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Mike Denton preaches on ‘right words’ of 1987 apology

Preaching at the Annual Meeting 2016 closing worship on Sunday, May 1, Conference Minister Mike Denton recalled that in November 1987, former Washington North Idaho Conference Minister Jim Halfaker and nine other Christian denominational leaders signed a Public Declaration of Apology to the tribal councils and traditional spiritual leaders of the Indian and Eskimo peoples of the region.

“They acted to right wrongs of their churches’ participating in destroying Native American religions by protecting their spiritual teachings and pledging to stand in solidarity with Native Americans on religious issues and treaty negotiations,” Mike said, asking people to reflect on:  “How have we done?

“What have we done to right the wrongs, to enhance native teachings, to stand in solidarity and be advocates?” he aside.  “How might we do better?”

Those questions are important as the religious leaders of today approach the 30th anniversary and prepare to sign a renewal of that public declaration.

Mike Denton introduces PNC staff, Courtney Stange-Tregear, Wade Zick, Michelle Doherty, Mark Boyd and Arlene Hobson.

Picking up on the focus verse for the weekend repeated at the Annual Meeting, he said, “The right words at the right time are like apples of gold in settings of silver.”

Mike acknowledged that “the host people on whose lands we meet” were among the recipients of the formal apology.

“The letter then was the first letter of its kind and inspired letters all over the world,” Mike said.  “It’s now part of academic curricula.  It gives power to religious organizations.  It has not solved the aftermath of the destruction, but it gives basis for conversation.”

The apology was the “right words at the right time,” coming out of festering wounds the churches let happen.

Jeff Barker of Columbia Lakewood in Seattle and Steve Erickson of Shalom in Richland help serve communion.

A listening process began decades before the apology and led to the moment.  Over time 84 churches have been asked to support it, but it has no state support or recognition of the need for restitution.

“History says don’t hope this side of the grave,” Mike commented.  “What was written came out of decades of listening.  Regardless, the acts never should have occurred.”

Since 1987, religious leaders have reaffirmed the letter in 1997 and in 2007.

Mike is involved with the group looking at the 30th anniversary and talking with indigenous people.

“It’s not meant for denominations to pat themselves on the back, but now it includes opposing and repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery,” Mike said.

Edwin Gaelai, pastor, and members of the Faavae Fou Samoan church were welcomed into the Pacific Northwest Conference of the UCC during the Annual Meeting.  Outgoing moderator Andy CastroLang or Westminster UCC in Spokane and new moderator Peter Ilgenfritz of University Congregational UCC of Seattle are in the front row.

The UCC General Synod in 2013 voted to repudiate the papal bull of 1432 in which the Holy Roman Empire claimed land it discovered.  It declared that any time Christians found something or went to a new land, the people there were discovered.  It established property rights and was used again and again.

In 1792, President Jefferson took over Native American land and made part of U.S. land.  The Supreme Court in 2005 used it to establish property rights over tribal groups.

“The wrong words spoken and enforced are like a knife to the heart,” Mike said.  “There is a place and time to call for new right words, so for 2017, we are working to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, which was also used in Asia, Africa and Latin America.  European churches rationalized establishing control and ownership.”

In the coming year, a group of UCC leaders will address the new situation, so it will not just be an anniversary of the apology of 1987, but a new call for next steps to welcome work for liberation and give up what has been held.

“May the Holy Spirit lead us to new right words,” Mike concluded.


Copyright © June 2016 Pacific NW UCC News


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