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Columbus the Last Crusader

Christopher Columbus, so brave and true, sailed the mighty ocean blue, in fourteen hundred and ninety-two, and found a land so bright and new! Or so the hagiography goes. Brian Walsh and Rick Middleton in their book, Truth is Stranger Than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age make the case for reimagining the heroic Columbus narrative in the light of the Indigenous perspective that saw the 1492 “discovery of America” in a completely different way. George Grant in his book, The Last Crusader: The Untold Story of Christopher Columbus reveals the context of his voyage - immediately following the reconquista, the Christian retaking of the Iberian peninsula from the Muslim Moors.

October 12, 1492, is a day that shall live in infamy for Indigenous people of Turtle Island. Columbus Day is celebrated in the US on the second Monday of October each year (coinciding with Canadian Thanksgiving). To Indigenous people Columbus represents invasion, not glorious discovery. Some states have chosen to rename and refocus the holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day. These differing perspectives have added fuel to the culture war fires with passionate arguments for commemorating achievement or recognizing the inauguration of catastrophe.

In a family, which the Church claims to be, differing opinions doesn’t mean you are not in the family.

Instead of a fractious either/or debate with winners and losers in the argument, I would like us to consider a both/and perspective. Both views have valid points and both can be true. In a family, which the Church claims to be, differing opinions doesn’t mean you are not in the family. Just because I don’t like the way my brother supports a different political party than I do doesn’t mean he is not my brother. We still eat together. We still drink coffee together. We still talk about issues together. I still listen to him preach in his church.

Canada has begun to face its complicity in the colonial project, that Columbus represents, in the 2015 Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and its 94 Calls to Action. Survivors of Canada’s Indian Residential School (IRS) system won a multi-billion dollar lawsuit against Canada and collaborating churches in 2007 and called for the TRC in their settlement. Seven national events were held across Canada (Winnipeg, Vancouver, Halifax, Inuvik, Montreal, Saskatoon, and Edmonton) where IRS survivors told their stories to more than 155,000 witness visitors. 

The 94 Calls to Action of the TRC gave clear instruction from the Indigenous community to Canada and Canadians to live out the apology for Indian Residential Schools that Prime Minister Stephen Harper made on June 11, 2008. Child welfare agencies and workers, lawyers, educators, health workers, government politicians and bureaucrats, and church leaders, seminaries, and denominations, were all addressed in the practical solutions put forward by the commission. The Christian Reformed Churches in Canada responded to the TRC as follows on March 30, 2016:

On June 1, 2015 The Christian Reformed churches in Canada expressed a commitment to Action for Reconciliation at the closing ceremonies of the TRC. This solemn commitment was in continuity with our signing of the New Covenant with Aboriginal People (1987/2007) that honours (among other things): distinct Indigenous identity and self-determination; the special connection of Indigenous people to land; and affirming the moral and spiritual nature of covenant and Indigenous rights as “touching the very soul and heart of Canada.” In the spirit of these sacred commitments, in reliance on God our

Creator, and in relationships with our Indigenous neighbours, the Christian Reformed Church will:

  • engage with our congregations in a process of learning and dialogue on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People as a framework for reconciliation;

  • engage in continuing discernment on the implications of the Declaration for the way we practice mission and social justice in concert with our ongoing discussions on the Doctrine of Christian Discovery;

  • and engage in education and advocacy efforts to honour Indigenous self-determination, diversity, and rights.

We are blessed that God our Creator can take our sin and brokenness and work them to his glory and the good of all – this is the reconciliation of all things promised in the book of Colossians (1:15-20). The Christian Reformed Church can truly lament with Indigenous people and the Christian community and work together for the journey that is healing and reconciliation. 

I am so thankful for the work my CRC colleague and friend Mike Hogeterp did while working for the Centre for Public Dialogue. Together with other CRC justice colleagues, Indigenous and Settler, they fostered Hearts Exchanged, an Indigenous education and heart transformation program. In three years over four hundred participants in Canada have been through this two-hour monthly encounter after preparing by doing two to four hours homework. Hearts have melted and relationships have been forged and strengthened in the process. I am happy for all the Indigenous allies I meet and work with now.

A draft US Senate Bill I was asked to comment on, concerns a similar commission to investigate the US Indian boarding school policy’s impact gives me encouragement that the truth will find its way to the hilltops as it did in Canada. However, a concern comes from knowing that Indigenous people in the US are in a country that is at least ten times larger and therefore even more invisible. Martin Luther King said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” May that arc bend the ear of America to justice for my Indigenous family!

The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

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