Thanksgiving is a time of heartwarming scenes of European pilgrims having friendly meals with the native peoples of America. Christianity had, at last, made it’s way to the Americas. But what would come next wouldn’t be the good news of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom. Over the next 400 years, America would experience the longest and most devastating genocide the world has ever seen, all in the name of God.
The unmatched brutality to the natives by the hands of Christians is a part of history that often goes untold and is covered up by the patriotic red, white, and blue. The extermination of Natives started with Christopher Columbus’ arrival in San Salvador in 1492. Later, European Christian invaders systematically murdered additional aboriginal people, from the Canadian Arctic to South America. They used warfare, massacres, death marches, forced relocation to barren lands, destruction of their food supply, and poisoning.
Oppression continued into the 20th century, through actions by governments and religious organizations which systematically destroyed Native culture and religious heritage. One present-day byproduct of this oppression is suicide. Today, Canadian Natives have the highest suicide rate of any identifiable population group in the world. Native Americans are not far behind.
How could those who claim to worship and follow Jesus be responsible for such incredible satanic evil?
It’s time for a history lesson.
Columbus the Conquerer
Christopher Columbus has been viewed as a genuine American hero since at least 1792 when the Society of St. Tammany in New York City first held a dinner to honor the man and his deeds. Columbus Day was conceived by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic Fraternal organization, in the 1930s because they wanted a Catholic hero. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the day into law as a federal holiday in 1937, the rest has been history.
Irish and French Catholics have argued that Columbus, who “brought the Christian faith to half the world,” should be named a saint. Though the move had the approval of Pope Pius IX (reign 1846–1878), Columbus was never canonized because he fathered an illegitimate child, and there was no proof he had performed a miracle.
Not until his third voyage did Columbus actually land on the American mainland. Upon seeing four rivers flowing from the landmass, he believed he had encountered the Garden of Eden. Columbus described the native people as timid, free, and generous, recording in his ship log:1
They… brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things… They willingly traded everything they owned… They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… They would make fine servants… With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.
The Beginning of the End
Columbus would leave and return with 1,200 more soldiers at his disposal. In short order, rape and pillaging became rampant. Columbus forced the Natives to work in gold mines until exhaustion. Those who opposed were beheaded or had their ears cut off. All Natives over 14 had to meet a supply quota of gold every month. Those who did not fulfill their obligation had their hands cut off, which were tied around their necks while they bled to death—some 10,000 died handless.
In addition to putting the Natives to work as slaves in his gold mines, Columbus also sold sex slaves to his men, some as young as nine years old. Columbus and his men raided villages for sex and sport. In the year 1500, Columbus wrote: “A hundred castellanoes [gold coins] are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.”
A close friend of Columbus, Michele de Cuneo, was given a Native female as a gift, and wrote:
“While I was in the boat I captured a very beautiful Carib woman, whom the said Lord Admiral [Columbus] gave to me, and with whom, having taken her into my cabin, she being naked according to their custom, I conceived desire to take pleasure. I wanted to put my desire into execution but she did not want it and treated me with her finger nails in such a manner that I wished I had never begun. But seeing that (to tell you the end of it all), I took a rope and thrashed her well, for which she raised such unheard of screams that you would not have believed your ears. Finally we came to an agreement in such manner that I can tell you that she seemed to have been brought up in a school of harlots.”
One day, in front of Las Casas, the Spanish dismembered, beheaded, or raped 3,000 people. He says, “Such inhumanities and barbarisms were committed in my sight, as no age can parallel….” The Spanish cut off the legs of children who ran from them. They poured people full of boiling soap. They made bets as to who, with one sweep of his sword, could cut a person in half. They loosed dogs that ‘devoured an Indian like a hog, at first sight, in less than a moment.’ They used nursing infants for dog food. Las Casas wrote, ‘My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature that now I tremble as I write.’
The Black Hills in South Dakota for hundreds of years was the sacred center of the Lakota people. The U.S. Government signed a treaty declaring they wouldn’t settle on the land, and that the land belonged to the Lakota “as long as the sun shines and the grass grows”. The treaty signed is called the The Fort Laramie Treaty and hasn’t been overturned until this day. The promise of the treaty didn’t last very long though and the land was seized after gold prospectors sparked a war with the Lakota. After a hundred years the land still officially belongs to the Lakota people, but the government drove them out a long time ago. Today the sacred Black Hills look like this:
The Legacy of Occupying a Foreign Land
What Columbus began, Americans would finish. Today America is often referred to as a “Christian nation” founded on “Christian values”. This is a myth perpetuated in the 1960s and ’70s in the Cold War era that is still strongly believed today in many white evangelical circles.4 But the truth couldn’t be more evil. The United States of America was founded on the blood and tears of unholy genocide.
“The immediate objectives are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops in the ground and prevent their planting more.”
George Washington to General John Sullivan, May 31, 1779
In the early 18th century, the government promoted a genocide of Natives by imposing a “scalp bounty”.5 Ward Churchill wrote: “Indeed, in many areas it [murdering Native people] became an outright business.”6 This practice of paying a bounty for human scalps motivated the common man to hunt down other human beings for profit and continued all the way into the 19th century.
“Is one of the fairest portions of the globe to remain in a state of nature, the haunt of a few wretched savages, when it seems destined by the Creator to give support to a large population and to be the seat of civilization?”
Governor William Henry Harrison, of the Indiana Territory (1800-1812)
“You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians [with smallpox] by means of blankets, as well as to try every other method, that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.”
Colonel Henry Bouquet at Fort Pitt
Aside from bioterrorism, extermination of all native peoples was urged by state officials all over the U.S. in the mid 1800’s.7 In 1867, General William Tecumseh Sherman said, “We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux [Lakotas] even to their extermination: men, women and children.” The Bible was often used to support wars of extermination against local inhabitants who stood in the way of the “chosen people” possessing land (Joshua 24:13). Propaganda about savagery, lack of civilization, heathenism, vacant land, nomadic hunters without a conception of property, all were deployed to strip the Native people of their rights. Americans believed they were the new “chosen people”, with a “manifest destiny” to own the continent.8
Taking The Land For God
From the landing of the Puritans on the North Atlantic shore, religious and political leaders inspired the English-speaking settlers with the idea that it was their mission to build the new Kingdom of God in America. They used biblical images such as “city on a hill” and phrases such as “witness into the wilderness.” Belief that America was the new Israel in a promised land contributed to ideas about the manifest destiny of the United States.
Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! … I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians… Kill and scalp all, big and little.9 Col. John Milton Chivington, U.S. Army
In 1637 the colonial leadership in Connecticut wanted to launch a war of aggression against the Pequot tribe for the sole purpose of possessing their land. When some of the colonists expressed moral qualms, the matter was referred to their chaplain, Reverend John Stone. The good reverend spent the night in prayer and in the morning, reported that God was “clearing the title” for his chosen people, the English, to possess America. The next day armed colonists attacked the Pequot settlement at Mystic and seven hundred men, women, and children were killed in the span of an hour. Captain John Mason described the slaughter in these words:10
Thus was God seen crushing the enemies of his people, burning them up in the fire of his wrath and dunging the ground with their flesh. It was the Lord’s doings and it was marvelous in our eyes.
When some colonists questioned the morality of the slaughter, saying, “shouldn’t Christians have more mercy and compassion?” — Mason responded:
I would refer you to David’s wars. Sometimes the Scripture declares that women and children must perish. We had sufficient light from the Word of God for our proceedings.
As God gave Canaan to Joshua, many argued, so God gave other lands over to white European Christians. To the thinking of many, the church was on the move to conquer the world for Christ, and all who resisted it were seen as resisting God himself and deserving death.11 President Lincoln would make the idolatrous claim that the United States was “the last, best hope of Earth”.12 Christians coming to the long-inhabited land of America participated in the slaughter of millions, the sex trafficking of young girls, and brutal enslavement as a means of conquering and establishing this new land for Jesus. This was called “Manifest Destiny”.13 Today we can call it for what it is: unspeakable evil.
Before America was stolen and its people raped and murdered, the land was home to more than 50 million bison. The bison were a major food source for the Native peoples. By the year 1884, there were only 325 wild bison left in the United States.
The U.S. Army sanctioned and actively endorsed the wholesale slaughter of bison herds by the millions. The federal government promoted bison hunting to weaken the Native American population and even paid a bounty for each bison skull recovered. Military commanders were ordering their troops to kill bison — not for food, but to deny Native Americans their own source of food. One general believed that bison hunters “did more to defeat the Indian nations in a few years than soldiers did in 50 years”.
Surviving Native Peoples were confined to “reservations”, which the Nazis would eventually cite as a precedent for their “camps”.
Only the mass murder by the government of the USSR of about 41 million of its citizens (1917 to 1987), and by the government of China of about 35 million of its citizens (1949 to 1987) have even come close to the atrocity committed by Americans. It is estimated that over 100 million people were killed in order to steal the land.14
The genocide against American Natives was the most massive, and longest-lasting genocidal campaigns in human history. It started, like all genocides, with the oppressor treating the victims as sub-humans. It continued until almost all Natives were wiped off the face of the earth, along with much of their language, culture, and religion.
Even in recent times, between 1944 and 1986, amid the Cold War nuclear arms race, the U.S. ravaged the Navajo Reservation lands in the Southwest and extracted 30 million tons of uranium ore (a key ingredient in nuclear reactions). What’s more, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission hired Native Americans to work the mines, yet disregarded the health risks that radioactivity exposure posed to them. For decades, data showed that mining led to severe health outcomes for Navajo workers and their families. Still, the government took no action. Hundreds of abandoned mines still pose environmental and health risks to this day.
If we look at historical reality rather than pious verbiage, it’s obvious that America never really “belonged to God.”15 When the Kingdom of God is manifested, it’s obvious. It looks like Jesus. But America as a nation has clearly never looked remotely like Jesus. There was nothing distinctively Christlike about the way America was “discovered,” conquered, or governed in the early years. To the contrary, the way this nation was “discovered,” conquered, and governed was a rather typical, barbaric, violent, pagan affair.
The immoral barbarism displayed in the early (and subsequent) years of this country was, sadly, pretty typical by kingdom-of-the-world standards. The fact that it was largely done under the banner of Christ doesn’t make it more Christian, any more than any other bloody conquest done in Jesus’ name throughout history qualifies them as Christlike.
Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and founds a town with violence!
The truth is that America was founded as a Christian nation without the crucial ingredient needed to substantiate that title: Jesus Christ. This is the problem with reading the Bible as a flat text where every passage carries the same weight of authority. In such a reading, the Bible can be used to justify every kind of violence including genocide. It’s the story of America.
When a people pledge allegiance to Jesus and strive to love enemies, forgive transgressors, bless persecutors, serve sinners, accept social rejects, abolish racist walls, share resources with the poor, bear the burden of neighbors, suffer with the oppressed—then, and only then, are they a Christian nation… and that nation is called the Kingdom of God.
- Dennis, Hirschfelder, Flynn. Native American Almanac: More Than 50,000 Years of the Cultures and Histories of Indigenous Peoples. Visible Ink Press. (2016)
- Bartolome de las Casas, “The devastation of the Indies: A brief account,” Johns Hopkins University Press, (1992).
- Barry Lopez, “The Rediscovery of North America: The Thomas D. Clark lectures,” University Press of Kentucky, (1990).
- Kevin M. Kruse, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, Basic Books, (2016)
- The History of Indian and European Scalping, PageWise, Inc, (2002).
- Ward Churchill, A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas, 1492 to the Present, City Lights Books, (1998).
- David E. Stannard, American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World, Oxford University Press, (1992).
- Weeks, William Earl, Building the Continental Empire: American Expansion from the Revolution to the Civil War. Ivan R. Dee. (1996).
- Brown, Dee. “War Comes to the Cheyenne”. Bury my heart at Wounded Knee. Macmillian. (2001, 1970).
- James Wilson, The Earth Shall Weep, (2000).
- For example, a 1493 Papal Bull justified declaring war on any native South Americans who refused to adhere to Christianity. In defense of this stance, the jurist Encisco claimed in 1509: “The king has every right to send his men to the Indies to demand their territory from these idolaters because he had received it from the pope. If the Indians refuse, he may quite legally fight them, kill them and enslave them, just as Joshua enslaved the inhabitants of the country of Canaan.” Jean Delumeau, Catholicism between Luther and Voltaire (London: Burns and Oats, 1977), 85.
- Johannsen, Robert Walter, Manifest Destiny and Empire: American Antebellum Expansionism. Texas A&M University Press. (1997).
- See Ernest Lee Tuveson, Redeemer Nation (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1968) and R. P. Beaver, “Missionary Motivation through Three Centuries,” in Reinterpretation in American Church History, ed. Jerald C. Brauer (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1968). For an insightful account of how missionaries were used, often unwittingly, in the exploitation and genocide of native Americans, see George E. Tinker, Missionary Conquest (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993).
- Taylor, Alan. American Colonies; Volume 1 of The Penguin History of the United States, History of the United States Series. (2002).
- Arguably, in many respects, America was less moral in the past than it is today. See Tony Campolo’s interesting discussion in Speaking My Mind ( Nashville, Tenn.: W, 2004), 187–201.