Robert Minor, professor emeritus in Kansas University’s religious studies department, 1300 Oread Ave:
When Columbus landed in the Bahamas in 1492, he embodied the intentions of every European power that vied to dominate trade, exploit conquered resources to shore up their economies, and convert non-European “heathens.” Competition was stiff as France, England, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands sought to best each other in controlling the world.
Columbus’ writings tell us that he was searching for gold, which was becoming the sign of real wealth. Others might come later to the Americas seeking religious freedom, but the elites of the new European nation-states sought empire.
Religiously they agreed that their own beliefs were vastly morally superior. Empire therefore meant controlling the religious lives of the “uncivilized.”
Columbus wrote to his patrons, the Spanish King and Queen — who had just disenfranchised Muslims and Jews back home — of his desire to convert America’s peoples to Spanish Catholicism.
“Your Highness, as Catholic Christians and Princes who love the holy Christian faith, and the propagation of it, and who are enemies to the sect of Mahoma (Islam) and to all idolatries and heresies, resolved to send me, Cristóbal Colon, to the said parts of India to see the said princes ... with a view that they might be converted to our holy faith. ... Thus, after having turned out all the Jews from all your kingdoms and lordships ... your Highnesses gave orders to me that with a sufficient fleet I should go to the said parts of India.... I shall forget sleep, and shall work at the business of navigation, so that the service is performed.”
European colonialism included subduing “heathens.” Had it not been Columbus, it would have been another with identical aspirations and the same religious goals. European nations with their state churches hoped America would become a continent their christianities would eventually dominate.
— Send email to Robert Minor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Rev. Matt Sturtevant, First Baptist Church of Lawrence, 1330 Kasold Drive:
“Columbus wasn’t a hero, but a murderer and greedy religious zealot” — that perspective shocked me when I first heard it in college history class. How different it was than the Columbus of my youth: brave explorer, sharing the Christian faith with the New World.
How would our country be different if he had not “sailed the ocean blue”? What is the true legacy of Columbus and other European explorers? Questions best left for historians. However, as a Christian pastor, I cannot ignore the fundamental Columbus Day question of how to share the hope that I have in Christ without falling victim to the “missionary zeal” of the Crusades and European New World conquest of the “heathen” in the name of Christ. For me, a few simple rules:
Remember the model. Luke 4 explains that Christ’s identity was simple: “He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” What if every generation of Christians (including our own) stuck to this guideline?
Listen first. Our world would rather talk (or scream) than listen: angry message board posts, cable news know-it-alls. The draw to “conquer the heathen” is as strong today as it was then. Every ideology, every faith must resist the urge.
Invite and persuade instead of coerce. In the tradition of Baptist proponents of religious freedom through the ages, I believe that a coerced faith is not truly faith at all. Whether it is locally or globally, we must listen and persuade instead of prescribe. Christ’s example to personally invite and offer hope bears emulating. It’s not about conquest, guilt, or pressure. It’s about freedom, healing, and hope.
— Send email to Matt Sturtevant at email@example.com.