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Native Americans and African Americans challenge religious life. The Interplay of Adaptation and Preservation. I. Converting non-White Populations. The English generally wavered in their opinions as to whether or not to convert both the Native American populations in their midst

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native americans and african americans challenge religious life

Native Americans and African Americans challenge religious life

The Interplay of Adaptation and Preservation

i converting non white populations
I. Converting non-White Populations
  • The English generally wavered in their opinions as to whether or not to convert both the Native American populations in their midst
  • Attempts were made, somewhat haphazardly by both Anglicans and Puritans to convert Native Americans
    • The Anglicans founded the Society of the Propagation of the Bible in Foreign Parts to minister to the native population, which spent most of its time trying to draw Puritans back into the mother church
    • The Puritans created “praying towns”, the intention of which was to separate Native Americans from their tribes and tribal customs in order to strip them of all that was un-Christian, read: uncivilized
i converting non white populations3
I. Converting non-White Populations
  • The African population posed a different kind of issue: how can Whites do their Christian duty and preach to them the “freeing” message of the gospel and still keep them legally shackled? Thus any attempt made to convert was usually hesitant
    • Baptism became the lightning rod, being that it initiated membership into the Body of Christ, equalizing all its members in the eyes of God
    • Responding to this, Francis Le Jau “insisted that slave converts make a public statement that they would not use their Christian baptism as an occasion to demand freedom from the bonds of slavery” (64)
  • In spite of this, the African tribal past of slaves was kept alive and intact in many of the rituals they continued to practice, i.e. rites of passage/initiation
ii evangelical missionary efforts
II. Evangelical Missionary Efforts
  • Evangelicalism made inroads into the African American population In ways that Anglicanism and Puritanism could not
  • Several reasons for this were that:
    • Most preachers were itinerant, allowing them to reach slave populations by going to them
    • Emphasis on experience of personal conversion over education, which made real the possibility for African Americans to become preachers; “vocation” was measured by the work of God’s spirit within oneself
    • Allowance for physical and emotional exercise; this allowed for many African tribal elements to be retained in Christian practice (i.e. the ring shout)
ii evangelical missionary efforts5
II. Evangelical Missionary Efforts
  • Evangelicals’ attempts to convert Native Americans were often muddled with a desire for their land; yet, they did not have to worry about the legal implications of such attempts in the way that they did with African Americans
  • Nonetheless, prejudice colored much of the attempts: they saw nothing salvageable about Native traditions and often used such traditions to define their own degree of “civilized-ness”
iii politics and pushing back
III. Politics and Pushing Back
  • In the years following the Revolutionary War, Native Americans experienced some of the most brutal treatment
    • In 1838, Andrew Jackson mandated the transplantation of Native Americans to Oklahoma Territory, a journey known as “the trail of tears” during which many native people perished
  • Yet this period also played host to some of the most vital attempts at rebellion against such treatment
    • In New York, Handsome Lake, an Iroquois who experienced powerful visions, enjoined his native brethren to cast aside European customs and return to traditional practice
    • In a more militant turn, the Cherokee adopted the “ghost dance”, intended to bring about and represent apocalyptic change, whereby the Europeans, along with their influence, would be wiped out
iii politics and pushing back7
III. Politics and Pushing Back
  • For African Americans, the War of Independence highlighted further the discrepancies “between the rhetoric of freedom and equality and the brutality of the slave system” (70)
  • In response, African Americans had begun their own responsive movement, using the very Protestant Christianity that had been so reluctantly preached to them
    • Albert Raboteau refers to this as “the invisible institution” (see reference on p. 74)
  • Along with rituals and traditions that arose as distinctive to African American Christianity, new denominations, such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church, developed in order to combat the racial prejudice occurring within white denominations