Commentary: Truth

In 1620, the Mayflower set sail for new shores.

On November 9 its surviving inhabitants caught sight of Cape Cod. Two days later, on November 11, they signed the Mayflower Compact. It would be a long winter that followed, and almost half of those aboard the ship would not survive.

Next year, we will commemorate 400 years of worship on these shores following their landing. What has transpired in those 400 years, if fully told, would consume volumes. Much of what we who are descendants of those first pilgrims choose to tell ourselves about our collective footprint and impact makes us out as heroes and champions.

Truth be told, we are so much more than that.

We are enslavers who entrapped black bodies and forced them to live lives of hard labor to build our wealth.

We are torturers who beat, imprisoned, disenfranchised, under-nourished, and oppressed indigenous and enslaved peoples alike in order to possess lands others had claim to.

We are rapists, men whose lust was insatiable and whose ideology afforded us the right to force ourselves on women we claimed as property.

We are idolaters, embracing theologies of conquest and dominion and worshiping gods who authorized our forced enslavement of black and brown bodies and who preferred our white skin.

Not all that we did was evil. The Amistad is a part of our story. Antoinette Brown and Lemuel Haynes and Bill Johnson are a part of our story. We were abolitionists and suffragists and labor union advocates. We built schools for freed blacks and hospitals for ailing immigrants. We stood on the front lines for justice and human rights in lands near and far and for causes some of which were easily understood and others painfully negotiated.

We love to tell that part of our story. It is the other stories that are harder to tell, but which we ignore or deny at our peril.

We are in the midst of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024), a program and proclamation of the United Nations. The World Council of Churches recently noted that African descendants and indigenous populations are still suffering in the United States. Continued silence in the face of such an assessment is unforgivable and renders us complicit with evil.

As the inheritance of that remnant of white immigrants who arrived here almost 400 years ago, and of generations of white European immigrants who followed, the United Church of Christ must realize that any action we take toward repairing our damage must be accompanied by our truth. We must tell the full story of the United Church of Christ’s complicity with the evil of racism.

I call upon all settings of the church to spend the next year uncovering new truth. Let our commemorations of 400 years of occupation not just be a rehearsal of our heroism, but a full telling of the impact of our colonial footprint on these shores.

John C. Dorhauer is General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ.

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