If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. – 1 Corinthians 13:1
The news cycle of the last few weeks has been full of Presidential election coverage, Epi-pens, Colin Kaepernick, and yesterday, the death of Gene Wilder (because, apparently, 2016 hasn’t taken enough of the greats already). These stories are all important, but I worry that one story in particular is being woefully under-reported. Weeks ago the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and its allies set up camp near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, to protest construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline. This pipeline “…could carry more than 400,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the Bakken region of western North Dakota across South Dakota and Iowa to connect with an existing pipeline in Illinois”*. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe claims that the Army Corp of Engineers and Energy Transfer Partners did not provide adequate opportunity for Native Peoples to determine the impact the pipeline might have on tribal lands and the environment. When the Army Corps issued a huge batch of permits in July, the protests began. As a result, construction on a section of the pipeline has been halted while a District Court Judge considers whether or not to reconsider the permits that have been issued.
This ongoing protest is only the most recent in a many hundred year old attempt by Native Peoples to have their voices heard by a nation and government who routinely ignores their existence and their sovereignty. The genocide of Native People, and the disregard for Native rights and lands is one of America’s oldest and most lasting shames. Interestingly enough, this history was a topic of discussion at the ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly a few weeks ago. Gathered in New Orleans, the Assembly approved a memorial repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery; a disgusting policy that began with a Papal Bull in 1493, which stated that “…any land not inhabited by Christians was available to be ‘discovered,’ claimed, and exploited by Christian rulers and declared that ‘the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself’”**. In the 19th century the US would adopt the Doctrine of Discovery as law to govern its expansion west.
It’s incredible to me that it has taken so long for major church bodies to repudiate such a horrific directive. Nonetheless, I am very proud that the church body I am currently a part of did just that. As the Church, our words matter, and it is vitally important that as a community we name, acknowledge, and repent of our institutional sins. That is where we start. But we cannot stop there, and the cynical side of me has doubts about the whether or not the Church will use it’s pulpit and its voice to bring attention to the ongoing fight in North Dakota. Make no mistake, this fight is a spiritual matter. This fight is about more than just energy policy, or the legality of a pipeline. It is about the ongoing oppression of a people. It is about the idolatry of profit and money. And it is about the stewardship of God’s sacred creation.
If the Church (I speak particularly of the ELCA because that is where I am affiliated) is going to do the good work of denouncing policies and doctrines that have led directly to a people’s oppression, than they must identify and call it out when it continues to happen, or risk becoming the noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. To be clear, the ELCA American Indian/Alaskan Native Lutheran Association released a beautiful statement in support of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe (which you can read on their Facebook page), but I suspect that many congregants within the ELCA, especially at predominantly white congregations, are completely unaware of this group’s existence. Furthermore, in a denomination as overwhelmingly white as the ELCA, it is vitally important that issues of racial justice and Native rights be spoken of by the most public voices within the church. History has shown that issues of racial justice in America require the support of white citizens before change occurs. I wonder, how many of our white congregations have heard this issue spoken about by their pastor on a Sunday? How many congregations have been made aware of the many ways we could support this movement? As of this writing I could not find anything in the way of a statement of support on the ELCA’s website (Granted their website is a serious burden to navigate. I hope someone can prove me wrong and find something I could not.). I am hopeful that our leaders will acknowledge that this is an issue that requires some very direct and ardent attention and support. However, we must acknowledge that we also share that duty. We are the Church, and it is just as much the congregants responsibility to advocate for justice, as it is leadership’s. Take the opportunity to begin a conversation at your church home. Talk with your Pastor, church council, social ministry committee, and anyone who will listen. Seek out ways that you can support the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, and Native communities across the country. Let’s back up our words with meaningful action and advocacy. Let the world know that as Christians we stand with the oppressed and the persecuted. Let us not become the noisy gong or the clanging cymbal. I believe we can be better than that.
If you would like to support the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, here are a few ways you can help:
- Go to the ELCA American Indian/Alaska Native Lutheran Association’s Facebook page and let them know you’d like to add your name to the letter of support.
- Go to http://standingrock.org/ and donate to the Dakota Access Pipeline Fund to assist with legal, sanitary, and emergency purposes.
- Help to keep the conversation going! Your voice matters.