The text according to the Gospel of Matthew narrates the Temptation of Jesus, and Matthew 4:8–9 reads, “[A]gain, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all of the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him”’ (NRSV). Satan tempted Jesus to dominate the world and subjugate other peoples, and Jesus rebuked him in no uncertain terms.
In contrast to Jesus, the Europeans since the times of the Crusades had justified their conquest of other lands, and their domination of other peoples, in the name of the Christian God with the Doctrine of Discovery. The displacement and genocide of the indigenous peoples in what became the United States is a textbook case of both such conquest and domination. Jesus’ refusal to rule over the kingdoms of the world and their splendor directly confronts the theological and legal rationale for the Doctrine of Discovery.
In the 21st century U.S., the temptation by Satan in the legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery is manifested in the undermined sovereignty of our indigenous communities and through Congressional and Federal assertions of power over the tribes. We see this lived out through injustices in water rights, oil and mineral extraction on native lands, border and immigration policies which negatively affect tribal communities, to name a few.
Traditionally, Lent has meant fasting and preparation for Easter. Fasting is a genuinely pious form of sublimating oneself along with other exercises to feed our spirits. The goal, however, is not to focus on our spiritual needs, but to deepen our faith by going outside of the individual self and be concerned with the larger dimensions of life together with the suffering world.
To consider the Doctrine of Discovery therefore, provides us with a spiritual growth opportunity to move from feeling guilty or despair about what some of our settler/immigrant ancestors have done. In acknowledging that most, if not all, of us have benefited from the social systems built upon the foundation of land theft from and subjugation of indigenous peoples, let us reflect on how have we taken up the responsibility to address the plight of Native American communities.
Will our nation ever repent from the sins of genocide and dispossession it committed justified by the Doctrine of Discovery? What would such repentance look like today in 21st century U.S.? What would that mean for us today, as a collective of Christians, in following the footsteps of our Lord Jesus? What would “do justice, walk humbly with God” looks like, in repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery?
Thanks to Norm “Jack” Jackson for his assistance in crafting these reflections. For more information on the UCC Council of American Indian Ministries (CAIM) visit caimucc.org.