The "Las Casas" Statement: Our approach to Native Missions
A nation is subject to her history. While the future always offers hopes of new opportunity, it cannot be denied that the past holds sway over how quickly a nation can obtain new horizons of possibility. Any nation who has felt the heavy hand of oppression will testify to this reality. No group, after escaping tyranny, can immediately obtain all the desires of what they wish to have and who they want to be. Why is this necessarily true?
Often nations that play the tyrant are forced by some movement, be it civil or martial, to free their subjects, but there is a difference between letting the oppressed wander off in their shackles and truly repenting of the wrongdoing and redeeming the group upon which so much pain was inflicted. Knowing this with certitude, an understanding for why a newly “freed” people often founder, never seeming to be capable of directing their course quick enough to seize present opportunities, can be grasped. The shackles they drag impeded their progress.
The grip of the past is not simply a determinate for the oppressed, but for the once oppressor. Any nation with blood on her hands has much difficulty in building future bridges with other nations. For fear of becoming the new target of oppression, other nations will often avoid full trust. Ours is a world of relations based in fear, creating fragile tensions between the peoples of the world, making almost any dealings with one another volatile situations, each group keeping a close finger to the triggers of war.
Moreover, once having blood on one’s hands, it becomes easier to shed more. What is the point in avoiding more blood if one’s hands are already covered? And, can a nation proclaim clean hands simply by acquiescing to the coercion to free a people? Again, the pains of the past still pull at the once oppressed, so that they cannot simply be understood as the once oppressed, but in many ways must still be seen as oppressed. Only true acts of redemption can begin to heal the wounds of the past. Setting a people free is simply allowing them to go their own way, but redemption is the process of restoring to the people all that was taken from them, and, perhaps, even making up for all that would have been gained were it not for being subjugated. In the end, what has been taken is too vast to quantify, and, therefore, the only hope of cleansing is forgiveness, the forgiving of the tyrant by the oppressed.
Even so, all that can be done should be done. Christians are people of redemption. We are a people who, by our own sin, lost all we had, but, by the graciousness of our King, the citizens of New Jerusalem are being restored to all that we lost and even more. Ours was a redemption that was much undeserved; therefore, how much more should we be a people with a heart to redeem, especially those who lost all they had because of the evils of others? Unfortunately, in the name of our faith, people have often become instruments of oppression and not of redemption. In selfishness our Scriptures have been used to justify oppressions, such as slavery, forced assimilation, and territorial theft.
Particular to our own cause is the historical oppression of the “Doctrine of Discovery,” and the Christian support of Manifest Destiny, the excuses for the stealing of Native lands. What should be our answer? We cannot be a people who simply condemn our forefathers for their sins, for we ourselves have many sins for which we too could be condemned. We all are in need of redemption.
We must not stand as the judge and jury of past iniquities, for that does nothing to change the future. If this is our solution, we vainly praise God as the Pharisee: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” Since we are citizens of a Kingdom that is about redemption, we must promote redemption. As the temples of the Holy Spirit, we must carry God’s light into the darkness of the sins of history, to bring new light and new possibility.
In light of these truths, we commit ourselves to a better way, a way worthy of our faith and a way that, in our particular mission, was blazed by a man before his own time, Bartholomé de las Casas. In the earliest colonization of the Americas, a time in which conquest was justified by the Spanish as a means to “Christianize” the Indians, Bartolomé de las Casas (1484-1566) held firm to the belief that the American Natives were fully human and, therefore, fully capable of making a decision of faith each individually and freely. His mission would be defined by the principles of sharing the Gospel by peaceful means alone, the need of the individual to fully understand and truly desire the faith before conversion, and the need to respect Native cultures. He was certainly a man before his time. He dedicated his life to the rights of the Natives and accomplished much on their behalf. We commit ourselves anew to his principles of mission:
With God’s help I will keep the following principles in the name of Christian virtue and for the selfless building up of the Natives I have been called to serve:
I will respect the differences of ethnicity, never seeing assimilation as a tool of progress. I will respect the culture of the people I serve and will present true religion as principles that transcend culture, while also acknowledging that the virtues of Scripture often challenge and encourage various cultural standards. I will leave the choice of change to the individual.
I will be a person of peace and seek persons of peace. I will always offer the message of The Gospel in peace. I will never use the word of God as a weapon or a tool of coercion. I will seek persons wanting to know Christ, and to those who offer ears to hear, I will speak. To those who refuse to hear, I will respectfully acknowledge their freedom to choose or reject salvation and will in no way attempt to manipulate their hearts towards an inauthentic conversion.
I will do my best, with God’s help, to ensure that those desiring relationship with Christ fully understand the conversion that Christian life offers. I will in no way hide the fullness of the Gospel in order to lure the seeker who still holds reservations. I will do my best to ensure that it is the desire of the individual and not the pressures of others that leads them to pray for salvation.
Full redemption does not simply come by means of reparations from the once oppressor to the once oppressed. True human redemption comes by Christ alone, and, so, I will, with God’s help, present the ministry of reconciliation as a ministry of love and restoration. While it is an impossibility for all the oppressed to receive all that they have lost in this life time, the riches of a life in Christ is a possibility and is a surer and richer inheritance than anything a worldly nation can offer.
Even so, in addition to our mission principles, we will work to promote the whole of the community we serve, not simply those willing to hear our plea to turn to Christ:
As a sign of our belief in the goodness of redemption, we will, as Las Casas, repent from our past oppressive behaviors and do our best to demonstrate restoration here on earth as a sign of the unimaginable restoration to come. In any way we might promote the growth and prosperity of the people we serve, we will prayerfully act.
Father, in your mercy and grace, may you lead us to bear witness to your love, in both word and deed. May we be people of redemption as you prepare our way to spread your ministry. May our lives be full of grace and truth, and may your Holy Love reign in our hearts through the work of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and by the power of Your Holy Spirit so that your light might spread in the darkness. May you use us as your Kingdom ambassadors to grow your Kingdom, until the day you bring your Kingdom to come.