The Church Wrestles with Commemoration


“The 38 Tears of Bishop Whipple” by Robert Two-Bears


On April 9,1863, John and Mary Renville closed the final chapter in their Dakota War narrative, “The Indian Captives: Leaves from a Journal,” with a prophetic word:

“May God guide the people of Minnesota, who have suffered deeply, to act wisely in the present instance, and not drive even the friendly Indians to homeless desperation by driving or sending them among the warlike tribes, to dwell upon their wrongs and talk over the injuries inflicted upon them by those they supposed their friends, until the warriors will not heed the counsel of the older ones, and rise in one mass, with all the tribes, and commence a war more terrible than has yet been recorded in history, and thus give the advantage to our Southern rebels, by a two-fold war. And may those who go among the Indians, either for the purpose of trade, or to transact Government business, learn wisdom from the past and lay broad the platform of Justice, Morality and Truth.” (A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity: Dispatches from the Dakota War, 2012, p. 188)

The Renville’s warning of a pan-Indian war did not come true–although nearly three decades of protracted Indian wars in the west, did.

But their picture of homeless, desperate Dakota people, driven out of Minnesota and into the west, “to dwell upon their wrongs and talk over the injuries inflicted upon them,” as it turns out, was apt.

And they rightly called out the responsibility of their “christian” nation, the United States, to heed the Bible’s injunctions for social engagement with the poor and the oppressed from a platform of, “Morality, Justice, and Truth.”

Tragically, Minnesota clergy who publicly wrestled with questions of social justice in the immediate wake of the Dakota War were few: Presbyterian missionary Dr. Thomas S. Williamson and his son, the Rev. John P. Williamson; and Episcopalian Bishop Henry B. Whipple and his protege, the Rev. Samuel B. Hinman.

We need only read their 1862 diaries and sermons to know that many more clergy were shamefully indistinguishable from their parishioners in the race hatred they directed at Dakota people in the wake of the war.

It has been encouraging this year to see some branches of the Church deliberately engaging in dialogue about the Dakota War of 1862. The short review below is not comprehensive. But someday, when we have reached a point where we can reflect on 2012-2013, stories like these will be a starting place for examining the question, “One hundred and fifty years later, how did communities of faith respond to commemorate the tragedies of 1862?”

If you know of links that belong on this list, please send them to me and I will add them.

Westminister Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota

See a series of December 2012 blog posts by Westminister member Duane W. Krohnke, starting here.

The United Methodist Church

Mark Tooley, President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, lays out his analysis here in response to Andrew Gerns’s blog post below.

The Episcopal Church Diocese of Washington D.C.

Andrew Gerns Remembering the Martyrs of Mankato

Robert Two-Bears Thirty-Eight Tears


Image Credit: “The 38 Tears of Bishop Whipple” by Robert Two-Bears, Oglala Lakota oyate, 2009

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