Repudiating The Doctrine of Discovery

The Doctrine of Discovery has been the seedbed of racism and colonialism for centuries, but Christians are beginning to wake up to the harm it has caused. A number of churches and organizations have made statements repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery in the past several years, and some are calling for much more concrete steps to follow. Here is a survey of some of the groups that have spoken up:

In February of 2012 the World Council of Churches issued this statement on the Doctrine of Discovery and its Enduring Impact on Indigenous Peoples. They called on all member churches to do their own study of the history and respond.

The Episcopal Church issued a strong repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery after the World Council of Churches and created the video which is embedded above, which I think is especially strong for the truth-telling it does regarding their own complicity in colonialism.

That same year, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the United Nations made the Doctrine of Discovery their focus. They held open panels and debates on the issue and called for an international mechanism to investigate historical land claims. This is a continuation of their work raising awareness about indigenous rights following the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which the US reluctantly signed in 2007.

The Unitarian Universalist Association resolved to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and produced some great resources to help churches take concrete action in response.

The New York Meeting of The Religious Society of Friends called for all Quakers to repudiate the Doctrine of Disovery.

There are several other denominations and organizations currently studying the Doctrine of Discovery and determining how they will respond. Including many groups within the Roman Catholic Church urging Pope Francis to revoke the 15th century bulls which form the original basis for the doctrine.

Such actions may seem largely symbolic, but they are a necessary beginning point for further truth-telling and reconciliation, and there are further steps that can be taken!

Energy is building for the establishment of a national truth and reconciliation commission to explore the history of exploitation of Native Americans and current realities. You can contribute financially to help make that a reality.

Even more important than what may happen at the national level are local relationships and peacemaking. An excellent example of this is the relationship between the Rocky Mountain Synod of the ELCA and the Four Winds American Indian Council. After years of collaboration, just a few weeks ago a ceremony was held to officially return land which the church had held for 100 years to an Indian community in Denver.

All of the land the church owns in this country once belonged to indigenous people. All. Of. It. Almost none of it was acquired justly. What would it mean for us to begin making amends for that theft? Can we build relationships? Can we find ways to return land where it is possible, and to share ownership elsewhere? As churches close can some of that property be deeded to nearby Native American communities?

Nothing will undo the past, but we can build a future which conforms to a better pattern.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.