Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s Day?

Political correctness infects virtually every aspect of our culture, our thinking, our heritage.

When I grew up (and I’m only 58), Christopher Columbus was a great hero. Now, to some, he has become a villain. He is blamed for many unjustifiable things, most of which followed in the wake of his voyage. Meanwhile, the Christian side of Columbus has been lost to most of us.

Just days ago, the Seattle School Board voted unanimously to replace Columbus Day, a federal holiday, with “Indigenous Peoples’ Day”1 to be celebrated on the same day in support of the people allegedly plundered and wiped out by Columbus and his heirs.

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Contrast this view of Columbus, which has gained currency recently, with a statement by one of nation’s first great historians, George Bancroft (1800-1891). His six-volume series (final version, 1888) on the history of the United States was a standard for a couple generations.

When I began to study America’s roots in earnest years ago, I invested in getting those six volumes. What a treasure trove. Although Bancroft was a 19th-century Unitarian, at least he didn’t edit out the G-word (God), the C-word (Christian), or the B-word (Bible) in his citations.

Bancroft said that Columbus’ voyage was certainly “the most memorable maritime enterprise in the history of the world.” Modern authors George Grant (The Last Crusader) and John Eidsmoe (Columbus and Cortez) provide excellent information on the explorer and his Christian faith.

In 1892, Columbus was elaborately honored in Chicago for the 400th anniversary of his voyage. I understand that the genesis of the Museum of Science and Industry (a phenomenal place) was that anniversary celebration.

But jump forward a hundred years to 1992. By then, Columbus was already being reviled by the politically correct elites in our culture. Columnist Gary Wills captured that sentiment well, saying: “A funny thing happened on the way to the quincentennial observation of America’s discovery: Columbus got mugged.”

It is true that Spanish and Portuguese explorers who followed Columbus’ voyage greedily sought gold, not God, in the New World. They significantly mistreated the indigenous peoples here, especially in South America. But should all the blame be laid at the feet of the Genoan sailor?

Listen to what Columbus himself wrote to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabelle of Spain on February 15, 1493, during his return voyage:

“I forbade that they [the Indians] should be given things so worthless as pieces of broken crockery and broken glass, and lace points… I gave them a thousand good, pleasing things which I had bought, in order that they might be fond of us, and furthermore might become Christians and be inclined to the love and service of Their Highnesses and of the whole Castilian nation [Spain], and try to help us and to give us of the things which they have in abundance and which are necessary to us.”

In 1505, he finished writing his Book of Prophecies, where he laid out the Christian motivation of his enterprise. He viewed his voyage as helping to hasten the Second Coming. He took to heart these words of Jesus Christ: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:14).

Why did Columbus persevere for at least seven years requesting funding for his voyage? Why did he suffer repeated rejections of his proposal and even ridicule? Why did he defy death and risk mutiny to sail west into unknown waters?

He tells us in his own words:

“It was the Lord who put into my mind (I could feel His hand upon me) to sail to the Indies. All who heard of my project rejected it with laughter, ridiculing me. There is no question that the inspiration was from the Holy Spirit, because He comforted me with rays of marvelous illumination from the Holy Scriptures.”

Under Columbus’ leadership, the sailors on the three ships began each day of the voyage with a prayer: “Blessed be the light of day, / And the Holy Cross, we say; / And the Lord of Verity / And the Holy Trinity. / Blessed be th’ immortal soul / And the Lord who keeps it whole / Blessed be the light of day / And He who sends the night away.”

Columbus named the places he landed in a way reflective of his Christian faith. These include the first island (in the Bahamas) “San Salvador,” i.e., “Holy Savior.” Other lands he named are “Trinidad,” i.e., “Trinity;” “Vera Cruz,” i.e., “True Cross;” “Navidad,” i.e., Christmas.

(Our nation’s capital is named after Columbus: The District of Columbia. There are numerous US cities named after the famous explorer.)

He was a study in endurance. I’ve heard that he repeatedly wrote in his journal, “And this day we sailed on.” Of course, even the missionary enterprise itself is suspect in our day, when each of us is expected to invent and live by “our own truth.” But Columbus was a man, like all great men, who believed in real truth—and worked hard as he could to spread it far and wide.

Although politically incorrect today, Christopher Columbus is still a hero in my book.

  1. Who most likely displaced the previous group of indigenous people. []
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