We Need to Be Careful About Who We Venerate

There have been two recent examples of misplaced religious veneration; both examples insult Native Americas.

The first example involves a book recently published by Deseret Book, a LDS publishing firm, and written by Clark B. Hinckley.  The book–titled Christopher Columbus:  A Man among the Gentiles–alleges that Columbus was inspired in his trans-Atlantic missions.  According to the Deseret News, a LDS newspaper:

The key to understanding Columbus is found in the Book of Mormon, Hinckley said.  He sites 1 Nephi 13:12, in which the prophet Nephi describes a man among the Gentiles who is wrought upon by the Holy Ghost and inspired to go forth upon the many waters.

Similarly, Columbus, a deeply religious man, recorded that he felt the hand of the Lord opened his mind to the fact that it was possible to sail to new lands.

The problem with this assessment is with the events that followed Columbus’ discovery.  The Deseret News rightly acknowledges the genocide of Native Americans which followed.  And Hinckley states:

Columbus opened up the new world . . . but we shouldn’t blame him for everything that other people did wrong.

Which is true.  However, we need to be careful about alleging that his explorations were divinely inspired by a God who can predict (or at least intuit) the future.  Let’s have some serious compassion for what eventually happened to the Native American populations in the New World.  Hinckley’s book is ill-conceived and poorly timed.

The second example is the recent proposal by Pope Francis to declare Father Junipero Serra a saint during his upcoming September visit to the United States.  The Pope recently referred to the 18th-century Franciscan priest as “one of the founding fathers of the United States” and praised his willingness to abandon the comforts and privileges of his native Spain to spread the Catholic message to the New World.

According to the LA Times:

In California, Serra has been criticized by Native American activists for his role in a Spanish colonial system that mistreated and displaced indigenous people, and some have accused him of forcing people to convert to Catholicism.  The state Senate voted last month to replace a statue of Serra in the U.S. Capitol with astronaut Sally Ride.

Professor Robert Senkewicz of Santa Clara University, a Jesuit school, indicated that Serra is being canonized because “on balance, [he did] more good than none good.”  Which seems like a pretty low threshold for sainthood.

Historian Steven Hackel, a professor at UC Riverside, noted that:

What [apologists] are trying to say is that Serra protected indigenous people from soldiers and settlers, and things would have been a lot worse without him.  There’s very much truth in that . . . but the other side of the equation was what did those missions . . . mean for tens of thousands of Indians.

After Serra died in 1784, conditions worsened, with many Native Americans deaths and a general ethnocide occurring.  Unfortunately most of history is written by the dominant culture, and the events described in history books frequently give short shift to minority cultures.

Deseret Book and Pope Francis (who I greatly admire) need to develop more cultural sensitivity.  There was a genocide in the Americas and we need to be careful who we venerate.

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13 Responses to We Need to Be Careful About Who We Venerate

  1. shematwater says:

    Just out of curiosity, who do you think Nephi saw among the Gentiles who crossed the waters to discover the America’s and cause others to follow him?

  2. rogerdhansen says:

    I don’t know. But if God had a premonition about what was to follow Columbus’ “discovery,” do you really think he would have inspired Columbus to go forward? How do you explain the genocide that followed Columbus and Serra? My latest post on promptings of the Spirit tries to deal with this difficult issue.

    We need to view Columbus in some context. We need to view Serra in some context. We need to be careful about who we claim is inspired and who we declare a saint.

    It isn’t really important who “Nephi saw among the Gentiles.” While the discovery of the New World may have been a blessing for the Europeans, it was a disaster for the Native Americans. We need to be sensitive to their pain.

  3. shematwater says:

    “It isn’t really important who “Nephi saw among the Gentiles.”

    So the meaning of prophecy isn’t important. Why then give the prophecy in the first place?

    ” But if God had a premonition about what was to follow Columbus’ “discovery,” do you really think he would have inspired Columbus to go forward? How do you explain the genocide that followed Columbus and Serra?”

    I know God would. It was part of the prophecy. 1 Nephi 13: 14
    “And it came to pass that I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise; and I beheld the wrath of God, that it was upon the seed of my brethren; and they were scattered before the Gentiles and were smitten.”

    God knew exactly what was going to happen, because he had already planned it and it was supposed to happen. I am not saying we should not be sensitive to the feelings of others, but our sensitivity should never lead us to deny the decrees of God.

  4. rogerdhansen says:

    Shem, I can’t tell if you’re serious (or not). But I will assume that you are.

    You’re talking about the God of the OT. A God, I don’t understand. A God who killed all the people on Earth except Noah (and his entourage), etc.

    Frankly, I’m more of a NT kind of guy. I have trouble believing in a God who would knowing commit genocide and ethnocide. The Native Americans were no more sinful than the Europeans who eclipsed them. Considering Mormonism “unique” relationship with the Lamanites, the ideas that you are expounding have no part in my belief structure.

    I spend a lot of time in the Navajo Nation. I sorrow for their losses and for the ethnocide that is occurring. They are a wonderful people and we need to respect their history and the losses that have occurred at the hands of our European culture.

    Deseret Book and Pope Frances are both dead wrong. Very wrong. Brother Hinckley should have known better. Pope Frances should have known better. Deseret Book is just a purveyor of Mormon kitsch and I don’t expect anything from them except junk.

  5. shematwater says:

    I am very serious, and I don’t see any difference between the God of the Old Testament and that of the New. They are one God who is unchanging and thus has always been the same. The idea that you can separate the two makes no sense to me.

    As to the level of sin on either side, I leave that to God to determine. I only know that God decreed that the Lamanites would be scourged and driven by the Gentiles because of the wickedness of the Lamanites. To deny this is to deny the word of God.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      Mormon humorist Robert Kirby (May 15, 2015) got it right when he noted “the glaring differences in [God’s] management style between the OT (fear-based faith) and the NT (love-based faith) . . .” Kirby’s observation would be readily confirmed my the majority of biblical scholars (including those at BYU).

      And I don’t believe for a second, that the sins of the fathers and mothers are inherited by their offspring. Today’s Native Americans are not cursed. They are a wonderful people.

  6. shematwater says:

    “And I don’t believe for a second, that the sins of the fathers and mothers are inherited by their offspring.”

    I never said they were, but to deny that the children suffer the wrath of God because of their parents is to deny the scriptures. It is stated over ten times in the scriptures (Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants) that God will visit his wrath on the children, even unto the third and fourth generation. However, in His love and mercy God turns away his wrath from that generation that repents. That was the promise that God made to Lehi and to later prophets among the Nephites. The Lamanites, for their wickeness, would be driven by the gentiles. But, as soon as they repented and turned back to God they would begin to blossom like the rose.

    “the glaring differences in [God’s] management style between the OT (fear-based faith) and the NT (love-based faith) . . .”

    There is a marked difference between how God deals with the faithful who put their full trust in Him, and how he deals with those who murmur and vex Him. Anyone who says the wrath of God that instills fear is absent in the New Testament doesn’t understand it; and anyone who says the love and mercy of God inspires faith is absent from the Old Testament doesn’t understand it. I really don’t care what their credentials are.
    God is the same, unchanging God. How He interacts with and chastises His people in one age is the same as in another; and how He teaches and blesses His people in one age is the same as in another. To say otherwise is to once again deny the scriptures and to teach a partial and changing God.

  7. rogerdhansen says:

    According to BY, God is progressing. So he is changing.

    But that doesn’t explain the differences between the God of the OT and the God of the NT. Since what I believe is Christ-centered, I place little importance on the OT and all the craziness it contains.

    And I don’t believe that God is actively stirring the earthly pot. Truth is more important myth. And the OT, particularly Genesis is full of myths, fiction, allegories, parables, etc. So I think it best not to take the OT too seriously. Some of it may be good literature and there may be a few nuggets of wisdom, but in general, we can ignore it without loss to our faith.

    Back to the point, Columbus wasn’t inspired and Catholic monks (while thinking they were doing good) probably did more harm than good. A genocide occurred and we need to respect the victims of that genocide. Deseret Book and Pope Francis should now better than to honor the “victors” and continue the humiliation of those who were conquered.

  8. shematwater says:

    To call Genesis a myth and allegory requires one to reject a large portion of the New Testament (including much regarding Christ), the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. To claim a faith in the any of the scriptures while denying the reality of the Old Testament is a contradiction and will do great harm to the faith.

    As to your point, Columbus was inspired by God, as is testified to in the Book of Mormon. It is also testified by many leading figures in the Church today, and has been printed in church literature for many years.
    In 1992 the church gave great honor to Columbus in celebration of the five hundred years since his voyage. President Hinckley declared that he was inspired in undertake his voyage (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1992/10/building-your-tabernacle?lang=eng&query=christopher+columbus+and+the+holy+ghost) and the Ensign featured an article detailing his life and voyage (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1992/10/columbus-and-the-hand-of-god?lang=eng&query=christopher+columbus#pop_001-92910_000_003).
    Orson Hyde, in the Journal of Discourses, declares that Columbus was inspired and wrought upon by the spirit (http://www.journalofdiscourses.com/11/5).
    With so many testimonies from the inspired leaders of the church telling us that Columbus was a man lead by the spirit, why should we doubt its truth?

  9. rogerdhansen says:

    We should have some respect for the Native American who came out on the short end of the stick. That’s all I’m saying. We should rethink Columbus Day and knock off the preaching that Columbus and early Catholic padres were inspired and should be treated like saints. Native American populations were decimated. There was a genocide. For a church that feels it has a special relationship with Native American, we show remarkably little sensitivity.

    The concept of God has evolved noticably from the OT to NT to JS/BY. I guess each generation was given what it could handle and understand. With the NT and the further amplifications that JS/BY provided, the OT is no longer relevant to our understanding of the nature of God. A de-emphasis of the OT is something that needs to happen. Too many Mormons take it as literal history and science. And much of the doctrine in the book is outdated and questionable. Just ask President Eyring. His father, a brilliant scientist, worked hard to combat many of the antiquated concepts in the OT.

    Let’s agree to disagree.

  10. shematwater says:

    I have never denied anyone their right to disagree. But their right to disagree does not make them right, nor does it make the leaders of the church wrong. You can disagree with truth all you want, but it will never turn out well in the end.

    As to the American Indian, I have great respect for them, and I always will. But that respect does not diminish my respect and honor of Christopher Columbus. Nor does my respect of Columbus diminish my respect of the American Indian. The two are not mutually exclusive.

  11. rogerdhansen says:

    While it’s slightly off subject, we need to remember the LDS Church leaders have been wrong a lot in the past. But that is beside the point. Columbus’s action lead directly to a holocaust, thus we should not go too far in our veneration. At this point in time, for Deseret Book to publish a book indicating that Columbus was inspired is just plain wrong. Both Deseret Book and the LDS PR department are tone deaf. Let’s have a little sensitivity and little less racism.

    • shematwater says:

      There is nothing racist in honoring the man that opened the western hemisphere to the rest of the world. There is a point were sensitivity turns into manipulation, and I think we have passed that point. Or should we stop honoring the great Indian chiefs because of the massacres and mutilations they committed against our ancestors?

      As I said, I have great respect for the Indians and their culture. I also have great respect for Christopher Columbus and his culture. Respecting one should not require me to denigrate the other. To claim that perpetuates racism more than honoring both ever will.

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