Have any Native Americans been Christian Scientists?

August 22, 2022

Tsianina Redfeather Blackstone, a singer and performer of Creek and Cherokee ancestry, c. 1915–1920. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Tsianina Redfeather Blackstone, a singer and performer of Creek and Cherokee ancestry, c. 1915–1920. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

The Mother Church (The First Church of Christ, Scientist) does not keep records on its members’ race or ethnicity. Nevertheless, we were able to find examples of Native Americans who were Christian Scientists. 

Tsianina Blackstone (1882–1985) was a prominent Native American singer in the early twentieth century who later became a Christian Science practitioner. She was listed as such in The Christian Science Journal for almost four decades, from June 1942 to April 1981, in Burbank, California.

In her memoir, Where Trails Have Led Me, Blackstone describes her first encounter with Christian Science. She had been dealing with a long-term illness that had caused her to lose her voice. At a concert in Chicago, sometime after the end of World War I, her substitute band member introduced her to Christian Science. She wrote:

What the Practitioner said about God and my own relationship to Him was inspiring and made me feel better right away…. I learned that no real condition had been there in the first place. It was my belief about it and fear of it that had held me in bondage for ten years. In a few days I was free—His child.1

A few pages later, Blackstone further described her faith: 

The word of God heals. I know that the American Indian has proved it many times. It is a provable fact in Christian Science, and I have proved it in my own experience.2 

It is unclear if Blackstone remained a Christian Scientist late in life. But her great-niece, professor Tsianina Lomawaima, described the long-lasting importance of Christian Science to Blackstone in her article “A Principle of Relativity Through Indigenous Biography.”3 

Harvey Wood (1925–2000) was both a practitioner and a Christian Science teacher in the Chicago area. He also served on the Christian Science Board of Directors from 1977 to 1992. In her 1998 book Monitoring the News, Susan Bridge describes Wood’s background: “His straight dark hair showed the Cherokee blood in which he takes such pride.”4 No other information on his Native American background has come to light. More about Wood can be found in a 1977 announcement in The Christian Science Journal, “New Director of The Mother Church.”

We were also curious about the influence of Christian Science on Native American reservations. No evidence suggests that Christian Science societies or churches were ever organized on reservations. However, we found an instance in which a Christian Scientist held informal services on a reservation near Milford, Utah. In the July 1899 issue of the Journal, Mary Lloyd of Denver, Colorado, offered this account (it should be noted that the language in this article is reflective of that time period, well over 100 years ago):

Milford, Utah, is a small town, quite near the reservations of the two Indian tribes, the Utes and the Pi-utes …. Three sisters have settled there, all of them Christian Scientists, and one of them is married to a Mr. McQ., who is one of the principal traders there, and is known far and wide among the Indians, who call him “Mickey.” About four years ago the Ute Chief, Charlie (who has since been to Denver at one of our Carnivals) was very sick indeed, with rheumatism, and a complication of various diseases. They set him on his pony, and brought him down to Milford to die, and for the next day or two the Indians came mustering in to see the great chief die, and die he certainly would had not some one spoken to him and told him that Mrs. McQ “spoke with the Great Spirit,” and that if he wished she would speak to Him in his behalf. Chief Charlie said “Yes, let Mickey’s squaw be sent for.” She came, and treated him, and in less than a week he was perfectly well, and has been well ever since.5

After this healing, interest in Christian Science grew on the reservation.6

The Christian Science periodicals also provide personal accounts of Native Americans who were healed by Christian Science while they lived on reservations. In most of these cases, the individual who was healed later became a Christian Scientist. One such example can be found in the October 1929 Journal. In this testimony, Lauretta S. Holtze describes how she was healed when she lived on a reservation in Utah:

In the year 1908, when the doctors pronounced my case fatal and the end seemed at hand, a Christian Scientist came to my father and told him about Christian Science. She asked for permission to send a practitioner to me, and he consented. The disease was dropsy, and the body was swollen almost beyond recognition. The last time the doctor visited me he said I had but three hours to live.

 

About two hours after the doctor had left, the practitioner arrived. She lovingly asked me if I could read. The reply was, “No, I cannot see.” She did some silent work, then handed me “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy. The book was open at page 462. My sight returned immediately, and I was able to read. About an hour later I fell asleep with the book grasped tightly in my hand. It was then half past four in the afternoon. An hour later I awoke completely healed, still tightly holding the precious book…. The healing has been permanent. Thanks to God and Christian Science, there has never been a suggestion of the recurrence of the disease. Since that time Christian Science has been my only physician, and I am more and more grateful for it every day. It has met my every human need.7 

Other examples of healing are available in the Journal, as well as the Christian Science Sentinel.

Interestingly, while Christian Science churches were not present on reservations, Christian Science literature and ideas still spread to these locations. An example of this can be seen in “God is Everywhere,” published in the June 23, 1951, Sentinel. Here the author included the text of a letter he received from a Native American man living on an unspecified reservation:

During the past three years I have been fortunate in obtaining occasional copies of The Christian Science Journal, the Christian Science Sentinel, and The Christian Science Monitor: and once I was blessed in having a borrowed copy of Science and Health for a period of ten days. This literature has brought a God-sent revelation to me and has enabled me to gravitate away from many of the old doctrines and false beliefs about life. Although a sufferer from tuberculosis, appendicitis, and heredity or its claims, I was not seeking healing, but a truer, higher knowledge of God, His laws, and man. I find that I am experiencing, after forty years of misery, a marked degree of relief from pain, and I am buoyant with the hope of demonstrating a still greater measure of freedom…. While I had Science and Health I memorized Mrs. Eddy’s spiritual interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer, and what a wonderful help it is. I find myself repeating and trying to imbibe its meaning, yes, even during the hours of sleep, when false suggestions and erroneous beliefs in the shape of bad dreams rear their ugly heads. Such practice seems to be awakening me to the reality of Life, God, Spirit, and the spiritual creation.8 

In response, the author sent copies of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures and the Christian Science Quarterly. The Native American man responded as follows:

I am sure you can understand my surprise and joy when I received the copy of Science and Health and the Quarterly. Since writing to you last Sunday I had determined to send for that wonderful book as soon as I possibly could; in fact, I was prayerfully contemplating just how I could manage it; and now to know that I actually possess a copy! God is blessing me in such remarkable ways that I feel very humble and grateful and happy….9

For a more contemporary example of Christian Science work on reservations, see the Sentinel article “A Culture in Common.”

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  1. Tsianina Blackstone, Where Trails Have Led Me (1970), 130–131.
  2. Blackstone, Where Trails Have Led Me, 135.
  3. K. Tsianina Lomawaima, “A Principle of Relativity Through Indigenous Biography,” Biography, Summer 2016, 248–269.
  4. Susan Bridge, Monitoring the News: The Brilliant Launch and Sudden Collapse of The Monitor Channel (Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1998), 51.
  5. “Notes from the Field,” The Christian Science Journal, July 1899, 283. https://journal.christianscience.com/shared/view/hsvsonq35a?s=copylink.
  6. “Notes from the Field,” 283. https://journal.christianscience.com/shared/view/hsvsonq35a?s=copylink.
  7. Lauretta S. Holtze, “Testimonies of Healing,” The Christian Science Journal, October 1929, 396–397. https://journal.christianscience.com/shared/view/1k7bfhpdyu2?s=copylink.
  8. Frank T. Mc Cormick, “God Is Everywhere,” Christian Science Sentinel, 23 June 1951, 1073. https://sentinel.christianscience.com/shared/view/2as1kap5r4i?s=copylink.
  9. “God Is Everywhere,” 1074. https://sentinel.christianscience.com/shared/view/2as1kap5r4i?s=copylink.