Olivia's Genealogy Site: Methodism and Native Americans
|This Web page is based on research of records known to be valid from State records, Federal records, manuscripts, and private papers. Records found at Duke University Library and other special books. ( Bibliography on Methodism and Native Americans at bottom of page) (NA=Native American)|
Methodism and Native Americans
When we embrace diversity, we embrace God.
WHO ARE THE LUMBEE?
Our nation is located in NC and we are the largest body of Indians east of the Mississippi who have never lived on a reservation; who have no affiliation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. We are about 60,000 strong and are the 5th largest nation in the USA but we still remain unknown by most of the people outside of NC and the immediate adjoining states. In fact many people of the people who live in the 100 counties that make up NC are not aware of us. We are visible-invisible people to others but we know that we are a reflection of the Creator God.
All of us are to reflect the image of God. A reflection which is of the world and has caused untold harm to God’s creation is PREJUDICE.
Galatians 3:28 tells us----There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
UNLIKE WHAT THE SCRIPTURE SAYS, It seems to be our natural inclination to feel uncomfortable around people who are different from us and to gravitate toward those who are similar to us. But when we allow our differences to separate us from our fellow believers, we are disregarding clear Biblical teaching. All of us need to seek out and to appreciate people who are not just like we or out friends are.
As you know too well historically and currently this country has made many mistakes in the treatment of those who are different from the majority.
As a Native American I would like to share some of the experiences of my people.
I. Throughout history Native Americans have been referred to as heathens, savages and even worse. ALEXANDER POPE wrote, “Lo the poor Indian! Whose untutored mind sees God in the clouds and hears Him in the Wind”.
II. In response to this a Cherokee female author said, “I see God in the clouds and I hear Him in the wind. When I was a child I thought I could hear time, and I knew what a dove and a whippoorwill said when they called from the meadows and the woodland.
It is the nature of the Indian to hear with the spirit because his life is based on spiritual foundations, immovable foundations that motivate him to worship. Music is a part of this, music from the rustling leaves and singing streams, but from gifted people as well. She said tears came when she first heard classical music in her youth, for she felt she had been introduced to the ANGELS. She continued it still happens whenever I hear the strains of violin music.
Come to the table, come feast with the SPIRIT, not because the Indian is good, not because anyone is good but because the Lord is Merciful. God’s Grace and Mercy are the heritage of all HIS people.
My personal spiritual growth has been shaped directly by the Methodist Church.
I would like to share with you ways that METHODISM AND THE METHODIST CHURCH have been accepting of the Native People.
John and Charles Wesley were in St. Simons Island, Ga. Two times between 1732-1760s. Charles was a preacher and also served as Sec. of Indian Affairs and Chaplain to the governor who was Gen. James Olgethorpe. Charles began his ministry at Fredrica. John returned home to England in 1738 and that is when he had the ALDERSGATE EVANGELICAL EXPERIENCE WHEN HE SAID THAT HIS HEART WAS STRANGELY WARMED. His experience eventuated in the origin of the Methodist Church in which he, John Wesley, had the principal role.
John Wesley was appalled by the atrocities Europeans committed against the NA. He poured out his moral outrage on European Christians, including the English colonists. In a sermon “A CAUTION AGAINST BIGOTRY” he did not mince words regarding the treatment of the NA:
“Even cruelty and bloodshed, how little have the Christians come behind them! And not the Spaniards or the Portuguese alone, butchering thousands in South America; not Dutch only in the East Indies, or the French in North America, following the Spaniards step by step; our own countrymen, too, have wantoned in blood and exterminated whole nations; plainly proving thereby what spirit it is that dwells and works in the children of disobedience.
We are called to be DOERS out of a deep faith that says God calls God’s people to a holiness of heart and life. Holiness meant BOTH A QUALITY OF RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD AND A WAY OF LIVING IN THE WORLD---METHODIST MISSIONARIES CAME bringing a ministry of justice and compassion.
Methodists gathered in hundreds of Indian converts through the use of circuit riders. These circuits could cover 200 to 400 miles. They did not hold to some of the more rigid preaching and doctrines that would rob the Natives of their essence as human beings. It was recognized that they had an inner moral sense or conscience and could make the decision to accept Christ on faith. The Rev. Chaffin was on a circuit during the Civil War which included the Lumbee Nation in North Carolina. He not only kept a daily detailed diary which documents his work there but it also includes historical information on what was happening in the war.*
Some of the other denominations did not focus on the common people but the Methodists did. They treated the poorest and most illiterate with the same respect and concern as the most literate and wealthy. Eventually, when the church helped establish schools, they offered education to everyone regardless of their economic or social standing.
NA FOLK WERE NOT ALLOWED TO ATTEND UNIVER. IN NC. IN THE 1920s AND 30s 10 OF OUR YOUNG MEN WERE HELPED TO GO TO McKENDREE COLLEGE, IN LEBANON, ILLINOIS—WHICH WAS A METHODIST CONTROLLED COLLEGE---5 OF THE 10 WERE MY RELATIVES
The Methodists had a more democratic and less formal version of Christianity which was not as concerned with doctrinal preaching but a personal spiritual commitment. Salvation was open to all. The self-worth of a person was not totally destroyed if there was an occasional fall from “grace”. God’s love was preached not the fear of the wrath of a vengeful God. The message was simple and offered hope and divine assistance. It was directed toward winning the hearts of the people. If a person made a clear sincere statement of faith and demonstrated the willingness to have further instruction he/she could be baptized. He/she was then admitted to the “societies” or “classes” because part of the belief is that we “grow in grace” and less on the “divine transformation” of the soul. Therefore, Christian education was a continuous process then as it is today.
During the warmer months preaching was held outside either in the open or under arbors with logs for seats. (A few years ago my parents, Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Lowry of Rowland, North Carolina, built an arbor for preaching services on their land in North Carolina to honor the early ways.)
The Indian people were accepted as interpreters, exhorters (My grandfather, Abner Lowry, was listed as an exhorter in some church documents that were found), missionary assistants, and they were licensed as preachers and ordained as ministers without worrying about the fine points of theology. Using Native ministers was a vital part of the spreading of Christianity. Many Indian nations honor those who are great orators among them. The emotional and persuasive preaching of the Methodists was very appealing. Often, the preaching and outdoor camp meetings resembled the tone and emotionality that was and is today a part of the traditional dancing and feasting of the Natives.
Many Methodist missionaries married wives within the Nations in which they preached and lived and reared their families there. This proved to many Natives that Christianity had the power to break down the racial, national, and cultural barriers.
Many missionaries did not remain neutral politically. In the 1800’s when the federal government attempted to force the Cherokees to give up their land to them, the missionaries EXPRESSED openly their sympathy for the Cherokees which led to imprisonment for some of them. Among the NA nations today are Methodist preachers who are politically active. The Rev. Robert Mangum (My preacher when I was in my teens was born and reared in Md.) has been working with the Lumbee in North Carolina for over forty years and has been instrumental in helping us to gain political equity. He, like preachers before him, has made a NA Nation his home.
Personally, I have learned to EXPECT, DISCERN, AND RECEIVE
When one looks at the nation and the world today it is very easy to get caught up in what appears to be a hopeless situation. But, we need the spirit of expectancy that is expressed in Psalm 105:4-5:
Keep your eyes open for God, Watch for His works; be alert for signs of His presence. Remember the world of wonders He has made, His miracles, and the verdicts He’s rendered…. God wants us to partner with him in making changes—WE NEED TO BE EXPECTANT!
The enemies of God do not want to see His purposes accomplished in our lives. We need to be vigilant against those who seek to destroy instead of build the Kingdom of God by trying to divide His creation along racial lines and other negative ways.
I believe that God is active in our world today and that His work may not always make us feel comfortable but He knows what we need! It may not be readily understood but as His people we need to be willing to accept the purposes of our Lord and receive them in our lives as we minister to our brothers and sisters everywhere.
At this time there are over 18,000 known NA in the United Methodist Church. The largest group is within the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, but NA United Methodists and ministries may be found from the tip of Florida to Alaska. Native people serve the church in every capacity; laypersons, seminary professors, district superintendents, conference directors, employees of general boards and agencies, Christian educators, lay missioners, commissioners, and pastors. NA churches have the highest percentage of female pastors in the denomination. If all Native American United Methodists were together, it would be the largest Native American denomination.
Our contributions to the church are not more important than the contributions of other Christians. Native people, however, are among the poorest and the most marginalized of society and also the Church. The unfortunate fact is that people without “power” of wealth or social status tend to be overlooked.
YOU ARE PART OF ME
You are part of me now
You touched me.
With your kindness and love
Your words are kind.
Your eyes glow with life.
I’m glad you touched me.
You’re part of me now.
Lloyd Carl Owle
Dr. Olivia Schwartz, Registered member of the Lumbee Nation of North Carolina
*The diary was found in the Duke University library by the writer who was doing genealogy research on her family. The Rev. Chaffin had a notation on the back cover about christening Abner Lowry, the writer’s grandfather.
McLoughlin, William G. CHEROKEES AND MISSIONARIES, 1789-1839. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma, 1995.
Noley, Homer. FIRST WHITE FROST NATIVE AMERICANS AND UNITED METHODISM. Abingdon Press, Nashville, Tennessee, 1991.
Smith, Joseph Michael and Lula Jane Smith. THE LUMBEE METHODISTS-- GETTING TO KNOW THEM—A FOLK HISTORY. The Commission of Archives and History, North Carolina Conference, Raleigh, North Carolina, 1990.