Editor’s note: Each Thursday, we feature a throwback piece from Topology’s predecessor, catapult magazine. In this essay from 2004, Sam Gesch shares how the Many Nations, One Voice conference in Milwaukee gives a glimpse of a harmonious Kingdom. Writing from his tradition in the Christian church, Sam explores themes that all of us can reflect on as we consider what kinds of racial and cultural reconciliation need to take place in our home communities.
In April, over the weekend of my birthday, I was privileged to attend the Many Nations One Voice Conference (MN1V) in Milwaukee. The purpose of the conference was two-fold: to help bring about reconciliation and to affirm and confirm that one need not divest oneself of one’s culture in order to be Christian. The conference is sponsored by Wiconi, a Native American Christian organization and the speakers were from that and other similar organizations.
As I sat there, what impressed me the most was the complete lack of animosity on the part of the speakers. I not only heard reconciliation preached, I saw it lived. Each night (of three), a different ethnic group was addressed. The first night Indian Christians were called to reconcile with each other, regardless of tribe, status, reservation or urban, native tongue-speaker or not, full-blood or not, and other such differences. On the second night, Black Christians and Indians were called to reconcile their differences, some of which we first had to be told of. On the third night, Whites and Indians were called to reconcile their differences. In spite of the events and grievances being noted and spoken of by the speakers each of these three nights, I never once sensed any hostility, bitterness, or lack of love on the part of these speakers for the people who had wronged them.
What one speaker stated I think gets at the reconciliatory problem in our society and in the Church today. He said that we tend to think of reconciliation as an event rather than a life-style. We have a “been there, done that” attitude. We think that if we have shaken hands or hugged and cried that we are somehow reconciled. This speaker pointed out that God doesn’t see reconciliation that way. He sees it as a process, just as through the course of history he is reconciling the world to himself. We as Christians need to live lives of reconciliation. We need to be involved in bringing ourselves into relationships with others and maintaining those relationships, not in a surface manner, but in a way that delves deep, sinks in, and holds on.
This reconciliation takes place in a world of cultural diversity. For years Christians within the “reformed tradition” have spoken of redeeming culture, but have not recognized that Christians of other cultures have the same responsibility, not to become like us (as has been preached, forced, and taught), but to apply Biblical discernment to their own culture and to reclaim it for Christ. To emphasize this at the conference, the praise and worship time was led by Broken Walls, a Christian Mohawk band that blends electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, and trap set with traditional Mohawk flutes and drums. Many Indians danced to the music dressed in full regalia (feathers, beads, tassels, and fringes). Songs were sung in English and Mohawk, with some Hebrew names for God also used from time to time. Indian elders, the hosts of the conference, were honored publicly according to Native American traditions.
Perhaps the image that best captured the twofold theme of the conference was the following: a soul choir from the host church was singing a typical gospel song, with both blacks and whites in the choir, swaying and clapping. Partway through their singing some of the Indians in regalia came on stage and danced traditional Indian style to the beat of the soulful music. The vision of the world to come was strong: people from “every tongue, tribe, and nation” enjoying and glorifying God together in their own redeemed, distinctly, cultural ways.
More information on these conferences and other activities and links to Native American Ministries can be found at Wiconi International’s web site. I also highly recommend One Church, Many Tribes by Richard Twiss, the founder of Wiconi.