Methodism and the massacre

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.

5 thoughts on “Methodism and the massacre

  1. I’ve tried to bring this up at other points when this is mentioned but Chivington WASN’T a Methodist preacher (much less a DS) when he led the attack at Sand Creek.

    It is embarrassing that he was readmitted in 1868, but that was after Sand Creek.

  2. Leaders of my church, Episcopal, do the same thing. A couple of years ago the Presiding Bishop led a convocation somewhere in South America which focused on how the Episcopal church had not been dutiful enough in its opposition to slavery in the 19th century. Come on!!! Not only is this stuff wrongheaded–how many thousands of Methodists have gone unrecognized down the centuries even though they have fought tooth and nail against aggression against isolated groups? How many Episcopalians died in the Civil War fighting to free the slaves? Let’s have a celebration of these if we must have some kind of commemoration of the past. And by the way, while we’re doing all of this, what are we doing about the fact that our denominations are losing members right and left? What are the priorities among our leaders and what is the fundamental motivation that drives them? It seems to me that guilt is the main driver of this stuff, and that it gets in the way of doing the work to which we should be attending.

    1. I wonder if expunging phantom guilt about stuff our generation did not do diverts us from appropriate conviction about what we are failing to do right now.

      1. Unfortunately, there appears to be a lot of “white male guilt” in our general agencies and seminaries. Too often, there seems to be an attitude of wanting to replace our current membership with “other” people who because they are younger, less white and more enlightened will do all sorts of wonderful things. Sometimes they seem to forget what Jesus did with fishermen and tax collectors.

        We would do better trying to take the sinners that we have and continuing their journey to perfection.

      2. I have never heard anyone ask this question, and I think it is a truly convicting one.

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