Voices We Need to Hear: Randy Woodley

Posted: October 12, 2009 in Uncategorized
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WHEN GOING TO CHURCH IS SIN BY RANDY WOODLEY

The pastor arrived early for the Wednesday night prayer meeting. As often the case, there would be the regular faithful few and possibly a visitor or two. He began his regular routine of praying over every seat. This night, like all the others prayed that each person would hear from God and leave knowing Him better. The pastor prayed that there would be healing in people’s bodies and hearts and that he and everyone present would be changed for God’s honor and that the Holy Spirit would make His presence known. Above all he prayed that Jesus Christ would be honored.

As the people began to enter the church he welcomed them with a handshake or a hug. They began with the familiar words of the chorus, “God you are great and we are small-thank you for having mercy on us.” After the opening song and welcome the pastor prayed a prayer of thanksgiving and asked anyone else who felt led to pray to please join in. One by one, everyone in the room prayed with fervor and one visitor prayed silently. Several worship songs followed and finally they came to a time of sharing.

At least half of the people present shared at a deep level. One woman told how grateful she was to be in church after serving a prison term and through weeping eyes expressed her gratefulness to God for His great deliverance. Another woman asked for prayers for her wayward teenager. One of the men needed work and asked the congregation to remember him though he did not profess Christianity. Every so often someone spontaneously broke out in a song or a prayer.

After everyone who wanted, had the opportunity to pray the pastor prayed one last time and dismissed the meeting. It had gone longer than usual but no one minded. They had made contact with God and His Holy Spirit filled their hearts. Many had come discouraged but now there was a renewed hope. They all hugged after the meeting then they shared a pot luck meal together and went home.

This meeting seemed innocent enough. Later though it was condemned by many other Christians—being called “heathen” and “demonic” in nature. What was so disturbing to other believers about the meeting described above is that it took place inside a canvas hut where steam was produced by pouring water over hot rocks. It was a Native American Sweat Lodge.

Was it the place that was so evil? Could it have been the rocks or even the water? Perhaps it was the fact that “non-Christians” were present? Whatever the reason—the other Christians considered it unholy and would never fellowship with that pastor or that church again.

Consider the ritual that occurs in not all, but in hundreds of thousands of church buildings every Sunday morning or Wednesday evening. People wear their best clothes often because they are concerned about how others will view them. They watch a pastor, song leader or choir deliver to them what they think they need for inspiration and most often the members do not get to share what God may be saying to them. They leave without even saying a word, somewhat inspired but feeling somewhat unimportant and an hour later forgetting everything that was said by the Pastor.

Of course there could be Native American Sweat Lodges as well as churches that have lost their sense of spiritual life but how many of those churches who religiously perpetuate dead religion are condemned wholesale by the rest of the church? It is easy to criticize that which we do not understand—it is our human nature to do so. Ever since Cain tried to silence the voice of his brother Able, people have hated the difference in the ways that others worship God.

As Native American believers in Jesus we have a different history and culture than the rest of American society. Though Satan has tried his best to get us to be ashamed of our culture, often using the church to do so—we are happy to be just as God has made us. We will change everything that displeases the Father but disregard arguments and accusations brought by those following the way of the Judaizers spoken about in the Galatians. The circumcision debate ended in Acts 15 with the Council at Jerusalem.

This single issue, whether it be the use of Sweat Lodge, praying with smoke from plants like cedar, using eagle feathers, or any other sacred ceremony has kept untold thousand of Native Americans away from the church and from hearing the wonderful message of Jesus’ love for them. Let us go on from here content to glorify God together in what we do understand and to practice tolerance in what we don’t. People need to know to Jesus Christ.

“Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” Romans 10:4

The following essay is excepted from Randy Woodley’s book (www.EaglesWingsMinistry.com) : When Going to Church is Sin: And Other Essays on Native American Christian Mission, Healing the Land Publishers, Scotland, PA 2007.

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Comments
  1. Thom says:

    Voices we need to hear, indeed. I need to check out that book.

    Peace.

  2. Dave Clark says:

    Thanks for sharing this Prof Rah! I too am going to check out that book!

  3. Matt LeClair says:

    I’m curious to knwo if you are going to call out this church for utilizing Native American cultural symbols and practices in what some Native Americans might consider an offensive manner? after all, the tent was canvas, the steam used may not have been produced in the correct ritual manner, the variuos incenses or other aromatics may not have been authentic, or prepared in teh authentic way, etc…in essense everything that you state in your post against the Deadly Viper material.

    This is almost a direct parallel, yet I do not see you posting about it in the manner you took against a perceived affront to your own cultural background?

    I’m just curious to see if there is consistency here, or if it only counts when “White” people commit the perceived offense.

    • jdh says:

      Matt,
      I think you’re missing the point. Randy Woodley is actually a Native American and is actually practicing cultural customs that are his. He’s not using them as a caricature of a people that he knows little about to advance his points, but is using cultural customs as a way of authentically and holistically advancing the Gospel.

  4. [...] 4)      The tone of some of the e-mails and postings. I would like to offer an apology to those who have been offended or hurt by my tone.  That was not my intent.  I would also ask that those who have been troubled by the tone of some of the posts from the Asian-American community examine whether pre-conceived notions are distorting expectations.  I think about the seemingly angry protests that have been raised in the past by Christians.  Political protests opposing abortion, protests over The Last Temptation of Christ, or the classic Biblical example of Jesus overturning the moneychangers’ table. No one on these blogs were biting fingers or picketing movie theaters or even overturning any tables. Given the level of pain experienced by many, I think most of the concerns were raised in a civil, but strong and forceful manner.  It is okay for Asian-Americans to speak in a strong and forceful manner. Our voices have often been ignored 0r silenced. The fact that this is the third (actually more) time that a major Christian publishing company has done this also contributes to this particular scenario. Please seek to hear the stories of previously silenced voices. In my book (The Next Evangelicalism), I speak about the need to hear from the voices on the margins of evangelicalism. We are experiencing an increasingly multi-cultual and multi-ethnic American Christianity.  We need to hear the stories from those in other communities, so that we don’t make the mistakes of marginalizing and silencing important voices.  (For examples: see Vince Campbell’s youtube clip on the early African church and Randy Woodley’s perspective on Native American Christianity). [...]

  5. [...] 4)      The tone of some of the e-mails and postings. I would like to offer an apology to those who have been offended or hurt by my tone.  That was not my intent.  I would also ask that those who have been troubled by the tone of some of the posts from the Asian-American community examine whether pre-conceived notions are distorting expectations.  I think about the seemingly angry protests that have been raised in the past by Christians.  Political protests opposing abortion, protests over The Last Temptation of Christ, or the classic Biblical example of Jesus overturning the moneychangers’ table. No one on these blogs was biting fingers or picketing movie theaters or even overturning any tables. Given the level of pain experienced by many, I think most of the concerns were raised in a civil, but strong and forceful manner.  It is okay for Asian-Americans to speak in a strong and forceful manner. Our voices have often been ignored. The fact that this is the third (actually more than third) time that a major Christian publishing company has done this also contributes to this particular scenario. Please seek to hear the stories of previously silenced voices. In my book (The Next Evangelicalism), I speak about the need to hear from the voices on the margins of evangelicalism. We are experiencing an increasingly multi-cultual and multi-ethnic American Christianity.  We need to hear the stories from those in other communities, so that we don’t make the mistakes of marginalizing and silencing important voices.  (For examples, see Vince Campbell’s youtube clip on the early African church and Randy Woodley’s perspective on Native American Christianity.) [...]

  6. Joe Allen Doty says:

    The only Native American Sweat Lodge ceremonies I have been in were with the Tulsa (Oklahoma) All Tribes Community Church (American Baptist) members at a location Southwest of Tulsa. They were held once a month on the property of a man who was not Native by blood, but, married to a woman who was. The man wasn’t a member of the church; but, he was definitely a real friend of the members.

    At one of those I attended, Randy Woodley was there also. A special session was held by the pastors and the owner with some of the men and Randy in the lodge. I was glad that I got to participate in that.

  7. [...] first post is from my good friend, Randy Woodley (see his previous post on Native American Christianity). Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley is a Keetoowah Cherokee Indian teacher, lecturer, poet, activist, pastor [...]

  8. gar says:

    “This single issue, whether it be the use of Sweat Lodge, praying with smoke from plants like cedar, using eagle feathers, or any other sacred ceremony has kept untold thousand of Native Americans away from the church and from hearing the wonderful message of Jesus’ love for them. Let us go on from here content to glorify God together in what we do understand and to practice tolerance in what we don’t. People need to know to Jesus Christ.”

    AMEN!

  9. Estelle Boucher says:

    Amen to that! The important thing is not following the law which is just dead religion it is in knowing Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection. Whether we pray in a church building or in a sweat lodge is irrelevant. The important thing is that we believe in Him. The important thing is reaching out to a lost and dying world whether it be in a church, out in the work place and the streets, or in a sweat lodge and the reservation.

  10. Art Brokop II says:

    I have been working with drug and alcohol situations for a few years – counseling ect. At this time am a part of a First Nations Bible based program. The first session (a couple years back) as a part of the program I had my first experience with “a sweat”. What struck me was that the men after only two or three weeks opened up about their lives as if we knew each other and had established trust over years. What I have learned and see the value here is that a sweat as rite of passage into adulthood is seen as a safe place and where elders guide the young. Considering the setting, the cultural understanding, and the established tradition I cannot conceive of Creator/Yahweh disproving, nor desiring us to “find or impose” some better way. Therefore, why should any part of His Body not rejoice and weep together with the part in a sweat??? The diversity of the Omniness of Creator demands we as His image not be homogenized.

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