Monday, February 26, 2007

Faith Works 3-03-07
Jeff Gill

Crawford Died For Your Sins

A man once died a particularly cruel and painful death, to make up for the evil actions of others, of which he himself was entirely innocent. His death led to the birth of a religious community which counts many adherents all around us to this day. The place of his death is well known, but not a scrap of his body can be found to this day.

No, not Him.

It was in Ohio, beginning 225 years ago this week.

One phase of this tragic narrative began on the morning of March 8, in 1782, as almost 100 old men, women, and children of the Moravian Delaware Indian community were massacred, mostly by mallet and hand axe, about an hour east of us at Gnadenhutten. Two boys survived, one by playing dead after a blow to the head, lying still under a pile of his family and fellow worshipers; the other was small enough to sneak out between the logs of their church building, where the community was kept overnight in singing and prayer before their execution at dawn.

They, too, were innocent. The adult men of the community had been working to plant the next season’s corn, and a few other Indians from Fort Detroit may have sheltered with them overnight who had raided across the Ohio, but of those killed there was no blood on their hands. That didn’t keep their blood from watering the ground at the Moravian log church’s door.

The blood of those 96 or 98 victims actually fueled the flames of hostility on the frontier, the western theater of the American Revolution, where British officers taught the fine art of scalping to young rootless warriors and offered money for European scalps. Some Native leaders like Chief Cornstalk and Killbuck had argued for a neutral stance, but the temptations of cash for killing led enough across the Ohio that reprisal parties answered raiding parties, leading to the senseless slaughter of Gnadenhutten, or "Huts of Grace" in the German of the David Heckewelder’s missionary efforts.

Innocent blood called out to warriors and leaders who had stayed so far aloof from the irregular combat. A massing of Native people came together at Upper Sandusky, and a second expedition was planned near Washington, PA, to cross again at Fort Henry (Wheeling, today) and find a new, more fitting target for their vengance.

The two groups met at Tymochtee Creek, just south of Carey, OH, with the Pennsylvanians led by George Washington’s friend Col. William Crawford, sent somewhat against his will to keep tighter control on the angry and undisciplined frontier militia, most of whom had been at Gnadenhutten a few months before.

The Americans were attacked, broke, scattered, and Crawford was captured. It was explained to him that he must die to satisfy the debt incurred in his fellow soldier’s killings. By all accounts, his courage and relative calm was moving to all, but not enough to end the torture and death designed for him.

Could Indians and Americans share in building a culture and a home across the Ohio Territory? Logan and Cornstalk and Guyasuta and Killbuck and White-eyes all thought so, and the Moravian pastors John Heckewelder and David Zeisberger both believed it, and began to prove it at Schoenbrunn, at Lichtenau, and at Gnadenhutten.After 1782, with Gnadenhutten a smoking, bloody ruin, and the other settlements abandoned, the likelihood of the two cultures sharing in the land dwindled to nothing. The rationale for the massacre, or the relative atrocity of Crawford’s death, were points of dispute well into the 1900’s, and only in recent years has a truly honest assessment been possible.

But buried in those recriminations of the early 1800’s and into the twentieth century are stories of those violent and angry young men, hearts set on useless vengeance, who grew to be husbands and community leaders and respected figures when territories became states.

The religious revivals of the Upper Ohio valley that led to the Restoration Movement, the teachings of Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell against the harsh Calvinism of their day, found fertile soil in the hearts of men who believed that there was no forgiveness for those who had such evils in their past, and they knew what they had done was evil. Baptist and Presbyterian practice of their day was that you could not join or commune until you could honestly say that you knew your sins were forgiven.

The Restoration Movement preachers like Walter Scott said "come, be baptized, and receive forgiveness; you don’t have to say you are forgiven to have the right to receive baptism, you enter the water to find it waiting for you there."

They taught Christ’s baptism, but the example of Crawford dying in their place surely lit the way for those now 50 & 60 year old men who came forward, and brought their families with them.

Today’s Churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ, independent Christian Churches, and United Church of Christ folk have a solemn anniversary of sorts this week, and I plan to make the brief pilgrimage myself to a silent mound, still marked with prayer and offerings, in Gnadenhutten.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; contact him at
Notes From My Knapsack 3-4-07
Jeff Gill

Countrymen, Lend Me Your Ears

Clint Eastwood doing translation from Italian to English on live television: how cool is that? Dirty Harry can order calamari in Napoli and flirt with the waitresses va bene. Of course he speaks the musical tongue of the land of spaghetti westerns, but it says something about what kind of artist he is that he bothered to do so, instead of sending a personal assistant to get his fried squid rings for him. So much for Oscar excitement.

I’m a big fan of the Tony Awards where the recipients not only rarely read off of a piece of paper, but they say interesting and unexpected things. The Morricone lifetime acheivement Oscar was the most exciting speech, and we knew about that one a month ago.

Speaking off the cuff in public is a rare talent; some would call it a gift. Doing so effectively under adverse circumstances is even less common. The bar was set in 1912 by Teddy Roosevelt, who was getting set to give a speech in Milwaukee, in his campaign for the presidency on the Bull Moose ticket. The Republican Party had left him behind in favor of William Howard Taft (you may recall his great-grandson, recent governor hereabouts), and TR wanted to make a stronger case against Woodrow Wilson than his party was willing to hear, so he ran as an independent. Stepping onto the platform, he was shot by a man who had stalked him for weeks, waiting for a clear shot. In Milwaukee, the moment came, and Roosevelt fell with a bullet in his chest.

Here’s how we know the speech was largely unread: Teddy stepped to the podium to calm the crowd, brandishing the text of the speech he was to give. The heavy paper, folded lengthwise in half and thrust in a jacket breast pocket, had slowed the bullet, along with the tweed jacket. His skin was broken, but the bullet lost enough energy going through the entire speech, twice, that it slid off a rib and stopped between them, just under the skin. He barely bled, and said he "just had the wind knocked out of him," like falling off a horse.

And then, still waving the pierced sheaf of paper, he gave his speech to a *very* attentive crowd.

Part of what had me thinking recently about that speech, and the value of a third party candidate, is the fairly dreary sheaf of candidates, R and D, we’ve got jostling already for the 2008 presidential election. Even Obama, whom I’d love to go hear speak, has policy idea number one still back in the focus groups, but next to nuttin’ in his speeches. And the GOP gang ­-- yikes.

What did a bruised, breathless, ultimately futile Teddy Roosevelt want to say on the platform in 1912? Why did he keep speaking to a rapt audience while his friends on the podium kept urging him to sit down and let attendants carry him off the stage? (He did go to a hospital after the speech and have the slug cut out of his chest and get wrapped in bandages.)

Here are the main points of the speech: Americans deserve an eight hour day, a forty hour week, with at least two weeks of paid vacation you could take without losing your job. He passionately maintained that factory child labor should be abolished all across the country, and that the minimum wage should apply to women who had paying work, just like it did for men.

That wild-eyed radical, Teddy Roosevelt.

For standing up for those "Progressive" views, he couldn’t even get a voice at either party convention; so he ran as an independent. He lost, but his ideas won.

Full disclosure: my first adult involvement in politics was to work for the Indiana state organization for John Anderson. No, he didn’t win, and while you couldn’t get him to say so in public, he knew he had not a prayer of winning. He also knew that he had precisely no ability to influence the Reagan ticket by helping him as an Illinois supporter, but could get issues on the table as a candidate. I liked his emphasis on the governmental responsibility to maintain infrastructure, which needed and needs a spotlight, other than new bridges to nowhere. His take on welfare reform was in line with what didn’t happen until the Clinton administration fifteen years later, and Anderson was passionate about public education, especially support for state universities as a primary piece of civic infrastructure and economic development. I still don’t regret working for him (he’s still alive, 85, and teaching in Florida, smart man that he is), and believe he influenced the debate to a useful degree. Could we use a strong third party voice this year? No, Nader hasn’t shown himself to have even Anderson level support, and his views are outliers from the perspective of most Americans. Anderson ran a fusion ticket, asking a Democratic governor to run with him.

I keep thinking Lieberman-Hagel, myself. They’d have courteous, incisive debates while they waited for the other candidates to show up for the sound check. Then they’d get really good . . .

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; throw your political opinions in the ring at