By Fred Koenig
As a member of the General Board of Church and Society, Andrew Ponder Williams has considered issues of diversity that most people have not. The work dictated by the Native American Comprehensive Plan does not end at the coast. In working in a committee on reconciling with natives people, he met with descendants of indigenous people of Hawaii.
“It was a difficult conversation to have,” he said.
Step Four of the Native American Comprehensive Plan calls for “Affirming the value and strengthening the role of traditional, cultural and spiritual contributions of Native American people for the expression of Christian faith and faith development among the membership of The United Methodist Church.” The NACP serves as the United Methodist entity that resources, strengthens, and advocates for the local church in Native American communities/contexts for all generations.
In Hawaii Williams and the GBCS group met with descendants of the Hawaiian Kingdom, most of whom identified as Methodist. They also invited individuals from the Philippines and the Marshall Islands. They were focusing on the “Doctrine of Discovery,” which is the historical concept that explorers who discover a territory can claim it and not recognize existing leaders or cultures (such as the Hawaiian Kingdom, which was disregarded as the United States took over the islands for military purposes and then tourism). GBCS hosted a dialogue about these issues and how to address groups that mistreat indigenous people. They also emphasized the idea that when work is done in Hawaii on these issues it impacts the Marshall Islands, as well as Asian nations who are experiencing the same struggles.
“I learned in Hawaii that each of us have an understanding of the word “home” and what it entails. One person’s understanding of home can be harmful to another person,” he said.
“What was amazing about the dialogue in Hawaii is that people who were supportive and who were trying to be helpful actually offended those we were trying to reach because they are deeply hurt that they have lost so much of their native culture as a result of the development of the Hawaiian Islands. I also learned that we all need to rethink home and to understand that Christ calls us to a shared understanding of home that is rooted in hospitality and grace and understanding. We must strive to create communities that are shaped and influenced by many cultures, not just those of the ‘discoverer’.”
Williams also traveled to the United Nations in New York City last September to represent the United States at the World Conference of Indigenous Persons, which was planned for the same week as the international climate summit at the UN. The main focus was to examine and expose that not only are the poorest people in the world most negatively impacted by the effects of climate change, but that the indigenous are suffering the most as a result, especially persons in Island nations or coastal regions, like the Philippines, which has endured severe typhoons in recent years.
“I had the joy of guiding two women representing the Philippines who have connections to United Methodist missions around New York. They were there to participate (with me) at the World Council of Churches event, in which international faith leaders signed a covenant to commit their faiths to reducing the use of fossil fuels and to fight for the poor persons suffering from climate change consequences,” Williams said.