Disciple’s theology trended toward a nationalistic identity from the beginning. However, if we were to choose a defining moment when theology and nationalism became one, it would lie in the moment when Disciples voted to open a Boarding School on the Yakama Reservation. In 1919, at the International Convention in Cincinnati, we Disciples approved monies to the American Christian Missionary Society (ACMS) to construct a Yakama Boarding School. In turn, ACMS approved “a sum of money for work among the Yakimas” in 1920. By June 1920 “[t]he cornerstone of the first cottage…was laid.” And in 1921 Disciples first (and only) Boarding School, the American Tepee Christian Mission, opened.
Disciples nationalism is apparent when W.F. Turner—the primary Disciple organizer of the Boarding School—writes that the Yakama live in a “backward and undeveloped condition,” who preferences “his old paganism,” but whom is also “easily controlled.” To control the Yakama, the American Tepee Christian Mission set three primary goals for Yakama children who attended the Mission: civilize by teaching the virtues of plowing, farming, ranching, sewing, and cooking; further civilize by learning the White way of thinking by way of busing children “back and forth [to the public school] in an autobus;” and have “most of the Yakimas [children adopt]…the faith our new home represents.”
We could choose to believe Disciples nationalistic theology is an evil of another era. However, when we chose to “have a share in the work of evangelizing the American Indian” we also shared in traumatizing Yakama children—a trauma, historical in nature, which, today, resides in the lives of too many Yakama people. Recognizing this lingering evil matters for Disciples because we can then claim a descriptive identity that is better than that of being a movement for wholeness. When Disciples begin an intentional process of dealing with their historical under and overtones of nationalism. When Disciples begin listening closely to the voices—Indigenous as well as Black, LatinX, and Asian/Pacific Islander—whom their actions impacted. They can then claim an identity of honor and truth by finally recognizing their true identity as a fragmented movement for wholeness.