All In God’s Image; A Study in the History of Indigenous Peoples

By Will Fenton-Jones*

One of the most troubling stories I have learned as the Conference director of Multicultural Vitality is the story of the Sand Creek Massacre. In 1864 Colonel John Chivington, a Methodist clergyman turned military man, led a massacre that resulted in the death of over 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho, mostly women and children. This story is striking to me because I am an officer in the United State Army Reserves and a United Methodist. While I was not present at the massacre, I still feel the weight and need for repentance and restoration. How could something like this happen? How could a member of the church perpetrate such terrible and gruesome acts?

Our Social Principles of The United Methodist Church are a thoughtful, prayerful effort of General Conference to speak to contemporary issues from a biblical and theological foundation. The Social Principles, in part, teach that “we affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God.” This is a fundamental theological statement that should inform how we are in relationship with one another, especially across cultural, racial, and ethnic difference.

The United Methodist Church has attempted and is attempting to respond. In 1996, the General Conference of The United Methodist Church adopted Resolution 135. Support Restitution to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma for the Sand Creek Massacre and subsequently two additional resolutions in 2012, 3324. Trail of Repentance and Healing, and 2016, 3328. United Methodist Responses to the Sand Creek Massacre. While these efforts at the General Church level are instructive and educational, there is much work to be done right here in our own East Ohio Conference to educate and learn together about our relationship with Native and Indigenous peoples.

What comes to mind when you think about Native Americans? What images do you see in your head? Perhaps Thanksgiving or learning about Christopher Columbus? Perhaps Cleveland baseball or a local high school sports team? Whatever the image is that comes to mind, starting with a perspective of “the image of God” can help us to step back from preconceived notions and learn together. The East Oho Conference Native American Awareness Committee is charged with keeping before the annual conference a Native American and Indigenous perspective and does so through events, statements, and E-News articles. It is part of the repentance and repair work that the General Conference has acknowledged and part of our own growth and maturing as disciples of Jesus right here in East Ohio.

As a continuation of that work, the Board of Multicultural Vitality commissioned the creation of a series of resources grounded in research and a faith perspective to are informational for families and for Sunday school programs. In January we debuted the first of the series, All in God’s Image: A Celebration of Black History Curriculum. This four-week guide was created to teach students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

Three additional All in God’s Image resources are currently in development to assist families and small groups in learning more about:

  • Indigenous People’s Day (Monday, October 11)
  • Thanksgiving (Thursday, November 25)
  • Native American Ministry Sunday (Sunday, May 1, 2022).

The study guides will include a lesson and an activity that will deepen understanding by explaining why each of the special days is observed. You are invited to join in these opportunities to expand your knowledge by considering a different perspective. Reminders about the significance of each upcoming special day – and an invitation to download each study guide – will be posted on the Multicultural Ministries page of the East Ohio Conference website and included in future issues of the electronic newsletter E-News.

Please join in this repair work as we seek to see the image of God in everyone!

Read Resolution 3324: Trail of Repentance and Healing.
Read Resolution 3328: United Methodist Responses to the Sand Creek Massacre.

*Will Fenton-Jones is director of Multicultural Vitality for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.