ELCA to Vote on Repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery this Week

ELCAThe Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Churchwide Assembly is meeting in New Orleans this week and racial justice is high on its agenda — including a proposal to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.

The Churchwide Assembly will run from Monday, Aug 8 to Saturday, Aug. 13. It is the ELCA’s highest legislative body, according to a media release. Nearly 1,000 voting members will represent 3.7 million ELCA congregants. The Assembly’s racial justice work coincides with the ELCA’s plans to celebrate the Protestant Reformation’s 500th anniversary next year. In 1517, Martin Luther wrote The Ninety Five Theses that began the schism with the Catholic Church over what Luther saw as injustices and corrupt church practices of selling indulgences

The Churchwide Assembly’s Thursday afternoon session titled: “God’s Grace in Action” notes that there are still plenty of injustices in the world that need the church’s attention:

As the ELCA prepares to observe the 500th anniversary of the Reformation—people of color around the globe continue to suffer 500 years of oppression and marginalization. Participants will explore how influential religious documents, such as the Doctrine of Discovery, influenced colonialism and the forced removal of the indigenous peoples in the U.S. We will examine historic immigration and naturalization trends that created a nation of white privilege. What really happened after the Emancipation Proclamation? Were black people free to pursue happiness and enjoy justice for all? Or, does today’s #BlackLivesMatter confront us with a different story? What contributes to the U.S. prison population disproportionately represented by indigenous, black and brown peoples? This session will cover many of today’s current headline stories about race relations in the U.S. As a church of moral discernment, how must respond?

The ELCA Assembly delegates will vote on several proposals, including deepening ELCA relationships with historic black churches; peace with justice in the Holy Land; and repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery.

The Doctrine of Discovery refers to a series of 15th Century papal edicts that gave the religious and legal justification used by Europe’s colonial powers to claim lands occupied by indigenous peoples. It gave the church’s approval to forcibly convert or enslave indigenous peoples. The Doctrine was the forerunner to the concept of Manifest Destiny and supported the beliefs that led to Native American genocide. Later, the “Discovery Doctrine” was adapted into U.S. law through a series of 19th Century Supreme Court decisions justifying U.S. land claims. Those rulings still apply today.

Other denominations and religious communities already have taken formal positions repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery. They include: the Episcopal Church, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the World Council of Churches, the Community of Christ and most recently the Presbyterian Church USA. (To see their statements, click here.)

As we noted in an earlier blog, the Doctrine of Discovery also is under discussion in the highest levels of the Catholic Church. On May 4, Steven Newcomb and other Native leaders had an opportunity to meet Pope Francis and other Catholic leaders and request that Francis formerly revoke the Papal bull Inter Caetera, one of several bulls (or decrees) considered to embody the Doctrine of Discovery.

At this week’s ELCA Churchwide Assembly, participants also will vote on constitutional amendments and bylaw changes. One notable proposal strikes current language establishing a goal for each ELCA church to have at least 10 percent people of color or non-Native English speakers within 10 years of its establishment. The amendment would replace that language with the following:

This church commits itself to racial and ethnic diversity. Each expression of this church shall annually assess its ethnic and racial diversity when compared to the demographic data of its community or territory. The churchwide organization will work with synods as they assist congregations to reach out to persons of color or whose primary language is other than English.

Visit http://livestream.com/elca to view two webcasts by Presiding ELCA Bishop Elizabeth Eaton speaking  on “Confronting Racism.”

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