Repent and believe

A small, odd part of me wants to give Oklahoma to the Rev. George Tinker, or maybe Florida, or Maryland. After the General Conference’s Act of Repentance toward Healing Relationships with Indigenous Peoples, April 27, it feels like an opportunity for broad hearts and bold gestures.

Actually, I’ve never really understood historic acts of collective repentance. I’m still not sure I do. But Tinker’s honesty and his brief and blood-filled history lesson of conquering, confiscation and colonization, made my heart begin to lament the sanitized version of history taught in our schools and churches.

Tinker, a member of the Osage Nation, shared the story of the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, at which a Methodist pastor was ordered by another Methodist official to kill more than 160 mostly women and children, a month after the Native Americans had surrendered.

But Tinker also explained that neither he nor his people were really interested in apologies. The stealing of one’s land and the murder of one’s people should never come so cheaply. He also shared that reconciliation isn’t possible now – nor for a very long time. “The only agreement open to us now is to be reconciled to conquest,” he said. His soul won’t bear that.

Rather, Tinker said, it’s time for white people “to find a whole other way of being in the world.” It’s a time “to go back to the Creator, instead of making yourself God.” As Jesus taught, repentance is “a process you do again and again and again. It’s a process you live out of.”

At the service, the words of Chief Joseph, a leader of the Nez Perce in the late 1800’s, were lifted up. He said his people didn’t want churches because they would teach them to quarrel about God. Learning how to live in ways that don’t make people question who we say we are seems a good first step on the way of repentance.

At the close of the service, each person present was asked to come to the symbolic river that ran down the center aisle of the worship space and select from the hundreds of rocks gathered there. The rocks would be a sign of remembrance – a promise to hold, to tell and to learn.

My rock was mud-like – dusty and brown. I wanted to rub it clean, but it’s resisting easy efforts. I suppose I have been too. The service of repentance was a first step.

“History frames our identities,” said Bishop Mary Ann Swenson. It’s important that frame and that identity reflect truth. Broad hearts and bold gestures might follow.

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Mike Hickcox is the former director of communications for the Society of St. Andrew and also served as manager of audio initiatives for United Methodist Communications and was director of communications for the New England Conference of The United Methodist Church. Photo by United Methodist Communications.

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