It is very difficult for white Americans of European descent to understand what life has been like for the first peoples in their own land. Difficult, I believe, because we somehow think that whatever it is we have to ask forgiveness for, it was all in the past. And it wasn’t us, it was an ancestor maybe. And maybe not even one of my ancestors, because all my relatives arrived on the East Coast long after its first inhabitants had been removed—by those other white people.
And there it is—a string of reasons why it is difficult for us to understand our need for repentance.
Last night a group of about 50 Native American United Methodists gathered for a dinner to share a meal and to prepare for tonight’s Act of Repentance. They came from all corners of the United States, representing more than 20 tribal groups. How good it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in harmony. Yet even in the genuine warmth that filled the room, they were remembering why they came.
As they celebrated one another’s accomplishments—that the Rev. David Wilson, a member of the Choctaw Nation from Oklahoma, would stand for bishop, the first viable Native American candidate from the South Central Jurisdiction; or that Rachael Mull, a Navajo from New Mexico, would be the first Navajo to serve as director of Four Corners Navajo Ministry—they pondered why they were counting “firsts” in The United Methodist Church. “Firsts,” after some of the ancestors of the people in the room had felt the spirit of God move them through the words of John Wesley himself, 50 years before the Methodist Europeans arrived to “plant” Methodism on North American soil.
And yet, a couple of those gathered said to me, “If this goes well…who knows?” Have we reached that turning point? More to come…