I’m afraid that I am writing with a heavy heart this week. In just minutes, the Senate will vote whether or not to confirm Brett Kavanaugh as our next Supreme Court justice. Even though you will know the outcome of that vote by the time you read this blog, there are some thoughts that we might want to consider as a Church regardless of what happens.
You may recall that last week I reminded us of our promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons” and to “respect the dignity of every human being” that we regularly promise in our Baptismal Covenant. We haven’t had a happy history of living into this part of the Covenant as a nation. As soon as they began to claim this land as territories of their homeland, the explorers waged war against the indigenous people already living here. This week, many will celebrate the holiday of Columbus Day yet this is no happy occasion for the Native Americans among us who see this day as a day which “…represents the violent history of colonization in the Western hemisphere,” as expressed by professor of American Indian Studies at Arizona State University Leo Killsback. In an attempt to repent for the Euro-centric position of the colonizers and their attempt to erase indigenous culture and history from our national story, more and more states and cities are now celebrating Indigenous People’s Day on October 8th.
As I drove to Jackson on Saturday morning for Exploring Your Spiritual Journey, I listened to a very informative episode of “On the Media” on my local NPR station. This program called “The Victimhood” examined anger and resentment arising from the #MeToo movement in response to the Kavanaugh hearings and was then followed by a discussion delving into the blemished history of the Native Americans in this nation. It didn’t take long for me to recognize the connection between these two stories – nor the other examples of injustice and oppression in America’s past. We don’t have to think long before we remember the treatment of African Americans brought here in slavery – an oppression that has continued far too long, the detention and oppression of immigrants and refugees to the US, the marginalization and injustice perpetrated against members of the LGBTQ community, and the list could go on and on. And we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons” and to “respect the dignity of every human being.”
At General Convention of 2009, the Episcopal Church (TEC) voted to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. For those of you for whom this term is new, let me give a little history. Back in 1493, Pope Alexander IV issued a papal bull giving Spain almost exclusive rights to the lands “discovered” by Columbus the previous year. It stated that any land not inhabited by Christians was open to discovery and claim in an attempt to ensure the spread of the Catholic Church and that any non-Christian nation present must be overthrown and brought to faith.
Resolution D035 – Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery
Resolved, That the 76th General Convention 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, and that this declaration be proclaimed among our churches and shared with the United Nations and all the nations and peoples located within The Episcopal Church’s boundaries. This doctrine, which originated with Henry VII in 1496, held that Christian sovereigns and their representative explorers could assert dominion and title over non-Christian lands with the full blessing and sanction of the Church. It continues to be invoked, in only slightly modified form, in court cases and in the many destructive policies of governments and other institutions of the modern nation-state that lead to the colonizing dispossession of the lands of indigenous peoples and the disruption of their way of life; and be it further
Resolved, That The Episcopal Church review its policies and programs with a view to exposing the historical reality and impact of the Doctrine of Discovery and eliminating its presence in its contemporary policies, program and structures and, further, that this body directs the appropriate representatives of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies, to inform all relevant governmental bodies in the United States of its action and suggest similar and equivalent review of historical and contemporary policies that contribute to the continuing colonization of Indigenous Peoples and, further, to write to Queen Elizabeth II, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, requesting that her Majesty disavow, and repudiate publicly, the claimed validity of the Christian Doctrine of Discovery; and be it further
Resolved, 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; and be it further
Resolved, That the 76th General Convention direct the Office of Government Relations to advocate for the U.S. government’s endorsement of the “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” which the United States has refused to endorse (only the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and Australia have failed to sign on).
The Episcopal Church created an informative video in response to the resolution adopted from General Convention repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery.
Perhaps one way we can change the prevailing culture and demonstrate our respect for the indigenous people in our land is to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day, a day which recognizes the first inhabitants of the land that later became the United States. Killsback, a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Nation of Southeastern Montana writes: “Indigenous People’s Day represents a much more honest and fair representation of American values.” There are only a few states that recognize this day: Minnesota, Vermont, Alaska and South Dakota but there are more than 50 cities that observe the holiday including Ann Arbor, Traverse, City, Alpena, East Lansing, and Ypsilanti. How about the rest of our communities? One action item for us might be to spread the word in our local governments to encourage adoption of this holiday as a replacement for Columbus Day.
Maybe I can’t fix all the tragic divisions in our country but I know I have to start somewhere. Recently, we’ve all watched how the rights of certain groups of people – women, immigrants, African Americans, the LGBTQ – have been compromised by those who hold the power. The Rev. Deacon Cindy Corner of St Michael and All Angels (Cambridge Junction) said in her sermon on Sunday:
In the kingdom of heaven there is no caste system. All, including the least, the last and the lost are beloved children of God. We were created to be in relationship with God, all our neighbors, and all creation. Relationships at their best and most holy are founded on love, not law; on mutuality not exclusivity.
As Episcopalians let us build these relationships by visibly and actively live our Baptismal Covenant that our voices might be heard for all the groups whose voices are being silenced.
Let us pray…
O Great Spirit, God of every people and every tribe,
we come to you as your many children,
to ask for your forgiveness and guidance.
Forgive us for the colonialism that stains our past,
the ignorance that allowed us to think
that we could claim another’s home for our own.
Heal us of this history.
Remind us that none of us were discovered
since none of us were lost,
but that we are all gathered within the sacred circle of your community.
Guide us through your wisdom to restore the truth of our heritage.
Help us to confront the racism that divides us
as we confess the pain it has caused to the human family.
Call us to kinship.
Mend the hoop of our hearts
and let us live in justice and peace,
through Jesus Christ, the One who came
that all people might live in dignity.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council