June 29: Marcus and Narcissa Whitman

Another Look at a Presbyterian Missionary
by Rev. David T Myers

Marcus WhitmanWe all live in an age of political correctness. We may not accept it, nor delight in it. Frankly, it  can be a challenge to our biblical Christianity as we follow  it each and every day. We see it on many fronts.

The faculty and student body, past and present, saw it in the history  of a four year liberal arts college in the state of Washington recently.  The college is Whitman College. The college was begun in the eighteen hundreds as a prep school. Then in the early nineteen hundreds, it was changed to a college.

It had an interesting mascot for a school.  We have all experienced them in our collegiate days. And a lot of them are  under attack today due to “political correctness” mentioned above in our first paragraph, especially dealing with sports teams.  With this College however, their teams down through the years were known as “Missionaries.”  Yes, you read that right.  Their mascot was Missionaries.

This was due to the fact that the name of the school was called Whitman, named after the nineteenth century Presbyterian missionary, Marcus Whitman, who was called to minister the gospel to the area’s Indian tribes, or pardon me, native American people, called the Cayuse.

We have dealt with Whitman’s life and times before during our maiden year of This Day in Presbyterian History in 2012 on February 29th, this day, June 29, and also on August 18th of that year. So this post is not a case of your not having read and considered the remarkable ministry and his wife before they were martyred for the gospel.

What Whitman College did though is quite recent. They polled their graduates and present faculty and student body. The majority of the latter indicated that this mascot name was inappropriate for a modern college, implying that the name was non-inclusive and imperialistic, and incorrectly implied that Whitman College is a religious school.

Now this author is not really thrilled about a mascot named Missionaries. But the reason for the change was essentially that the calling of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman to this tribe of native Americans was wrong and not to be recognized as acceptable in a day of political correctness.

It was on this day, June 29, 1936,  that the United States Congress recognized the work of the Whitmans and set aside the Whitman National Historical Park in Washington state.  But then, that was before political correctness became a standard for faith and life in the life of our beloved country.

Words to Live By:
The Bible states in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (NIV) This is true for all “political correctness” in our day.  How we must pray for spiritual discernment for Christians today, for our local churches and her leaders and members, that we all might be biblically oriented, Christ honoring, and committed in applying the Word of God to our culture today, and yes, even to political correctness.


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