In my convention address of one year ago, when we celebrated our 100th year as a diocese and as I talked about those pioneers and missionaries that came to settle this part of our country and church, I also stated the following, “Of course, they often thought they had arrived as the first people, and the first spiritual presence. We know they were wrong, and we still have that to contend with today, and we should.” This is a bit longer post than usual, but I do hope you will read this in its entirety.
One week from today, on October 10th, we will celebrate, in this country, Columbus Day. As with just about any commemoration, there are often many perspectives. We, as Americans of European descent, are often blinded to the perspective on such days by those who have been deeply affected by what we, and I include myself, often “celebrate.” Columbus Day is such a day, and a day we have been asked, by our General Convention and by our Presiding Bishop, to reflect upon our blind spots, and one in particular, commonly known as the Doctrine of Discovery.
Our last General Covention, in an approved resolution numbered D035, affirmed that the Episcopal Church “repudiates and renounces the Doctrine of Discovery as fundamentally opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and our understanding of the inherent rights that individuals and peoples have received from God.”
The “doctrine of discovery” refers to several ecclesiastical and legal documents and policies giving full blessing and sanction of the Church to the colonizing dispossession (genocide) of the indigenous peoples and lands of the Americas. These policies, which began in the 15th C. with Henry VIII, 1496, (and Pope Nicholas V, Papal Bull, Romanus Pontifex, 1455, and Pope Alexander VI, Papal Bull, Inter Caetera, 1493) continue to be invoked in contemporary practice, ( e.g. Manifest Destiny 1845, John L. O’Sullivan, used for the annexation of Texas,) and contribute to on-going justification of the oppression of indigenous peoples.
Also part of the resolution requests that “each diocese within the Episcopal Church be encouraged to reflect upon its own history, in light of these actions and encourage all Episcopalians to seek a greater understanding of the Indigenous Peoples within the geo-political boundaries claimed by the United States and other nation states located within the Episcopal Church’s boundaries, and to support those peoples in their ongoing efforts for their inherent sovereignty and fundamental human rights as peoples to be respected;”
You can read D035 in its entirety here: http://gc2009.org/ViewLegislation/view_leg_detail.aspx?id=983&type=Final
The word “contend” means literally “to stretch.” That is what I am asking us to do. We need to stretch our common understandings, and our willingness to accept, without inspection, just how we have what we have, and how we often conjure up in our minds the notion that the land Columbus found was uninhabited. This is the illusion, this is the blind spot.
Will this be easy?, I think not. I don’t have easy answers myself, but one big step toward whatever that might be is acknowledgement, and knowledge, about the realities of the past.
How do we begin to “contend.?” Well, here are a few gentle suggestions.
I would like to strongly encourage you to use Sunday, October 9th, the day before Columbus Day, to reflect, using the propers of the day, on the Doctrine of Discovery. If nothing else, introducing what it is. You can do this through preaching, teaching on that day, and days to come. You might consider making this part of your prayers for the day.
The Episcopal Church has put together some wonderful and challenging (remember, “contend”) resources to help you with this. They are committed to providing more resources throughout this coming year as we lead up to the national lament for the doctrine of discovery on July 10, 2012 at General Convention in Indianapolis. For those not attending General Convention you are encouraged to consider holding events in your community and local congregations. You can find the resources here
In a statement by our Presiding Bishop, she writes
I urge you to learn more about the Doctrine of Discovery and the search for healing in our native communities.
But this is also a matter for healing in communities and persons of European immigrant descent. Colonists, settlers, and homesteaders benefited enormously from the availability of “free” land, and their descendants continue to benefit to this day. That land was taken by force or subterfuge from peoples who had dwelt on it from time immemorial – it was their “promised land.” The nations from which the settlers came, and the new nations which resulted in the Americas, sought to impose another culture and way of life on the peoples they encountered. Attempting to remake the land and peoples they found “in their own image” was a profound act of idolatry.
Repentance and amendment of life are the answer, and God asks us all – this Church, our partners and neighbors, and the nations which were founded under the Doctrine of Discovery – to the challenging work of reconciliation.
The abundant life we know in Jesus Christ is made possible through sacrifice – through repairing what is broken, and finding holiness and healing in the midst of that challenging work. That work is often costly, but it is the only road to abundant life.
Let’s not be afraid to “contend” with this, as Columbus Day approaches, and as this year leading up to a much overdue lament, proceeds.