Lessons From the Past…

I have risen here, I who I am the voice of Christ in the desert of this island, and therefore no one of you agrees with what I have said; but yet with your heart, you hear it; this voice will be to you the newest, the harshest and the most lasting voice that you have ever heard, more dreadful than you ever thought to hear: all of you are in mortal sin and in sin you live, by the cruelty and tyranny by which you abuse these innocent people. Decide now: By what right and by what justice have you placed these Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? By what authority have you waged so hateful a war on these people who were living in their calm and peaceful lands, where you have consumed infinite numbers of them, with death and ruin?

Are these not men? They do not have rational souls? Are you not obliged to love them as much as you love your very selves? Do you not understand this? Do you not feel this? … Know for certain that, in the state in which you are now, you cannot be saved any more than the Moors or Turks who lack, and do not want, the faith of Jesus Christ. – MONTESINOS, Antonio de (mon-te-see’-nos), clergyman, born in Spain in the 15th century.

This sermon was preached in 1511 in what are now the nation states of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, in the beginning of the “discovery” of the Americas by the Spanish. The indigenous peoples were subjected to slavery for the agricultural and mining work of the Spanish looking to get rich quick. Wives worked in the fields, separated from their husbands in the mines for sometimes 8-10 months. They were beaten, whipped, forced to work 16+ hours a day, and receive almost no compensation. What is more difficult about this story of the beginning of the “west” in the America’s is that it was done under the name of the cross. These efforts were genuinally pursued to bring the Gospel to the people.

In this class, Issues in [Christian] Mission History, we recently studied the efforts in African mission, and how closely tied to the church was the slave trade. Both Quakers and Jesuits, some of the most significant faith expressions around peace and caring for the other in the name of Jesus, became slave traders themselves.

What struck me closest to home when reading this, however, was that this sermon could be spoken today from our pulpits in the US with the same alacrity. By substituting the demographic of “Indian” with “the poor”, “the sweatshop worker of any country that produces our Nike’s, or Gap or North Face clothing” the sermon still fits.

As people of Jesus striving to follow him, we seem to do much damage in his stead. Jesus loved these as he does us; in fact more so, as he hears the crying out of those who are oppressed and enslaved. That was one of his reasons he saved the people of Israel from Egypt. We haven’t learned this part of following him, however.

And so, history repeats itself.


~ by Brian Shope on May 3, 2008.

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