Presbyterian Church USA Joins Growing List of Denominations Repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery

Elona Street Stewart, Executive of the Presbyterian Synod of Lakes and Prairies and a member of the Delaware Nanticoke Nation: "Our work has just begun."
Elona Street-Stewart, Executive of the Presbyterian Synod of Lakes and Prairies and a member of the Delaware Nanticoke Nation: “The real work has just begun.”

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA met in Portland June 16-23 and voted to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. It also voted to develop recommendations of how Presbyterian congregations “can support Native Americans in their ongoing efforts for sovereignty and fundamental human rights.” It was part of the Church’s broader work on racial justice.

The Presbyterian Church joins a growing list of denominations which have repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, which has old roots but an ongoing impact. The Doctrine 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 allowed colonizers to seize Native property and forcibly convert or enslave the people. The Doctrine was the forerunner to the concept of Manifest Destiny, and supported the thinking 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 that have repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery include: the Episcopal Church, the Unitarian Universalists, the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the World Council of Churches, and most recently the Community of Christ. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is scheduled to take up this issue at its Churchwide Assembly, Aug. 8-13 in New Orleans. The Healing Minnesota Stories website has a list of denominational statements.

Here is the specific language the Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly approved: Continue reading

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