The Covenant Church is the first evangelical church to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery

The Evangelical Covenant Church’s Christian Action Committee, the church’s annual conference, met Friday in Minneapolis and passed a resolution repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery.

The Covenant Church joins several Protestant denominations in taking this important step, but is the first evangelical church to do so. The resolution passed with 84 percent of the vote, according to one of the participants.

Founded in 1885 by Swedish immigrants, the Covenant Church has “more than 875 congregations and an average worship attendance of 280,000 people in the United States and Canada, Wikipedia reports. “The church is now one of the most rapidly growing and multi-ethnic denominations in North America. Historically Lutheran in theology and background, it is now a broadly evangelical movement.”

There are nearly 130 Covenant Churches in Minnesota. Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis is affiliated with the Covenant Church.

The resolution provides a summary of the Doctrine of Discovery:

The Doctrine of Discovery, also known as the doctrine of Christian discovery, is a set of legal and theological principles derived from a series of papal bulls, or decrees, issued by popes of the Catholic Church in the 15th century. The papal bulls provided theological justification for European monarchies to “discover” and claim lands inhabited by non-Christian peoples. …

The doctrine was first established into U.S. federal law with the Supreme Court decision of Johnson v.McIntosh in 1823, which found that Native inhabitants have only the right of occupancy in their homelands, with no title rights to land. With Native land title extinguished by legislative authority, President Andrew Jackson authorized the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The Trail of Tears is notably mentioned in American history, but many more such death marches occurred as land was cleared of Native inhabitants for western settlement.

The Johnson v. McIntosh decision is the cornerstone of U.S.–Indian policy and property law today and continues to suppress the rights of Native Americans, Native Alaskans, and Native Hawaiians.

Resolution, page 2
Columbus claimed “New World” lands for Spain based Papal edicts, which later would be called the “Doctrine of Discovery.” Image: Landing of Columbus, from Architect of the Capitol.

Here are other excerpts:

Confession and Repudiation:

We confess with our Indigenous brothers and sisters that the whole of creation is the work of God, and we acknowledge the damage done to the Indigenous inhabitants of the Americas through the taking of rights, property, and land. We acknowledge the cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples through sustained and systemic acts of injustice. We acknowledge the complicity of the Christian church (including the Covenant Church) in that dispossession, subjugation, and relegation.

We the Evangelical Covenant Church hereby repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery as fundamentally opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We will seek to support Indigenous people as they identify ways to affirm their inherent human rights and resolve wrongs.

Resolution, page 1

History and Truth Telling:

The history of the Indigenous people of North America is not fully understood or taught in public schools or mainstream culture in the U.S. This history is difficult for many to face, especially in light of the complicity of the Church. The violence and brutality of colonization in U.S. history stripped Indigenous people of their land and culture, and it was done “In the name of Christ.” For more than five centuries, the Doctrine of Discovery and the laws based upon it, have legalized the theft of land, labor, and resources from Indigenous Peoples, from which the dominant culture continues to benefit. This doctrine originated with the Christian church in the 15th century. It is now the Church’s responsibility to refute it. …

This resolution seeks to raise awareness around the injustices caused by the Doctrine of Discovery in the United States and throughout the world, and to offer ideas for meaningful individual and corporate action toward healing.

Resolution, page 2


The legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery in the U.S. and Canada today has created historical intergenerational trauma (post-traumatic stress disorder and historical trauma response) due to genocide, forced assimilation, removal, loss of homelands, and loss and repression of language and religion. These effects are directly related to conditions of excessive poverty on reservations, disproportional youth suicides, addiction issues 6-12 times higher than the rest of the U.S. population, extreme incidences of Type II diabetes from loss of traditional diets, and some of the highest unemployment rates in the United States.

Resolution, page 4


In the most basic terms, the Evangelical Covenant Church has been complicit in the Doctrine of Discovery by establishing churches on land that was made available by removing the original Native inhabitants and denying right to title.

Resolution, page 6


We lament and repent of our complicity in the continuing oppressive effects of subjugation, relegation, and theft of culture and land, including but not limited to emotional, psychological, physical, sociological, educational, and economic damage. We repent offering our Indigenous brothers and sisters a theology of assimilation rather than a theology of wholeness.

Resolution, page 8

Commitments (include the following):

That resources be committed to support Indigenous efforts on reservations in proximity to the Covenant Church, such as the ongoing Turtle Mountain church plant, in order to live into the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Persons. This would include language preservation and economic and environmental priorities with respect to solar and wind power and clean water…

Resolution, page 7

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