Ms. Anne Packard, Director
Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum
P.O. Box 20481
100 Arthur J. Moore Drive
St. Simons Island, GA 31522
November 30, 2016
Dear Ms. Packard and Members of the Southeast Jurisdiction College of Bishops:
Every member of Love Prevails is a long-time, if not life-long, student of Methodist history, tradition, and theology. Subsequently, we seek to inform ourselves of our denomination’s rootedness in the various places we visit and to keep our awareness sharp toward various forms of oppression we encounter in the course of our active struggle for LGBTQ justice within our denomination.
Our recent visit to Epworth-By-The-Sea at St. Simons Island, Georgia for the Council of Bishops meeting afforded many of us our first opportunity to visit the site of Charles and John Wesley’s first landing in the British colonies. To assist our learning about the history of Methodism in this geographic area, we were glad to discover the Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum and Library on the site of the retreat center.
A meaningful outcome of the last quadrennium of Love Prevails’ disruption of the Council of Bishops’ meetings has been the opportunities to meet indigenous leaders in our denomination and to understand their struggles better. We have been able to both learn about and participate in the Acts of Repentance to Indigenous Peoples that were a hallmark of our church’s collective life over the last four years.
So in traveling to St. Simons Island, we were particularly interested in learning the ways in which the Methodist movement in the South was entangled in the violence and oppression of genocide in the early decades of the Wesleys’ and the Methodist’s presence on this continent.
We were horrified, then, when upon entrance to the Moore Museum, we encountered the following diorama and this small accompanying sign:
Additionally, next to the diorama is this doll and corresponding “information”:
We acknowledge that in a different section of the museum, there are two small signs in a reproduction of Charles Wesley’s camp, which mention the Guale people, the original indigenous inhabitants of St. Simons Island, and their decimation by Spanish and English colonizers.
However, regardless of these other minor references, the central placement of a diorama that depicts natives in a fictitious encounter with John Wesley is culturally offensive and highly inappropriate. The diorama leaves a visual impression (especially to children who may not look far above their eye-level to read the small disclaimer) that Wesley was a much needed and warmly welcomed white savior and that the indigenous people were eager recipients of his brand of religion. Neither could be farther from the truth.
Additionally, the simplified description of Mary Musgrove as an “interpreter for the colonists” reduces her complex and complicated life story to the singular role of assisting her colonizers. Also, there is no such thing as an “Indian Princess” and to impose this monarchical, colonial title erases the possibility for understanding the role of this woman and her leadership within her own indigenous culture and cross-culturally.
Members of Love Prevails were also stunned when they sat down to watch a nine-minute informational video about the history of St. Simons Island through the lens of Methodism. In one section, the film holds on screen an image of a cannon while the narrator says, “The ruins [at Fort Frederica] show us how the founders of the Methodist Church reached out to a new land to provide for the spiritual needs of the people. Through the still air, one can almost hear the sounds of musket shots and the bells and the beat of the drum apprising the settlers of the hour of prayer.”
This whitewashed glorification of domination and violence, especially within the justifying context of meeting spiritual needs, is wholly unacceptable.
The museum shares the site with the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church and houses the archives of the entire Southeast Jurisdiction. During the past four years of Acts of Repentance throughout the entire denomination, has not one United Methodist leader noticed these insults or sought to address them?
These acts of omission and commission require repentance and redress. We call upon the museum, Epworth-By-The-Sea, the College of Bishops of the Southeast Jurisdiction to remove the diorama, to stop playing the informational video until it is properly edited, and to design a plan by which the history of indigenous peoples in relation to Methodism might be truthfully brought to light.
In his message during the Act of Repentance at General Conference 2012, Dr. Tink Tinker said we must deal directly and honestly with our history of oppression against indigenous people. Furthermore, repentance is an action that we must take again and again. On this small but important matter, we await your response and action.
The Members of Love Prevails,
Laci Lee Adams
Mary Anne Balmer
Rev. Amy DeLong
Rev. Will Green
Rev. Jonathan Rodríguez-Cintrón
Dr. Mary Lou Taylor
Rev. Dr. Julie Todd
Rev. Wesley White
Rev. Chebon Kernell, Executive Secretary of Native American and Indigenous Ministries
Mr. Joel Willis, President & CEO, Epworth-By-The-Sea
Rev. Alfred Day, General Secretary, General Commission on Archives & History
Bishop Bruce Ough, President, Council of Bishops
Bishop Lawson Bryan, South Georgia Area
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, Raleigh Area
Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, Birmingham Area
Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor, Holston Area
Bishop James Swanson, Mississippi Area
Bishop Bill McAlilly, Nashville Area
Bishop Sharma Louis, Richmond Area
Bishop Paul Leeland, Charlotte Area
Bishop Jonathan Holston, Columbia Area
Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson, North Georgia Area
Bishop David Graves, Alabama-West Florida Area
Bishop Leonard Fairley, Louisville Area
Bishop Ken Carter, Florida Area
PDF of Epworth By The Sea Letter