Before You – De Las Casas

One of the best parts about going to college is being around people who look differently than you, think differently than you, and believe different things than you do.  This exposure allows you a unique opportunity to learn about different people, traditions, and cultures.  While this is normally a good thing, it can at times, be frustrating when you run into someone who vehemently disagrees with what you believe in, especially in matters of faith.  I am sure that you have had experiences where you have run into people who are so different than you that it seems like you have absolutely nothing in common with them.  What happens when you want to talk about God with these people?  Part of being a Christian is spreading the good news right?  But it is no secret that this is sometimes hard and very awkward especially when people are very different from you.  Today we are going to continue looking at early figures in the church and see how a man named Bartolome de las Casas ministered to people who were not only different from him, but only until shortly after his birth, no-one even knew existed.

Bartolome de las Casas was born in 1484 in Spain.  This was obviously a significant time in history with the discovery of the Americas falling shortly after.  The European discovery of the Americas was instantly made a theological issue.  People began to ask questions such as why would God not try to save or reach out to the people of the “new world” and will God even save them?  For this reason, sending ministers was a top priority.  In 1493, the papal bull of Inter Caetera was signed by Pope Alexander VI which was a decree that established the right to Christianize all of the Americas.  As painful as it is to say, this led to a very dark time in Christian history.  Many of the Spanish conquistadors who moved to the Americas quickly abused powers given to them by the papal bull of Inter Caetera.  Essentially, native people were forced to either convert or be killed.  In 1514, while in the Americas, de las Casas witnessed a massacre of the native people which led to him speaking out against the abuses of the conquests being carried out.  

Las Casas’ most infamous work is called, In Defense of the Indians, in which he lays out a case for a change of approach when ministering to the native people.  In this work, de las Casas talks about different types of Barbarians.  While this may seem offensive to call the native peoples barbarians, de las Casas simply meant people who are different.  In his view, de las Casas believes that there are four types of barbarians; those without written language, the lawless, unbelievers, and the merciless.  The last type is extremely interesting because while the first three describe the native people, this one describes the Spanish people.  What de las Casas is trying to show is that all of us are capable of being what he calls barbarians. This levels the playing field as makes us all equal.  He goes on to talk about even though the native people may be barbaric they are capable of being redeemed by God and should be treated with love as people of reason.  De las Casas is again trying to show that in the same way the Spanish are in need of redemption and have the ability to be redeemed, so do the people of the Americas. 

What does this mean for us?  The one thing that some of the conquistadors who abused their power and de las Casas had in common, was that they both wanted to see the people of the Americas turn to Christ.  However, we have the privilege of looking back and realizing that only one of the approaches taken by either group had the potential for real success.  There will be times when you want to share the message of Jesus with someone that is different than you.  Let this be a reminder that your approach means everything.  Telling other people about Jesus is a great thing!  We should try to make sure that everyone knows how awesome our God is.  But it is important to convey that message in a loving way that shows the love God has for you.  De las Casas is an extremely important figure in Christian history and helps us understand the dangers of evangelization and shows us a way that it can be done lovingly.  Let this encourage you to go out and tell all kinds of people about Jesus and know that others in history have faced similar obstacles in doing so.  Be bold, be loving, and remember that even though we are all different, we come from the same God. 

-Sean

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