Truth Be Told

Signed copies of the book I co-authored with Soong-Chan Rah, "Unsettling Truths - The Ongoing Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery" are available from my website:

Monday, June 23, 2014

My Country Tis of Thee?

When we sing "My country tis of thee."  Who is "Thee?"  

It's God, right?

As a nation. As Christians. We believe that the United States of America exists because of God's blessing.

Why do we believe that God willed, sanctioned, even led 500 years of discovery, colonization, genocide, slavery, boarding schools, broken treaties, sexism, segregation and nuclear warfare? 

It's because of some Papal Bulls that were written in the 15th century known as the doctrine of discovery. At the most basic level, the Doctrine of Discovery is the Church in Europe saying to the nations of Europe, "Whatever lands you encounter that are not ruled by Christian rulers, those people are less than human and the land is yours for the taking." It was the Doctrine of Discovery that allowed Christopher Columbus to get lost at sea, land on a continent inhabited by millions, and claim to have discovered it.

In 1763, King George made a Royal Proclamation reserving the right of discovery of all Indian lands west of the Appalachian Mountains solely for the crown. So in 1776 when the colonies boldly declared their independence, one of the justifications they gave for their declaration was that their right of discovery across these "new" lands was being limited.  There was never even a hint of an inclination, when they claimed "all men were created equal," that Native Americans, African Slaves or women would ever be included in the group of "all."

The Doctrine of Discovery distinguishes between the right of occupancy, which indigenous people have, and the right of discovery, which belongs to those of European descent.

In 1823, the case "Johnson vs. Macintosh" was brought before the Supreme Court. And the court stated that, based on the "Doctrine of Discovery," the right of European discovery trumped the right of indigenous occupancy.

When you have a national and theological identity that at its foundation dehumanizes the other and elevates the chosen-ness of the dominant, you get implicit bias. No one says it. It's just understood. You can torture terrorists, abort unborn fetuses, or as nation of immigrants, believe you can comprehensively and justly reform immigration law without ever seeking input or wisdom from the indigenous peoples of these lands. You can do all things because these subjects are all less than human.

The Doctrine of Discovery also effects how we read scripture. Which of our churches and organizations have used passages like Jeremiah 7:5-7 to motivate believers to obey God? "If you deal with each other justly. If you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever."

The Doctrine of Discovery has given our nation an old testament Israel complex. But it's a lie. Americans are not God's chosen people.  And this continent is not your promised land.

"My country tis of thee?"

Just because we sing it, doesn't make it true.

*This post is the transcript of a 3 minute presentation I gave in a panel discussion on Implicit Bias at Sojourners Summit for Change (June 2014), Washington DC. It is an effort to educate people on the Doctrine of Discovery and confront some of the Implicit Bias that is present within the United States of America. I welcome your questions, dialogue and respectful engagement. - Mark Charles


Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing, Mark. I agree with what you are saying, but one reason I never sing "My Country Tis of Thee" is because "Thee" is not God but the country itself. IMHO it's a song for civil religion.

David E. Gregory said...

I am a Native American of Scottish descent, clan MacGregor. My great-ancestor arrived on this continent a little over 320 years ago. At the time, it was illegal to be publicly known as a MacGregor in Scotland...punishable by death. It wasn't as if a MacGregor was concerned that he may be arrested at any time and handed over to authorities. It was frequently known that a passer-by who discovered a MacGregor could kill him on the spot and suffer no consequences for the action. Whether this is the reason (or even a reason) that my ancestor left Scotland and arrived on the shores of Massachusettes, I do not know. That information has been lost to my family, as has most genealogical data for clan members which was frequently destroyed to help protect people.

One thing that is known to history, however, is that the MacGregor clan descends from Prince Gregor, the younger brother of Crown Prince Alpin of Scotland in the AD 800s. The MacGregor clan was a very traditional Gaelic highland clan. As such they became more and more at odds with other clans of a different sort whose ways resembled that of the English to the south, playing games of intrigue and favor at court; real Braveheart stuff. Because of this, many of the more traditional tribes began to lose political clout and lands as they refused to, or perhaps did not ascribe to, play the political games of the south. However, one of the traditional ways is "if you can't hold it, you don't own it." The MacGregors staved off the advances of other tribes who had acquired MacGregor lands by intrigue for quite some time. However, as time wore on, the tribe began to be overcome. As they lost more lands, my ancestors began to retaliate through cattle thieving and general skulduggery. They made themselves such a stench in the noses of their enemy clans that finally the above mentioned law was passed and remained intact for some 70 years.

I mention this story about my ancestors because we share some things in common. The Navajo are known to share DNA markers, cultural, and even linguistic similarities with native Mongolians, indicating their common ancestry. Therefore, we are both Native Americans of foreign descent. Neither of us really knows the reason why our ancestors traveled to this continent, but our ancestors were, neither one, indigenous to America.

Another commonality in our history is that the "white" man dehumanized us, stole our lands and tried to destroy our heritage. The difference here being that my ancestors' skin has been "white" for at least 2500 years and your ancestors' skin, at least as far as you identify with your Navajo ancestry, has been dark for at least as long.

What I don't know enough about to comment on extensively, and therefore would need your feedback on, is how your Navajo ancestors interacted with their neighbors the Apache, the Ute, the Zuni, etc. How did they treat their neighbors? How did their neighbors treat them? I understand from an Apache man I spoke with once many years ago that the Navajo and Apache are ancestral blood enemies. My guess is that is not because one was wicked and the other righteous.

How did the Navajo or other peoples treat the "white" man? Was it completely righteous and without fault?

David E. Gregory said...

I bring this up because, as a Christian, I believe there is something flawed in your presentation. Not that I deny that the people here have done deplorable things to "Indians," for they have, and it brings shame to me to consider the broken promises, the stolen lands, and the long walks that the Navajo and other peoples have had to endure at the hand of the people of the United States.
That being said, the issue is not with the "Doctrine of Discovery." The issue is not "Manifest Destiny." Those are only symptoms, the treatment of which does precious little to affect a cure, and time spent on which will eventually lead to disillusionment. The issue is, quite simply, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am not a victim. My ancestors were not victims. You and your ancestors are not victims. Things have been done to us, things have been done to our ancestors, and we and our ancestors have victimized others. So, how should that realization affect us?

The good news of Jesus Christ is that He will return and restore the earth to its pre-fall goodness. He will bless it, and restore justice and righteousness. However, that good news carries with it some quite distressing news. He is going to mete out justice to the nations for their wickedness and injustice to each other. This does not mean that "the United States is going to get it for how it has treated the Indian." It means that "the Scottish are going to get it for how they have treated their neighbors and the God of Israel." It means that "the Navajo are going to get it for how they have treated their neighbors and the God of Israel." This bad news applies to *all* nations, even to the United States.

I don't recount this to you to be condescending; I know you are aware of the Gospel. However, I recite it by way of reminder because the best way to bring about reconciliation is to walk in the other person's shoes. For some reason, the "white" man is always expected to walk in the shoes of those they have "oppressed", but rarely is the "Indian", the "black" man, the woman, expected to walk in the shoes of the "white" man - as the oppressor. The gospel is only partially that there is justice to come for past offenses committed against us. The gospel is also that justice is coming against *us* for our past injustices committed. When we recognize the injustice in our own heart, and that Jesus' crucifixion is the only means by which we are able to be saved from the wrath held in store for our injustice, only then do we have the ability to be reconciled.

Reconciliation is accomplished only by forgiveness, not apology - no matter how nice it is to receive an apology. We are reconciled to God because even when we were yet sinners, Messiah died for us. Not apology, but forgiveness brings about that reconciliation. That forgiveness leads to repentance and apology; not universally, but practically it does.

How can the Navajo people, or "Indians" in general, forgive their Bilagáana oppressors when they do not recognize their own depravity and the injustice they are guilty of. They will always feel arrogance over their "oppressors," that it is *them*, not us, who have wronged, and it is *them*, not us, who deserve judgment; and the "victim" will never truly forgive, even if they claim to. Posts like this one do not serve to bring about a recognition within people of their own depravity which ought to soften their hearts towards their victimizers. It hardens the hearts of victims toward their "victimizers." As long as the Navajo hand is pointed at the Bilagáana, as this article does, there will never be reconciliation, because the Navajo will never allow it.

David E. Gregory said...

Just to say, this flows the other way as well. Many "whites" feel that the people of the US have been justified in what they have done, at least to some extent, because of how "Indians" have treated them. Until the "white" man realizes his own need for repentance, and that he is not justified in his actions by the actions perpetrated against him, accusatorially pointing out to him all of his injustices in the absence of the eschatological gospel reality only serves to harden him in his false justification.

Full disclosure: I am Tim's brother-in-law and Ben's son-in-law.

Anonymous said...

There is a deep need to weigh and understand Mark’s perspective and David’s, not as opposition but as mindsets or worldviews of the “Other”. The “Other” escaping injustice; economic, ethnic, or political often based upon many of the tactics applied towards the “Other” inhabiting the lands “discovered”. Figure pointing or ethnic bashing forms a separation. For those of us who know and understand the Biblical report of Genesis 11 the separating of the disobedient started the ethnic/the nations. However, lost is the origin of the “why” behind this act of Creator/Yahweh.
The “church” of the dominant teaches this forming of ethnic groups as course. Yet the root of this command originates from before the “Fall”, Genesis 1:28. Yahweh intended His image to diverge across the earth and based upon how He instilled this command repeated to Noah and his sons and Yahweh’s action to achieve this primal heart command His intention was the diverse expressions of the ethnic groups seen today and throughout history. Yahweh is too complex to form His image in just man – male and Holy Spirit so He formed woman, man, and Holy Spirit as the basic image in corporal form in this corporal section of His Kingdom. Our Omni Creator could not be expressed through MAN with a single physical type and express life, intimacy, or interpersonal relationship/community nor could this triune image be sufficient for the multifaceted intricacies of His personality. Therefore, the ethnic aspects and the languages and social structures and cultures and beautiful dynamics of expression are as much His plan as His returning.
Has diversity created sin activity? Yes, the “Other” of the once joyfully expressed “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone” quickly turned to a fig leave wearing Adam point to his flesh and bone and saying it was her fault that woman You gave me her the one over there wearing a fig leaf – used by both to enhance the differences by hiding them in uniform conformity and speaking that hidden difference into shame instead of the aspects that produce full life. The ethnic expressions need embracing not finger pointing. As I have expressed in other settings this trying to eliminate a aspect of Yahweh’s image found in the “other” in the work of Lucifer who as in the Garden attempts to alter the image and character of Creator/Yahweh.
Art Brokop II

brian grover said...

assimilation has forced natives to walk in the shoes of whites whether they wanted to or not.

It is important to deal honestly with the Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny because they are used to justify the injustice and oppression.

Reconciliation is only possible when all parties involved can be honest about their actions and history. Often, we whites frame things into terminal narratives, as if the injustices were isolated events rather than systemic problems.