to carry out our lives as we walk with God as Christians, or believers of God. Our humanly nature, however, has altered the true identity of God’s intention of Christianity into something that can be used for evil. Because of misinterpretations in the understanding of God’s word, society has shaped Christianity to go against what God wanted for us as humans to focus our life on. The citizens and governors of the newly created United States in the 19th century had created the ideology manifest destiny because they believed that God had destined them to spread democracy and capitalism across the entire North American Continent. Along with manifest destiny, people of that time would also use the ideology to justify genocide. Verses from the Bible were used to justify many Christian people in history to be slaveholders. Today’s idea of Christianity as an identity has taken on an entirely different mold than what God had originally created it to be.
Manifest destiny was this ideology in the 19th century that was supported by people who believed that the United States was destined by God to expand their territory across all of North America. This was also known as the Doctrine of Discovery and has rooted from two verses in the Bible. The first Bible verse was Genesis 1:28 and it says, “Then God blessed them and said, ‘be fruitful, and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.’” The European Christians had viewed the Earth as a place to rule over under God’s command. They had made it their goal to rule over all. The second verses were Matthew 28: 18-20, also known as the Great Commission, and it says, “Jesus came and told his disciples, ‘I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The Europeans at the time had interpreted this verse in the Bible as God’s mandate to convert all of the people in the world to Christianity so that the new world may begin. With the formalization of the Doctrine of Discovery in the 13th and 14th centuries, jurisdiction of the world was given to the Pope and through this any land not Christianized could be taken on behalf of God. This ideology had justified much of the unjust actions that were done throughout United States history. The Pope appointed explorers like Christopher Columbus to do whatever they wanted to do to the people and lands that they had encountered and thus began the Romanus Pontifex. The Romanus Pontifex, Latin for “The Roman Pontiff”, was a papal bull written by Pope Nicholas V in 1454. It had stated, “to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens [Muslims] and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by.” This then sparked up Pope Alexander VI’s Demarcation Bull in 1493 where he provided statements that gave the European explorers the right to do what they wanted with the people they had encountered including murder, enslavement, and dispossession.
Because of the Doctrine of Discovery, religious repression was harsh on those of other races. Their idols were destroyed, their sacred areas were burned, and those who would try to carry out their traditions would be punished by death. These people of different cultures than the Europeans were attacked if they were unreasonable, uncivilized in comparison to their own standards, or non-Christian. In the movement where what is now known as the United States, the people who had moved to live in the new territory were fearful of the people who lived on the land before them because they had a different culture than them. Their differences had resulted into the US government authorizing attacks and raids on indigenous people. According to Donald L. Fixico, a Distinguished Foundation Professor of History whose work focuses on American Indians, oral history and the U.S. West, the raids resulted in the mass killing of millions of Native Americans making fewer than 238,000 indigenous people remaining. In the year 1537 Pope Paul III soon decided that these people they were attacking were worth saving and they sought out to spread Christianity to Native Peoples; however, this idea had come across more of as an invasion than a rescue mission. The settlers had removed the Native people from their land, displaced them into other lands, and then forced them on reservation lands. They also only had the choices of converting into Christianity or to be killed. The children were taken from their homes, given white names, forced to attend boarding schools that had mandatory church services and religious classes, and they were punished if caught practicing any of their culture or if they spoke their native tongue. The white people believed that the Native’s culture was demonic so they forced assimilation upon the children in hopes to “kill the Indian, save the child.” It was the Christian missionaries job to convert and assimilate Native Americans into adopting the American lifestyle so that they could make the native people into Christians fulfilling God’s mandate. This meant structuring their families monogamous, changing their clothing and hairstyles to what the European people wore, and a new way of labor in which the roles were separated by gender. Men would do the hard labor and work while the women would tend their homes. It was these changes that Christian missionaries and U.S. officials insisted that could make Native Americans be absorbed into the white settler population and contribute to the U.S. government’s purposeful expansion of its empire.
Within the expansion of the empire, there were also encounters with the African people of Africa. The African people were taken as slaves and many of the slaveholders were Christian. Out of the entire Bible, they justified their actions with two verses. The first verses were from Genesis 10: 18-27 were it was after the flood and Noah had begun to make a vineyard. One day he made wine and got drunk laying in his tent naked. His son Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father and told his brothers Japheth and Shem. His brothers covered their father up with a robe without looking at their naked father. Once Noah had realized what Ham had done, he cursed his son Canaan. “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.” (Genesis 9: 29-27). This soon had become the foundation for those that wanted to justify slavery making those who are enslaved descendants of Canaan. The other verses from the Bible that Christian slaveholders would use to justify themselves was in Ephesians 6:5-7 where the Apostle Paul tells servants to be obedient to their masters the way that they should be obedient as slaves of Christ. The story of Ham’s curse had flaws in it. Ham’s skin color would be the same as his brothers and there was no information as to how long Canaan would be a servant. As for the Apostle Paul, he did tell the slaves to obey their masters the way they should be fearful and obedient to God; however, in Ephesians 6:8 Paul tells the slave holders not to threaten their slaves and to treat them with respect for God does not favor a certain group. “Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slave-holding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason but the most deceitful one for calling the religion of this land Christianity…” (Fredrick Douglass).
In Luke 10:25-29, an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus and asked him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”
The man answered, “‘you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”
For someone to be a true Christian they must love one’s neighbor as one’s self and recognize that this means that we must treat everyone in the way that we would treat ourselves.
The man of the religious law then went on to ask Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus then goes on to tell a story about a Jewish man who was traveling to Jerusalem. The man was attacked by some bandits who stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. Both a priest and a Temple assistant saw the man and did nothing to help him. Then a despised Samaritan came and helped the wounded man. The Samaritans were looked down on by the Jews because of their mixed-ethnicity, their place of worship, and their ignorance and disregards of God’s ways; however, of all of the people that had seen the Jewish man, the Samaritan was the better neighbor. The Samaritan did not have the same belief system as the man he saved and there were no benefits for the Samaritan in saving the man; yet, he saw a man in need and helped because it’s the right thing to do. The story that Jesus shares teaches us that our neighbors are everyone including those whose rituals, skin color, customs, values, ancestry, language, and history may be different from our own.
Misinterpreting the Bible happens the same way a simple text to your friend can be read wrong. The thing about the Bible though is that we will never truly know what the writers really meant when writing their portion within the Bible because these books were written hundreds of years ago. The misinterpretations of the Bible have influenced much of our world’s history. Today, many people have trouble in defining with the religion Christianity because of its dark past; however, those that can identify as a Christian has either accepted that history is history and we need to learn from our mistakes or that they don’t believe that Christianity had been a factor in manifest destiny, native genocide and assimilation, and slavery. Sometimes you need to look back at the bigger picture and understand that God wants a relationship to all. To be a true Christian is to show God’s love to others by loving your neighbor for their differences; therefore, through showing your love your neighbor may then see how great God is.