June 29, 2010

Native American leader challenges “cowboy theology”

by Benjamin Graham

A Native American leader has urged churches in the US to challenge the “cowboy theology” pervasive among many Christians in the country.

Richard Twiss, a member of the Lakota/Sioux tribe, said the church has historically been a “willing partner” in the oppression of Native Americans.

Speaking at the founding meeting of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, Twiss said the Church must address its complicity in the assimilation of Native American culture.

War and disease decimated the Native American population from 50 million in 1400 to 230,000 by 1895.

“It was one of the worst examples of genocide and ethnic cleansing, right here in America, which says, ‘in God we trust’,” said Twiss, adding that the white settler’s takeover of North America was underpinned by the biblical narrative of the Israelites conquering the “promised land”.

Protestant churches must “seek ways to make restitution to tribal people” for “co-opting the Bible as a tool of colonialism and imperialism” in North America since the 1500s, Twiss said.

He urged churches to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to establish the precise role of the Church in demonising Native religious expressions.

Churches have perpetuated “a distinct evangelical bias against Native and indigenous culture and ways,” Twiss said.

“Here in the United States our goal is to rescue theology from the cowboys,” he added.

“The cowboys have controlled the language of heaven for a very long time.

“We were never allowed and never learned to contextualize the gospel in our culture.”

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