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July 6, 2019

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The people who survived the long winter march to Oklahoma then faced settlers and squatters taking even this land from them, with official policies that allowed grifters to rob them of their land within a few generations of relocation. It’s injustice on injustice and the consequences of it continue to this day. 

“Justices call for reargument in dispute about Oklahoma prosecutions of Native Americans,” via SCOTUSblog. In a decision that flew under the radar last week amid the decisions about gerrymandering and the census citizenship question, the justices chose not to rule on Carpenter v. Murphy. It’s a complicated case that will determine whether nearly half the land in Oklahoma, including Tulsa, should retain its reservation status. 

“Here is a list of the kings of the land that Joshua and the Israelites conquered on the west side of the Jordan, from Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon to Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir. Joshua gave their lands as an inheritance to the tribes of Israel according to their tribal divisions. The lands included the hill country, the western foothills, the Arabah, the mountain slopes, the wilderness and the Negev. These were the lands of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. These were the kings: the king of Jericho… the king of Ai... the king of Jerusalem…” – Joshua 12:7-10

“The Benjamites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites.” – Judges 1:21
I know many Christians who would rather the book of Joshua not be in the Bible. They’re rightly uncomfortable with the genocide that God commands, with the interminable lists of defeated indigenous inhabitants of Canaan, and with the graphic descriptions of violence. In their discomfort, they decide that they don’t want anything to do with this narrative or the picture of God it paints. The God depicted in Joshua is not their God.

As understandable as that impulse is, though, I don’t think it’s the right choice. While there are intense scholarly debates about the historicity, composition, and purpose of Joshua, those debates don’t take away from the reality depicted in scripture: humankind has an undeniable history of horrifying violence and has, for millennia, used religion to justify it. To ignore this reality is to do violence again to the people whose ancestors suffered death, injury, trauma, loss, and grief at the hands of their oppressors. To recognize this reality is the first step toward healing and justice. 

If we choose to face up to reality, though, we still have the biblical witness to contend with. The story of the Israelite conquest of Canaan is complicated by the different accounts of what happened. Did the Israelites drive out the Jebusites and defeat Jerusalem or didn’t they? Scripture records it both ways. Is there a way that both stories are true, some story where most of the Jebusites were driven out, but not all? We’re left with a contradiction that we might today dismiss as poor record keeping and yet, this complicated story of conquest and cohabitation is the story of the white colonizers of the United States and the Native tribes on whose land we now live. 

Last week the Supreme Court decided not to rule on Carpenter v. Murphy, leaving the status of almost half the land of Oklahoma in limbo. This is land that was set aside by the United States government to be Indian Territory following the forced relocations prescribed by the Indian Removal Act of 1830, perhaps the most well-known of the horrors inflicted by the U.S. on the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, and Cherokee people. (We know, of course, that the current president admires Andrew Jackson, who the president who defied a Supreme Court decision in order to commit this atrocity.) The people who survived the long winter march to Oklahoma then faced settlers and squatters taking even this land from them, with official policies that allowed grifters to rob them of their land within a few generations of relocation. It’s injustice on injustice and the consequences of it continue to this day. 

A few days ago, the United States celebrated Independence Day. Rain fell on tanks parked on land that belongs to the Nacotchtank people, but across the land that we call America, fireworks were set off and hotdogs and hamburgers roasted on land that has its own history of violence without any acknowledgement or recognition that independence for the colonists was not independence for all. This is why we can’t look away from the Book of Joshua. It holds up a mirror so that those of us who are descendants of colonizers can remember and repent of the violence of our ancestors, a mirror that indigenous people can point to over and over again until we begin to atone for these sins. 
While we can’t change anything about the Supreme Court case, we can educate ourselves. This Land is a podcast hosted by Rebecca Nagel, citizen of Cherokee Nation, which goes through the case, the history behind it, and its potential impact. Listen, subscribe, and share. You can also follow Rebecca on Twitter. If you don’t already have Native voices in your feed, let hers be the first of many that you listen to and amplify.

While it’s not in our power to return the land, we can acknowledge the original peoples of the land on which we live. Take time today to visit, learn the original peoples of your home, and acknowledge it on social media. If you organize events, consider opening your events with an acknowledgment. You can find more information on how to respectfully do that here
Creator God, we come to you with hearts weighed down by the past. We acknowledge past violence and past pain, the trauma inflicted and inherited through the ages. Forgive us and free us, but keep us in mind of what has come before. Help us to remember and to remind. Heal us and help us to heal. Strengthen us so that we may be the peacemakers you call us to be. Embolden us that we may be a generation of restoration and not a generation of continued theft. In your liberating name, we pray, Amen.  
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