From Mark Charles, a man of Navajo and Dutch American descent, who is currently running for President of the United States of America.
On May 4, 1493, the year after Columbus sailed the ocean blue, Pope Alexander VI issued the papal bull offering a spiritual validation for European conquest, “that in our times especially the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.”
In particular, the bull served as an ecclesial affirmation of the state-sanctioned expedition and work of conquest by Christopher Columbus.
In recognition of the hard work and zeal exhibited by these explorers, they are lauded for their evangelistic zeal in concert with their exploration, discovery, and conquest.
The bull would affirm “the spread of the Christian rule to carry forward your holy and praiseworthy purpose so pleasing to immortal God. . . . who for a long time had intended to seek out and discover certain islands and mainlands remote and unknown and not hitherto discovered by others.”
In the papal bulls, Columbus would be singled out and honored for his efforts to expand the Christian empire:
as was pleasing to the Lord, you [Isabella and Ferdinand], with the wish to fulfill your desire, chose our beloved son, Christopher Columbus, a man assuredly worthy and of the highest recommendations and fitted for so great an undertaking, . . . the said Christopher has already caused to be put together and built a fortress fairly equipped, wherein he has stationed as garrison certain Christians, companions of his, who are to make search for other remote and unknown islands and mainlands. . . . to bring under your sway the said mainlands and islands with their residents and inhabitants and to bring them to the Catholic faith. . . . to lead the peoples dwelling in those islands and countries to embrace the Christian religion; nor at any time let dangers or hardships deter you therefrom.
By this reasoning, Columbus could be considered the “discoverer” of the Americas, despite the continents already being filled with people and with civilizations.
As a European Christian fully endowed with God’s presence, he would hold a superior position over and against the Native inhabitants of the land. A 2013 study by the Christian Reformed Church asserted that “framing Aboriginal peoples as enemies of God positioned Europeans as the harbingers of civilization and Christianity to the so-called pagans of the Americas. The doctrine of discovery became the justification for colonial actions.”
The authority to “discover” and to “conquer” drew from an assumed spiritual authority. The bull asserted that those who would oppose the authority and rule of the European powers would be opposing the will of God:
“Let no one, therefore, infringe, or with rash boldness contravene, this our recommendation, exhortation, requisition, gift, grant, assignment, constitution, deputation, decree, mandate, prohibition, and will. Should anyone presume to attempt this, be it known to him that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God.”
The assertion of European supremacy by these papal bulls had taken such a hold that anyone opposing this doctrine would be considered opposing the will of God.
In September of 1500, Columbus had been brought back from Santo Domingo in chains. The royal court was at Seville and he stayed for a number of months at the Carthusian monastery of Las Cuevas across the Guadalquivir River from the city.
At the monastery Columbus compiled his notes, which he describes as “a notebook of authorities, statements, opinions and prophecies on the subject of the recovery of God’s Holy City and mountain of Zion, and on the discovery and evangelization of the islands of the Indies and of all other peoples and nations.”
Christopher Columbus’s self-perception reveals a connection to the heresies of both Christendom and the Doctrine of Discovery.
Columbus’s atrocities would find justification in the belief that all of these actions would result in evangelization. The spread of the European version of the Christian message would justify violence in all forms found in Western imperialism.
The Doctrine of Discovery, first directed towards Portugal then directed towards Spain, affirmed the imperial ambitions of these two European powers. It gave theological permission for the European body and mind to view themselves as superior to the non-European bodies and minds.
The doctrine created an insider perception for the European while generating an outsider, other identity for non-Europeans; it created an identity for African bodies as inferior and only worthy of subjugation; it also relegated the identity of the original inhabitants of the land “discovered” to become outsiders, now unwelcomed in their own land.
Those who stole the land now claim power over those who originally held the land. In order to strengthen the claim to usurped land, the more pure, European-American Christian settler colonialists needed to elevate themselves over and against the indigenous inhabitants.
The dominant powers created dysfunctional narratives derived from a diseased social and theological imagination that elevated the sense of worth of the dominant group. This lie of supremacy empowers the dominant group to define the other as inferior and claim authority over them.
The collective expression of the papal bulls that would result in the Doctrine of Discovery fueled the conquest of non-European lands by Europeans.
As Stephen Newcomb notes, “what is generally referred as the doctrine of discovery might be more accurately called the doctrine of Christian European arrival, or, better still, the doctrine of Christian European invasion.”
The Doctrine of Discovery served a dual function: a theological “doctrine” that served as an affirmation from the church for European atrocity and a political, even military doctrine (akin to the Monroe Doctrine or even the Bush Doctrine) that provided political boundaries and mediation between colonial settler powers.
The doctrine as expressed to Portugal furthered the African slave trade and as expressed to Spain affirmed the “discovery” of the Americas. This military and political doctrine that defined the parameters of European imperial greatness arose from an ecclesial treatise rooted in a dysfunctional theology.
At the foundation of this doctrine was a narrative of European Christian purity and supremacy that negated the value and worth of the other and permitted European Christians to assume their own supremacy and privilege on specious theological grounds.
An individual questioning the appropriate presence of a Native American at a Columbus Day celebration reveals a dysfunctional narrative embedded within Western society. The concept of the other stands in direct opposition to the teachings of the New Testament.
Theology that arises from Scripture and from the teachings of Jesus does not allow for the identification and exclusion of the other. A Christian Reformed Church task force concluded that “the doctrine encoded racial ideas that created a hierarchy within humanities that invariably placed European Christian nations in the position of power.”
The assumption of white supremacy took root in the imagination of the Western mind. This imagination and narrative have become embedded realities in the American Christian worldview.
Taken from Unsettling Truths by Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah. Copyright (c) 2019 by Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com