College Rejects Missionary Founders

Marcus and Narcissa Whitman were sacrificial, brave, earnest and well-meaning people who provided medical care and education to the Cayuse Indians.

By Mark Tooley Published on May 1, 2016

Whitman College in Washington state is abandoning its supposedly “divisive” and imperialistic “Missionaries” mascot in favor of a more “inclusive” successor, at the recommendation of its “Mascot Working Group.” Another “working group” will nominate that successor, subject to ratification by the “college community.”

The liberal arts school was named after 19th Presbyterian missionaries named Whitman who were killed by Cayuse Indians enraged by measles inadvertently spread by newly arrived settlers. There are no plans evidently to rename Whitman, which was originally founded as a Congregationalist seminary but long since has shed any church affiliation.

According to the Mascot Working Group, the Missionaries “can be interpreted as honoring the imperialistic policies and actions of the western movement in North America in the 19th and early 20th centuries.” The Group also fretted the mascot “implies an inappropriate association with the Christian church” and “that ‘missionaries’ has religious imagery that is not appropriate for a secular college,” even scaring off “highly qualified potential applicants.”

Additionally, the Missionaries were deemed “offensive to members of Native American cultures whose ancestors were the victims of that movement.”

In the same spirit, Whitman’s school newspaper, The Pioneer, is also name changing, no longer wanting to celebrate the “arrival of white invaders” or “settler-colonialism and white supremacy,” preferring instead to serve a “diverse, tolerant and curious community.” How likely will politically correct Whitman truly seek to be “diverse, tolerant and curious?”

The original Missionaries themselves seem to have been sacrificial, brave, earnest, flawed but well-meaning people. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman opened their mission to the Cayuse in the 1830s. As a doctor, he offered medical help. As a teacher, she taught children. Their own only child drowned. Narcissa went blind. Their evangelism wasn’t well received, and reportedly the tribe thought their ways “haughty.” In later years the Whitmans focused more on arriving settlers, and they took in 11 orphans of immigrants, adopting 7 German siblings. Husband and wife helped both Indians and whites during the epidemic, but were among 14 pioneers killed in 1847 by Cayuse warriors, several of whom would later hang, including a chief. Also among the dead were two of the adopted children, with three more dying in Cayuse captivity. A statue of Marcus Whitman represents Washington state in the U.S. Capitol.

It’ll be interesting to see whom or what the college named for the Whitmans chooses as its new “inclusive” mascot. Under current academic political correctness, in which all are divided into different competing racial and gender grievance groups, what exactly is unifying except condemnation of the purported “oppressor?”

The poor Whitmans doubtless made their mistakes but they tried to help people of different races, at the sacrifice of their family and own lives. Non-Christian and non-religious people can appreciate that missionaries like the Whitmans elevated humanity with education and medical care, transmitting a humane ethos based in a God who cares about all people.

If the Whitmans were seen as “haughty” by some Cayuse, surely Whitman College and much of academia should self-reflectively recognize a straight line of ancestry between their postmodern selves and their original Christian missionary founders. Today’s arbiters of academic fashion are doubtless even more inflexible in enforcing their own rigid code of supposed inclusive propriety. The Gospel of Diversity is far more demanding than the Christian Gospel because it offers no grace or forgiveness and abides no dissent.

Modern advanced education, especially universities, is a direct product of Western Civilization and inextricably linked with the Christian mission to educate about God’s creation. Whitman College was not founded by Tibetan Buddhist monks. Most colleges and universities outside the Islamic world have some historic origin with Christianity. So why deny, reject, or put on sack cloth and ashes over the connection? Shouldn’t a true diversity be able to incorporate even dreaded, guilty Western Civilization and Christianity? And isn’t homogenized, sloganeering, liberationist academia ultimately a suffocating boor even to its own secular priesthood of true believers?

As to Whitman College’s guilt over affiliation with European pioneer settlers, the Cayuse were not the first people of that region. In the 10,000 years or so since Asiatics first wandered across the Bering Land Bridge into America countless tribes in Oregon have settled, conquered, waged war against each other, and destroyed or displaced previous settler tribes. Pioneering did not start with the Europeans.

Supposedly native students at Whitman are offended by celebrating missionaries. But the vast majority of American Indians today are affiliated with Christianity, their ancestors having hearkened to the missionary message. Of course, every Christian people group was originally evangelized by somebody from another nationality, dating back to the original Hebrew apostles.

That 2000 years of trans-generational missionary enterprise, bringing civilization, modernity and human rights, has a far more glorious history than the last couple decades of rather self-absorbed secular academic fashion.

Maybe 100 years from now students and academics will indignantly organize working groups, change names, and pass indignant resolutions of pious condemnation aimed at today’s often smug and intolerant campus nannies. They who are the most ungrateful of preceding generations are typically the least appreciated by future generations.



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