Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Methodist Episcopal Church and the Sand Creek Massacre

We grew up on stories of Indian raids, the scalps taken and women and children murdered. We have heard tales of children kidnapped by Indians. We were raised on tv shows and movies full of pioneer families fearful of Indian attack. In 1764, my own sixth great-grandparents were murdered by Native Americans led by a white criminal. Rev. John Rhodes was a Swiss Brethren pacifist, an early settler in the Shenandoah Valley. Theirs was not the only family targeted in the area. It must have been a frightful time for the new immigrants. Their ancestors had faced persecution and death because of their faith. They had hoped their life in the New World would offer better.

What we don't often hear about is America's policy of genocide, the massacre of Native women and children, the broken treaties--justified by European Christians who believed that God had ordained them to inherit the earth and to convert the savage.

Massacre at Sand Creek: How Methodists Were Involved in an American Tragedy by Gary L, Roberts was commissioned by the General Commission on Archives ad History of the United Methodist Church. It rose out of the 2012 General Conference of the United Methodist Church through the Council of Bishops call for repentance and healing of relationships with Indigenous peoples. They called for a full disclosure of the Methodist Episcopal Church's involvement in the Sand Creek Massacre.

In 1864 at Sand Creek in the Colorado Territory, 250 Cheyennes and Arapahos under the protection of the US. government--mostly women and children--were murdered in a raid led by John M. Chivington, a popular Methodist minister. The Territorial Governor whose policies led to the attack, John Evans, was a prominent Methodist layman. 

Roberts book is scholarly in its approach. It is not a popular narrative history. He details the culture and mindset of American society at the time and considers how Native American and Western cultural paradigms differ. He offers a synopsis of American/Native relations.We learn about Chivington and Evans as religious, political, and military leaders. The natives were divided, some seeking American protection but some bands attacking the settlers. Fear was magnified and all Natives were vilified. Chivington became adamant about decimating all natives.

Thankfully, Roberts does not dwell on the outrage of the massacre, for the details he offers are too horrendous to want to know more. The reaction to the massacre was explosive and polarizing. It was considered the worst crime ever committed by America. But Methodists were reluctant to accept the charges against those responsible. They were, after all, church leaders and greatly admired.

What was the culpability of the Methodist church? Was it a lack of moral leadership, its alliance with an immoral culture? Why did the local Methodists not take a stand against Chivington? Can we judge the actions of our forefathers based on today's values and understanding? How could a society based on freedom enact such evil? Roberts explores these crucial issues.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
"It is time for this story to be told. Coming to grips with what happened at Sand Creek involves hard questions and unsatisfactory answers not only about what happened but also about what led to it and why. It stirs ancient questions about the best and worst in every person, questions older than history, questions as relevant as today's headlines, questions we all mus answer from within." from the publisher
Massacre at Sand Creek: How Methodists Were Involved in an American Tragedy
by Gary L. Roberts
Abingdon Press
$19.99 hard cover

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