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.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Native Perspective on Monday Night Football and the Las Vegas Shooting

Photo by Rhoda LeValdo
Last night on ABC/ESPN Monday Night Football, the visiting team came out of the tunnel with a racist mascot on their jerseys and helmets, and mere minutes after the playing of the National Anthem, the host team's fans were still on their feet, mimicking the throwing of tomahawks and singing some sort of pathetic war whoop. Both team’s owners seemed fine with it. No one in the broadcast booth said anything. President Trump declined to tweet about it. And all the sponsors and advertisers like GMC, Geico, Applebee's, several beer companies and many other mainstream corporations (both foreign and domestic) shamelessly hawked their wares throughout the entire event.

This all happened less than 24 hours after a white man (Stephen Paddock) shot his, legally purchased, fully automatic weapon into a crowd of people. Killing 58 in a horribly evil and incredibly tragic event in Las Vegas. But earlier in the broadcast, just prior to a moment of silence being observed, ABC/ESPN announcer Sean McDonough repeated a lie that many news organizations had been reporting throughout the day. That this shooting was the "deadliest mass shooting US history." Apparently, they forgot about the massacre at Wounded Knee, which left 350 dead, or the massacre at Sand Creek which killed nearly 200 men, women, and children from the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. Or perhaps they only meant massacres for which the U.S. Congress DID NOT award Congressional Medals of Honor.

On top of that, according to the broadcast, only one person (KC player Marcus Peters) did not stand during the playing of the National Anthem before this game. Unless you count me. That raised the count to a grand total of 2. Perhaps there were more. I hope there were more. But it was striking that less than a week removed from one of the largest stands of solidarity against racism the NFL has ever seen, and now at a game where both teams blatantly represented the implicit racial bias the league has against indigenous people, the cameras caught only one person protesting.

My mother is American of Dutch heritage, and I'm proud to be an American, but I lament much of our nation's history. My father is Navajo, from the Waters that flow together people and the Bitter Water clan. And I'm proud to be Navajo. The unspoken history of this country says that these two sides are fundamentally incompatible. I'm expected to stand for the honoring of a flag that literally represents a history of genocide against indigenous people. And then I must sit silently during a game where both teams, and their fans, openly mock and belittle native people.

But I don't believe being both Native and American are incompatible. The problem is our country doesn't know it's history. The United States of America has a memory problem, we also have a race problem, a gender problem, a class problem and, most definitely, we have a gun problem. Therefore, I'm determined to do what I can to teach our history accurately and help create a common memory. Because unless we address these problems head on we're going to destroy ourselves.

George Erasmus, an Aboriginal leader from Canada, says, “Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created.”

I'm convinced that the United States of America needs a national dialogue regarding our history. A dialogue on par with the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions that took place in South Africa, Rwanda and Canada. Beginning this week and over the next several weeks I will be traveling to Tennessee, Michigan, Washington DC, Arizona, Virginia, California, Alaska, Connecticut, and New Mexico. I will be speaking about the Doctrine of Discovery, teaching American history, and inviting my fellow citizens to join me in initiating this dialogue. A national Truth and Conciliation Commission that I call #TCC2021.

Until we understand and acknowledge the racist and sexist history that our flag stood for, we will not be able to transform it into a reality that all Americans can stand for.

Mark Charles

Saturday, September 23, 2017

My Twitter Thread responding to @RealDonaldTrump for calling #ColinKaepernick a Son of a B*tch for kneeling in protest during National Anthem.

On Friday President Trump was speaking at a political rally for Luther Strange in Alabama. During the rally he called Colin Kaepernick a "Son of a B*tch" because of his practice of kneeling in protest during the National Anthem. President Trump went on to state that any NFL player who kneels during the National Anthem should be fired by the NFL team owners. On Saturday, President Trump reiterated his statements on Twitter.

I travel throughout the country speaking about the Doctrine of Discovery and its racist and dehumanizing influence on the foundations of the United States of America. Over the past several years I have spoken to thousands of people, but I do not know how to get an audience with President Trump to speak with him about this history. So I decided to address him using his preferred method of communication. Twitter. I composed a thread of 36 tweets. This thread is my attempt to educate him on the Doctrine of Discovery and the work that needs to be done on our foundations. I welcome you read the thread. Some of the tweets are embedded in this post, some are shared as graphics and some are simply printed as text. You can also read the entire thread on Twitter by clicking on the embedded Tweet below.  And if you feel so inclined, please re-tweet any of them. Who knows, we just might get his attention.

You state that you are not racist. So, giving you the benefit of the doubt, I must conclude you are unaware of our nations true history.

Please allow me to share with you a Native Perspective on American history and the Doctrine of Discovery.

The founding fathers embedded the Doctrine of Discovery deep into US Foundations (I.e. Declaration of Independence, Constitution & SCOTUS)

Making it very clear that the only reason founding fathers used inclusive term All men is b/c they had a very narrow definition of humanity.

Article 1 Sec. 2 of US Constitution excludes women & natives, it counts black people as 3/5th human. This only leaves white men.

The purpose of the US Constitution is to protect the interests of white, land owning, men (in 1776 only land owners could vote).

Section 1 of the 14th Amendment extends rights of citizenship to anyone born here under the jurisdiction of the govt.

But Section 2 still excludes women & natives and places the full rights of citizenship under jurisdiction of criminal justice system.

To this day, US Constitution contains 52 gender specific, male pronouns re: who can run for and hold public office or even is a citizen.

Marshall SCOTUS also references Doctrine of Discovery & rules natives only have right of occupancy while whites have the right of discovery.

This legal precedent and Doctrine of Discovery are referenced by SCOTUS again in 1954, 1985 and 2005.

In 1830 Andrew Jackson signed Indian Removal Act which results in Trail of Tears, Long Walk & deaths of tens of thousands of indigenous people.

19th century is filled with numerous massacres like Sand Creek in CO and Wounded Knee in SD.

Between 1839 and 1898 US Congress awards 425 Congressional Medals of Honor to US soldiers for ethnic cleansing of Turtle Island.

This is a hard fact to swallow, so here is the link to the recipients listed on US Army Center of Military History.

Mr. President (@potus), The question is not "Why is Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest?" The question is "Why aren't you?"

Or we can commit ourselves to working hard to make the USA a nation where we the people finally means all the people.

Colin Kaepernick is respectfully kneeling in protest, doing his part to draw attention to the deep seeded racial problems that we face.

And you called him a “Son of a b-“ and said any NFL player who also kneels in protest should be fired by NFL.

When you are President of a nation that is systemically racist & sexist and you seek to silence the voices of those working for change…

you are either willfully ignorant or, blatantly sexist and white supremacist.

I tagged you in this thread so the prior will no longer be an excuse. But our nation needs you to decide…
The USA needs a national dialogue on race, gender and class. A Truth and Conciliation Commission on par w/ ZA, RW & CA. I call it #TCC2021

Mark Charles

And if you have a change of heart, my good friend @LeroyBarber is hosting a #NFLKneelDown protest in Detroit, Oct 8.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Most Egregious Thing President Trump Said Last Week

Even in terms of the Trump Presidency, last week was a doozy.

Even coming off the week prior, when President Trump threatened, on Twitter nonetheless, the citizens of North Korea with nuclear annihilation, last week was a doozy. Even for a President who campaigned to the alt-right, hired a few of them as his advisers, and filled a majority of his cabinet with spineless white, land-owning yes-men, last week was a doozy.

After a horrific Saturday, which saw the murder of a female counter-protester at a rally of white nationalists and white supremacists waving Confederate and Nazi flags, President Trump refused, on Sunday, to call out these vile and explicit public displays of racism and hatred. Instead, he merely condemned violence, and ultimately cast blame on "all sides."  But those were not the most egregious words spoken by President Trump last week.

On Tuesday, President Trump began his day early by passive-aggressively using Twitter to lash out at his opponents, re-tweeting, among other things, an image of a news reporter from CNN seemingly being hit by a Trump train. An eerie, childlike and reckless re-tweet coming just 3 days after a white terrorists ruthlessly murdered Heather Heyer, a female counter-protester, by running her over with a vehicle. This was a tweet (later deleted) which caused myself and probably many others to wonder exactly where did President Trump fantasize he could have been on Saturday had he not had to worry about the secret service and other confining restraints of the office of POTUS. But that was not the most egregious thing President Trump said last week.

Later that same Tuesday, during a news conference that was supposed to be about infrastructure, President Trump, in response to questions about Charlottesville and racism, lost his composure. He went very far off script and once again blamed the violence on both sides, which he now termed the alt-right and the alt-left. But even these unscripted and from-the-heart words, which left the nation and the world flabbergasted, were not the most egregious words President Trump spoke last week.

Even when he was ‘good’ and simply read the script given to him by his advisers, President Trump’s words missed the mark. After being raked over the coals by US citizens, social media, the regular media, other politicians (including those from his own party), and the global community for his tepid response over the weekend, President Trump came out on Monday like a chastened child being forced by his parents to apologize for an act he clearly felt deserved no condemnation. He carefully read the statement crafted for him by his staff and advisers and took no questions.

In his remarks, President Trump called out racism and hatred. That was good. He labeled as repugnant the KKK and white supremacists. That was also good.  Two for two.  President Trump was on a roll. If only he had stopped there. If only he had ended his remarks with those two condemnations. But he didn't. He over-reached. President Trump tried to be a political healer and as a result he repeated the destructive and damaging rhetoric that all politicians, from both parties, use when they want to unite this nation. He repeated the lie of American exceptionalism.

"We are a nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal. We are equal in the eyes of our creator, we are equal under the law, and we are equal under our Constitution."

This lie is smooth because it repeats a sentiment that Americans want to believe about ourselves.  We want to think that we are a nation founded on the "truth that all of us are created equal.” We want to believe that we are all equal under the law and under our Constitution. But that is not even close to what the authors of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution intended to communicate. Many of the founding fathers were white supremacists, and nearly all of them were white nationalists. They largely envisioned a racially homogeneous country where white men ruled over subservient women and people of color.

Many of the founding fathers owned slaves, they participated in the ethnic cleansing of natives, they broke treaties, they stole land. They were quickly becoming enamored with talk of Manifest Destiny. In their Declaration of Independence, they labeled natives as savages. And in their Constitution, they never mentioned women, they specifically excluded natives and they all agreed to count Africans as 3/5th of a person.

Even when they tried to fix it, they didn’t. The 13th Amendment doesn’t actually abolish slavery. And the 14th Amendment still specifically excluded women and natives.  Even today, the legal precedent for land titles is based on the dehumanizing Doctrine of Discovery and the Constitution is still peppered with 51 gender-specific, male pronouns in regard to who can be President, run for (or hold) office and, is a citizen.

But his appeals to the mythology of American exceptionalism were still not the most egregious words President Trump spoke last week.  That prize is reserved for this statement: "Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America."

Alt-right members preparing to enter Emancipation Park holding Nazi, Confederate, and Gadsden "Don't Tread on Me" flags.
Photo by Anthony Crider
How dare President Trump state such an egregious lie! He campaigned to that bigotry. He exacerbated violence. It was the alt-right, white nationalists, and white supremacists who got him elected. And President Trump knows that. He rose to political prominence riding the racist waves of the birther movement. He boasted that he was the only one able to publicly humiliate the first African American President of the United States by forcing him to show his birth certificate on the global stage.

At his first campaign event, Donald Trump labeled immigrants from Mexico as rapists and murders.  Throughout his campaign he continually demeaned and objectified women. He rallied his base by promising a Muslim ban. Before a conservative Christian audience at Dordt College in Sioux Center Iowa, he boasted that he could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue (NYC) and shoot somebody and still not lose voters. He was even caught on a hot mike mentoring a younger, white land-owning male, that celebrity and status gives the right to sexually assault women.

President Trump is so dependent upon the support of the alt-right that in 2016, after he was endorsed by David Duke, the former grand marshal of the KKK, he stumbled and took his time to condemn such groups and their racism. And David Duke remembers that, because, last week, after President Trump tweeted "We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Let’s come together as one!" David Duke (whose Twitter account has since been suspended) rebuked him by tweeting, "I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the Presidency, not radical leftists."

Donald Trump fanned the flames of bigotry, intolerance, violence, hatred and racism. He knows our country is conflicted. He sees our racial, gender and religious divides. And as a businessman, turned reality TV celebrity, he made a calculated bet that he could use those divides to further elevate his brand and financially line his pockets. But his calculations were off. All Donald Trump wanted to do was feed his ego and enrich himself. He never wanted to become President. But he egregiously underestimated how alive and well racism, hatred and intolerance is in our country. And I believe he resents the fact that every morning he is reminded of his miscalculation, when he wakes up still confined to the Office of President of the United States of America. Because embracing bigoty, racism, sexism, hatred, and intolerance did something that Donald J. Trump never expected. It propelled him all the way to the White House.

Mark Charles

Authors Note: For the past six months I have mostly occupied a place of sorrow and lament, but am slowly moving towards a space of intentional, non-violent and prayerful action. I began to make that move about 10 days ago with two articles calling for President Trump to resign (re: Indiscriminate Attacks and Christendom). And I am continuing that transition today with this article calling out the explicit racism and hatred that we have been witnessing for the past two years.  I am convinced that Donald Trump is not fit for the Office of President of the United States and invite you to pray with me that God will give him the courage he needs to resign.

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Call for President Trump to Resign (2 of 2): The Destructive Role of Christendom

Throughout its history, the United States of America has considered itself to be an extension of a medieval institution known as Christendom. And it has continuously, and eagerly, engaged in religious warfare. Christendom is the prostitution of the Christian Church to the empires of the world. A plain text reading of the New Testament books of the Bible, especially the four Gospels, make it abundantly clear that Jesus did not come to earth to create, or even restore, an imperial religious state. He came to make disciples, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf and to care for the poor. And ultimately, he came to willingly surrender his life and die on a cross so that the entire human race might have an opportunity for restored relationship with Creator.  Jesus both stated and demonstrated throughout his life that “his kingdom was not of this earth.”

In the fourth century, Constantine became Emperor, converted to Christianity and decided to “Christianize” Rome. In direct contrast to the teachings of Jesus, Constantine created a Christian Empire, known as Christendom. In the fifth century, Augustine of Hippo (later Saint Augustine) wrote, regarding the role of a Christian King in a Christian Empire, that “he serves Him (the LORD) by enforcing with suitable rigor such laws as ordain what is righteous, and punish what is the reverse.” Augustine also concludes that the subjects of a Christian King, when necessary, could be led to worship God after “being first compelled by fear or pain.”  In the thirteenth Century, the theologian Thomas Aquinas, concludes that if the state has the right to execute people who forge money “and other evil doers”, how “much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death.”

And that is Christendom. A heretical Christian state that considers itself empowered and sanctioned by God to use the resources of the state, through fear and pain to compel people to worship, and if necessary, to execute those who believe falsely.

It was this type of heresy that led to the writing of the Doctrine of Discovery by the Catholic Church in the 15th Century. The Doctrine of Discovery is essentially the church saying to the nations of Christendom, wherever you go, whatever lands you find not ruled by white, European, Christian rulers, those people are less than human and the land is yours for the taking. This was the Doctrine that justified Europe’s colonization of Africa and the enslavement of the African people. They did not believe the Africans to be human. This was also the Doctrine that allowed the nations of Europe to claim the right of “discovery” over Turtle Island (later known as the Americas). If you think about it, you cannot discover lands already inhabited, unless you consider the people who are there to be sub-human.

It was the heretical belief in Christendom that led United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall to reference the Doctrine of Discovery as a legal instrument when writing the ruling, that later became the legal precedent of land titles, in the case Johnson v. M’Intosh (1823). This case distinguished the difference between Aboriginal Title, otherwise known as the right of occupancy which SCOTUS concluded is held by indigenous people, and Fee Title, otherwise known as the right of discovery, which the court ruled, is the absolute title to the land and belongs solely to white European “Christian” nations. This precedent, and the Doctrine of Discovery were referenced by the United States Supreme Court as recently as 1954, 1985 and 2005.

It was the heretical belief in Christendom that allowed John Winthrop in 1630 to co-opt the narrative of Old Testament Israel and claim that the Christian colonists were in the New World to establish a “City on a Hill.” He then went on to imply that the lands of the Americas were their promised land. For white Americans, this re-appropriation of the identity of the people of Israel is critical, because it is the theology of Promised Lands that, according to commands of God in Deuteronomy and Joshua, orders and even sanctifies oppression and genocide. This is what morally paved the way for the ethnic cleansing of indigenous peoples from the continent of North America. For Christendom, Manifest Destiny is simply god-ordained genocide.

And President Trump, along with most of the Christian right, believe adamantly in the heresy of Christendom. This is how he campaigned on a theme of religious liberty, while simultaneously promising a “Muslim Ban.”  President Trump, and many Americans Christians, do not believe in, or even want, religious liberty. They desire Christian liberty. They don’t want just any prayer in school, they want Christian prayer in school.  They don’t want a law that allows an LGBTQ baker to refuse to bake a wedding cake for a “Christian” wedding, but they will fight adamantly for the right of a “Christian” bakery to refuse to bake a cake for the wedding of an LGBTQ couple.

After the terrorist attack in London last March, Clay Higgins, the Republican Congressional Representative from the third District in the state of Louisiana posted this in his public Facebook wall:
“The free world... all of Christendom... is at war with Islamic horror. Not one penny of American treasure should be granted to any nation who harbors these heathen animals. Not a single radicalized Islamic suspect should be granted any measure of quarter. Their intended entry to the American homeland should be summarily denied. Every conceivable measure should be engaged to hunt them down. Hunt them, identify them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.”
Again, these are the words of a “Christian” United States Congressmen from the state of Louisiana in the year 2017.

On Monday of this week, after President Trump threatened North Korea with an attack of “fire, fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before." And then followed up that threat with a tweet stating that “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely…” Robert James Jeffress Jr., a white evangelical Southern Baptist pastor from Texas, who has been a longtime supporter of President Trump and serves as an Evangelical adviser to POTUS, stated that "in the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un."

I call on Donald Trump to resign as President of the United States of America. According to the teachings of Jesus, upon which the Christian Church is based, there is no such thing as Christendom. The heresy of Christendom is just as dangerous, and as threatening, to global security as that of ISIS and other radical religious extremism.  The world does not want, nor does it need, another radicalized religious zealot with a short temper and an itchy finger on the trigger of a nuclear arsenal that is “locked and loaded”.

Religious wars suck. Religious wars have no rules. And religious wars bring out the absolute worst in humanity. Religious wars are not Christian, nor are they Muslim. Religious wars, whether fought by ISIS or Christendom, are nothing more than the justified and “sanctified” destruction of the enemies of one’s god based on the heretical interpretations of their founder’s teachings. And damned is anyone who gets in the way.

I do not deny that the rogue nation of North Korea is an international threat that needs to be addressed. But I am certain that the solution to this problem will not come from any nation, or leader, who feels that they alone are fighting in the name, and the authority, of God. War is horrible, and at times, perhaps, maybe even necessary. But it should never be sanctioned by religious leaders.  The church, the mosque, the religious, should always call for peace and be the prophetic thorn in the side of politicians, generals and other leaders, who, from time to time, may need to make the regrettable and lamentable decision of humbly and sorrowfully resorting to military warfare and violence to resolve conflict. But war should never be celebrated. The ability to destroy should never be flaunted. And the violence, the killing, and the horror of our unresolvable disagreements should never, ever, be religiously sanctified.

After months of observation and long periods of lament, I have concluded that the sincerest prayer I can, and do, pray for President Trump is that he will have the courage to resign. I honestly do not believe that holding the office of President of the United States is healthy for him, our nation, or the world.

Mark Charles

Also see: A Call for President Trump to Resign (1 of 2):  Indiscriminate Attacks

A Call for President Trump to Resign (1 of 2): Indiscriminate Attacks

The United States of America has a history of extreme, indiscriminate, military violence resulting in the mass killing of civilians. This is most evident when our country feels threatened, provoked or attacked. On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the US Military base in Hawaii. This attack killed a total of 2,403 people, of which 68 were civilians.  Between January 1944 and August 1945, the United States firebombed the nation of Japan targeting some if its most populous cities. This included Operation Meetinghouse, a massive bombing raid of Tokyo that left 100,000 people dead. And of course, the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which killed another 120,000 people. The targets of these bombing raids were not specifically military nor were they precise and therefore most of the causalities were civilian. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) defines Indiscriminate attacks as those “of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction.”

By precisely attacking Pearl Harbor, a military target, Japan limited the number of civilian deaths to 68. Three years later, the United States of America retaliated with a 20-month bombing campaign that can only be categorized as "Indiscriminate.” How can I say this with such certainty? Because had Japan dropped nuclear bombs on the cities of Honolulu and Los Angeles and firebombed Chicago or New York, there would be no debate, academic, intellectual or otherwise. Such bombings would most definitely be categorized as "Indiscriminate" and probably even decried as war crimes.

On Tuesday of this week, President Trump threatened the country of North Korea with an attack of “fire, fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before."  Given our history, this can only mean a nuclear attack, which, by definition, is indiscriminate.  On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, reiterated the threat to the civilian population when he told North Korea to "cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and destruction of its people.” Also on Wednesday, President Trump tweeted, “My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before ... Hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!” On Thursday, President Trump stated, regarding his “fire and fury” threat that “Maybe it wasn’t tough enough.” He also refused to take the option of a preemptive strike off the table. And on Friday, he tweeted that “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely…”

This flaunting of indiscriminate military destruction and blatant disregard for civilian life and international norms by the Trump administration is appalling.

I do not deny that the rogue nation of North Korea is an international threat that needs to be addressed. But I am certain the solution to this problem will not come through bragging about our nuclear arsenal or through our willingness to destroy an entire nation. Such rhetoric is evil and removes any shred of moral authority that the United States may have. If we preemptively, or even in retaliation, destroy an entire nation, we had better be prepared to live the rest of our days in isolation and fear. Because I doubt the international community will live without protest under the dictatorial threat of nuclear destruction by our nation that not only flaunts, but also exercises (will be three times), its ability to indiscriminately destroy entire populations whenever we feel threatened.

I call on Donald Trump to resign as President of the United States of America. Throughout his campaign and during his tenure in office, his public comments, tweets and unscripted rhetoric have demonstrated that he does not hold a comprehensive value for life, especially the lives of anyone he considers to be an opponent. And now he is touting his disregard for international law and threatening the entire civilian population of North Korea. The world does not want, nor does it need, an entitled American President with a short temper and an itchy finger on the trigger of a nuclear arsenal that is “locked and loaded”. We have already pulled that trigger twice and no one appreciates our President's perceived eagerness to pull it again. I ask Donald Trump to voluntarily step down from the Office of President of the United States before making himself, and our entire nation, war criminals.

Mark Charles

Also see: A Call for President Trump to Resign (2 of 2): The Destructive Role of Christendom

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Unfortunate and Extremely High Cost of Bi-Partisanship in American Politics

Early this morning, in a stunning rebuke of Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Charles Schumer, and even President Trump, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) voted against the GOP proposed "skinny repeal" of the Affordable Care Act. His was the deciding vote, joining 2 other Republican Senators and all 48 Democrats in opposition to the bill. Some were surprised by his vote, but anyone who listened to his speech on Monday, when he returned from receiving cancer treatment to make an impassioned plea from the Senate floor for bi-partisanship, had some inkling of his intentions.
"The most revered members of this institution accepted the necessity of compromise in order to make incremental progress on solving America’s problems and to defend her from her adversaries. That principled mindset, and the service of our predecessors who possessed it, come to mind when I hear the Senate referred to as the world’s greatest deliberative body. I’m not sure we can claim that distinction with a straight face today."
He went on to say,
"But they (our Senate deliberations) are more partisan, more tribal more of the time than any other time I remember.”
He even included himself in the rebuke,
"Both sides have let this happen...We’ve all played some role in it. Certainly, I have. Sometimes, I’ve let my passion rule my reason."
It was a stunning speech that earned him a standing ovation which extended across the aisle.

Unfortunately, towards the end of his speech, after he rebuked both Democrats and Republicans, and after he made his impassioned plea for bi-partisanship, he laid out what he believed their cooperation could be built on, American Exceptionalism.
“We are the servants of a great nation, ‘a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.’
Senator McCain was of course referring to the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence, which boldly states "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

However, he failed to mention that a mere 30 lines below those iconic words, the Declaration of Independence refers to natives as "merciless Indian savages", making it abundantly clear that the only reason the founding fathers used the inclusive term "all men" was because they had a very narrow definition of who was actually human. But instead of acknowledging that bleak part of the Declaration and the resulting black eye on our history, Senator McCain, who was building his theme of American exceptionalism, went even further.
"America has made a greater contribution than any other nation to an international order that has liberated more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history. We have been the greatest example, the greatest supporter and the greatest defender of that order."
I am quite sure that many African Americans and other people of color, both descendants of, and current victims to, America's long-standing institution of slavery could raise legitimate exception to Senator McCain's claim of America's commitment to liberty. And yes, I did say 'current victims of slavery.' Because contrary to what most Americans believe, the 13th Amendment did not actually abolish the institution of slavery.
"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
The 13th Amendment did not abolish slavery, it merely redefined and codified it under the jurisdiction of our criminal justice system. And it should not surprise anyone that the United states incarcerates our citizens at the highest rate of any country in the world. And we incarcerate people of color at a rate 3 times higher than that of white citizens.

But Senator McCain did not mention this travesty. He was too busy developing his theme of bi-partisanship, which required, instead of acknowledging the deep, systemic injustices of our nation, that he continue building his case for American Exceptionalism.
“We aren’t afraid. We don’t covet other people’s land and wealth. We don’t hide behind walls. We breach them. We are a blessing to humanity."

From the years 1839 to 1898, the US Congress awarded 425 Congressional Medals of Honor to US soldiers who participated in the Indian Wars. This included 20 medals of honor given to US soldiers who participated in the Massacre at Wounded Knee, a massacre where approximately 300 Lakota men, women and children  were slaughtered in a single day. During the period of the 19th century, nearly 30 states were added to the Union. The non-native population, a majority of which were white, ballooned from just over 5 million to well over 75 million. Meanwhile the Native population shrank from 600,000 to just under 250,000.

It was during the 19th century that Congress passed, and President Andrew Jackson enacted, the Indian Removal Act resulting in the Trail of Tears, the Long Walk and nearly a dozen other forced re-locations. The Massacre at Sand Creek took place, Indian Boarding schools were instituted, the hanging of the Dakota 38, the Dawes Acts. The list of atrocities of the 19th century goes on and on as the United States of America fulfilled its self-proclaimed Manifest Destiny by ethnically cleansing this land from 'Sea to Shining Sea.'

But Senator McCain knows this history. He represents the state of Arizona which is home to over 300,000 American Indians. An article in the UK in 2013 referenced a 1996 letter by Senator McCain, where he argued against rescinding the Medals of Honor given to US soldiers who participated in the Massacre at Wounded Knee. Senator McCain represents Native people who, to this day, are suffering from the Historical Trauma caused by the coveting and ethnic cleansing of our lands by the United States of America.

So why would he say these words?

Because American Exceptionalism is the single most unifying theme in our country, not only for the dominant white culture, but also for many segments of our minority populations. And the theme of American Exceptionalism is utilized by politicians nearly every time they want to build bi-partisan consensus.

This is not helpful and is evidence of the poor job we do of teaching the true history of our country. Much of American history, while it may be great for white land-owning men, has been a nightmare for indigenous tribes, people of African descent, women, and countless other minorities who have had to fight the American government and the white male majority, tooth and nail, for every ounce of liberty and freedom that we partially enjoy.  Instead of building bi-partisan consensus on the mythology of American Exceptionalism, we should instead work to increase our unity by creating what George Erasmus, an Aboriginal leader from Canada, refers to as common memory.
“Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created.” (- Georges Erasmus, Dene Nation of Canada)
Our country is in great need of a common memory that is accurate and honest. A memory that appreciates our accomplishments but also acknowledging when and where we frequently fall short.

Can we stop talking about when we were great and how soon we might be great again, and instead focus on working to build a nation where 'We the People' actually means 'All the People'? The prior requires the continued oppression of minorities, while the latter challenges us to learn how to both acknowledge, and learn from, the injustices of our past.

Senator McCain was partially right and I appreciate his willingness to stand with Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) as the only GOP Senators to vote against the “Skinny Repeal.” The US Senate does need more cooperation. Our country needs more constructive discussion on difficult topics. We need rigorous political debate. But I would add that, more importantly, we need common memory. Because without common memory, there is an unfortunate, extremely high, and even oppressive cost to our bi-partisanship.

Mark Charles

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Where Augustine Goes Off the Rails

San Agustín by
Antonio Rodríguez
(1636 - 1691)
For those who have been following my work on the Doctrine of Discovery, you know that I have been offering a critique of Saint Augustine's Just War Theory for some time now. In his writing on the 2 kingdoms, Augustine is quite clear that Christendom is not the Kingdom of God. But the general sense I get from him is that while he acknowledges Christendom is not perfect, he also does not reject it entirely. He seems to take the attitude that the church needs to find a way to work with it. Almost as if to say, Christendom, for all its faults, is at least better than being persecuted.  And his writings on Just War appear to be an attempt to make Christian Empire work.

I do not think it is bad or incorrect for a separate and independent church to prophetically challenge the secular state to be more just in how it engages in the act of war. But I do believe it is entirely inappropriate for a Christian Empire to justify why its Christian citizens can fight in the wars of Christendom by using a doctrine of Just War.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus reacted strongly, often with a rebuke, against anyone who attempted to combine his teachings with the power of Empire (secular or religious).

1. In the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptist sent his disciples to question Jesus because of the reports that he was healing Centurion's servants and raising widow's children from the dead. These actions were contrary to the expectations that he, and most of Israel, had for the Messiah. They expected a savior, coming in power to overthrow their oppressors, much like what was prophesied in Daniel 7 and Malachi 4.

When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’ At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” Luke 7:20-23

Jesus' message was very strong, even to John the Baptist. "God is doing something that even you did not expect. Either get on board or step aside."

2. In Luke 21, Jesus and his disciples entered a Samaritan village to teach. But because they were headed to Jerusalem, the Samaritans rejected them. On their way out of the village, James and John asked Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven to destroy them?  This was how God worked throughout the Old Testament. Both through his prophets and the nation of Israel. When there was sin, God sent a prophet. If the people listened to the prophet and repented, God showed mercy. But if they rejected God's prophet, God judged them, at times even by sending down fire from heaven (Sodom and Gomorrah, Elijah and the prophets of Baal, Elijah and King Ahaziah).  What James and John are asking Jesus is only what they had learned from the stories of the Old Testament. But Jesus turns and rebukes them, as if to say, "No. That time is over." He then takes them to yet another (most likely Samaritan) village.

3. In John 6, after Jesus fed over 5,000 with a few loaves and fish, the people were so excited that they came to make him their king. But, "Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself." (John 6:15)

4. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was. And Peter identified him as the Christ. Jesus then taught them that he (the Son of Man) was going to be persecuted and crucified. This thought was so contrary to the image that Peter had of who the Christ, and the Son of Man, was that he took his own teacher aside and began to rebuke him.  "But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. 'Get behind me, Satan!' he said. 'You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.'” (Mark 8:33)

Every time Jesus was presented with the expectation or temptation to collude with Empire, or create an earthly Kingdom, Jesus reacted strongly. He was not here to establish an earthly empire. He was here to make disciples, plant a church, and offer himself as a living sacrifice. He was here to lay down his life, not save it. And he warned his disciples that they should expect, and do, the same.

So when Constantine, a new Christian, made the decision to Christianize Rome and create Christendom, he was doing so in contrast to the teachings and model of Jesus. The Church needed to rebuke him. But unfortunately, that is not what happened. Instead, the church leaders, thinkers, and theologians sought for a way to make Christendom work. That was what the doctrine of Just War was about. How does the church function now that it has imperial power? Throughout his life, Jesus reacted strongly to this type of thinking, but unfortunately the church did not. Jesus rejected an earthly religious empire. Augustine sought a way to justify it. The actions of Constantine and the collusion of Augustine were "Get behind me, Satan!" moments. But the church was silent.

In my work, I am seeking to understand how the church got from Luke 7 to the Doctrine of Discovery. How did it get from following a savior who was persecuted and executed for his faith, to a church that enacted persecution and executed its enemies in the name of Christ? How did we get from God enabling his disciples to speak the languages of the nations in Acts 2 to Christian missionaries washing out native children's mouths with soap for having the gall to speak their own languages?

It is because of Christendom. The prostitution of the Church to the Empire. Jesus laid down his life. The Empire must save its life. Jesus emptied himself. The Empire must protect itself.

The contrast between Jesus's teachings and Christendom becomes very clear in this quote by US Congressman Clay Higgins. He represents the 3rd district in the state of Louisiana. On his website, Rep. Higgins identifies himself as a Christian who is known “for his refreshing focus on the power of the individual to be redeemed.” But Clay Higgins also believes in Christendom and that the US is a Christian nation. As such, after the recent terror attack in the UK in June 2017, he posted this to his Facebook page.
“The free world... all of Christendom... is at war with Islamic horror.
Not one penny of American treasure should be granted to any nation who harbors these heathen animals. Not a single radicalized Islamic suspect should be granted any measure of quarter. Their intended entry to the American homeland should be summarily denied. Every conceivable measure should be engaged to hunt them down. Hunt them, identify them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.”
Clay Higgins’s words are the fruit of Christendom. This is where it leads. And this is what needs to be rebuked.

So, I have been looking for the quote. The line of thinking where, when Augustine voiced it, Jesus would have responded with the rebuke "Get behind me, Satan!"  I spent almost a year looking for that quote in his writings on the 2 kingdoms and Just war. But the quote is not there. Instead it is found in his teachings on heresy in the book, "On the Correction of the Donatists".

The Donatists were a schism group that was teaching heresy. They were leading people astray from the commandments of God and the doctrines of the Church. And Augustine was struggling theologically with what to do with them.  In Chapter 5, Augustine accepts the reality of Christian Empire and is questioning the role of a Christian King.
"How then are kings to serve the Lord with fear, except by preventing and chastising with religious severity all those acts which are done in opposition to the commandments of the Lord? For a man serves God in one way in that he is man, in another way in that he is also king. In that he is man, he serves Him by living faithfully; but in that he is also king, he serves Him by enforcing with suitable rigor such laws as ordain what is righteous, and punish what is the reverse."
In this chapter Augustine concludes that the role of a Christian King is to enforce (with suitable rigor) the commands of God and (by extension) the doctrines of the Church.

In Chapter 6, Augustine makes the argument that it is better to confront heresy, and lead men to worship God, through teaching. But if that does not work, it is permissible to compel them through "fear of punishment and pain."
"It is indeed better (as no one ever could deny) that men should be led to worship God by teaching, than that they should be driven to it by fear of punishment or pain; but it does not follow that because the former course produces the better men, therefore those who do not yield to it should be neglected. For many have found advantage (as we have proved, and are daily proving by actual experiment), in being first compelled by fear or pain, so that they might afterwards be influenced by teaching, or might follow out in act what they had already learned in word."
These quotes are two very clear examples of where Augustine goes off the rails.  He is concluding that the role of the Christian king is to use the resources of the state to enforce (through fear, punishment, and pain) the commandments of God and the doctrines of the Church.

This is not what Christ taught. This is not what Jesus modeled. When James and John wanted to punish the Samaritans' rejection of Christ by calling down fire from heaven, Jesus rebuked them. When John the Baptist questioned Jesus's anti-Imperial methods, he was told "Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." And when Peter rebuked Jesus, telling him he did not have to die, Jesus immediately rebuked him with the words “Get behind me, Satan.”

Augustine’s theological acceptance of Christian Empire, his collusion through Just War and his justification of imperial power to enforce Church Doctrine sets the stage for both the Crusades in the 11th century and, in the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas. In his work “Summa Theologica”, Question 11 on Heresy, Article 3 “Whether heretics ought to be tolerated?”, Thomas Aquinas concludes:
“With regard to heretics two points must be observed: one, on their own side; the other, on the side of the Church. On their own side there is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death. For it is a much graver matter to corrupt the faith which quickens the soul, than to forge money, which supports temporal life. Wherefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death.”
Constantine creates Christendom. Augustine does not rebuke it, but colludes with it and determines that the role of Christendom and a Christian King is to prevent and chastise “with religious severity all those acts which are done in opposition to the commandments of the Lord.” And then Aquinas concludes that the Christian Empire, which he calls the church, now has the authority to “not only excommunicate (heretics) but even put (them) to death.”

In the 13th Century the writing of the church begins referring to a sub-human class known as the infidel. And in the 15th Century Pope Nicolas V begins creating the Doctrine of Discovery with these words:
“ invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit.”
Jesus's goal is not an earthly kingdom. In his teachings, there is no room for Christian Empire. In Mark Chapter 2, Jesus tells a parable comparing himself to a bridegroom. In Ephesians 5 Paul writes about Christ’s love for the church using the analogy of marriage. “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

Jesus loves the Church. He laid his life down for it. And he does not want his bride to prostitute itself out to a worldly Empire.

That is why, I am quite certain, had he been physically present to hear Augustine's conclusions about the Donatists, Christendom and the role of a Christian King, Jesus would have responded strongly. He was not afraid to rebuke a man who would later become known as Saint Peter, and I am sure he would not hesitate to rebuke someone we refer to as Saint Augustine.

"Get behind me, Satan! …you are not on the side of God, but of men."

For, as Jesus would later say to Pilate,

“My Kingdom is not of this world.”

Mark Charles

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Fleeting Beauty of Fireworks

Fireworks are cool, but they never seem to last very long. Most public shows are between 20 and 30 minutes. And the grand finale, when the majority of the fireworks are launched to light up the sky in a blaze of glory that can be seen for miles, usually lasts only a minute or two. Because of this, a good fireworks display can be easily ruined. A faulty fuse, wind, an ill-timed sound track, an inconvenient phone call, even a short thunderstorm can ruin a perfectly good, and expensive, fireworks display. Most of us have probably returned home from at least one Fourth of July celebration somewhat disappointed. (above photo from NBC Washington)

George Erasmus, a wise Aboriginal leader says "Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created."

Most Americans don't know this, but 30 lines below the statement "All men are created equal", the Declaration of Independence refers to natives as "merciless Indian Savages."  Over the years I have published two article specifically about the Declaration of Independence. The first is titled "The Dilemma of the Fourth of July" and the second is "The Declaration of Independence, it's not what you think." With these articles, I am not trying to lay a guilt trip on Americans nor am I trying to shame them for our history. But I am attempting to create a common memory by pointing out that much of the history we celebrate is not very glorious and there are many parts of it that are downright awful. The term "merciless Indian Savages" in our Declaration of Independence is nothing to be celebrated.

Most Americans also don't know this, but there are 51 gender specific, male pronouns (he, him, his) used throughout the US Constitution and its Amendments in reference to who can run for office, who can serve as President, and even who is a citizen.

Most Americans don’t know this, but the United States never actually abolished slavery. The 13th Amendment reads "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

The 13th Amendment merely redefined slavery and codified it under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system. And today, the US incarcerates its citizens at the highest rate of any country in the world. This rate (675 per 100,000) is nearly 5 times the rate of most of our NATO allies. And at 1,344 per 100,000, we incarcerate people of color at 3 times the rate that we incarcerate white Americans (450 per 100,000).

And most Americans don't know this, but between 1839 and 1898 the United States Congress awarded 425 Congressional Medals of Honor to US soldiers who fought in the Indian Wars, including 20 to US Soldiers who participated in the Massacre at Wounded Knee. That is 425 Congressional Medals of Honor for the ethnic cleansing of this continent.

Every year the Fourth of July becomes harder and harder to celebrate. Not because I despise this country, but because this holiday has become an incredible symbol of our national ignorance. Most Americans (I would estimate over 90%) have no idea that the document they celebrate every Fourth of July refers to the indigenous peoples of this land as "merciless Indian Savages."  The term bothers me, but the widespread ignorance of our history, and the resulting blind celebrations, outright depresses me.

This holiday has become a vivid reminder that "We the People" never has, nor does it currently mean "All the People."   And we need to temper our celebrations.

Which is why I am grateful for rain.

Weather forecasters have conditioned us to complain about rain.  Think back to the last time you watched a weather reporter give a forecast for rain before a major holiday or large event. It is almost always negative. I even heard one reporter apologize for forecasting rain. Apologize??? Really?  As if they have any control over it.

The Navajo Reservation is located in the high desert of the Southwest and has an average rainfall below 12 inches per year. But our Navajo people, both today and historically, are dependent upon rain. Corn is sacred to us and is grown by our people, providing pollen for our prayers and ceremonies and food for our families. We have herded sheep ever since they were introduced to us by the Spanish hundreds of years ago and they have become a vital part of our culture, economy and well-being.

But our land has very few lakes and almost no rivers. To this day our people are dependent upon rain. We need it, to sustain ourselves, grow our crops and water our animals.

Because of this, I have worked hard to train myself not to complain about rain. Whenever Creator decides to bless us with rain, I want to be grateful. It doesn't matter what plans are disrupted or what events need to be changed or even canceled. When you live in the high deserts of the Southwest, rain is ALWAYS needed. It is always a blessing. And to complain about it, whenever it comes, is both short-sighted and incredibly selfish.

Two years ago our family moved to Washington, DC, and at the age of 46 I had to purchase my first umbrella. In DC the average number of days with precipitation is 115. And the annual rainfall is over 40 inches. I was surprised to learn that total is higher than both Seattle, WA (37.13 in) and Portland, OR (35.98 in).  In fact, after spending my first year here, I nearly broke my commitment to not complain about the rain.  Sometime last spring, when the rainfall is the highest and there are between 10-12 days of precipitation every month. I remember praying one day after watching yet another rain storm roll through the area "Creator, I am grateful for the rain, but I think I may have reached my limit. This is too much!"  It was a humbling experience.  Creator had outdone me. I needed to re-check my expectations. I no longer live in the desert, but creator is still in charge of the weather. Creator is the one who chooses when it rains and where it falls. Creator knows what creation needs and I am not in any position to question, or complain about it.

One of the exciting things about living in Washington, DC is all the national and historic events that take place literally in your backyard. Visits from foreign dignitaries, Presidential inaugurations, marches, protests, even marches and protests of Presidential inaugurations. They all happen right here. But one of the largest events that attracts Americans regardless of their political affiliation or who is in office, is the annual fireworks display on the National Mall. This nearly 20-minute display of fireworks exploding over the reflecting pool in front of the Washington Monument is a must see. And every year over 700,000 people flock to Washington DC over the Fourth of July Weekend just to view it in person.

For the past several years, because of my work on the Doctrine of Discovery and American History, Fourth of July celebrations in our family have become more tempered. But we do still try to get out and see the fireworks and we definitely wanted to see them in DC.

For our first Fourth of July in DC, back in 2016, because of the crowds, we did not want to spend the entire day on the National Mall with thousands of flag waving citizens. But we heard that a good view of the fireworks could be had from the steps of the Supreme Court building, and that was much easier to get to. So late in the evening we walked there. The sky had been cloudy most of the day and it had been raining on and off. When we arrived at the Supreme Court there was already a crowd gathering. So we found a good seat and waited.

The clouds that evening were incredibly low, in fact it was almost like a fog had rolled in. The Supreme Court is located on the far end of the mall just behind the Capitol Building, quite a distance from the Washington Monument. I did not know how high the fireworks would go in the sky and wondered if we had chosen a bad location to watch. Soon we heard booms in the sky and faintly saw the clouds light up, but we could not see any of the fireworks.  We debated if we should walk closer in order to get a better view. But I doubted much could be seen anywhere because of the clouds. So we decided to just go home.

Soon the rain began falling again. And after we got home, we learned that even those close by the fireworks had difficulty seeing them because of the low hanging clouds. One local network even described that year's show as a "colorful thunder and lighting display."  And several people they interviewed said they were disappointed.

This year, I felt even more blah as we approached the Fourth of July. The current political environment and the daily partisan attacks, tweets, name calling and resulting stalemate has made living in DC exhausting, frustrating and at times agonizing. The night before the Fourth we took a vote and our family was split, some wanted to see fireworks, but others did not want to bother. This holiday has become a conundrum for us. So on the morning of July 4th I sat down and honestly asked myself, "what is it that I really want."

 Do I want our nation to not celebrate this holiday? Is it my desire that the fireworks stop?  Do I want everyone to be miserable and ashamed on the Fourth of July?

No. That is not my goal. But I long for better relationships. And I want all Americans to recognize the dilemma and conflict this holiday, and our history, causes for Native Americans, African Americans, women and other citizens of color. I want to create a common memory because I desire a healthier community.

I think it is fine, maybe even appropriate for Americans to celebrate our freedom from the colonialism of England but I also want us to lament that our country has its own deep legacy of colonialism, racism and sexism. Much of it against our very own citizens.

I desire for our unabashed celebrations of the white washed history we call American Exceptionalism to be replaced by a deep gratefulness for the growing sense of community that comes from the intentional and difficult work of creating a common memory.

In other words, I want it to rain.

For those who are short sighted and selfish, rain will be a disappointment and they will probably complain quite loudly. But for a growing number of us, who are gaining new and different perspectives on our nation and its history, we will enjoy the disruption to our plans and seek to find another way to make the best of our time together. Because we are learning that healthy community and long lasting, honest relationships are so much better than the fleeting and temporary beauty of fireworks.

Mark Charles

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A Native Perspective on War, Terrorism and the MOAB Bomb

MOAB - Mother of All Bombs -
blast in Afghanistan. 
Friday morning the hosts of Fox and Friends celebrated Thursday's dropping of the MOAB bomb by the United States military against ISIS in Afghanistan. This was the largest non-nuclear bomb ever detonated in combat, and they aired the video of the explosion to the song by Toby Keith, "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue." One of the hosts commented that the video is in black and white, "But that is what freedom looks like. That’s the red, white and blue." Geraldo Rivera then added that one of his favorite things in the 16 years he's been on FOX News is watching bombs drop on bad guys.

Last week, after the US launched a barrage of missiles against Syria in retaliation for chemical weapons Assad utilized against civilians, Brian Williams, speaking on MSNBC said he was tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen, "I am guided by the beauty of our weapons." Brian went on to describe the missile launch scene as "beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments."

Terrorism is evil and needs to be confronted. But when we go beyond confronting terrorism to blatantly celebrating the deaths of terrorists, and praising the beauty of our weapons that destroyed them, we are blurring the lines of humanity. And once those lines are crossed, and we dehumanize our enemy, it is a short and slippery slope to becoming the very thing we claim to be fighting against. Soon, we begin looking for prominent religious leaders and institutions to provide theological cover for our violence, and justification for our actions.

As a follower of Jesus, a tribal man who was brutally executed by a state working in conjunction with its religious leaders...

As a Navajo man, whose ancestors endured acts of genocide and forced removal by a United States government that was armed with a Doctrine of Discovery, and therefore believed it had a manifest destiny to ethnically cleanse and rule these lands from sea to shining sea...

And, as the grandson of indigenous grandparents, who were taken from their homes and educated in boarding schools run by a government and churches that believed it was their civic and religious duty to "kill the Indian to save the man"...

I humbly offer some words of caution.

May we not celebrate war.
May we not glorify violence.
May we not dehumanize our enemies.

For if we could refuse to dehumanize our enemies, it would make the terribleness of war all the more real. And maybe, just maybe, cause us to engage in it less often.

Mark Charles

YouTube video of Fox and Friends:

YouTube of Brian Williams on MSNBC:

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Why Neil Gorsuch and Originalism does not bode well for Equality in America

In the United States, the Constitution is the Supreme law of the land. And it is a deeply held belief that the United States Constitution is synonymous with justice.  That is why before sitting on the court, Supreme Court Justices are required to take two oaths. The first, taken by all Federal Employees, is an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”  The second, the Judicial Oath taken only by Justices of the Supreme Court, is an oath to “administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich.”

To secure the appointment of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the United States Supreme Court, Senate Republican Majority leader Mitch McConnell enacted what has been referred to as the “Nuclear Option.” What this means is the Senate rules were permanently changed so Supreme Court nominees can be confirmed with a straight majority vote instead of a 2/3 majority. This rule change is a break for the Senate which historically is known for being a more deliberative body that generally places some value on consensus building. Implementing the Nuclear Option allowed Republicans in the Senate to confirm Judge Gorsuch with a simple majority vote of 54 to 45 instead of the previous threshold of 60.

While much attention has been given to the conservative slant that Judge Gorsuch would bring to the Supreme Court, I would like to raise a different concern that has not received as much attention.

Judge Gorsuch embraces an interpretative understanding of the Constitution known as "originalism." This is the theory that the Constitution should be interpreted according to the meaning of words and phrases as they were understood in the times they were written.  According to a story in the LA Times, Justice Scalia "was the foremost champion of this approach. Often frustrated inside the court, he traveled the country, scoffing at liberals who believed in a 'living' Constitution that changes with the times."

While I am not fully on the side of a "living" Constitution, I have deep concerns with the tenants of "originalism."

In an essay titled "The Originalists Perspective" (The Heritage Guide to the Constitution), David Forte, a professor of Law and Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, identifies several components that an Originalist would look for in their effort to ascertain the original meaning of the Constitution. A few of the components identified in the article are:
  • The words in the context of the political philosophy shared by the Founding generation, or by the particular interlocutors at the Convention.
  • Historical, religious, and philosophical authority put forward by the Framers.
  • The words in the context of the revolutionary struggle.
  • The subsequent historical practice by the Founding generation to exemplify the understood meaning (e.g., the actions of President Washington, the First Congress, and Chief Justice Marshall).
  • Early judicial interpretations.
Allow me to address each of these components.

The words in the context of the political philosophy shared by the Founding generation, or by the particular interlocutors at the Convention.
Historical, religious, and philosophical authority put forward by the Framers.

In 1452, Pope Nicholas V wrote the following words in the Papal Bull Dum Diversas.
“…invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit”
This Papal Bull, along with others written between 1452 and 1493 collectively became known as the Doctrine of Discovery. The Doctrine of Discovery is essentially the Church in Europe saying to the Nations of Europe, wherever you go, whatever lands you find not ruled by white Christian rulers, those people are less than human and the lands are yours for the taking.

This is literally the doctrine that allowed European nations to colonize the continent of Africa and enslave the African people. Because they did not consider black Africans to be fully human. It is also this Doctrine of Discovery that allowed Columbus, who was lost at sea, to land in a "New World" that was already inhabited by millions and claim to have "discovered" it.

Common sense tells us that you cannot discover lands already inhabited. That process is known as stealing, conquering or colonizing. Because, to this day, the United States of America refers to what Columbus did as "discovery", the implicit racial bias of our country is revealed; Indigenous Peoples of North America, black people from Africa, and generally, people of color are not fully human.

Steve Newcomb, Shawnee/Lenape, is co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute and author of the book Pagans in the Promised Land, discusses the Doctrine of Discovery through what he terms a framework of dominance.
The papal bull Romanus Pontifex, issued in 1455, serves as a starting point to understand the Doctrine of Discovery, specifically, the historic efforts by Christian monarchies and States of Europe in the fifteenth and later centuries to assume and exert rights of conquest and dominance over non-Christian indigenous peoples in order to take over and profit from their lands and territories. The overall purpose of these efforts was to accumulate wealth by engaging in unlimited resource extraction, particularly mining, within the traditional territories of indigenous nations and peoples. The text of Romanus Pontifex is illustrative of the doctrine or right of discovery. Centuries of destruction and ethnocide resulted from the application of the Doctrine of Discovery and framework of dominance to indigenous peoples and to their lands, territories and resources.
The Doctrine of Discovery created a world view that put white, European, Christian males at the center and reduced everything else in the natural world to mere resources for their exploitation and profit.

The words in the context of the revolutionary struggle.

In the Proclamation of 1763, King George drew a line down the Appalachian Mountains and essentially told colonies that they no longer had the right of discovery of the Indian lands west of the Appalachia’s. That right now belonged solely to the Crown. This proclamation upset the colonists, they wanted access to those lands, so a few years later they wrote a letter of protest. In their letter they accused the King of "raising the conditions of new appropriations of land." They went on in their letter to declare that "he [King George] has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages..."

They signed their letter on July 4, 1776.

Photo by Kris J Eden
Literally 30 lines below the term "All men are created equal, the Declaration of Independence refers to the indigenous people of Turtle Island as "merciless Indian savages."  This makes it very clear that the only reason the Founding Fathers used the inclusive term "all men" is because they had a worldview informed by the Doctrine of Discovery that gave them a very narrow definition of who is actually human.

This worldview was utilized again, 11 years later, when the Founding Fathers wrote another document which they began with the words "We the People..."

The preamble to the Constitution of the United States begins with very inclusive language. Language which is quoted frequently by both citizens and politicians as proof that the US a nation of laws and equality. However, very seldom do people read Article I Section II, a mere four sentences later in the document. Article I Section II defines who is represented within this Union, in other words, who the Constitution was written to protect.
Article I Section II
“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons...”
When reading this section, it is important to note that women are never mentioned. Indigenous people are explicitly excluded. And all other persons (I.e. Black slaves) were counted as three fifths. This reduced those included in "We the people" primarily to white, land-owning men.  It is helpful to stop and ponder this.

The Constitution of the United States was originally written to protect the interests of white, land-owning men.

We act surprised that in 2017, women earn 70 cents to the dollar. This should not surprise us. The original intent of the Constitution is working.

We act astonished that our prisons are filled with people of color. This should not astonish us. The original intent of the Constitution is working.

We act incensed that in 2010 the United States Supreme Court sided with Citizens United and ruled that corporations now have the same rights to political free speech as individuals. Allowing the creation of super-PACS and unlimited contributions to political candidates. This should not surprise us.  The original intent of the Constitution is accomplishing exactly what it was setup to accomplish. It is protecting the interests of white, land-owning men.

Now maybe you are thinking, "Wait. Didn't we correct that?"

Well, Congress tried. About 90 years later they passed the 13th Amendment. The popular belief is that the 13th Amendment abolished slavery. But anyone who has read the entire amendment knows that is not the case.
"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
"...except as a punishment for crime..."

As it turns out, the 13th Amendment never abolished slavery, it merely redefined it and codified it under our criminal justice system.  This makes the incarceration rates in the United States even more troubling. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the United States incarcerates people at a rate of 693 per 100,000. That is by far the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, with second place falling to Turkmenistan (583 per 100,000). And the US rate is more than 5 times higher than most other countries.

And the numbers get even worse when broken out by race/ethnicity.
  • Blacks.....................2,306 per 100,000
  • Hispanics...................831 per 100,000
  • American Indians......895 per 100,000
Of course, at 450 per 100,000, whites in the United States are incarcerated at rates much lower than the national average.

The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, never abolished slavery. It merely redefined and codified it. To this day, slavery is alive, well, and legal in the prison system of the United States of America, under the judication of the Judicial branch of our government.

Just a few years later, the US Congress also passed the 14th Amendment. This amendment was written specifically to address the shortcomings of Article I Section 2 of the Constitution.
Section I
"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
The Amendment starts out well. Beginning with the inclusive language "all persons", it extends the rights of citizenship to anyone born or naturalized in the United States, under the jurisdiction of the government. However, Section II of this amendment is not nearly as inclusive.
Section II
"Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the executive and judicial officers of a state, or the members of the legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such state, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such state."
Indigenous peoples were still explicitly excluded. Women were again left out. And, for a second time, those convicted of crimes were also excluded. When paired with the 13th Amendment, the 14th Amendment had very little impact on the long-term prospects of freedom and equality for anyone not white, land-owning and male. True, it granted conditional rights of citizenship to former male slaves, but it still left marginalized and disenfranchised huge segments of the population. Women didn't get the right to vote until 1920 with Women's Suffrage. Natives didn't become citizens until 1924 and in some states, like Arizona and New Mexico, we didn't get the right to vote until 1948. And one must not forget, Jim Crow laws were still written after the 14th Amendment. Indian boarding schools were established after the 14th Amendment. Internment camps, segregation, Indian removal, lynching, mass incarceration of people of color; all these, and more, took place after the 14th Amendment. And in 1970 the 14th Amendment was used in Roe v. Wade, which concluded unborn babies are not human and therefore they can be aborted.

What this demonstrates is that at the heart of our Constitution, and in the world view of the original framers, there is not a comprehensive value for life or equality. There is a practice of marginalization and dehumanization. And the value tends towards exploitation of the marginalized and profit for the dominant. Since its origins, the Constitution of the United States has been an extremely racist and sexist document that assumes the white, land-owning male has the authority to determine who is and who is not human.

This of course, has major implications for the judicial branch of our government, especially for those who have an Originalist method of interpreting the Constitution.

The Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution are documents born out of the revolutionary and colonial periods of America. It is because they originated from the world view of Doctrine of Discovery, that the framers used such inclusive language as; All men, We the People, All Persons and Whole number of Persons.  They used inclusive language because their worldview gave them an extremely narrow definition of humanity.

The subsequent historical practice by the Founding generation to exemplify the understood meaning (e.g., the actions of President Washington, the First Congress, and Chief Justice Marshall).
Early judicial interpretations.

In 1823 two men or European descent were litigating over a single piece of land. One obtained the land from a native tribe, the other obtained the same land through the US government. They wanted to know who owned it. The case, Johnson v. M'Intosh went all the way to the Supreme Court. The court had to determine the principal for land titles.  The Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Marshall, ruled that:
As they [European colonizing nations] were all in pursuit of nearly the same object, it was necessary, in order to avoid conflicting settlements, and consequent war with each other, to establish a principle, which all should acknowledge as the law by which the right of acquisition, which they all asserted, should be regulated as between themselves. This principle was, that discovery gave title to the government by whose subjects, or by whose authority, it was made, against all other European governments, which title might be consummated by possession.
The court went on to reference the Doctrine of Discovery as a legal instrument and concluded that American Indians only had the right of occupancy to the land, while Europeans had the right of discovery to the land, and therefore the true title to it.

This case, along with a few other during the Marshall Court era created the legal precedent for land titles.

This precedent, and the Doctrine of Discovery, was referenced by the Supreme Court in 1954.
II. Indian Title. -- (a) The nature of aboriginal Indian interest in land and the various rights as between the Indians and the United States dependent on such interest are far from novel as concerns our Indian inhabitants. It is well settled that, in all the States of the Union, the tribes who inhabited the lands of the States held claim to such lands after the coming of the white man, under what is sometimes termed original Indian title or permission from the whites to occupy. That description means mere possession not specifically recognized as ownership by Congress. After conquest, they were permitted to occupy portions of territory over which they had previously exercised "sovereignty," as we use that term. This is not a property right, but amounts to a right of occupancy which the sovereign grants and protects against intrusion by third parties, but which right of occupancy may be terminated and such lands fully disposed of by the sovereign itself without any legally enforceable obligation to compensate the Indians.
This position of the Indian has long been rationalized by the legal theory that discovery and conquest gave the conquerors sovereignty over and ownership of the lands thus obtained. 1 Wheaton's International Law, c. V. The great case of Johnson v. McIntosh, 8 Wheat. 543, denied the power of an Indian tribe to pass their right of occupancy to another. It confirmed the practice of two hundred years of American history "that discovery gave an exclusive right to extinguish the Indian title of occupancy, either by purchase or by conquest." 8 Wheat. at 21 U. S. 587.

Again in 1985 - City of Oneida v. Oneida Indian Nation
[Federal Common Law]
By the time of the Revolutionary War, several well-defined principles had been established governing the nature of a tribe's interest in its property and how those interests could be conveyed. It was accepted that Indian nations held "aboriginal title" to lands they had inhabited from time immemorial. The "doctrine of discovery" provided, however, that discovering nations held fee title to these lands, subject to the Indians' right of occupancy and use. As a consequence, no one could purchase Indian land or otherwise terminate aboriginal title without the consent of the sovereign.
(Footnote 1) Under the ìdoctrine of discovery,î County of Oneida v. Oneida Indian Nation of N. Y., 470 U. S. 226, 234 (1985) (Oneida II), fee title to the lands occupied by Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign first the discovering European nation and later the original States and the United States.
Not only did the 1823 Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John Marshall, and subsequent Supreme Court judicial interpretations, perpetuate the dehumanizing worldview of the Doctrine of Discovery, but they transformed the Doctrine of Discovery into a modern day legal instrument that has become the bedrock of the legal principal for land titles in the United States.

This is important because it means that the United States of America has a Constitution which not only was originally written with the understanding that American Indians and black people were not citizens, but we were actually considered to be sub-human.

We the People v. All the People

In his final state of the Union, when talking about our nation’s need for a new politics, President Obama quoted the Constitution.  He said, "We the People.' Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people."

Now that sounds beautiful, and I am sure there are many Americans who believe it. The problem is, we have never decided as a nation that We the People means All the People. Our founding fathers did not believe it. The Civil war and the 13th and 14th Amendments did not get us there. The Civil rights movement got us closer, but not all the way. Electing a Black President did not get us there, and I am certain President Trump will not get us there.

The original intent of our founding documents was to protect, benefit and profit white, land-owning men. And this was accomplished through the exploitation of women, black people from Africa and the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island.

As Americans, we tend to think that our country struggles with racism despite our founding documents. But I would argue that the United States of America is systemically racist because of our founding documents. The problem is our founding fathers embraced the dehumanizing world view of the Doctrine of Discovery and then implied it, embedded it, and wrote it into the foundations of our country.

In the United States, the Constitution is the Supreme law of the land. And it is a deeply held belief that the United States Constitution is synonymous with justice.  That is why, on Monday April 10, 2017, Justice Neil Gorsuch, like the 100 Supreme Court Justices before him, took two oaths. The first was an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”  The second, the Judicial Oath, taken only by Justices of the Supreme Court, was an oath to “administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich.”

Unfortunately, on occasion, these oaths are mutually exclusive. And those who interpret the Constitution as originalists will, from time to time, be forced to choose which oath to keep. The founding fathers, the Constitution, and Supreme Court legal precedents have made it quite clear; when push comes to shove, when land titles or the economic/military security of our nation is at stake, We the People does not mean All the People.

Mark Charles