Native Christians still wrestle with how their culture fits into their churches.

More than 20 years ago, Mohawk musician Jonathan Maracle says, God told him to use his drum—an instrument used in traditional religious ceremonies—while playing at a conference for First Nation Christians.

The ensuing performance spawned his music ministry, Broken Walls. And it also sparked a controversy.

The next week, when he brought out the drum to play for another community of Native Christians, he was asked to leave the village.

“Religion had come in and taught my people that the drum was evil,” Maracle said. “I had no idea how difficult of a task I had been handed. Nobody was using the drum to worship Jesus at this time in 1995.”

When white missionaries first spread the gospel to indigenous tribes, they often did so in ways that undermined tribal language and culture. Almost all Native Christian leaders agree on that.

But leaders remain divided over what contextualizing their faith should look like—and what role sacred objects, like drums, have in Christian worship.

“There were lots of mistakes that happened historically in Native mission work. But you don’t solve one problem by creating another one,” said Craig Smith, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and president of Tribal Rescue Ministries. “That is what the movement is doing.” He organized a statement for the Christian and Missionary Alliance to warn his fellow Native Christians about “false teaching,” specifically around traditional sacred objects used in a Christian context.

Maracle’s drum playing began during a period when Native American communities were reexamining their own cultural practices—a soul-searching catalyzed by the New Age community’s interest …

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