and I knew; then You showed me their evil deeds.
But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter.
And I did not know it was against me that they devised schemes, saying,
“Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
so that his name will no longer be remembered!”
But You, O LORD of hosts,
Who judge righteously,
Who try the heart and the mind,
let me see Your retribution upon them,
for to You I have committed my cause.
- Jeremiah 11:18-20
In the years leading up to Judah’s exile to Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah accepted God’s call to preach an unpopular message: Jeremiah’s own neighbors were profiting from injustice toward and oppression of innocent people, and God demanded their repentance. For his trouble, Jeremiah received many death threats: his neighbors, including the leaders of the land, would rather see him dead than face up to their sins and the sins of their fathers before them.
Coming up on the first Sunday of October is our annual Neighbors In Need offering. As always, we receive this offering on World Communion Sunday. Proceeds of the Neighbors In Need offering always get divided: two-thirds go to the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries to support a variety of justice initiatives, advocacy efforts, and direct service projects; one third of the offering goes to support the Council for American Indian Ministries of the United Church of Christ. This year, the UCC’s materials promoting the Neighbors In Need offering are focused squarely on the root of racism that leads to the injustice under which Native American people now live.
The words of Jeremiah quoted above remind me of a devotional talk that my friend Robert Frye of
Mt. Jackson gave at a meeting of our Shenandoah Association Council. Robert lives by the Civil War
hospital site in Mt. Jackson, and he is a long-time student of local history. In his presentation to us, he detailed how the European settlers arrived in the area we call Mt. Jackson and methodically destroyed all markers of the native civilization that they found there: villages, burial mounds, and monuments were torn down and plowed under, to erase all traces of the highly-developed peoples who the Europeans had driven out.
Yesterday at Trinity UCC near Basye, Virginia, I had a conversation with a lifelong Woodstock-area resident who told of his ancestors’ fights with the original natives there in the 1600s and 1700s: the Europeans wrote of Indian “massacres” and “outrages.” The original natives attacked as the Europeans attempted to lay claim to the land.
So, who outraged whom ? Who massacred whom ?
To a terrible degree, the incoming settlers succeeded in driving away or killing off the native people of this part of Virginia.
Elsewhere in this Commonwealth, these eleven tribes are now officially recognized: Mattaponi, Pamunkey, and Upper Mattaponi in King William County; Chickahominy in Charles City County; Eastern Chickahominy in New Kent County; Rappahannock in King & Queen County; Nansemond in the Cities of Suffolk and Chesapeake; Monacan Indian Nation in Amherst County; Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) and Nottoway of Virginia in Southampton County; and Patawomeck in Stafford County. But beyond these relatively small remnants with names are many generations of people whose heritage has been trampled under by migrants from Europe.
Most of us who came through the regular school history courses in this country were taught that our ancestors followed their “Manifest Destiny” to conquer the heathen savages and claim America for Christians. I hope that we as followers of Jesus Christ can make the effort to get beyond that fairy tale, to recognize extremely un-Christ-like behavior for what it is, and to repent of it.
Please take some time to consider how things came to be the way they are, between the descendants of the First Americans and the descendants of European immigrants… and repent.