Now, Religion in the News, a report and comment on religious trends and events being covered by the media. This week’s item is from The Post Standard, April 17, 2005, with the headline: “Grace Episcopal Church Honors Native American Saint—The Reverend James Knowles of Oklahoma dipped an eagle feather into a small pot of burning cedar Saturday and brushed the smoke towards worshipers gathered outside Syracuse’s Grace Episcopal Church. ‘It’s just a way to recognize cleansing,’ Knowles told about 80 people who stood in the garden of the church. After walking among the crowd for the traditional Native American smudging, Knowles asked the people to face East to begin a prayer to the four directions. As he read a prayer that praised the sun, the alligator, the moon, and the turtle, worshipers turned as he described the qualities of each direction.
“The service capped a day-long celebration of David Pendleton Oakerhater [O-kuh-ha-tuh], the Episcopal church’s first Native American saint.
“Oakerhater, a Cheyenne, converted to Christianity and was baptized at Grace Episcopal church in 1878. Three years later he was ordained a deacon at the Syracuse church before returning to Oklahoma, where he started schools and missions among the Cheyenne. He died in 1931 and is buried in Oklahoma. The Episcopal church added him to its Calendar of Saints in 1985. His name, Oakerhater, means ‘making medicine.’
“ ‘Events such as the celebration of Oakerhater’s history at Grace Church remind the world that both the native American and Christian traditions share beliefs,’ he said. ‘There’s only one God, whether we call Him the Creator or the spiritual Father,’ he said.”
Tom: Dave, this is the 21st century, and we’re talking about an Episcopal Church here, but this is shamanism. This is a form of ritual, this is a form of paganism, basically, and it’s not the ritualism of Eastern Orthodoxy or of Roman Catholicism, but the elements are the same. Call it incense, call it sacred smoke, whatever it might be.
Dave: Holy smoke!
Tom: Holy smoke, there you go! But it’s, again, a ritual, technique, methodology—somehow the smoke is cleansing, where in the Catholic Church, it’s used for the prayers of the saints sometimes, but it is also a cleansing as they go through the church and swing the censor, and so on, which I used to do as an altar boy. But, you know, again, this is ecumenism, this is paganism, this is ritualism, and it’s the 21st century—is that surprising?
Dave: It doesn’t change, Tom, the heart of man remains the same, witchcraft remains the same—only certain things you can do with your hocus-pocus, but that it’s in, supposedly, Christian church, Episcopal Church, it would have been shocking a few years ago, I guess, but certainly, not anymore. I mean, the pope, after all, remember? gathered witch doctors, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, you name it, and he gathered them together to pray. He said their prayers were creating a spiritual energy bringing about a new climate for peace. He said, “We are all praying to the same God.” So, this isn’t really anything new. I would like to know who this Oakerhater, what his real beliefs were, make him a saint. Of course, now we are getting into Catholicism again because the Bible is written to saints. Saints are living people, not somebody that died and so many years later you saint them.
Tom: Well, this is a little different. The Episcopal Church, connected to the Anglican Church, which would have roots back to the Reformation, but other Reformation denominations, if I can use that term, they hung on to some other Catholic things. Now, to select these saints—you might find it interesting—they say they don’t venerate them, but they find people throughout history, they would accept the pre- New Testament and the New Testament saints, but they don’t call them saints. For example, this man, David Pendleton Oakerhater, they don’t say Saint David or Saint Pendelton, or whatever, so they are just recognized as individuals who had lives that were godly, that did many things, maybe they were martyred and so on. Grace Episcopal Church in San Francisco, they would like to see Malcolm X as one of its saints on this list of calendar of saints for the Episcopal Church—Martin Luther King, you have men who have done things—an individual who died as a martyr in the civil rights. So, it’s very kind of works oriented, but it’s not miraculous, as the process is and somebody that you pray to and a miracle would take place. The canonization is actually is decided by a vote, Dave. You have the convention and so forth.
Dave: Tom, it says they recognize this Oakerhater as the first Native American saint. Now, my Bible tells me when you believe in Jesus Christ, —you are born again by the Spirit of God—you are sanctified, set apart to God; you belong to Him. You are a saint. Paul wrote his epistles to the saints. These were people who were living. Every Christian is supposed to be a saint. So now, if they are saying the first Native American saint, I guess that would be the first Native American that came to know Christ? No, that’s not what they mean. So, no matter how they try to explain it, say, well, it’s not like a Catholic saint, nevertheless, what are these guys? This is a saint—he must be a notch above everybody else and, as you said, well, he’s done some good works, and so forth, but it’s part of a delusion. Why point out someone and call them a saint when every Christian is supposed to be a saint?
So, Tom, it may seem like a trivial matter, but it’s just another way of departing from the Bible. We’re not following what the Bible says, we’re not learning from the Bible; what we teach isn’t being derived from the Bible, but these people are coming up with their own ideas, and as you said, it’s a technique, it’s much like witchcraft.
Tom: You know, the other sad thing—let’s say David Pendelton Oakerhater was a true believer and followed the Word of God. Well, now in revisionist kinds of things, we’ve picked up on his former paganism, his former spiritualism ,with regard to how he approached God. He would probably roll over in his grave if he was a true believer.