Many liberal religious groups, especially Mainline Protestants, supported the months long Standing Rock Sioux Reservation protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, successfully persuading the Obama Administration to withhold permits for the pipeline’s passage beneath the Missouri River, a tribal water source.
The protests reminded me of my own community’s years long protest against highway I-66, a struggle that persisted across my childhood and youth. My parents bought their house in 1965 from a couple seeking to escape the highway’s impending construction, and over a decade later the highway was still being resisted through protest and litigation. As a youth I marched in several demonstrations, one of which concluded outside Jimmy Carter’s White House. About 10 years ago a never published Washington Star photo of myself in front of the White House with a placard appeared in Washington’s Union Station as part of an exhibit on the history of DC transportation.
We of north Arlington, Virginia, a close-in DC suburb, fiercely opposed I-66 for slashing through our small county, dividing neighborhoods, closing schools, potentially smothering us with noise and fumes, and making us a foot stool to outer suburban commuters saving a few minutes by speeding through our once tranquil communities. The highway rideaway was a bucolic greenbelt of several miles, stretching before our house, and where I spent much of my childhood walking to and from school, biking, running and building forts with friends. Eventually the final lawsuit was lost, political options were exhausted, and the bulldozers appeared, performing their grim work across several years. The U.S. Transportation Secretary who greenlighted the project was later a U.S. Senator disgraced in a squalid sexual scandal, which I ungraciously interpreted as divine judgment.
Arlington, despite I-66, survived and thrived, though I’ve no regrets about the protests and instinctively sympathize with others seeking to protect their communities. Maybe the tribal protesters and allies in North Dakota are right. But I notice the religious activists who travel thousands of miles to participate don’t typically if ever take interest in more dire and urgent causes, like Christians and others crucified by ISIS or equivalent sufferings globally.
Partly the religious and other activists are motivated by demonizing fossil fuels. Aren’t oil pipelines intrinsically sinister? That nearly the whole world, especially the poor, depend on fossil fuels for the barest comfort, health and safety doesn’t matter much. A wind or solar farm near Standing Rock Reservation, although far more intrusive, would never have become a similar cause celebre.
Portraying indigenous people as victims is also perennially favored by liberal religious and secular activists. Of course tribal peoples often have been victimized. But the Religious Left, like the secular left, obsessively demonizes Western Civilization as uniquely despotic. They ignore or reject the Christian teaching, empirically verifiable universally, that all peoples in all places are naturally sinful. Native peoples were for centuries conquering and waging genocide against each other long before the first European appeared. It was Western Civilization, for all its failures to embody it, that transmitted a unique ethic of human dignity and human rights for all, which originated in the Hebrew scripture.
Another example of Indigenous Chic comes this week from a radical United Methodist LGBTQ protest group, which, pronouncing itself “stunned” and “horrified,” aimed its anger at the seemingly benign Methodist Museum at Epworth by the Sea on the Georgia coast, which recalls John Wesley’s early visit to the colony. Their protesting letter to the offending museum objects to portraying Wesley as a “much needed and warmly welcomed white savior and that the indigenous people were eager recipients of his brand of religion,” amid the overall “whitewashed glorification of domination and violence,” offering such grievous “insults” that “repentance and redress” are urgently required by the quiet museum.
There’s always much to justify chronic anger and protest among the religious devotees of Indigenous Chic. They prefer a narrative of grievance and victimhood, which benefits almost no one but tenured academics and professional protest groups, to the more traditional Christian message of hope through redemption and service, premised on God-given human equality.
Let’s hope there is eventual justice and closure for the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. But for many of their temporary political fellow travelers, there is only the next angry protest cause.