When we sing "My country tis of thee." Who is "Thee?"
It's God, right?
As a nation. As Christians. We believe that the United States of America exists because of God's blessing.
Why do we believe that God willed, sanctioned, even led 500 years of discovery, colonization, genocide, slavery, boarding schools, broken treaties, sexism, segregation and nuclear warfare?
It's because of some Papal Bulls that were written in the 15th century known as the doctrine of discovery. At the most basic level, the Doctrine of Discovery is the Church in Europe saying to the nations of Europe, "Whatever lands you encounter that are not ruled by Christian rulers, those people are less than human and the land is yours for the taking." It was the Doctrine of Discovery that allowed Christopher Columbus to get lost at sea, land on a continent inhabited by millions, and claim to have discovered it.
In 1763, King George made a Royal Proclamation reserving the right of discovery of all Indian lands west of the Appalachian Mountains solely for the crown. So in 1776 when the colonies boldly declared their independence, one of the justifications they gave for their declaration was that their right of discovery across these "new" lands was being limited. There was never even a hint of an inclination, when they claimed "all men were created equal," that Native Americans, African Slaves or women would ever be included in the group of "all."
The Doctrine of Discovery distinguishes between the right of occupancy, which indigenous people have, and the right of discovery, which belongs to those of European descent.
In 1823, the case "Johnson vs. Macintosh" was brought before the Supreme Court. And the court stated that, based on the "Doctrine of Discovery," the right of European discovery trumped the right of indigenous occupancy.
When you have a national and theological identity that at its foundation dehumanizes the other and elevates the chosen-ness of the dominant, you get implicit bias. No one says it. It's just understood. You can torture terrorists, abort unborn fetuses, or as nation of immigrants, believe you can comprehensively and justly reform immigration law without ever seeking input or wisdom from the indigenous peoples of these lands. You can do all things because these subjects are all less than human.
The Doctrine of Discovery also effects how we read scripture. Which of our churches and organizations have used passages like Jeremiah 7:5-7 to motivate believers to obey God? "If you deal with each other justly. If you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever."
The Doctrine of Discovery has given our nation an old testament Israel complex. But it's a lie. Americans are not God's chosen people. And this continent is not your promised land.
"My country tis of thee?"
Just because we sing it, doesn't make it true.
*This post is the transcript of a 3 minute presentation I gave in a panel discussion on Implicit Bias at Sojourners Summit for Change (June 2014), Washington DC. It is an effort to educate people on the Doctrine of Discovery and confront some of the Implicit Bias that is present within the United States of America. I welcome your questions, dialogue and respectful engagement. - Mark Charles