Last October I attended the 4th annual Church of All Nations conference in Minnesota. The theme was “This Land is My Land?” and it concerned the Doctrine of Discovery – the theological, and legal justification which Christians used for centuries to steal the land and resources of indigenous peoples all over the world. Since then I have been trying to find ways to use my voice and connections to raise awareness about the subject. This post is a way for me to collect in one place a bunch of the material I have been honored to help create and distribute. Hopefully it will provide a useful resource for people looking for an introduction.
- BEGIN HERE
During my span as guest-host of Ecclesio I wrote an introduction to the basic concepts behind the Doctrine of Discovery in two posts. The first concerning the history of the church and the theology of conquest. The second concerning the legal history of the Doctrine of Discovery in the United States. I took care to show that this is an ongoing reality, that it is not something we can confine to the distant past.
Jeremy Smith did a particularly excellent job in his post on Hacking Christianity showing the contemporary relevance of the Doctrine of Discovery. At it’s heart it is the same kind of thinking that is behind all structures of power and exploitation, what Walter Wink would call the domination system.
My partner in crime, Doug, really brought it home, by pointing out how the behavior of Christians following the Doctrine of Discovery is indistinguishable from groups we deplore like ISIS.
- THE WORK OF MARK CHARLES
Mark Charles is the son of an American woman (of Dutch heritage) and a Navajo man and lives on the Navajo reservation. He travels all over the United States talking with groups about the Doctrine of Discovery and has recently proposed a truth and reconciliation commission for the United States to work through this trauma. He frames the experience of being Native American in the US in a powerful way in this video.
Carol Howard Merritt had a conversation with him which she published over at Christian Century. In that conversation she reflects on the ongoing evidence of this history in her own community in Chattanooga Tennessee near the start of the Trail of Tears. She talks with him about how the dehumanization of indigenous people is really part of the DNA of American culture. How it appears in everything from the Declaration of Independence to the boarding schools, largely created and run by Christian missionaries.
Benjamin Corey generously offered his platform at Formerly Fundie for Mark Charles to publish an article about the historical trauma which divides our communities and the need for us to create a common memory for reconciliation to be a live possibility. Mark makes a point which I’ve heard Rev. Jin Kim of Church of All Nations make before, which is that white supremacy hurts people of color the most, but it hurts white people FIRST. The trauma done to people of privilege by our own noxious ideologies often goes unnoticed and therefore festers.
- NATIVE VOICES
Some of the most important work those of us who are descendents of European Christians have to do is to listen to the voices of indigenous people as they tell us their stories. This poem by Randy Woodley, for example, cuts to the bone. Randy is distinguished professor of Faith and Culture at George Fox Seminary and he was incredibly generous with his time in an interview with Cindy Brandt. She asked him some poignant questions and his answers were thorough and insightful. It’s a long read, but worth your time.
Jim Bear Jacobs wears his heart on his sleeve and has moved me again and again with his testimony about the painful effects of internalized colonialism. The piece he wrote for the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship should convict you.
- OUR RESPONSE
As I share information about the Doctrine of Discovery I meet a lot of people who have never heard of it and who are just becoming aware of this conversation. They often find themselves profoundly affected, as Kathryn did after hearing Mark Charles speak. Feelings of guilt and discomfort are common. Isaac Sanborn, a seminary student reflected thoughtfully on the desire to whitewash our past, to imagine ourselves more innocent than we are. April Fiet was moved toward confession and liturgy as a way to express her grief.
Some of us have been engaged in this conversation for a while already and are at the stage of desiring concrete action. Daniel Hayward was able to share what they have been doing in the United Church of Canada to acknowledge this history and begin making reparations. I put together a compilation for Ecclesio of all the religious organizations that have formally repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery so far. I note that my own denomination, the PCUSA, is not on that list, which I am working to correct.
This is certainly not the last thing I have to say on the subject. I am hopeful that Truth and Reconciliation commissions may spring up all over the United States in the coming years. Just this morning I received news that Denver University is holding a symposium on the Sand Creek Massacre seeking to move beyond acknowledgment and apology to legal repair. Last month I learned that they ELCA Synod of the Rocky Mountains returned some church land to the Four Winds American Indian Council. I know of two other churches that are seeking ways to grant their land back to indigenous peoples.
There is movement happening here. May it grow and may justice roll down like waters.