James Treat, editor,
Native & Christian:
Indigenous Voices on Religious Identity
in the United States & Canada

(Routledge, 1996)

Native & Christian is a collection of 21 essays written by various authors on the topic of Christianity and Native Americans. The book is divided into four major sections: "Spirituality and History," "Liberation and Culture," "Tradition and Community" and "Transformation and Survival." As indicated by the section titles, the book covers many periods and aspects of Native Christianity, from the time that missionaries first encountered natives to modern day.

I like the wide variety of tribes, belief systems and ages represented here. It provides a strong cross-section of Native Americans throughout the country and illustrates both their similarities and their differences.

Most of the essays explain one or more problem areas between Christianity and Native American beliefs and offer solutions. For example, some areas of conflict occur because the Native Americans are community-minded, while the white community is based more upon the individual. Natives have a difficult time understanding and accepting the theory of sin in a biblical way. That continues to be a major problem in converting traditionalists. They see wrongdoing as a shortcoming of the entire community instead of the individual.

One author, a native Hawaiian, summed up the biggest problem between the two cultures: "For me, and many others like me, the challenge of the future to the Christian church, and especially to the Episcopal Church, is to create a nurturing and accepting environment that allows me to belong to the church without having to check my cultural identity at the door of the cathedral before entering."

Natives are often expected to deny their own cultures and traditions to adopt those of white Christians, some writers argue, while most Christian Natives integrate their own backgrounds and culture into their faith. It is interesting to read the variations. Typically, the writers use anecdotes or historical stories to illustrate their points; after all, the native culture is based on oral traditions.

The most powerful essay in the book, for me, is the one written by William Baldridge, a Cherokee professor of ministries and cross-cultural theology. He explains how, in the beginning, the Daughter of God took care of the people and kept them fed. They decided she was a witch and killed her. Then, the whites came along and explained about the Son of God and how he was killed. The Cherokees readily identified with the tale. Baldridge states: "When we recall how we have abused those whom the Creator has sent to us, we find ourselves looking with less hate and more compassion toward those who have abused us."

If you have any interest in Native American beliefs and religions, this is a solid book to read. It contains a variety of voices, styles and tones. The short chapters have divisions that make it ideal for the person who does not have enough time to read an entire book in one sitting. I found it quite intellectually stimulating.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 8 May 2004

Buy it from Amazon.com.