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An Indigenous Assessment 

by Katheleen Kern for Mennonite Weekly Review dated August 3, 2005

Kathleen Kern, of Webster, N.Y., serves with Christian Peacemaker Teams.

The July 7 bombings of the London subways and bus coincided with my having recently listened to several audiobooks on the history of indigenous peoples in North America, or “Turtle Island” as some indigenous communities refer to it.
 

As I listened to people make generalizations about Islam — based on the violence of Muslims claiming to be Al Qaeda operatives — I found myself thinking about what generalizations a 19th-century indigenous historian or political analyst might have made about Christianity.
 

Based on indigenous peoples’ encounters with Christians, the commentary of the indigenous scholar might have read like this:
 

“Although apologists for Christianity claim their spiritual chief, Jesus Christ, commanded his followers to show compassion to allies and enemies, the Christian invasions of Turtle Island show that Christianity is a genocidal, deceitful and larcenous religion.
 

“The Christians’ disregard for human life was evident when they arrived on the eastern part of this continent and found that an epidemic had wiped out several nations. Did the devout ‘Pilgrims’ weep for the lost Wampanoag, Patuxet and Massachuset civilizations? No. One of their number, John Winthrop, noted with satisfaction in his diary that ‘God hath hereby cleared our title to this place.’
 

“In 1637, residents of a Pequot village on the Mystic River ran to its banks to greet a raiding party of Puritan Christians with, ‘What cheer, Englishmen, what do you come for?’ The Puritans burned the village and slaughtered its inhabitants. William Bradford described the massacre: ‘Those that escaped the fire were slaine with the sword; some hewed to peeces, others run through with their rapiers. . . . It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fyer and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stincke and scent thereof, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to inclose their enemies in their hands . . .’

“John Underhill, who commanded the expedition, wrote later, ‘Sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents. . . . We had sufficient light from the word of God for our proceedings.’
 

“Several decades later, in 1675, Puritans trapped 600 people of the Narragansett nation in their longhouses and burned them alive. A Puritan priest, Cotton Mather, referred to the massacre as a ‘barbecue’ in a sermon celebrating the event.
 

“More recently, Col. John M. Chivington — a Christian priest of the apparently bloodthirsty Methodist sect — perpetrated the massacre of Cheyenne and Arapahoe civilians at Sand Creek while their warriors were away hunting buffalo. Prior to the bloodbath, he proclaimed, ‘I long to be wading in gore’ and ‘I have come to kill Indians and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians.’ The 900 soldiers and vigilantes under Chivington’s command slaughtered 163 women, children and old men.  
 

“One soldier said later, ‘It looked too hard for me to see little children on their knees begging for their lives [having] their brains beat out like dogs.’ A pregnant woman was cut open and her unborn child thrown to the ground. The Christian soldiers and paramilitaries mutilated the corpses and cut the men’s and women’s genitals off for trophies, attaching them to their hats and saddles.
 

“Despite the denunciations of these atrocities by moderate Christian leaders, history teaches us that militant Christianity poses a threat to peace-loving peoples everywhere.
 

“Moreover, dialogue with the Christian invaders seems fruitless, when one considers that they have never honored a single treaty they made with any of the nations on Turtle Island.”

 

 

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