Grasping one’s identity is never easy in today’s systemic market driven world. Anyone who is tied to a cherished institution, like a church, synagogue, or mosque, knows the institution, to some extent, shapes their identity. When one’s relationship with an institution becomes generational, the shaping of identity is all the greater. More so, institutions shape family and community identity as well. This is why community must constantly question institutional structure.
In generational institutions, like that of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), sorting out problematic identity is not easy. Typically, US institutions, over generations, have built walls to mask the intent or the beneficiaries of their original formation. Not surprising, many of today’s constituents who most benefit from institutional values of an earlier era are not aware of their advantage because of the masking. One way to break through the mask is to observe the institution through a set of non-constituent lenses. For the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) one set of lenses that have yet to be used is that of indigeneity.
One example of considering Disciples current structure through Indigenous lenses reveals a particularly nationalistic identity. By taking a step back to Campbell’s “The Destiny of Our Country,” spoken to earlier in Gospel Nationalism, and comparing it to Disciples current statement of Mission, an interesting insight emerges.
Disciples currently say Our Mission is
To be and to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, witnessing, loving and serving from our doorsteps “to the ends of the earth.”
At first blush the statement does not sound bad at all. And if it were not for Disciples General Assembly resolution GA1328 on Eliminating Racist Language from Governing Documents, no one may have questioned the Mission statement for another decade or so. However, when the folk tasked with the monumental chore of questioning racist language in Disciple Governing Documents momentarily considered Disciples mission statement, they noted in their document of recommendations (found in footnote #2),
While the task force did not look at our denomination’s mission statement, even a beloved statement like “from our doorsteps to the ends of the earth” centers Disciples and potentially the United States and Canada, for example, which is antithetical to how we understand ourselves in our global ministries and hopefully in our domestic ministries.
Taking this footnote seriously and applying Indigenous lenses—which naturally seek out environments of American exceptionalism, an unmasking occurs. Unveiled is the mission statement values are based in the Doctrine of Discovery and 1900’s US manifest destiny. This is most easily seen when holding Campbell’s nationalist 1852 “The Destiny of Our Country,” alongside Disciples current mission statement.
“God has given” Disciples the “awful charge” of “Mission” to “share the Good News” of “Protestant America” “from our doorsteps ‘to the ends of the earth’,” and “all of the world.”
From an Indigenous perspective, Disciples mission “To share the Good News…to the ends of the earth” is not one of reciprocity. Rather, the mission statement is inside language lifting up Disciples and holding outsider truth as inconsequential. Lenses of Indigeneity suggests Disciples mission is not one of openness and welcoming and searching for the Good News of outsiders, but rather one of singularity and disunity.
For individuals to re-center and know their created identity once again is to question how their identity has been misshaped by their beloved institutions. For Disciples, one step in this direction is to create paths to hear the truth(s) of Indigenous voice and begin engaging in actions that promote healing.