I have now watched the date that marks 400 years since Africans were first displaced to this continent in bondage come and go with no substantial acknowledgment by the Unitarian Universalist Association (well, we rang bells…that’s nice.) I serve this denomination as one of all too few African American ministers and this lack of action is yet another reminder that in many ways, this is not my faith. But I am not deterred. In fact, I am determined that because of this minimal action, I will not let the same thing happen next year with regard to marking 400 years since the start of the aggressive and pre-meditated displacement in 1620 of Native people from the place that we now call Massachusetts.
I believe that the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ as the modern-day religious descendants of the Puritans who arrived here in 1620 must make a public acknowledgement of their role in initiating the devastation of Native people. I also believe that as the religious body that formed and structured what would become the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the modern government of the commonwealth must join these two denominations in a public act of witness.
By 1620, Native tribes had already been poisoned by European disease. But it was the Puritans who were then able to take advantage of this weakened position to squat on villages that had been previously cleared by dying tribes and to wield firearms (somethings never change) as a threat of lethal force to build their precious “city on a hill.” Native people did not lay down without a fight (Pequot War, King Phillip’s War, etc.) but they were ultimately repressed by the English colonizers who had little or no interest in the original inhabitants’ continuing to survive according to their own customs let alone thrive.
…talk is cheap; repentance is dear.
There are those who will hear this call to action and resist any effort to acknowledge this history as a crime of humanity; and they may simply chalk it up to “progress”. They may ask, how can we do this without then taking account of every one of the conflicts posed by European settlers to Native people. They may also retort with “but there was violence from both sides.” Frankly, I don’t give a damn because I’m tired of accommodating white fragility around this history. I also know that if these three powerful (and supposedly liberal) entities continue to tacitly accept the forced removal, enslavement and genocide of the original inhabitants of this land as “progress” we will never get to a place of true progress; we will never truly recognize or resolve the ongoing violence of the Atlantic slave trade or the troublingly persistent second-class status of women. In order to accomplish anything at all, we must begin at a beginning.
New England talks a good game on liberal values. But talk is cheap; repentance is dear. It is time for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the descended religious bodies of the Puritans (UUA & UCC) to pay up.
Inspired in this moment by the Jewish High Holy Days and the season of atonement, and the actions of the Collegiate Church of New York in 2009, the following is my imagination of what a joint declaration from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association addressing their role in Native displacement and murder might look like. Just to be clear, I am not Native or Indigenous identified and I cannot express the specific needs of those communities and I don’t intend to represent myself in that way. But I am a minister in the lineage of the leaders who created this devastation and it is my obligation to call that legacy to account if my faith is ever to live up to my standards of racial, social and cultural equity:
May it be understood:
The early colonizers of the region now known as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts intentionally sought to displace the original inhabitants of this land.
Motivated by their Christian faith, the colonizers approached their project of settlement with an assumption that their “work” was ordained by God.
The religious basis for the colonizers’ social and political organization was foundational to their efforts and created a justification of entitlement to their actions in peacetime and in war.
The Puritan movement created the principle social and political order for the colonizers.
May it be resolved:
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association (primary descendants and chief beneficiaries of the Puritan colonial project) recognize the year 2020 as a year of mourning and the beginning of atonement for the loss of life, the destruction of a way of life and for the stolen cultural autonomy of the Native people in this region.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association acknowledge their direct connection to the brutality inflicted on the Native people of this region.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association will seek reconciliation with the descendants of the displaced, enslaved and murdered original inhabitants of this land, but there will be no expectation of or obligation for this reconciliation to be accepted by the modern tribes.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association will collectively explore in consultation with Native people a system of full enfranchisement based on the needs and wants of the Native people. This system may include but is not limited to financial, land and or educational reparations.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association will incorporate in their respective governing and spiritual documents an acknowledgement of this unrepayable debt owed to the Native inhabitants and moving forward will approach their efforts of government and faith development with humility and recognition of their role in the near destruction of the original people of this region.