Growing up my family were generally all fans of the Buffalo Bills. However, as a young child I saw the Bills lose four straight Super Bowls. So I said to myself, “Why should I be a Bills fan?” Simultaneously, I saw the Dallas Cowboys win three out of four Super Bowls and I said, “I’m a Cowboys fan!” Although, admittedly I started out as one who just jumped on the bandwagon, I have been a Cowboys fan ever sense.
What does the name “Redskin” mean? Generally it just means someone who’s skin is red, aka a Native American or American Indian (see the Oxford Dictionary). It could also be defined as the bloody scalp remnant resulting from a Native American crossing the path of a bounty hunter. Although the definition isn’t clear.
In recent days, the issue of whether or not the Washington Redskins ought to change their name. Even President Obama has found time to talk about it (yet doesn’t have time to take to John Boehner). Glenn Beck has discussed it. Some see it as offensive. Some don’t. I do not think that Dan Snyder (the owner of the Washington Redskins) means the name to be offensive. As Jerry Jones (the owner of the Dallas Cowboys) pointed out last night, Snyder himself is Jewish and I don’t think he lacks any sensitivity toward the issue. In a letter to fans, owner Dan Snyder cited the following.
- A poll that talked to nearly 1,000 Native Americans that concluded that 90 percent of them did not find the Redskins name to be offensive.
- In an AP poll earlier this year, 79 percent of respondents said they didn’t have a problem with the name and that only 11 percent believed that it should be changed.
- In May, the Richmond Times Dispatch interviewed three leaders of Virginia Native American tribes and none was offended by the name.
The thing about polls is that you can always find one that will support your position. Being a math major in college trust me, give me any questions and I can poll it either way, I just have to redefine the parameters. One thing is clear: there is no consensus among Natives. As one who grew up on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation, whose Dad is a full-blood Tuscarora and whose Mom is a quarter Mohawk, it is an issue I have often thought about and it is an issue that I have gone back and forth on.
I think that outside a high percentage of Natives attending a school (i.e. a school on a reservation or where a majority of the students come from a reservation), such broad terms as “Redskins,” “Indians,” or “Braves” (etc.) should not be used. I do not think the names are offense nearly as much as the mockery that goes with them. I mean, who really looks like the Cleveland Indians mascot? What Native is always wearing a war-bonnet (not to mention most nations have their own unique headdress) or war paint? However I also believe that there is a place for National Sovereignty and the autonomy of individual nations (“tribes” as must refer to them). So if the Seminole Tribe of Florida wants to sanction the use of the Seminole FSU nickname and Osceola as a FSU symbol, let them. If the Ute Nation wants to approve the name “Utes” for the University of Utah, let them. If a team or school proactively uses the name to support Natives and educate people about Native culture, I see no reason not to use the names.
Why bring this up? Why blog on this?
Because not only has it come up in the news again lately, but today is also Columbus Day. A day celebrated by some (Happy Thanksgiving to you Canadians) but also a day that isn’t celebrated by others and is rather a day that is like the aroma of death for so many. Pre-European contact the Tuscarora were estimated to have been approximately 25,000 in number but by 1850 there were 500.
For 500 years the gospel, the good news, of King Jesus has been used and manipulated to further political goals of a few. Never tell a Native American that America is or was a “Christian” nation or founded on Christian principles (the founders were theistic rationalists at best). It was when Wheelock attempted to get Joseph Brant to fight for the Colonies against the British that Brant responded that he especially remembered the family prayers of Wheelock, and how Wheelock used to pray “that they might be able to live as good subjects, to fear God and honor the King.” Let’s be clear, it was sin for any Christian to take part in the American Revolution (1 Pet 2:13-17).
Ultimately, there is no eternal value in whether they are called the Washington Redskins or the Washington Griffins (or whatever). Although I might be a Cowboy fan and Brian might be a Green Bay Packers fan (I don’t know why he is) ultimately there are no Lombardi Trophies in heaven (if there were the Cowboys would have more).
Why do I take the position I take? Why bring an offense outside of the gospel of King Jesus? If you ignore Native culture and treat it as second class to Angelo-Saxon culture, ultimately producing a “Whiteman’s Gospel,” you not only distort the gospel (which is then not the gospel at all) but you also provide a stumbling block for Natives that is not the gospel. The gospel of King Jesus ought to be the only stumbling block in our ministry.
So on this Columbus Day as there are those who argue about political correctness, let us turn our eyes to eternity because above all else Natives need the true gospel of King Jesus: That Christ died for our sins, fulfilling the Scriptures, and that He was buried and that He rose again the third day, again fulfilling the Scriptures! Take time today to think about how you can take part in proclaiming this gospel. Because if you haven’t thought about the history of Native Americans and the Christianity, if you haven’t thought about how to support Native American ministries, as a Christian you have no opinion about whether or not the words “Redskins” or “Braves” or “Indians” are offensive and should/shouldn’t be used.
We Need to Present the True Gospel of King Jesus
Too often the gospel has been associated with the Angelo-Saxon culture, merely presenting the “Whiteman’s Gospel.” This is so unfortunate because Native history relates more to Israelite history than Angelo-Saxon history. Native culture allows Natives to understand certain truths better than others. Biblically a woman cannot be a pastor and even though there is equality in personhood there is distinction in function between men and women within God’s household. A Native understands this because in Native culture although there is a high respect for women, a woman cannot be a chief and a man cannot be a clan-mother.
We have to get the gospel right! Yet throughout history the gospel of King Jesus hasn’t been preached nor has the Word of God been proclaimed properly in regards to Natives. In studying Church History, the Reformation spread across Europe like fire but when it came to the Americas it didn’t. It wasn’t till approximately 300 years after Columbus sailed the ocean blue that the Great Awakening happened in America. There are several reasons why, but I think the predominant one was because during those first three hundred years of European-Native American contact there weren’t enough men like David Brainerd.
As the gospel of Jesus has not been preached the result of His gospel has not been seen between Natives and other ethnic groups. The Church as the Covenant Community is established by the gospel. Human-to-human reconciliation or “racial” reconciliation is not at the heart of the gospel. The gospel is the good news that we can be reconciled to God through Christ, because “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal 3:13). Yet as each believer has been reconciled to God and has been clothed with the righteousness of Christ, this establishes a community of believer who have all been clothed in Christ’s righteousness (Gal 3:27-29).
There is a new Covenant Community established from men and women of all national, social, and economical backgrounds. We as believers are reconciled to each other because we have all individually been reconciled to Christ (you guessed by now, there will be a blog called “The Church as Community: Established by the Gospel” at some point in time). So although our reconciliation to each other is not at the heart of the gospel it is one of several outcomes of each believer being clothed in Christ’s righteousness. A result of our justification before God is our presence in His Covenant Community. Thus the gospel produces a community that is: (1) grounded on the gospel; (2) is sanctified together; (3) loving each other; and (4) serving each other. Unfortunately this community is rarely seen between Natives and other ethnicities.
We Need to Support Native American Ministries
Too often churches send missionaries and short-term ministry teams half-way around the world and ignore the reservation an hour down the road. Or Christians and churches often protest Native American Casinos yet never provide an understanding or means for a better economic scenario. The Great Commission is why as Christians are still on this earth (Matt 28:18-20). The apostles stayed in Jerusalem for a time didn’t immediately take the message of Jesus to the ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1:7-8). Sometimes we do the opposite and go to the ends of the earth with our “missions trips” but we ignore our own community. We travel thousands of miles to “reach the nations” yet sometimes the nations are in your back yard. When was the last time you went to a reservation?
We Need to Train Natives Because Lives Depend on It
Too often Angelo-Saxon men dominate Native ministries but never find faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim 2:2). It should be our mission to help indigenous churches to train up its own leaders. We can bring abundant resources and partner with their churches to supply academic guidance. Our message must be biblically sound (2 Tim 2:15) as we labor to raise up biblical expositors, to train men in sound theology, and to establish doctrinal consistency among churches. Our method must follow the biblical pattern (2 Tim 2:2). We must selected men based on their faithfulness in the local church and train them to reproduce godly men in ministry.
We must strive to lead older men to train the younger men and older women to train the younger woman (Tit 2:1-5). The younger must learn by the explicit teaching of the older and the implicit example of the older. Discipleship through explicit teaching and an implicit example has a theological purpose as well for Paul wrote, “so that God’s message will not be slandered” (Tit 2:5). Unfortunately, God’s message has often been slandered through attempted ministry to/over and not for/through Native Americans.
Some say that the last words of the great Seneca chief Red Jacket were, “Where is the missionary?” Whether these were truly his last words, I do not know. But one thing if for certain, I hope they are never used in reference to me. Will they be used in reference to you?