This photograph of me was taken on Goat's Ridge on the eastern side of the Illinois River about 10 miles north of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. I've been speaking at FBC Tahlequah this week and Pastor Buddy Hunt and a few friends went touring with me through the historic area on Monday. Tahlequah is the capital of the Cherokee Nation, and beginning with the Trail of Tears in 1839, the city has played an important role in Oklahoma and United States history. When the Cherokees and four other "civilized" Indian tribes (Choctow, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole) were removed by the U.S. federal government from Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and other eastern states, they were forcibly marched to Oklahoma to live in the land given them by the United States "as long as the waters run." The U.S. would eventually break their promise after the five civilized tribes sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War, but for two decades prior to 1861, the Indians had other problems of their own in Indian Territory.
When the largest number of Cherokees arrived in northeastern Oklahoma in 1839 at the end of their Trail of Tears, they discovered they weren't welcome by other Indians. The Osage Indians had fished and hunted the rivers and woods of northeastern Oklahoma for centuries, and other wild "Plainsmen" Indian tribes had hunted the land for migrant buffalo and other wild game and considered it their land. By 1844 the wars between the various Indian tribes were numerous and fierce. The United States government built and staffed a few forts in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) to try to protect the "civilized" Indians from the native Indians, but the troops were largely unsuccessful. If something wasn't done, and soon, the Indians would fight and kill themselves out of any meaningful existence. It was the Cherokee Indians who proposed what ultimately became the solution.
In September of 1843, the International Indian Conference was held in the capital square of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. It was, and is to this day, the largest official pow wow and peace conference among Indians held on this continent. The agreements that came out of this conference formed the basis for a lasting peace among the Indian various tribes. It just so happens, that an American artist named John Mix Stanley, had accompanied a couple of tribes to the 1843 conference. His painting of the event, entitled "International Indian Council," is displayed at Smithsonian American Art Museum.
One of these days, hopefully soon, there should be a similar conference among Southern Baptists. The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force has issued their report. It is a difficult challenge to find common agreement among Southern Baptists in 2010, and I commend them for trying. But as long as some groups see other groups as the enemy (and want them gone from the SBC), it will be difficult to focus on the Great Commission. No group is able to expand her mission while the focus and energy is on fighting tribes of the same heritage. Someone has said that history is the prologue to the future. I would be thrilled for Southern Baptists to model the Indian nations of 160 years ago and actually sit down together and come to some kind of mutual understanding for a peaceful co-existence.
Then, the Great Commission can come into focus.
In His Grace,