Indigenous people should, as every year, be thanking God for colonization on Columbus Day. The Great Commission as promised by Jesus – to spread his name and message throughout the world – has largely been the byproduct of the expansion of Christian empires through colonization. And through colonization, disadvantaged parts of the world have thrived by the influence of God-fearing nations.
As my sermon noted last year…
While not all “Christianization” of culture is done by actual Christians, there is no doubt that the influence of those at least claiming the religion of Christ, built the foundations of what we now know as world civilization…
The impact of Christianity on world history is unfathomable, incalculable and unconquerable. [Because of Christianized nations expanding] the impact of the religion of Christ, counted in millennia rather than decades, has been earth-shattering, foundation-laying and world-changing.
The impact of Columbus’ voyage to America has been inherently (and mostly) good. To deny this is to deny objective, historical fact. Ultimately, aside from the benefits of Western Civilization brought by the Catholic navigator Christopher Columbus, this also inadvertently opened the doors for mass Protestant evangelism of the Americas. God’s providence indeed.
Native peoples around the world are far better off, more happy, more healthy, and more at peace than they ever would have been before, if it were not for colonization of the New World and the expanse of Christendom throughout the world. Although Columbus himself was a Romanist and not a real believer in Jesus, his voyage across the Atlantic brought the competition of religion between Romanists and Protestants, and set-off the race to Christianize the savage in the New World.
Ruth A. Tucker writes in From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya that…
“From the very beginning of English exploration of the new world there was a strong impulse to win the native population to Christianity. Writings of navigators, trading companies, and government magistrates indicate a calculated missionary zeal. Christianizing the natives became a powerful rationale for colonialism, and colonial charters emphasized Indian evangelism. The Virginia charter of 1606 opens with the king’s blessing on the colonists ‘in propagating the Christian religion to such people as yet live in darkness and miserable ignorance.’ The Massachusetts Bay charter pledged to ‘win and incite the natives of the country to the knowledge and obedience of the only true God and Savior of mankind, and the Christian faith.’ And the seal of the colony testified to this need; its emblem was a figure of an Indian crying out ‘Come over and help us.’ The charter of Connecticut asserted that ‘evangelization’ was the ‘only and principal end’ for the colony’s establishment. Likewise Pennsylvania and other colonies were founded with the declared purpose of converting the Indians.”
Edward Winslow, one of the early Pilgrims, wrote that “the spiritual condition of the savage is itself an argument for immigration. Every Christian has a duty…to spread the true religion among the Infidels, and to win many thousands of wandering sheep unto Christ’s fold.”
Neville Cryer writes, “Other early New England historians and diarists write in this vein: ‘Those men might as well be dead who lived in England for themselves alone and sit still with their talent in their napkin when that could be of service both to God and to their country by becoming colonists and using every effort to convert the heathen.”
We recognize, from our 21st century privileged perspectives, the great travesties upon First Nations people as side effects to glorious and civilization-advancing colonization.
While the majority of deaths of Indigenous peoples caused by the early days of European explorations occurred by disease, which is surely no one’s blame (and diseases went both ways), there were unfortunate skirmishes for resources, trading routes, and old inter-tribal grudges that were made worse (or more deadly) by advanced European weaponry. Perpetuated by Europeans in some cases, and in other cases perpetuated by fellow Indigenous people using European technology, bloodshed was harsh and severe.
The removal of Native Peoples from their traditional lands was also a tragic consequence of the advancement of civilization into the Americas. Events like the Trail of Tears surely burn into our cultural memory as tragedies indeed.
From a macro-perspective of history, however, no serious anthropologist could argue through unbiased evidence that Indigenous people are not better off because of Columbus’ voyage across the ocean.
Following Columbus came Christianized concepts like civil liberties, democracy, capitalism, and the rule of law. The blessings of Christianity include modern medicine, agricultural food production on a grand scale, and a standard of living that make the previous ways of life of Indigenous people – who routinely died in epidemic proportions due to pestilence and famine, often making unique people groups extinct in a single winter – seem hardly worth living at all by comparison.
Today, the Native Peoples have constitutional protections, benefits of tribal membership, and an identity that no longer involves ceaseless warfare with fellow tribes or mass extinctions due to unforgiving weather or uncontrollable disease.
Most important, the Native Peoples have something they did not have before Columbus made his journey across the Atlantic and the Protestants soon followed. Today, the Native Peoples have access to the Good News of Christ.
For God so loved the world, that he sent Christopher Columbus and fellow colonizing forces across the seas, to share the story of Christ and his atoning work for all tribes and nations.
Although colonization also includes stories of hardship, slavery, suffering, and prejudice, by God’s sovereign power, the story of Christian colonization ends in the conversion of the heathen and their ultimate salvation by Jesus Christ.
So this Columbus Day, as you hear the oft-told ‘down-side’ to Colonization, remember that it has been God’s tool and plan to bring a better quality of life, more health and prosperity, and most importantly – the Gospel – to people who otherwise would not know him.
Colonization has brought civilization and Christianity to savage people. Their small numbers in 2019 are not due to the tragic tolls of disease many centuries ago but because – by God’s goodness – they have assimilated into Civilization and many of us, are in fact, them. A 2014 Harvard study shows that almost every American of European descent has Native American ancestry.
Today, the indigenous population in the United States is about 6.5 million, which was roughly the same number as in 1650, and only slightly smaller than the 8 million or so estimate in 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Demographically, Native Peoples have not been dying off. The DNA in our bodies demonstrates that many have just become one of us, and joined other cultures and assumed other ethnic identities.
Once the dust settles on history and immediate tragedies forgotten, we should be able to take a step back and see the big picture. The big picture is that Native People are blessed and better off physically, materially, and spiritually because Columbus crossed the seas.
Thank God for colonization on this Columbus Day.