We’ve asked our staff to help us unpack the complex justice issues that we’re working on. Using our General Synod pronouncements as the basis for these reflections, we hope to provide insights into the issues you care about that are rooted in our shared faith, and can inform your advocacy efforts. This month Elizabeth Leung, our Minister for Racial Justice, reflects on the Doctrine of Discovery - a theological document that originated in the early European church, and was (and is to this day) used as a legal basis for ignoring and invalidating claims to property by Native American Communities. Learn more about actions taken by General Synod 29 to address this injustice.
The Doctrine of Discovery: Why it Still Matters Today
“[T]he native people[s] were never lost and they are not lost now. They were exactly where the Creator put them; therefore, they cannot be discovered. They already know the Creator and the Creator knows them" - Adrian Maxey of the Dakota Association, speaking in his native language, reminded the delegates of General Synod.
Many Americans grow up learning that this continent was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus. The concept of discovery, as if the land was empty prior to arrival and its indigenous inhabitants were somehow “less than” the explorers is, at its heart, racism and cultural superiority.
The doctrine of discovery, a concept of public international law expounded by the United States Supreme Court in a series of decisions, originated from various church documents in Christian Europe in the mid-1400s to justify the pattern of domination and oppression by European monarchies as they invasively arrived in the Western hemisphere. It theologically asserted the right to claim the indigenous lands, territories, and resources on behalf of Christendom, and to subjugate native peoples around the world.
In 1823 U.S. Supreme Court case of Johnson v. M’Intosh, Chief Justice John Marshall used the doctrine to assert that the United States, as the successor of Great Britain, had inherited authority over all lands within our claimed boundaries. This decision allowed our government to legally ignore or invalidate any native claims to property. To this day courts continue to cite this legal precedent. It is still being used by courts to decide property rights cases brought by Native Americans against the U.S. and against non-Natives.
In the 21st century U.S., that legacy of domination is reflected 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, and the impact of sequestration budget cuts on native communities, to name a few.
The delegates of General Synod 29 decided to speak out about this historic and ongoing injustice last June. They voted overwhelmingly for a Resolution of Witness to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. The resolution declares and confesses the doctrine to be a shameful part of our church history and that of the U.S. We resolve to not only educate our congregations about it, but also take actions to repair the relationship with American Indians, Native Hawaiians and Alaskan Natives.
Thanksgiving is an important time for reflecting and remembering our history.
The town of Plymouth, Massachusetts has erected a plaque – erected by the Town of Plymouth on behalf of the United American Indians of New England which states: "NATIONAL DAY OF MOURNING.” To many Native Americans, Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their culture. It is a day of remembrance and a protest of the racism and oppression, which Native Americans continue to experience.
In 2008, Congress passed the House Joint Resolution 62 for the Friday after Thanksgiving to be designated as “National Native American Heritage Day.” It is a small step in our willingness to balance the misleading historical narrative of “discovery” and to recognize the true Native American history -- of thriving economies and sophisticated systems of government which existed long before many of our ancestors came to this land, something that is rarely taught to our children or mentioned in our schools.
We can struggle, heal and work together for justice for our Native American brothers and sisters.
As we learn about the doctrine of discovery: the genocide of native peoples, the dispossession that generations have sustained as their lands were stolen, their languages destroyed, and their culture appropriated by European settlers, it can trigger different emotional responses in those of us whose ancestors are immigrants, voluntary or enslaved, to this continent.
With God’s grace, may we move forward in compassion and resolve in our hearts and actions to stand in solidarity with our indigenous sisters and brothers and neighbors: learning about the histories and cultures of native peoples in the area we live and work, advocating for the public policies and social conditions that respect the sovereignty and self-determination of Native American.
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Justice and Witness Ministry is pleased to welcome and announce to our staff team, The Rev. Dr. Velda R. Love as Minister for Racial Justice. Rev. Dr. Love began her ministry with us February 1, 2017. Located in the Cleveland, OH office, Velda brings with her a wealth of knowledge to the United Church of Christ. She has decades of experience in critical race theory, leadership development, community outreach, workshop facilitation, preaching, teaching, and writing. (Read more.)Read more
November 2016 - Justice and Peace Action NewsletterRead more
Dear Clergy with Standing Rock
Find the light, lift the light. At our best, this is what people of faith do when the world appears to be stuck at midnight and hope seems a faint flicker. For many, the water protectors of Standing Rock have been and continue to be a source of light. As clergy joined in solidarity with Standing Rock, we have the opportunity to help amplify that light. Biblical scholars note that when Jesus declares, “You are the light of the world,” the “you” refers to a community. In this moment, we have the opportunity to be part of a larger community of light. In this spirit, we invite you to join in this collective effort in three ways:
- Respond to the call of indigenous leaders to take action and stand with Standing Rock on November 15th. Throughout the country, actions are being planned for the Army Corps of Engineers District Headquarter offices. Look to see if there is an action near you.
- Engage your congregation in activities of reflection and repentance in considering the Doctrine of Discovery, a legal concept arising from church documents that authorized and, indeed blessed, Christians to kill non-Christians and possess their lands and resources. The repudiation of this doctrine served as a central point of focus for the clergy who gathered recently in Standing Rock. Denominations such as the Episcopal Church , the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church , and the Mennonite Church have developed materials to assist congregations in addressing the destructive legacy of Christianity that continues to impact the world today as Standing Rock amply demonstrates.
- Let the light shine by sharing this graphic on social media. For those stuck at midnight, you have the opportunity to point them toward hope and the action that produces hope.
We invite you to sign up for future updates and opportunities for action regarding Standing Rock.
Kindred in Christ,
Rev. Byron Buffalo
Rev. Marlene Whiterabbit Helgemo
Rev. Rebecca Voelkel
Rev. Brooks Berndt
August 2016 - Justice and Peace Action Newsletter
About the Justice and Peace Action Network
The Justice and Peace Action Network (JPANet) is the arm through Justice and Witness Ministries of the UCC carries out its mission statement. It is our denomination’s grassroots advocacy network composed of individual members and local UCC congregations across the country.
The JPANet both educates and engages its members in shaping public policy in keeping with God's vision of a just and loving society. Our work is grounded in General Synod resolutions, consonant with historic UCC witness, and formed by a biblical understanding of prophetic ministry.
JPANet members collectively advocate on a variety of issues for social change that promotes the Common Good. These issue areas are resourced by national staff of the Justice and Witness Ministries and Wider Church Ministries who work with local UCC advocates to shape coordinated strategy on our common witness. The Global Concerns issue area is shared with staff of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ),the UCC’s partner in global ministry.
What resources and opportunities does the Network provide?
Weekly Legislative Action Alerts:
Brief email synopsis of pending legislation or current justice issues, and a call for action each week. Perfect for taking personal action on the justice issues you care about and suitable for posting in newsletters and bulletins.
Includes invitations to regional and national gatherings, resources and opportunities for witness.
- Biblical and liturgical material for interpreting issues and action
What Happens When You Take Action?
When you take an online action, you will be directed to a webpage that will explain the current legislative issue and provide a sample letter for you to send to the targeted decision-makers. When you fill out your information, your letter, which you can personalize according to your own particular views on an issue, will be sent to the indicated decision-makers (i.e. Senators, Congresspeople, the President, or whoever is the appropriate recipient of your message). These messages appear in their email inboxes or fax machines as though you had sent it from their website email form or your own fax machine.
Does taking action electronically make a difference?
Yes! Decision-makers take notice when their mailboxes fill with emails and faxes. Congressional staff members keep regular tallies of the number of messages they receive on an issue, and it can make a difference on whether or not members of Congress support or oppose legislative measures. UCC JPANet advocates have sent messages on an wide range of issues from environmental justice in the Hurricane Katrina clean-up, hate crimes, Millennium Development Goals for ending global poverty, violence against women, federal budget policy priorities, stem cell research, fair treatment of workers by Taco Bell and Mount Olive Pickles, the minimum wage and the protection of civil liberties.
Your support helps us to provide this resource. Please support the JPANet with an online gift!Sign up
- Weekly Legislative Action Alerts:
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