By Patrick Scriven
As a child of the 80s, I’ve come to realize that I carry a fair amount of nostalgia for some movies and other pop culture moments that are less flattering in hindsight. Films I remember fondly from my childhood are sometimes less comfortable to watch with my children. The necessary conversions around race, gender, and sexuality we are having today make me cringe now at things many received uncritically as humorous then.
Similarly, I have mixed feelings as we celebrate 200 years of Methodist Missions throughout this year. Undoubtedly, some of the work of our forebears is laudable. As a Church, we have done many good things; we have saved lives and shared the Gospel message of hope and grace in transforming ways! But as we celebrate, we also need to remember moments where we have fallen short as a Christian movement; times where we were complicit in colonial expansion, for example, or where our discipleship failed to innoculate members from racist and xenophobic impulses.
On a very related note, I was happy to run across this story in The Washington Post this morning (for more UMC context, check out Linda Bloom’s article from April). It details the return of three acres of land from The United Methodist Church to the Wyandotte Nation.
One paragraph, in particular, drew my attention:
“Although the Methodists’ interactions with the Wyandottes were largely positive, Kemper said giving back the property is partly an act of repentance for times when Methodists mistreated Native Americans — sometimes badly. Col. John Chivington, for example, was a Methodist who led a group that killed about 230 Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians in the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre.”
While I am often frustrated by The United Methodist Church, moments like this give me some measure of hope. We can choose to learn from our past mistakes and missteps, but that requires our acknowledgment of them. It isn’t an either/or proposition. Through an honest embrace of humility and repentance, we can seek healing, restore relationships, and do better as we work to be in mission with communities today.
As a parent, one strategy I could take with those 80s films is never to watch them with my children. But in some cases, a better approach might be to watch them critically, pausing as needed to remind my kids (all girls) that they don’t need to be rescued by a handsome prince charming.
Or we could just watch Star Wars where Princess Leia was kicking butt years ahead of the curve.
Patrick Scriven is a husband who married well, a father of three amazing girls, and a seminary educated layperson working professionally in the church. Scriven serves the Pacific Northwest Conference as Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries.