A commenter named Rob-Bear had this to say, on my post about how utterly useless non-profits and Christian organizations have been on Pine Ridge reservation:
Another hatchet job on Christians and churches. Not surprising. Stems, I fear, from a superficially-generated ignorance.
The church to which I belong, and many others, do not fit the model you have described. Instead of a “charity” model of paternalism, we work on a “development” model of collegiality. So there are two questions: 1. What do you need/want, and 2. How can we work with you to realize/achieve that goal? Anything less than that approach is a total lack of respect for good people who want a better life.
I’ve decided to respond here. Not because of what Mr. Bear said in particular. But because it is a somewhat common response I get from Christians since I wrote that piece. Common enough I feel it should be dealt with.
Throw a dart at a map of the world. Any place it hits you can probably find a tale of Christian endorsed genocide and cruelty. When the cross is blood soaked from one end of the globe to the other, its time to admit something has catastrophically, systematically gone wrong. It is time to admit a problem, when the man Christianity is supposed to be about says “love your neighbors and enemies”, but Christian history is full, a couple million times over, with events like this:
“They built a long gibbet, low enough for the toes to touch the ground and prevent strangling, and hanged thirteen Indians at a time in honor of Christ Our Savior and the twelve apostles…Then straw was wrapped around their torn bodies and they were burned alive.”
Most of the world was introduced to Christianity at the point of a blade. Most of the world got to know Christianity through the rape of their land and culture. Among indigenous lands, Christianity has been something of a reverse Midas touch. Indigenous communities that Christianized tended to become extinct, absorbed into the empires Christianity cheerleaded for. Indigenous communities that resisted tended to survive.
Pine Ridge in particular has been oppressed by Christianity since the beginning. For not having a baptism card, men would be sent to the Hiawatha Insane Asylum. The Catholic boarding schools were unspeakable houses of horror and cruelty, full of rape and violence, psychologically maiming an entire generation. The Catholic, Episcopal and Presbyterian churches were given land holdings in exchange for them helping to stamp out Lakota culture.
The modern age is not much better. Christian groups around Pine Ridge are some of the shadiest, most corrupt, dishonest organizations around. Thankfully, Christianity doesn’t have power to enforce its bigotry anymore. Christians can’t send people to insane asylums for disbelieving anymore. Christians can’t rape our children and cripple their minds while immune from dissent anymore.
Yet the same condescending attitude that led to all this atrocity is still present in most Christian groups on the reservation. Most still subscribe to the toxic method of paternalism, even if, thank god, they have little power to enforce their colonial agendas anymore. Like I said in my original post, there are questions that ought to give anyone pause when considering the usefulness of Christian groups on Pine Ridge reservation. What have all these Christian groups on the reservation accomplished? What have they changed for the good? Despite all their promises, the answer is next to nothing. Toxic assumptions or a slow descent into corruption made them nearly all ineffective.
So I’d ask Mr. Bear, what part of this is “superficially generated ignorance” on my part? It all happened. I saw much of it with my own eyes. Friends who have grown up here have confirmed my observations. Elders have told me its been a problem as long as they’ve been alive. History confirms a blood stained, psychologically abusive Christian legacy when it comes to indigenous communities.
What expertise does Mr. Bear have on this issue that contradicts the weight of so many lifetimes of experience? There aren’t enough rationalizations in the world to whitewash the indigenous blood from Christian history. I suspect Mr. Bear and those like him are the ones that need to wake up. I suspect Mr. Bear defends his religion like an enabler defends an abuser. He calls my piece a hatchet job. I say maybe Christianity is something deserving of a rhetorical axe after murdering, raping, desecrating and harming our people for so many years.
Mr. Bear says his church is not one that operates like the ones I describe. That’s great. Yet I’m not even sure why this is mentioned. Fact is, most of the organizations that come through the reservation have operated with toxic paternalistic standards. That’s the focus of the piece and the reason for it being written. I never intended to say anything about Mr. Bear’s specific church in particular, but rather confront a general, horrible and pervasive problem. Many churches do fit the model described, which is why they’ve effected next to zero positive change on the Pine Ridge reservation.
Mr. Bear suggests two questions be asked to people on the reservation: “1. What do you need/want, and 2. How can we work with you to realize/achieve that goal?”
These are decent questions to ask, to a reservation group that seeks Christian help. But the answer I would give would be: 1.) Allies to stand with us in our basic struggle to exist, voices to unite with our own attempts to change some unjust, toxic societal structures. This begins in a non-missional way, as there’s nothing the Christian fruits of the spirit, the beatitudes, the Christian religion have that the ancient values of the Lakota do not also have. 2.) Don’t come here. Realize you can do more to help by staying away from the reservation, not proselytizing, doing something where you are at. Even better, you could use your resources to empower local people on the reservation.
Christians have been so used to running around reservations, too privileged to be challenged on all their empty promises and unethical practices. Well, that time is over, and I will encourage every single person I meet to hold them and their organizations accountable. All I’m doing is holding this religion that feels entitled to come into our lands and spread its agenda accountable.