Identity and Belonging

Native by Kaitlin B. Curtice reflects on her struggle to balance being both white (European) and a citizen of the Potawatomi Nation. Curtice grew up largely absent from her Potawatomi heritage but fully submersed in the Baptist Church. As she has grown and rediscovered this other side of who she is, she has started to look back and identify the racist, colonial undertones of her Bible belt upbringing. She stands on both sides, able to see how the U.S.’ policies stripped Indigenous peoples of their land, rights, freedom, identity, and heritage, and how those ideals were rooted in and upheld by the church. She questions how that jives with the God who created all people and all cultures in equal measure.

Curtice is in an unique role to pull back the veil on what some simply refuse to see. She grew up in the Baptist Church, and she knows the pain of Indigenous peoples as it relates to US policies and practices (often affirmed or carried out by the church). Within Native are a series of wake-up calls to the white church. If one is willing to dig through Curtice’s ramblings and repetitive messaging, they will find a collection of very appropriate and necessary messages to the church. 

I often say that the white American church has been drinking dirty water for so long it no longer notices the taste. The poisons and toxins of white Christianity in this country are so embedded we do not even notice them. We need someone like Curtice to point out what is there. It is like family dysfunction you do not realize until you see how other families behave or someone tells you such behavior is not normal.

The white American church has got to wake up to its racist history. It has to wake up to its role in the racist policies and ideologies that are the undergirding of our society. It must take responsibility for the myriad of ways it has harmed those who were here before, and how it has led the way in keeping other people groups down.

America would be in a very different place right now if the white American church stopped playing the victim and acknowledged it is the perpetrator.

A lot of what Curtice writes is rooted in the ideas of the Progressive Christian movement. It is the free-flowing idea of who God is (if He is?), and naming God in ways that make people more comfortable. For the sake of this review, I will say that however you respond to the Progressive Christian movement will determine how you take Curtice’s view of God and what “faith” means to her.  Yet, even if you cannot agree with Curtice’s theology, her calls to the church are still true.

For all Native holds, it is in many respects a journey with no conclusion. Curtice still does not know how to balance both sides of who she is. The book tends to be an almost disconnected collection of Curtice responding to things that are happening in our culture while writing about going back to the land and letting it speak truth to her. She repeatedly hits the same themes without offering anything new.

It almost feels like she is working without a road map and haphazardly tossing her thoughts out without processing them or trying to build a cohesive story. It is an issue that hits a lot of writers who are bloggers first. Threads get picked up and are not resolved. Ideas get tossed out in broad brushstrokes that need to be fleshed out.

It is a book written to those who in Curtice’s camp, which might explain why she says things like “Christianity has appropriated and erased Jewish history and culture and practiced anti-Semitism” (pg. 157), or uses John Chau as an example of someone with a white Jesus missionary complex without giving context or explaining more of what she means. (My friend I read this book with had no idea who Chau was and therefore read it entirely different than me who knew the story.)

It felt like a rushed manuscript, one the publisher wanted to get out to combat much of what was happening under the Trump administration. And maybe that is okay, but I think Curtice could have developed a stronger book if given time and a different editor who could take these jumbled thoughts and put them into something cohesive while asking Curtice to flesh things out more. 

Still, Curtice’s book includes some hard realities the white American church must face, acknowledge, and repent of if it is ever going to be more than it is now. When will we stop being the face of racism and oppression and start being the place of community and healing? When will the white American church acknowledge what it has done, apologize, and then step back so other voices can speak? When will it stop carrying on its white first mentality that so many do not even realize is there? When will it stop allowing racism and hatred and fear to lull it to sleep? When will it stop being a stumbling block to God instead of being a place that is welcoming and accessible for all? 

God is not a building.
God is not a religion.
God is not with one race.
God is bigger than our country.
God did not place a premium on white people above all others.
God does not hold America in higher regard.

Maybe if we can rid the church of its superiority complex it can be His love and light in a way that does not deny other people their humanity, culture, heritage, or complexities, but instead embraces them and realizes God made us all equal, with something to show about His character and how He wants us to see and embrace the creation He left us.

I appreciate Curtice being open to sharing her journey with us. I think Native can be an eye-opening read. I would encourage people to read it with a high level of discernment and patience, being open to the warning sirens Curtice tries to alert us to. Warnings that, if unheeded, will only continue to signal the end of the white American church’s relevancy to the pressing needs of our culture.

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