Christ and Culture

I borrow the title for today’s article from H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic, 1975 book of the same title. We will not dive into Niebuhr’s five variations of Christ and culture. But on our church calendar today, we celebrate one of Oklahoma’s own, The Rev. David Pendleton Oakerhater, a Cheyenne warrior who was captured by the US Army, imprisoned in Florida and who converted to Christianity and ordained a deacon at age 34.

He returned to Oklahoma and began to spread the gospel to the Cheyenne and other natives in Oklahoma. He devoted his time to serving his people, visiting the sick, conducting Sunday services and helping Native American tribes deal with poverty and European diseases brought on by colonialism and white settler conflicts with the natives.

Here is what he said to his fellow Cheyenne in Oklahoma upon returning as an ordained deacon. “You all know me. You remember when I led you out to war, I went first, and what I told you was true. Now I have been away to the East and I have learned about another captain, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he is my leader. He goes first, and all He tells me is true. I come back to my people to tell you to go with me now in this new road, a war that makes all for peace.”

He is memorialized as a saint on the Episcopal Church calendar. His mission is still thriving in Watonga. When he says that he “went away to the East” it meant not just literally (he was imprisoned in Florida), but the Cheyenne considered east the spiritual direction of enlightenment. He was telling them that he was spiritually enlightened. We can celebrate the fact that Christ will grow in other cultures, on their own terms.

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