Responsively Yours: Bear Fruit Worthy of Repentance

Responsively Yours: Bear Fruit Worthy of Repentance
Harriett Jane Olson presents Melba Checote-Eads of the Muscogee Nation with a cross at United Methodist Women's Assembly 2014 in Louisville

UPDATE: After this issue of response was published, Harriett Jane Olson joined United Methodists and other faith leaders at the camp at Standing Rock.

"Welcome to this land."

"I present you with this gift."

These words have been a part of the brief exchanges with Native American sisters and brothers that I have been privileged to participate in at the opening of meetings. These have been very moving moments for me and for those present — some of you will remember this from the 2014 Assembly. The moment included a gentle exchange of greetings, a recognition of the God who loves us all and an honoring of native peoples past and present and their relationship with the land. These observances have allowed us to hear a few phrases of a native language and to participate in their gifting traditions.

These moments are poignant, in part, because everyone in the room is aware of the enormity of the historical and current oppression wrecked upon indigenous peoples. United Methodist Women know something about this through our mission study  Giving Our Hearts Away by Thom White Wolf Fassett as well as through our reading and our practice of listening to native brothers and sisters, who are the experts about their own experiences. In these moments we get a glimpse of each other as people in relationship rather than as subjects or objects of a history lesson.

The 2012 General Conference offered leadership for the church by conducting an Act of Repentance and requesting annual conferences and others to do the same. I talked to many native sisters and brothers who were of two minds about the observance. It is right and proper for the church to acknowledge the history of genocide and oppression and admit our own complicity, even when harmful mission strategies were well-intended. But it is the church and non-native members that have need of repentance — it is not to the benefit our native brothers and sisters, who often carry the responsibility for organizing the observance itself and dealing with expressions of shame and regret. The worry I heard was: What will this mean? Will the church consider this "issue" to be "addressed" when a sufficient number of observances are held?

I pray this is not so. These observances are opportunities to open ourselves to mutual relationships that can lead to deeper levels of understanding and higher commitments to proper action. For example, how does participating in an Act of Repentance observance or a welcoming exchange affect the attention I give to protests lead by native peoples, like the water protectors standing against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota? Does it affect how I hear Native American protestors and sources reporting nonviolent actions when company sources and hired security report violence? Does it make me want to know more, act, ask my representatives to join the 19 members of Congress calling for withdrawal of federal permits?

Attitudes and actions like these, developed in relationship, as brother and sister, would be "fruit worthy of repentance" of the sort John the Baptist demanded of the religious leaders in Matthew 3:8. May our Acts of Repentance produce a change in our hearts as well as in our lives.

Harriett Jane Olson
General Secretary
United Methodist Women

Posted or updated: 11/2/2016 12:00:00 AM