Monday, March 8, 2021

The year was 1782. We remember the tragedy of the massacre at Gnadenhutten. The reading is from St. Paul's epistle to the Ephesians.

It is March 8, 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 1782.

On this show, we have, on several occasions, referred the Hussites, Jan Hus and his Bohemian reformers. While there are certain parallels between Hus and the later Protestant Reformers' theology, the Eastern European Hussites would have some hesitation being thrown in with many elements in the Reformation movement. And so, they remained a relatively small band of reform-minded Bohemians whose defining theological trait would be a belief in "Sola Scriptura." That is, they believed the only authority to be the authority of Scripture.

As things got hot in Eastern Europe, the small group of the descendants of the Hussites were invited by Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf to his estate in Saxony, where they could live peacefully. They settled in Herrnhut, but as they were primarily coming from Moravia, they took the name "Moravians."

The Moravians first came to the North American Colonies as allies of the Schwenkfelders, named after Caspar von Schwenkfeld. We will do his bio at one point, and you can check our show from last September 24 for more on American Schwenkfelders. The Moravians came en masse to the colonies to serve as missionaries, especially slaves and the indigenous population.

In 1772, the Moravians, now consisting of Germans and members of the Lenape and Mohican tribes, settled west of the Ohio River to become one of the first settlements in Ohio (and the earliest that still exists today).

And as the Moravians often did, they named their settlements with distinct names like "Christiansfeld" or Bethlehem, Nazareth, Emmaus, and the curiously titled "Gnadenhutten." The Moravians had come from "Herrnhut" or the "hut of the Herr," that is, a tent or hut or place of protection given by the Herr or "Lord." Gnadenhutten would be the "hut" of "Gnaden" or the place of protection under grace. Unfortunately, that name would become nothing but sadly ironic and deeply tragic.

The Moravians, which included hundreds of the Lenape and Mohican, were not on the side of the American revolutionaries. They were also not on the side of the British Empire. They practiced pacifism and non-violence, and so moving west made sense, except that the British, based near modern Detroit, had been whipping up support amongst various tribes to help the Empire's cause. Thus, colonists on the Western frontier set up forts and protection against the British and their native allies.

In 1781 the British forcibly removed all the Moravians at Gnadenhutten to a prison camp on the Sandusky River to the north. Except that camp wasn't set up to accommodate the numbers that were sent there. The British allowed several of the Lenape Moravians to go back to Gnadenhutten to gather their supplies. However, these peaceful natives were mistaken for another tribe, and an angry Pennsylvania militia captured them without incident. Over 90 Lenape Moravians were given what is described as a "sham trial" on the spot, and the prisoners were sent into two different cabins, men in one and women and children in the other. Later reports claimed that militia leader David Williamson was unsure what to do and let the militia decide. The vote was overwhelmingly to kill the natives.

On March 8 in 1782, while the captives prayed and sang Moravian hymns, a militia killed a few of the men and then set both cabins on fire, killing all but the two who got away. The Gnadenhutten Massacre, as it is known today, stands as a day of shame. Navigating Christian identity, ethnic identity, and national identity is never easily done. And in the colonies and early states, there was still brutality often seen in the world's expanding frontiers. We remember the massacre of the Moravian Native Christians on the anniversary of that tragedy in 1782.

For the reading today, after a tragic story, let's get a word from the epistle to the Ephesians chapter 2, starting at verse 14.

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for March 8, 2021, brought to you by 1517 at The show is produced by a man whose Hut is filled with Gnaden, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.

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