(/sites/default/files/uploads/2012/05/tawbah.gif)The Religious Left likes to “repent” for other peoples’ sins, preferably the sins of dead white persons who left this world centuries ago while supposedly bequeathing only a shameful legacy of colonialist repression. In Religious Left mythology, the earth is essentially a kind place, besmirched only by Western imperialism, capitalism, and patriarchy.
Faithful to this myth, officials of the 12 million member United Methodist Church hosted an “Act of Repentance toward Healing Relationships with Indigenous Peoples” at the denomination’s quadrennial governing General Conference in late April in Tampa. Although 35 percent of the denomination now lives in Africa, church elites decided a church-wide apology to native peoples in America for U.S./European sins should be a chief focus. “There is a lot of history that has been concealed; you have to go and dig it up,” solemnly warned the Rev. George “Tink” Tinker, a radical professor at the church’s Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
Sporting tribal regalia and clutching a feather fan throughout, Tinker escorted his audience of nearly 1000 delegates through a dark journey of U.S./European crimes against American Indians. There were of course many gross misdeeds against the native tribes across several centuries, meriting a thoughtful historical and theological analysis. Instead, Tinker delivered what he was expected to do by the church hierarchs who hired him: an angry ideological tirade more about grievance than history. Although supposedly exposing the ostensibly concealed truth about America and its natives, Tinker’s distorted history was far more of a caricature than any 1930’s Hollywood Western.
A bishop introducing Tinker recalled a “violent history of discovering and destroying.” Another introducer lamented the Europeans brought to America “disease and weapons of mass destruction.” Methodists need to repent of their “sins and wickedness” for their collaboration with the “political forces” that repressed native peoples. Still another grim introducer more broadly cited the “injustices to indigenous peoples” that persist “around the world today.”
Tinker lamented that America’s native peoples had lost their land in exchange for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which he snorted was a “bad trade.” He sarcastically added, “I’m sorry, we’d rather have our land” over Christ, a peculiar sentiment from a seminary professor at a church convention, where Jesus is supposed to be supremely Lord. “American Christians have a vested interest in not knowing [their] history because it puts the lie to what Christians say about themselves,” he announced. “We want to say we are good guys,” Tinker complained, citing Fox News’s purported espousal of “American exceptionalism” as a sordid example.
In one of his more minor historical errors, Tinker said the first “Christian invasion” of North America started with the Pilgrims in 1620, momentarily forgetting that English settled Jamestown in 1607. He chastised the Pilgrims who “stole” Indian corn. He was referring to the corn stored in buried baskets near the shore, which the famished Pilgrims discovered upon landing after nearly months on stormy seas.
In his catalogue of unearthed crimes, Tinker next cited Episcopalians in Virginia who the “next year” invited native people for peace talks and then “slaughtered” 300 of them. Tinker seems to refer to events in 1622 (or 1621 by the old calendar), when the Jamestown Colony invited Chief Chief Opechancanough and his warriors for a feast and then poisoned and otherwise killed over 200. Unmentioned by Tinker is that earlier that year, after years of peace between colonists and Indians, Opechancanough led a patiently planned surprise massacre of the Virginians whose aim was to slay every man, woman and child. Indians walked into the villages and homes of unsuspecting colonists and killed them. About 400 perished, or perhaps one third of the Virginia colony. The number was not greater only because a Christian Indian youth, whom Tinker perhaps considers a traitor, warned the colonist family with whom he lived the night before, leading to a general alarm. Chief Opechancanough escaped the poisoning, only to attempt another surprise massacre in 1644, killing 500 Virginians. Deliberately plotting to annihilate any entire community of men, women and children, in modern terms, is called a genocide. Opechancanough was captured and killed after the second massacre.
After his pseudo-history of colonial Massachusetts and Virginia, Tinker skipped over 2 centuries to condemn the U.S. occupation of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War. Ominously, President William McKinley, as Tinker recalled accurately, was a Methodist who prayed on his knees for divine guidance before deciding how to handle the territory after the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay surrendered to Admiral Dewey. Tinker claimed America then “slaughtered” 1 million Filipinos, which he called “hard stuff” for modern Methodists to hear. How many died during the Philippines insurrection against U.S. rule is debated, but an estimated 30-40,000 rebel combatants died across several years. Several hundred thousand civilians are estimated to have possibly died during the period, mostly from cholera.
Tinker then shifted to the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, when Colonel John Chivington, a failed Methodist minister and abolitionist, led Colorado Territory militia in an attack on peaceable Indians, perhaps killing 150. Facing court martial, Chivington resigned, and he later was condemned by a congressional committee. He lived largely afterwards in disgrace. The United Methodist Church has been repenting for the Sand Creek Massacre since 1996. Tinker also complained about Tennessee Methodists who “put their political marbles in the hat” of President Andrew Jackson during his removal of the Cherokees, even as some Methodist missionaries supported the tribesmen.
What’s the answer to all this American/European/Methodist sin against tribal peoples across the centuries? “Way too early to be thinking about reconciliation,” Tinker warned. Native peoples are “not reconciled to conquest.” It would be “like asking abused spouse to live with abuser without change.” And “apologies don’t do anything.” But Tinker vaguely suggested a good start would be to guarantee “equal access” to the riches of the world. Perhaps reparations? He didn’t explain. Naturally Tinker denounced the “political system that continues to find new excuses to invade other people’s lands.” He urged a return to “harmony and balance,” citing tribal reconciliation rites after killing an elk or even eating corn, which is seen as like a mother. “There has to be a ceremony to create relationship between you and the elk,” he helpfully explained.
Prior to Tinker, another tribesman speaking for the original native peoples of Florida told delegates they were welcome to what is now known as the “colonial state of Florida.” Explaining that his people had first emerged from the “birthing canal from the female earth,” he warned the Methodist visitors, “We have rules.” Those rules include not taking 30 minute showers, he shared, since even the water is sacred.
Some international Methodist delegates thought the “repentance” service, organized by U.S. church elites less concerned about orthodox Christian doctrine than they, espoused pagan themes. They also didn’t feel complicit in the cited misdeeds of Europeans and Americans of 2 and 3 centuries ago.
Pagan or not, the United Methodist “repentance” was based more on leftist ideology than the Christian understanding of a fallen world needing redemption from God. European colonists and early Americans were sinners, as were the native peoples they encountered. Actual history should be acknowledged. And this question should be posed. Is humanity better or worse off with the “colonies” of the United States, a multicultural republic that espouses human equality and has created unprecedented freedoms and riches for countless millions? Most Americans, including most Native Americans and most Methodists, unlike their purported spokespersons, almost certainly are more thankful for than repentant over America.
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