Here is a bit of United Methodist news that caught my eye.
The United Methodist Church gave $50,000 to help fund a “learning center” telling the story of the Sand Creek Massacre. The church stepped in with this money because the guy who led the attack on a Cheyenne village in the Sand Creek reservation was a former Methodist minister.
Methodists have played an unfortunate role in the past of indigenous communities and their experience of racism, intolerance, theft, cruelty, colonialism and genocide, said the Rev. Stephen Sidorak Jr. in a church statement.
“Our recognition and acknowledgment of this truth is long overdue,” Sidorak said. “The Sand Creek National Historic Site is a sacred place.”
The United Methodist General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body, issued an apology in 1996 for “the actions of a prominent Methodist (Chivington)” and authorized a donation in 2008.
The church is also preparing for an Act of Repentance to Indigenous Persons to take place at its 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Fla.
“(This) should enable us to confront the raw emotions of those who have suffered, and continue to suffer, from what experts call historical trauma,” Sidorak said. “It lives on in the lives of the survivors and the descendants of the survivors.”
It is an interesting case. Chivington’s story is fascinating. He was a fierce anti-slavery preacher. A biography of him recounts this episode:
In 1856, pro-slavery members of his congregation sent him a threatening letter instructing him to cease preaching. When many of the signatories attended his service the next Sunday, intending to tar and feather him, Chivington ascended the pulpit with a Bible and two pistols. His declaration that “By the grace of God and these two revolvers, I am going to preach here today” earned him the sobriquet the “Fighting Parson.”
When the Civil War broke out, he turned down a commission as a chaplain, left his position as presiding elder in his conference, and joined the army. He would go on to be a war hero, an ambitious and opportunistic politician, and the leader of a massacre later deemed by the army “a cowardly and cold-blooded slaughter.”
A UMNS article about Sand Creek says he was readmitted to membership in an annual conference in 1868, but other biographical information suggests he did not return to preaching.
In the end, I’m not sure how much Chivington’s story tells us about 19th century Methodism, but it is an interesting glimpse into another time and place that still affects people today.