The Rosebud Tribe is attempting to buy and hold in trust an area of the Black Hills known as Pe’ Sla (pay schlaw).
I started to type “of South Dakota’s Black Hills,” but that’s a problem. For the Lakota, the Hills are traditional sacred land, organic to their ancestral religion. Even after the United States claimed large parts of the West, the Black Hills were part of the land retained by the tribes under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.
But the U.S. Government broke the treaty and took the Hills from them once gold was discovered. (Some of our Anglican readers might resonate with the story on this point: a national entity, often ignoring written agreements, grabs sacred space from local people in order to secure material wealth. Those booted out of the sacred space are compelled to let it go or else pay to get back what was taken from them.)
The taking was rationalized in a number of ways. The church colluded with the government, affirming that White culture would deliver the savages from pagan superstitions. Even the saintly Bishop Hare, the missionary leader who built up the Episcopal Church in the Dakotas, wrote of bringing “the God of civilization” to the tribes, a cringe-worthy phrase that betrays the way in which even the best intentioned Whites ignored their own idols while condeming tribal religions.
Reflecting on the news about the Hills led me to Colossians 3:5,
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
Bishop Hare, to his credit, confronted and reported these expressions of White savagery and idolatry in the region - the rape and pimping of Native women; the frenzied greed of the gold seekers whose endeavors led to the theft of the Black Hills.
But the damage is still with us. For many Lakota (and other Native Americans), Jesus will always be “the White man’s god,” the idol of interlopers and thieves. Many historic Reservation chapels are out of use; some Christian Lakota have reverted to tribal religion, although many, many more have lost all faith and spirituality. Their ancestral spirits didn’t help them and the White man’s god is not an option.
In the long run, coercion in the name of religion is as counterproductive as coercion in the service of any empire or ideology. You can stomp all over a group of people, take their stuff, impose your way of life at their expense, and on down the line they will hate you and delight in your fall and humiliation.
Manifestly unschooled by history, Islam rises up as today’s global savage. It is spreading, in some places not so much by force as by immigration, higher birth rates and through some conversion of Westerners disgusted with our own decadence. But Islam’s main impact is via terror and violence.
You can tell me about its wonderful calligraphy and architecture. You can eulogize its reputed heyday in math and science. You can invoke the monumentally stupid Muslim and Western liberal excuse that it’s only violent because of the Crusades. You can point out the plausible idea that most Muslims are just work-a-day folks like the rest of us, just trying to get by and not wrapped up in all the global drama.
But for me, Islam will always be the religion of 9/11; of leering idiots beheading fellow human beings in front of a camera; of suicide bombers; of lay abouts turned into flash mobs; of creativity and action applied to death and destruction instead of building communities and economies; of constant whining about and disproportionate avenging of perceived insults. Its Prophet will always be the huckster of a dysfunctional desert culture with a throwback god of petty rules and monstrous bloodlust. There’s a shiny new Islamic Center here in Sioux Falls, and I just roll my eyes every time I pass by. It will always strike me as a kind of blight, just as much as a crack house or strip bar.
I offer no fix for human savagery. The older I get, the more I recognize the reality - always current - of our Lord’s words in Matthew 24,
“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
May those of us who belong to Christ endure. May our love for God and neighbor stay warm in this cold hearted, savage world of sin.
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