Indian Methodist Minister Concerned Over Oklahoma License Plate Lawsuit

Brian Daffron


Fort Sill Apache artist Allan Houser's works are featured in art galleries all over the world, with many of his paintings and sculptures on display in Oklahoma, the state of his birth. When the state of Oklahoma selected his "Sacred Rain Arrow" sculpture for an image on their official license plates in 2008, no one had any idea that it would be the subject of a lawsuit over the separation of church and state. (Related story: Native-Themed License Plate Could Allegedly Promote Pantheism)

The decision made by the U.S. Court of Appeals allows Bethany, Oklahoma Methodist minister Keith Cressman proceed with his lawsuit, claiming that purchasing the license plate infringes on his Christian beliefs. While this lawsuit has angered many within Oklahoma, it is especially troubling for David Wilson, Choctaw tribal member and the conference superintendent of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. The OIMC serves as the governing body of Methodist churches in Oklahoma with predominantly Native congregations. According to Wilson, the roots of the Methodist Church in Oklahoma can be traced back to the times of the forced removal of Southeastern tribes to Indian Territory in the 1830s.

"We consider ourselves the Mother Church of Methodism for this state," said Wilson. "For us to see another Methodist pastor file this and talk about Native folk being pagan—and this particular piece of art being pagan—that was very troubling for us, considering the long, long history that tribes have had with the Christian Church and in particular for us, the Methodist Church.”

Wilson said that other Methodist ministers have been calling him to express their support to the OIMC.

"People have called me to express their dismay, disappointment and apologies," said Wilson. "They said, 'We know we can't apologize for what one person did. Just know that the majority of us do not have anything to do with that or feel that way.' I appreciated those calls."

Wilson's ministry work includes teaching other ministers about Native American culture, which includes visits of tribal dances and ceremonies such as cedarings. He said Cressman could benefit from one of his courses.

"I would implore him to become better educated about Native American people and about our history and religions and, in particular, our long-standing relationship with the Christian Church," Wilson said.

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Rev. Jeni Markham Clewell's picture
Rev. Jeni Markh...
Submitted by Rev. Jeni Markh... on
Rev. Wilson, I couldn't agree more! The more we learn from each other, the deeper we acknowledge our connection.

Dixie Rhodes's picture
Dixie Rhodes
Submitted by Dixie Rhodes on
discovered many Indian ancestors in our family line and have applied to join the Choctaw tribe. I once was so strictly " religiously Christian " that I could not understand the native belief systems... but recently when my mother died -and I felt a need for the home with the body that was there to be cleansed and asked my daughter to smoke it...even the hospice workers felt relief --after she did so--I prayed to God in Jesus's name and put crosses over every door mantle (after seeing what I thought was a spirit figure). So my belief system has expanded with experience. Perhaps we all can grow more tolerant of each other's ways to cope with both life and death.

Dalila Cruz's picture
Dalila Cruz
Submitted by Dalila Cruz on
I appreciated your speaking out on this issue. I am glad he only speaks for himself and that iis one too many. Keep on keep in' on!

Pamela Whitman's picture
Pamela Whitman
Submitted by Pamela Whitman on
I am a Methodist. I am also the wife of a Methodist Pastor. I have a real problem with a Methodist Pastor having a problem with OK native plate design. I certainly hope that Pastor Keith can begin to see that there is absolutely no infringement on his beliefs. Freedom of religion is not freedom from religion, nor can the Government be expected to cater to every bizarre feelings of infringement that various people have.

Enily Brothers's picture
Enily Brothers
Submitted by Enily Brothers on
I suggest Rev. Cressman read Richard Twiss's book, One Church Many Tribes. I am a retires Un. Meth. minister with Native Heritage. Dr. Twiss's book is eye opening in showing how Native worship style can be Christian.

Richard Aitson's picture
Richard Aitson
Submitted by Richard Aitson on
I contend there has always been, and always will be, a segment of the church that believes those darker than themselves are marked by the "Mark of Cain", and that justifies their deep and lingering hatred for Indian People. This is not simply a Methodist problem, but Christianity-wide. If this man succeeds in his lawsuit, I will not walk in the doors of a Methodist Church again, even though many family and tribal members belong. I believe that the Methodist Church in Oklahoma has the opportunity to follow their own lead and support their Indian flocks by openly and strongly supporting with their Indian membership. Silence by the Methodist leadership is as damaging as a strong vote against. Keep in mind, the Indian People of Oklahoma did not pick the design, but rather the State of Oklahoma chose from many designs. Surely the United Methodist Church of Oklahoma can be as loyal to their Indian members as their Indian members have been to them.

nadine froderman's picture
nadine froderman
Submitted by nadine froderman on
There is nothing wrong with the license plate. Whatever IS wrong is in the mid of the pastor. The Methodists have been in OK as early as 1819 with a large Native membership.

Beverly  Isaac,   Comanche's picture
Beverly Isaac,...
Submitted by Beverly Isaac,... on
IThis year I was going to forgo my Comanche Nation Tag because I really like this Logo on the Oklahoma License Plate.........This is so sad that "one" non Native American can do this to the land of the Red People. This goes to show you that the hostilities from the white man does still exist and for the Governor to allow this to even be brought forward as such shows what she thinks of our People, all the different Tribal Nations, this is beyond belief, looks like something a person such as david a. yeagley would support in his religious fashion and saying the Indians have no Religon.......