The Rev. George Tinker helps lead an April 27 “Act of Repentance toward Healing Relationships with Indigenous Peoples” at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey.
So, Rev. Tinker calls us to repent and restore balance to the world; does he? A frightening call, for such balance calls for awareness and change and change does not come easily. Tinker’s are hard words, for the Church struggles with interpreted theology that calls for change and bucks the traditional, the historical, and what is perceived as the normal — Think of today’s struggle with accepting marginalized LBGTQ folk into the fold, into leadership, and into having ordain authority to speak of their God created life and theology to us. Hard work, because, as Tinker notes, the Church—the people have to “dig it up, spade the ground” and find what Church and community structure historically and currently conceal from us.
Repentance can only arise and become meaningful through awareness. The importance of Tinker’s thoughts is the challenge that the act of repentance is not a moment in time, but rather an action of ongoing awareness that is fluid. Like a river, as we float around the next bend we experience a new willow or a new rock telling us a story we did not know before. Tinker’s words are a call into unending repentance that comes with each new, but often old, story. It is a call to struggle with our atrocities and the grief we’ve caused to the marginalized, to people of color, to American Tribal people.
We are called to claim history such as Methodist Col. John Chivington’s ordered killing of elderly men, women, and children at Sand Creek in 1864. We are called to become aware and question how Methodist President Grant’s 1870 “Indian Peace Policy” supported the subjugation of American Tribal land and people by way of government-supported Christian Boarding Schools.
If we accept Tinker’s understanding of repentance, then We, the Church, must become conscious that we have a past that has been carefully “concealed” from us, that we must dig through layers of privilege to find “a lot of history to be owned,” and that with each new revelation, we must repent again. For, as Tinker reminds us, it is only through this repetitive act of repentance that we will participate in the restoration of balance. A balance that allows Us—the Church to one day, again, become reconciled with our marginalized sisters and brothers.