An Invitation to Repentance

By Rev. Glen Chebon Kernell Jr.

Those of the Christian faith have entered into one of the most sacred times of the Christian year, the Lenten season.  Many of our communities began a process of fasting, prayer and repenting.  Many even placed ashes upon their foreheads as signs of contrition and new beginnings.

As people of faith, we are called daily to walk in life in this same way, to constantly search out the areas of our reality that need change.  We search for space to become better human beings and even better members of creation.  It is also during these moments of searching that we find ourselves realizing that we are not as close to God as we would like, and must find space for our Creator.   We often forget this reverent obligation to our spiritual lives.

We must be reminded to repent, to turn away, to begin again, to come to new knowledge.  We must be reminded of how we are supposed to love, care and give with no end to our neighbors, to our elders, to our children and, yes, even those who are different from us.

Healing Relationships with Indigenous Peoples

Act of Repentance
A delegate picks up a stone in the center aisle during 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.

Over the course of the past few months, I have been asked to assist our denomination in a process of repenting.  Repenting to the Native American and Indigenous persons of the world for atrocities committed throughout history and for atrocities being committed today.  As one might guess, this is the most futile of assignments, for where do we even begin.  Questions have already been raised such as: “Will it end racism?”  “Will any change come?” And even the most hurtful: “Why don’t you just get over it?”

The reality is often that we do not even recognize the depth of wound that exists in our Native American community and even the difficulty of expressing a way of life counter to both popular culture and popular church culture.  And even Native American leaders from throughout our United Methodist Church have had to continue to sacrifice and work diligently to mobilize a Native American community that is more than skeptical of this repenting endeavor.  It is nothing new for us to hear an apology all the while watching the stealing of land, water, resources and even children.

The time for the church to repent has come.  In 2012, we witnessed our General Conference engage in a service of repentance, sending a message of contrition to indigenous peoples across the world, but it did not end there. The General Conference of The United Methodist Church also left the rest of the church a mandate to continue “to heal relationships with indigenous peoples” at Annual Conferences and local churches.  A select few conferences have begun this work. Conversations have taken place and trainings have occurred with Native American communities, but for many it has been business as usual.

We must realize that we hold in our hands the potential to change the course of history. By repenting and acknowledging the truth, we can help to facilitate an era of healing of relationships and mutuality between Native and non-native persons. Today, bishops, clergy and laity, I give this invitation to repentance toward the indigenous peoples of our world.

How to Begin the Process of Repentance

For churches or persons throughout the connection who would like to begin the process of repentance or have other questions, please contact your annual conference office, The Conference Committee on Native American Ministries, or the Rev. Chebon Kernell, Executive Secretary of Native American and Indigenous Ministries of The General Board of Global Ministries at gkernell@umcmission.org.


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  1. Dan Burress

    The need for repentance is great and we must agree with God and Scripture on the definition of sin. The crisis over gay marriage is a good example. The Methodist Church should not dare to bless what God has cursed! All ministers and lay persons who support same gender unions of any type have made a gross error and have betrayed the doctrines of the Gospel. Such persons have turned a deaf ear to the pleadings of the Holy Spirit, who instructs us to run from a lifestyle that can only bring spiritual death to all who follow it.

  2. Pastor Chad Jacobs

    If you want a righteous government and church, they both have to repent of their ways. We cannot allow same sex marriage become legal. If you do, you might as well legalize prostitution. One sin is equal to all others. All sins are equal. If you respect people for their sins, this in itself is a sin. (James 2) Repent? Make this nation repent and your church needs to repent for supporting gay rights. Sodom and Gomorrah was not a happy story but what happens to our false ministers of today? Even worse! (II Peter 2 full chapter.)

  3. Kevin

    “It is nothing new for us to hear an apology all the while watching the stealing of land, water, resources and even children.”

    When was the last time we stole a Native American child?
    My ancestors arrived on the Mayflower. How many generations does it take to be called a Native American?
    At some point we just have to move on. As Dan pointed out The UMC has bigger problems to solve.

  4. Jeanne Rozman

    Sorry but God does not curse gay unions or gay marriages. Please let us not try to make God into a weapon of our own prejudices. God is much bigger than people’s erroneous thoughts. If we do not follow all the minute dietary and other laws in the book of Leviticus than why does the UMC have to continue to go by exclusionary language in the Book of Discipline? The inability of United Methodist ministers to marry same sex couples will continue to be a big problem in states where there is marriage equality. Is it not time to really live up to our slogan “Open Doors, Open Minds, and Open Hearts” by allowing United Methodist ministers to do the right thing and marry loving, committed couples, regardless of gender.

  5. Laura L. Salguero

    I do not believe the above post has anything to do with the subject at hand. As far as the definition of sin goes, I think we can all agree that the way white European settlers and later the United States government treated Native Americans was a sin.

  6. Mark

    Please stop wasting our time on these meaningless exercises in imaginary guilt.

    While it may be tragic what happened to indigenous Americans (or American Indians, as you may prefer), in truth this is the least cruel takeover of land in history.

    The Bible regularly records invasions into new lands. From Numbers through Isaiah, the dead include the Midian’s, Syrians, Philistines, Assyrians, Edomites, Canaanites and Chaldeans and others, at places like Gibeon, Tabor, Shechem, Jericho and Jezreel, to name but a few.

    The theme remains the same: Kill them all. Take their land and property for your own. Or at least kill all the men, and carry off the women and girls. King David was especially good at this.

    In the American example, a less cruel method was used: they were forcefully confined to patches of earth where these pagan people were to be allowed to live out their lives much as before.

    I do not defend what happened as a kindness, but surely it must be preferable to wholesale extermination, which really is the model shown us repeatedly in the Bible.

    Finally, I was not born while all this was going on, but when I was born, it was in America. That makes me as much a native of this great land as anyone else, and is a title that confers no racial component. As a Native American, I am tired of this weak tea that only serves to divide our house, and honors no one, no matter how it may play out.

    This topic is racist, revisionist and not worthy of additional discussion.

  7. Kevin

    If you sugarcoat it too much no one will get the point you are trying to make.

  8. Pastor Bill

    Mark, I agree with you. Repentance in the Bible is primarily an individual act and I cannot see that I have any guilt because of what my great-grandfather my great-great-grandfather may have perpetrated on the indigenous peoples of America. The larger issue in our nation is not what what was perpetrated in the past over 100 years ago, rather it is equal opportunity for all of the people of America for we have all become indigenous people of the United States. We are Caucasian, we are Asian, we are African, we are islanders and we are all one people. This is the greatness of our country. And many many people are seeking to become one of us daily. Our faith demands that we have a quality equal opportunity equal protection under law and equal opportunity to practice our religion as we see fit.

  9. Christine Shade

    Looking at these comments, we have a long way to go in repentance. To not have a conversation as to why people feel slighted is ignorance at it’s best. You do not understand because you did not have your culture stolen from you. Being a nomadic culture who is forced to stay “on a patch of land” is not “being allowed to live as you have”. Generations still are affected by this. Peaceful takeover or no, the word takeover should say it all. You need to open your hearts and your ears to hear what is being said.

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