Posted by: edsohn | February 29, 2008

March Massacre: Darkness In The Collective Subconscious

Next Saturday, March 8, commemorates the 226th anniversary of the Gnadenhutten massacre. For those who are not history buffs (I only recently read about it myself), the story goes like this.

In the late 18th century, there were political divisions as to which sides the Native Americans would take in the Revolutionary War. Some fought against the Americans, and some for. Among one tribe, the Lenape (Delaware) Indians, some who were sympathetic to the American cause negotiated a treaty. However, after the chief who negotiated the treaty was killed (possibly by the American militia), there was a reaction among the Lenape to break treaty and fight against the Americans. The Americans responded, where rampant racism and ethnocentrism was already at work in colonists in full imperialistic gear.

At this point, there were some Moravian missionaries working with some of the Lenape in their villages at Gnadenhutten. Because of the divisions created by the war, British-allied Native Americans came and forcibly removed these Christian Lenape from their village, relocating them to a new village near the Sandusky River in Ohio.

After a season, the Lenape Indians were unable to sustain themselves and returned to Gnadenhutten to retrieve crops from their homes. Upon arriving, they encountered a raiding party of 160 Pennsylvanian militiamen and accused of raids on Pennsylvania. The Christian Lenape truthfully denied the charges, but the militiamen held a blood-frenzied council and decided to kill them anyway. That night they were sentenced to death, and the Christian Lenape sang hymns and prayed into the night. The next morning, they were brutally bludgeoned to death, as the militiamen felt that bullets would be wasted on killing them. Eyewitnesses testify that they died praying, singing, and kissing. The numbers vary, but some sources say that 28 men, 29 women and 39 children were beaten to death and scalped that fateful day.

A few months ago I heard a sermon in Chicago by Soong Chan Rah about racial reconciliation. He was making a point about collective repentance from collective sin, and one of his closing notes was something along the lines of, “If you want to find a collective sin lurking in our culture, you need look no further than the history of this nation, built on the land bought by Native American blood and built on the backs of African slaves.”

I have recently been confronted with questions about the Asian-American church, the need for racial reconciliation, and I’ve often thought about what Soong-Chan Rah preached. And as I hear about the story of the Gnadenhutten massacre, I can’t help but repent. It was not me, a white colonial settler, nor anything connected to my ethnic heritage, that committed this atrocity. Why should I repent, then?

As the elections move forward, we are about to hear a lot about patriotism, the greatness of our country, protecting American interests. But there is something lurking in the subconscious of our culture, a nation whose exponential prosperity owes greatly to the resources acquired through the annihilation of indigenous people groups and enslavement of trafficked laborers.

We have repenting to do, and just because I am an Asian American, it does not preclude me from the sin steeping all of the prosperity that we enjoy. Racial reconciliation is a fun phrase that is tossed around often, but what does it really mean?

And moreover, as Christians, how should our hearts break in hearing the story of the Lenape? What incredible missed opportunities passed us by, and how will their martyrdom be a legacy for us today, 226 years later?

I’m not best equipped to discuss this matter. I have no familiarity with sociology nor have I deeply studied racial tensions through American history. Therefore, my conclusions may be skewed and may not take into account important facts to remember. But as next Saturday approaches, my conviction is to deeply consider our own roles in this, the blood that stains our collective hands, and to acknowledge that where we are today cannot be divorced from where we were yesterday. It doesn’t make sense for me to take individual responsibility for it, but it does make sense for us to be corporately gripped with repentance. We should seek reconciliation not only as a matter of unity, or reparation to those that have been harmed. It is a matter of necessity, the pursuit of holiness, and an expression of Christian living to all people groups of the U.S. in this century.



  1. I’ve hated this country many times before, while reaping and enjoying the benefits of its labor. I’ve hated it for its rampant consumerism, materialism, and, more recently, manifestations of neo-conservatism. But I’ve never considered the blood that was spilled unjustly for America to be what it is today. I think about how history (and even the Bible) really is written by the winners.

    I believe in my cynical heart of hearts that America will never repent of its initial tilling of the land. Why have I never heard of this massacre? Has it ever in the last 100 years been memorialized by the president? public? etc?

    Which leads me to something else… Didn’t the Israelites do the same thing to their neighboring lands?

  2. […] (swap 10am for whenever your church meets) was posed…. And as I read Ana’s great post, I’ve been battling and mulling over what the implications of this […]

  3. I’m responding to my own post! How self-inflated.

    Can I note something else, something that arose from a comment discussion on a former post about “imaging the gospel”?

    Consider the analogies and feel free to call me out if I’m reading too far into this of the gospel that, to me, are loudly blaring all over the Gnadenhutten Massacre AS WELL AS our responses to it today.

    Here’s the gospel model. Jesus died, the innocent Lamb of God, and the significance of innocent blood spilled put God’s incredible unmerited favor (grace) for His people on display. As a result, so the Christian story goes, all who connect with Christ’s great act and let it infiltrate their own life stories inherit the benefit of His sacrifice, which is citizenship in His kingdom (on earth as it is in heaven) and a restored relationship with our Creator.

    Here’s some of the elements of the gospel story told across the story of the Lenape.

    The Christian Lenape (Christ imagery) had their innocent blood spilled at the bloodlust frenzy of militiamen (Pharisees and Jewish gentry) that saw the Lenape as threats to their way of life (legalistic works-righteousness and ethnic purity), so they held council (a sham trial with Caiaphas, maybe?) and decided that the Lenape deserved to die. The next morning, they gave them the most disdainful death that treated them with almost no decency (like a Roman crucifixion).

    Today, as Americans who have prospered in their death without reason or merit (saved by grace), shall we not consider reconciliation, with them and with others, not just as apology for their death but to look forward in a renewed relationship with their people (relationship with God)?

    The analogy doesn’t fit perfect, I am well aware. But it’s stunning to see how these Christian Indians were able to be clothed in many of the elements of the gospel, and so in their death, greatly resemble Christ.

    It’s worth recognizing, I think.

  4. the story reminded me of Stephen’s martyrdom more than Christ’s death.

    But I can track with you…

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