The multicultural Synod of the Southwest is comprised of four presbyteries spanning the states of Arizona and New Mexico with over 21,000 members in 140 churches and 14 chapels. Cook Native American Ministries Foundation (Tempe, AZ), Menaul School (Albuquerque, NM), and Ghost Ranch Conference Center (Abiquiu, NM) are all within the bounds of the Synod. One of the primary missions of the Synod of the Southwest is to serve as a connectional resource to its presbyteries particularly in leadership development.
As protesters across the country continue to raise awareness of the injustices levied against people of color, the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is also is taking action to address the injustices that have impacted Indigenous people for centuries.
The Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, has issued a Call to Action urging mid councils and congregations to take steps to recognize failure by the U.S. to uphold the rights, traditions and livelihood of Native Americans, including failures by Protestant denominations.
“One of the most egregious outcomes of all these injustices was, perhaps, the effort to ‘civilize’ these ‘Indians.’ And in this, the church was all too complicit, participating in official government policies of assimilation, which were designed to ‘kill the Indian, save the man,’” said Nelson. “We, as Presbyterians, must own the part of our history that includes tearing Indigenous youth out of their homes, placing them in boarding schools, forcing them to dress like our youth, requiring them to speak English only, and attempting to replace their own spirituality with our ethnocentric version of the Christian faith. Friends, this is not history long past.”
In 2016, the 222nd General Assembly condemned “The Doctrine of Discovery,” which allowed colonial powers to claim lands belonging to its inhabitants during the Age of Discovery. Travelers who represented European Christian monarchs could claim the land if those who lived there were not of the Christian faith.
In recognition of celebration of Native American Day and in an effort for the voices of Native people in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to be heard, the members of the Native American Coordinating Council, Native American Consulting Committee, American Indian Youth Council and the Office of Native American Intercultural Congregational Support hosted two events.
“Native American Day is an annual event celebrating the gifts which Native Americans bring to the Church. An annual worship service is conducted and, while the service will not be held in the Presbyterian Center chapel, that tradition continues,” said the Rev. Irv Porter, Associate for Native American Intercultural Congregational Support.
Porter began the September 23rd service by recognizing that from wherever we might be watching the service, the lands we gathered upon are the homelands of Ingenious people who had and continue to have communal relationships with these places and that theirs were the first prayers and the first songs on the lands. The preacher for the morning worship service was Ruling Elder Elona Street-Stewart, Co-Moderator of the 224th General Assembly (2020). Street-Stewart is the first Indigenous Moderator in the history of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Her message was titled “Living in a Land of Delight, Destiny and Disease.” In her opening remarks, Street-Stewart reminded worshipers that God calls us to repent for the social and spiritual diseases we have inflected upon the land and people.
Along with the Call to Action and the worship service, the Native American Coordinating Council on September 22nd held a “Speak-in” titled “Turning from Anti-Indigenous Practice and Theology in the Church.” The “Speak-in,” a roundtable conversation about the Doctrine of Discovery and how it has affected practices and theology in the church, included panel members Fern Cloud, June Lorenzo, Holly Haile Thompson and Anthony Trujillo, members of the Native American PC(USA) committees.
Cloud, Stated Clerk of Dakota Presbytery, explained that the mural image used for the promotion of the PC(USA) events is painted on the American Indian Community Housing Organization’s (AICHO) new Dr. Robert Powless Cultural Center in downtown Duluth, Minnesota. Cloud says the image represents many of the issues of concern for Native Americans. She says the image represents the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women but also represents the water protectors and Indigenous resistance. “The image acts as a peaceful protest,” she said. Cloud says the bandana worn by the Jingle Dress dancer is a reminder that Indigenous voices often go unheard but Native people are now breaking the silence.
“The Call to Action by our Stated Clerk, the ‘Speak-In’ and the annual Native American Day worship service help the denomination to understand these issues, discuss them and work toward confession and repentance of our country’s treatment of her Indigenous people,” said Porter.
In his Call to Action, Nelson writes, “It is time for all of us to repent of the ways in which we have ignored and intensified the struggles of our Indigenous American siblings and neighbors.” For more than half a millennium, they have tenaciously and creatively fought against genocidal programs of territorial and spiritual conquest. Their modes of resistance have been manifested in music, art, law, and economics, as well as theological interventions. Recall the spiritual and territorial protests we have recently witnessed at Standing Rock.”
Nelson says many mid councils and congregations are located on lands taken from Indigenous nations. He adds that Presbyterians should give priority to histories of the people whose land was seized.
“We must give deep consideration to how our churches and communities were formed in relation and/or opposition to the Indigenous peoples of the region and begin ever so carefully to discern the nature of that relationship today,” Nelson said. “In doing so, we must be mindful that any disease toward the church that we may perceive in Indigenous communities has everything to do with the disease of white supremacy and anti-Indigenous practice that is as pervasive in the church as it is in the society at large.”
In June, the 224th General Assembly approved a report that included a series of recommendations as to how the church can stand in solidarity with Indigenous nations in the fight for sovereignty and human rights.
“This is far more than a call to recognize Indigenous peoples in one moment or on one day. Indeed, the Call to Action before us is a long-term call to unsettle and decolonize a church deeply intertwined in racist, settler-colonial systems of white supremacy,” said Nelson. “Let us bring to the fore our commitment to true justice and stand in solidarity with all Indigenous peoples in their efforts for sovereignty and human rights.”
I write on behalf of the Native American Ministries Coordinating Committee (NAMCC) of the Synod of the Southwest to ask for your support of its Native American (including the Navajo Nation) Relief for Churches and Families Project.
Earlier this year, the Board of the Presbyterian Mission Agency of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (“PMAB”) invited the Synod to submit a proposal to provide relief for our Native American siblings residing in the Synod of the Southwest in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its particularly devasting effect on them. In response, the NAMCC submitted a proposal which the Presbyterian Mission Agency (“PMA”) through its Presbyterian Disaster Assistance program (“PDA”) approved and agreed to provide $250,000 in funding toward this Project. The Synod of the Southwest subsequently approved $25,000 toward this Project, as well. The total anticipated cost of the Project is $372,000, of which the Synod, in conjunction with the Presbytery of Grand Canyon, must raise an additional $97,000 in monetary donations, food, supplies and logistical support.
The Project will provide support to the 29 Native American Churches and Chapels located within the bounds of the Synod of the Southwest over the 6-month period beginning July 1, 2020 by:
We ask that you share this giving opportunity with your governing councils, members of your congregations and your friends.
If the desire it to provide a monetary donation, it can be given online by going to the website of the Presbytery of Grand Canyon, clicking on the Give Now button and following the directions to give, noting it is for Navajo Support. I would note that giving in this manner will be used not just for support of our Native American siblings on the Navajo Nation, but also the many other Native American Communities throughout the Synod. Monetary donations may also be made by sending a check or money order (no cash please) to the Synod of the Southwest, 5901 Wyoming Blvd. NE – #J-319, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87109 and indicating that it is for the Native American Relief Project.
If there is a desire to provide logistical support (including hosting a site for the collection and packaging of the food/supply packages – which could be a different location each month) and/or food and supplies, please contact Sharon Yates at 520.791.9600 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Conrad Rocha at 505.238.9311 or email@example.com to discuss the details of how that will be accomplished.
If you wish to learn more, please click on the following link to see the Native American (including the Navajo Nation) Relief for Churches and Families Project proposal or contact either Sharon or Conrad.
Thank you for taking this request into consideration.
Ruling Elder Nelson Capitan, Moderator
Native American Ministries Coordinating Committee, Synod of the Southwest
The Criminalization of Protest
By Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, Director of the Office of Public Witness PC(U.S.A.), and Langley Hoyt, Fellow for Domestic IssuesIn the weeks following the death of George Floyd, as protestors continue to fill the streets with largely peaceful demonstrations, police continue to retaliate with shows of force and militarization. The violence police use against Black Lives Matter protestors stems from a long history of police attacking marginalized groups advocating for their rights. This is the modern-day iteration of a historical pattern of police violence against peaceful protest. To protect the civil rights of the American people, the police must be reoriented to adopt more appropriate measures in response to demonstrations which pose no threat of violence.Rather than moving to protect the rights of peaceful protestors, lawmakers in various states have passed 23 laws criminalizing and restricting the right to protest. These laws further protect violent police forces while allowing the prosecution of Americans for practicing their first amendment rights. This is a move in the wrong direction as local police departments must be de-militarized. De-militarization calls for an end to the transference of military equipment along with additional levels of staff training in de-escalation. Police should be accompanied by experienced staff with expertise in de-escalation as well as mental health proficiency. Officers should be able to deliver first aid assistance to those injured by their actions and undergo an independent investigation whenever deadly force is used. Information on officers with a history of violence towards the public should be shared if they are fired and reapply elsewhere.The use of police violence to silence dissenting voices of protest is a pattern woven into the history of our country. In 1917, suffragettes who were peacefully picketing outside the White House were arrested, tortured, and imprisoned until the following year. Peaceful labor protests were suppressed by violence for over a century from 1874-1974. On July 28, WWI veterans, the Bonus Army, were battered, beaten and murdered by the U.S. Army when they set up tents in Washington D.C. demanding bonus pay. From Montgomery and Birmingham (Alabama) to Albany (Georgia), Civil Rights protests were met with violence and death. On “Bloody Sunday” in 1965, police attacked Civil Rights protestors in Selma, Alabama with high-power hoses and dogs. Martin Luther King Jr. described the Birmingham police force as using “gestapo-like” methods to combat protestors. After his murder, Lyndon B. Johnson pleaded with local governors and mayors to curtail police violence. According to the Smithsonian, he said, “I’m not getting through… They’re all holing up like generals in a dugout getting ready to watch a war.” Police killed a total of 9 college students and wounded 48 others during peaceful protests at Orangeburg College (February 8, 1968), Kent State University (May 4, 1970) and Jackson State College (May 15, 1970). In 2016, the police used pepper spray and tear gas against unarmed Indigenous activists protesting the Dakota Access pipeline. State-sanctioned violence against protestors has continued seamlessly from the early 1900s, through the Civil Rights Era, and into the current decade.
We must de-militarize the police to prevent the future mistreatment of peaceful protestors. This can be achieved by cutting funding to police budgets that provide inadequate training and military-grade weaponry. The money saved can be used to fund community programs proven to reduce crime and provide greatly needed resources to communities. Alex S. Vitale, professor of sociology, coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College, and the author of The End of Policing, recommended in The Guardian, “The alternative is not more money for police training programs, hardware or oversight. It is to dramatically shrink their function. We must demand that local politicians develop non-police solutions to the problems poor people face. We must invest in housing, employment and healthcare in ways that directly target the problems of public safety. Instead of criminalizing homelessness, we need publicly financed supportive housing; instead of gang units, we need community-based anti-violence programs, trauma services and jobs for young people; instead of school police we need more counselors, after-school programs, and restorative justice programs… Instead of giving them more money for pointless training programs, let’s divert that money into building up communities and individuals so we don’t ‘need’ violent and abusive policing.”
Jesus himself de-escalated a violent encounter in the Garden of Gethsemane as he was arrested by Roman soldiers. Matthew 26:50-56 says, “Then (the soldiers) came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.’”
As peaceful protests continue to be met by police violence, it is essential for Christians to recognize that they follow a person of color who was arrested and killed by Roman keepers of the law. Even as he was being led away to be crucified, Jesus encouraged those he met to be peacemakers rather than resorting to violence to solve the problems of their time. Jesus’ message translates clearly into a calling for the current day: we must not use violence to uphold the power of the state, and we must advocate for a just world where peace is a reality for all.
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