A LOCAL Clergy looks at the Standing Rock Protests

Recently it was reported that 500 clergy (almost all of them non residents of North Dakota) came to our state to stand in solidarity with the pipeline protestors.  This sort of upsets me, because I am a clergy member who is a resident of North Dakota.  I have a ministry here, they don’t. At first I wondered why these clergy members don’t just serve their own congregations and communities and not spend their time acting as though there aren’t clergy here who can serve this community.

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Photo from The Bismarck Tribune

But then I realized that I AM here and I have not spoken up about this issue, and somebody has to. 

I have hesitated to publicly take a stand on this in part because I don’t know all the details.  I know what I hear, but as any one can tell you there are two sides to every story. 

I also hesitate, because let’s be honest nobody wants to touch a deeply divisive issue for fear of being crucified.  I don’t want to be crucified. 

I also will be the first to admit that I am a middle class white man and my perspectives are without a doubt formed by my experience.  I am not a Native American.  I have not inherited a legacy of being subjugated on land that my great grandfathers fought and died for (well I suppose I have, but my great grandfathers won).  I have not inherited a legacy of segregation onto camps set aside for me and those who look like me.  I have not inherited a legacy of being repeatedly deceived by a federal government which also took care of many of my physical needs, with the intention result of keeping me dependent.

There is a very real history of pain and brokenness and sin that white people like myself will never understand and need to work very hard to listen to. 

But there are always two sides to every story.

And that is the real point.  In any argument or disagreement I find that both sides are usually wrong about something.  We live in a society that is increasingly antagonist and argumentative.  We either “tow the party line” or we get crucified by both sides. 

By the way, that’s literally what happened to Jesus.  Instead of taking a stand with one of the powers of his society, Jesus pointed to the errors in all of them and they all crucified him.  And so, the faithful Christian following his master is likely to be crucified by both sides. I write with deep hesitation, because I must follow him, but I don’t want his fate.   

First, I am begging you not to crucify me, but instead to be willing to understand where all sides might be wrong.  To join me in trying to find the way of Jesus.  

I have long argued that anyone who thinks they are completely right about everything is at first wrong about that.   And I will be first in line to admit that I may be wrong, but I am struggling to find the way of Jesus.  

Let’s talk about some of the facts as I understand them

These things taken together may help us make sense of some of the confusion regarding this issue. 

The national press is presenting a narrative of a Texas Billionaire who is running roughshod over an historically persecuted group of people.  This is certainly an attention grabbing narrative.  Anyone with a heart at all would look and want to engage on behalf of the underdog. 

We simply should not be a civilization that allows that to happen.  In fact, let’s all be honest here, Jesus sought justice on the behalf of the underdog.  Jesus treasured the marginalized and the persecuted.  And Native Americans in this country have been marginalized and persecuted for a few centuries now.

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We white people need to work hard to hear that.  There has been injustice committed to this ethnic group.  We need to read that out loud, and they need to hear us say it – often

Stop right there, you want my next words to be “yes, but.” 

I think it is important that we deeply understand that reality. 

The historically persecuted minority in any society has a right to want their voice heard.  And the socio-political situation right now in America is one where finally after many years, the persecuted are finding a voice. 

This may mean that those in power need to lay down their power.  It may mean that some of the legal rights being protected are unjust legal rights in the first place. After all, most of us will admit that while Native Americans were being ushered into camps, white people were writing those laws.

Let me add that valuing the voice of the oppressed is a specifically Christian value!  Funny how that works, as our society leans increasingly away from the Christian faith, some of the values of Christ that we brought with us are just now beginning to shape our civilization.  The same thing has already happened across much of western Europe.  I think it is a part of the way God has chosen to bring kingdom values to the world through the church.  I think social and civil rights may be the embers that burn in a dying Christian civilization.  Let us all try to honor that as an important part of the legacy of the Church in the west, that finally, after all this time, minority voices are being heard and valued. 

Now, please understand that everything is a pendulum swing.  And here is the other side of the arc. 

While hearing minority voices is important, while valuing the marginalized is a significant improvement over the last several hundred years of history, we also cannot allow that to mean that we wholeheartedly endorse their viewpoint. 

Just like the White European conquerers (and their descendants) were greedy and abusive, much of what is coming out of the protests is also greedy and abusive. 

Every effort was made to hear the voice of standing rock and even to compensate them for their land use.  These efforts were either ignored or rejected. 

The protestors are manipulating the facts to increasingly look like the subjugated minority in order to win their case in the national media. Rather than remain on the land where law enforcement has asked them to stay, they actively block roadways preventing access to essential services.  This is clearly to provoke a confrontation which law enforcement wants to avoid. 

This is not the voice of the downtrodden and subjugated, this is the new voice of power. 

Maybe there is room for the federal and state government to sit at the table with the Standing Rock leaders and work out some compensation for violation of the 1851 treaty, but not before repentance takes place on all sides. 

Leaders of the historical white government and businesses need to recognize and repent of their own historical abuses of power.  White citizens need to recognize and repent that we have an inheritance of power the was built on persecution.  And leaders in the protest movement need to recognize and repent of manipulating the facts, and encouraging confrontation to curry favor with national media. 

As for the church and for the clergy who came to voice support for standing rock.  I humbly suggest that you missed the point.  It is not our role to take sides.  Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this earth.”  Jesus stands opposed to all abuses of power. The kingdom of God seeks to bring peace and reconciliation, never greater animosity. 

Peace and reconciliation can only come about when everyone at the table is willing to say “here is what we were wrong about.”

There are two sides to every story.  And in every story that has played out since Cain and Abel there has been sin, pride and deception on all sides. 

Here is one thing you can always count on, whichever side of an issue human beings line up on will be covered with both sin and truth.  The task of the church and especially the task of the clergy is to uncover the truth and to point out the sin, calling all sides to repentance and wholeness.  This is the path of Jesus.  This is the dangerous path we are called to walk.    

I will ask again, please don’t crucify me.