Truth Be Told

I am currently writing a book about the Doctrine of Discovery along with Dr. Soong-Chan Rah. There is a crowdfunding campaign to support the writing process with reward levels that includes SIGNED COPIES of the book once it is released! Click here for more information.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

An Invitation to Risk

The first time I spoke publicly about a vision for a national Truth (and Conciliation) Commission in response to the Doctrine of Discovery and the buried unjust history of the United States was back in early 2015. I had just written a blog article titled "The Doctrine of Discovery- A Buried Apology and an Empty Chair." This article laid out specifically what the Doctrine of Discovery is, how it influenced the very foundations of our nation, and exposed the unjust and violent history that resulted from it. It also deconstructed American exceptionalism and articulated a vision for a national dialogue on race, a Truth Commission. While this article did not go viral, it did get an incredibly wide reading and was liked, shared, republished, linked to and referenced hundreds, even thousands of times.

A few weeks later, I received an email from Brian McLaren. He had read the article and was extremely excited about the dialogue it attempted to initiate. He offered to help in any way he could. Not long after that, he told me that he was invited to speak at a conference called Christianity 21 in Phoenix, and if I could meet him there, he would give me his plenary session! At that point, I did not know Brian very well (he has since become a great partner and friend), but I was touched by his offer and found my way down to Phoenix. His plenary was scheduled for the second day of the conference. On that first day we made each other’s acquaintance, hung out and got to know each other better. It did not take me long to realize that Brian is a very popular author who is quite well known! In fact, I suspect many people attended the conference primarily to hear him speak.

The next day he began his scheduled plenary session by telling the audience that sometimes it is important for the voice from the dominant culture to step aside and allow other voices to be heard. He then introduced me.  I took the stage with a certain amount of fear and trembling as I realized the extent of the risk Brian was taking and the incredible trust he was placing in me. My name was not on the program, no one in the audience had any idea who I was, and I am quite certain that the Doctrine of Discover was even less known.  I had approximately 18 minutes and quickly brought them through the Doctrine of Discovery, exposed the buried, violent and unjust history of the United States, deconstructed American Exceptionalism, and then called them to lament as a way to prepare ourselves for a long overdue and much needed national dialogue on race. At the end of the session, Brian joined me on stage and we shared some final comments together. As we walked off the stage I was completely unsure how the people would respond.

The audience then gave a long standing ovation. And for the remainder of the conference, I barely had a moment to myself as many people wanted to ask questions and to follow up on the dialogue that was initiated in the plenary session.

Several weeks later, I received an email from Gabe Lyons, the founder of the Q Ideas conference. He had been in discussion with another good friend of mine, David Bailey, who had strongly recommended me as a speaker at the upcoming Q conference in Boston. Gabe asked me to speak about the Doctrine of Discovery. Again, I took that stage with a certain amount of fear and trepidation. Both David and Gabe were taking a huge risk. Hardly anybody in the audience knew me and even fewer knew much about the Doctrine of Discovery. On top of that, the conference was being held in an old historic theatre in downtown Boston, just blocks away from the harbor where John Winthrop preached his sermon “A Model of Christian Charity.” And my plenary talk was titled “A City on a Hill?" (with a question mark). In the presentation, I again identified the Doctrine of Discovery, exposed the buried and unjust history of the US, deconstructed American exceptionalism, pointed out the faulty theological assumptions of John Winthrop’s City on a Hill sermon, and called the audience to lament in preparation for a national dialogue on race.

Because of the bright lighting on the stage, I could not see the audience, and they were mostly silent throughout the presentation. So when I completed my remarks and walked off the stage, I again did not have a clue how the people would respond.

About a minute later, Gabe came back stage and said, "Mark, I need to bring you back up. They are still standing and applauding."

After the session I was approached by a man who helped me understand what was behind the audience’s response. He said, "Mark, I'm sorry we gave you a standing ovation. That was not the response your session called for. But as an audience we had no other way to tell you that we heard you and deeply appreciated your honest words."

For the next two days, I again barely had a moment to myself as many people wanted to speak with me and ask questions as they grappled with the history that was presented.

Two months ago, I presented a seminar at the Urbana 2015 missions conference. This seminar was scheduled for the third day of the conference, and was assigned to a room that held about 300 people. I was excited and worked hard with the Urbana staff to craft a title and a description that was intriguing and would draw students to the seminar.  On the second night of Urbana, Michelle Higgins gave a very honest, challenging, and prophetic plenary talk on Black Lives Matter. While not everyone agreed, it definitely got people talking. After that talk, from the plenary stage, one of the worship leaders challenged the students to attend my seminar on the Doctrine of Discovery the following day. The next morning, the Urbana daily newspaper contained a full article regarding my seminar and the Doctrine of Discovery.  The seminar details were also getting shared and receiving enthusiastic responses on social media. Later, some Urbana conference staff approached me and said that because of all the publicity the seminar was getting they were adding more chairs to the room and staffing it with extra volunteers to help during the Q and A.

The seminar was located in a hotel a few blocks away from the main Urbana convention center, and I was concerned that distance would reduce the number of people attending. But on the way over I passed hundreds of people lined up to attend a session that was titled “Living a Radical Life.” It was in the same time slot, in a hotel located even further away, and it already had an overflowing crowd. I told myself, “See, there is nothing to worry about.”

I arrived at my seminar room about 30 minutes early and was surprised to find it still mostly empty. Slowly students began trickling in. But by the time it was scheduled to start the room was still far less than half full with only about 80 people. Now for the 80 who were there, the seminar was fantastic and their response was nearly the same as the previous two audiences I described.  And a group stayed afterwards, for nearly 2 hours, talking and asking questions about the Doctrine of Discovery.

But why were there only 80 people?  That’s the challenge with the Doctrine of Discovery. It has been buried for a reason. It’s unknown. It’s troubling. It’s difficult. It exposes a side of the Church and America that most people would rather forget. And because of that, it’s an extremely hard conversation to gather people for. The first 2 audiences were captive. They were there because they trusted Brian, Gabe and David. But they had no idea what they were in for. Had they known, most of them probably would not have come. But once I took the stage and they realized what they were getting, it was too late to walk out. So they stayed. They listened. They were troubled. But they heard. And most of them were grateful.

At Urbana, after the Black Lives Matter talk, 16,000 people were specifically invited and encouraged, twice, to attend a seminar on the Doctrine of Discovery and to take the conversation deeper. 80 people took that risk. That’s one half of one percent (0.5%) who intentionally joined the conversation. And they were grateful that they did. But a vast majority of the people never sought it out.

An Invitation to Risk with Us
So why am I sharing this with you now? Because this work cannot be done alone. For the past year, speaking, writing, and educating people about the Doctrine of Discovery has been my full time job. But unfortunately, it is not a well-paying, or even a financially sustainable one. When the leaders, organizations and audiences are taking such substantial risk just to create a space to deliver or hear a message on the Doctrine of Discovery, coming up with the finances to adequately compensate the messenger is extremely difficult.  A few of my invitations to speak come with an adequate honorarium. But many do not. As a result, our income fluctuates greatly. Some months it pays our bills and other months it doesn’t even come close.

There is a small but growing number of people, organizations, institutions and leaders who are willing to take a risk and create space for a conversation regarding the Doctrine of Discovery. But if speakers like myself make honorariums and paid expenses mandatory before accepting invitations, this conversation will never get started. Our priority must be on meeting people, and organizations, where they are at and acknowledging the risks they are taking just to be there.

And that is where I would like to ask for your help.

A few months ago we started a Crowdfunding campaign through GoFundMe, called “Common Memory Project.” I invite you to financially support us. The goal of this campaign is to help compensate our time, cover our expenses and expand this work so we can continue to take this conversation anywhere people are willing to engage it, without being concerned about how much we are paid. My hope for the next step, is to move past simply accepting invitations and actually begin planning events and intentionally bringing this dialogue to communities around the country, almost like a campaign. Two months ago I recorded a short video that articulated the vision for a national Truth and Conciliation Commission in 2021 (#TCC2021) and the steps we are taking to get there. I welcome you to watch it.

The Doctrine of Discovery has been buried in our nation’s foundations since they were written. This history will not be exposed by accident. It must intentionally be uncovered. And such intentionality involves risk and cannot be done alone. That is why I’m inviting you to come along.

Ways you can take a risk and join this effort:
  1. Donate to our Crowdfunding campaign “Common Memory Project.
  2. Sign up for our Truth and Conciliation Commission mailing list to receive regular updates and resources on this work.
  3. Contact us with us to plan a conversation regarding the Doctrine of Discovery in your local community.
  4. Recommend Mark as a speaker at your church, for a conference, or at a nearby seminary, college or university.
  5. Contact us directly to learn about more ways you can volunteer in this work. 
*Mark's organization 5 Small Loaves does not have non-profit status and is unable to provide tax deductible receipts. Mark has established a partnership with the Christian Indian Center which is able to provide tax deductible receipts for gifts given off-line.  

1 comment:

Mark Charles said...

There is a small but growing number of people, organizations, institutions and leaders who are willing to take a risk and create space for a conversation regarding the Doctrine of Discovery. Our priority must be on meeting people, and organizations, where they are at and acknowledging the risks they are taking just to be there.