Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Stockbridge Mohicans Choose Lutheranism, Part 1

Portrait of Martin Luther (1483 - 1546) a Roman Catholic monk and theologian. Luther and John Calvin were probably the two biggest leaders of the Protestant Reformation.

Although it can be said that the Mohican Indians have been around since "prehistoric" times, you'll recall that the Stockbridge Mohicans first came together as a mission community in the 1730's. The Stockbridge Mohicans' political organization, and much of their way of life, was associated with Calvinist Protestantism (Congregationalism, Presbyterianism, and/or "Presbygationalism") from the 1730's well into the 1830's and 1840's.

Following the period of a unified tribal church, the tribe's own Jeremiah Slingerland was a well-educated and capable Calvinist minister, but his involvement in partisan politics alienated the Citizen party. Slingerland's death in 1884 left even the Indian party without a steady and reliable minister. Roman Catholics were in the area and some Stockbridge Indians "went Catholic" for a while.

Here's what happened next:

In the 1800's many of the white neighbors of the Stockbridge Indians were German immigrants and they conducted their Lutheran worship services in their native language. In 1892 a church-shopping Stockbridge Indian named Henry Sprague approached the German-born Rev. Francis Uplegger but soon realized that, although it was a weekday, members of the congregation were gathering to celebrate a church holiday, probably Ascension Day. Sprague offered to stay for the service and Uplegger claimed he "followed every part of the service with great attention" despite not knowing German.

As Rev. Uplegger told it, Sprague told him after the service that he and other Indians had been impressed with the kindness of people from the church and as a result he wanted Rev. Uplegger to minister to the Stockbridge Mohicans. After some questioning, Sprague revealed that he was eager to bring Lutheranism to the Stockbridges as an alternative to Catholicism. According to a pamphlet written by Lutheran clergy, Sprague quoted from 2 Thessolonians, chapter 2 as a proof text against the Pope. Thelma Putnam (page 6), however, has pointed out some other reasons why the Stockbridge Mohicans weren't comfortable with Catholicism. They were

Bible-reading strict Presbyterian Indians. They knew the Bible says 'Thou shalt not make graven images.' At that time the Catholic Church had many images in their church. They did not sing in their services, and they used the Latin language. These Stockbridge Indians loved hymn singing and wanted sermons in a language they could understand.

No comments :