Let Us Confess Our Sins to the Lord – Doctrine of Discovery

By April 21, 2015My Thoughts

Not long ago, Rev. Aric Clark of Two Friars and a Fool asked me if I had ever heard of the Doctrine of Discovery. Truthfully, I hadn’t. But as I began to look into it with more depth, I realized the magnitude of what I was reading. I’ve always known that when colonists from Europe came over to the United States many/most of them identified as Christian. I knew in the minds of some who took land from Native American people groups was the convoluted idea that somehow Christianity supported the exploitation and domination of certain people groups, specifically those that did not identify as Christian.

What I did not realize was that this sinful exploitation and domination was codified in papal bulls – such as the Doctrine of Discovery – and other laws claiming that the rightful owners of all the world’s land were those who called themselves Christians. I did not realize that not only did those laws provide the justification for the horrors perpetrated against Native peoples back in the 1400-1500s, but also that in 1823 in the Supreme Court case Johnson v. McIntosh wrote into law the right to deny land to Native Americans. This law is still cited as legal precedent for removing land from Native Americans to this day.

The Doctrine of Discovery, Johnson v. McIntosh, and similar actions taken subsequently all reflect the mindset that Christians are somehow entitled to dominate other people groups and to subdue the entirety of the world regardless of the people who already live there. It’s about ownership and entitlement and conquest, which all feels very different from the Gospel in which Jesus calls his followers to travel light, to give of what little we do have, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

I can’t help but notice the poignant timing of being asked to call attention the Doctrine of Discovery shortly before Rogation Days, a series of days in the church year in which we ask God to bless the harvest and remind ourselves of God’s call to be good stewards of Creation. Rogation Days remind us that we do not own this world, but rather that God has entrusted us with the just and tender care for the world that belongs to God.

As we pause to ask God’s blessing on the harvest, let us also ask God to forgive us for the ways we have behaved reprehensibly towards people we have exploited, marginalized, and oppressed. Let us ask God to forgive us for the ways actions taken against Native American people in the name of Jesus have not only caused unfathomable harm towards Native American people in years past, but also the ways those actions continue to have a lasting and painful impact on Native American people today.

The Doctrine of Discovery was very new to me, and I am still processing how to respond, but I feel moved to write a prayer for use during Rogation Days (April 25th, and the three days leading up to Ascension Day). Feel free to use this prayer personally or in your congregations.

Prayer of Praise and Confession for Rogation Days/Rogation Sunday

Leader: Creator God, you made all that we see, and all that we cannot see. And, you have called us to care for your world.
People: Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty (Psalm 104:1).

Leader: O God, you created the sun and the moon, the stars and the planets. You created vast expanses that we cannot fathom.
People: Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty.

Leader: O God, you created the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, plants and creatures of all kinds.
People: Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty.

Leader: “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (Matthew 6:26).
People: Help us, O Lord, to be faithful stewards of your Creation.

Leader: O God, you created human beings and placed them in the Garden with the unique task of caring for the world.
People: Help us, O Lord, to be faithful stewards of your Creation.

Leader: O God, you created the soil as something for us to till and keep.
People: Help us, O Lord, to be faithful stewards of your Creation.

Leader: O God, though you have called us to care for this world that you have created, forgive us for our desire to dominate and exploit your resources.
People: Create in us clean hearts, O God, and put a new and right spirit within us (adapted from Psalm 51:10).

Leader: From the spirit of enmity, division, and oppression, deliver us, O Lord.
People: Create in us clean hearts, O God, and put a new and right spirit within us.

Leader: For the ways our past injustices against all peoples continue to harm and marginalize, forgive us, O Lord.
People: Create in us clean hearts, O God, and put a new and right spirit within us. May we be people who do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly in your ways (Micah 6:8).

Leader: In these days of tilling and planting, we ask God’s blessing upon the work of our hands.
People: Lord, may our harvest be abundant so that we may share what we have with others.

Leader: O God, Grant safety to all who labor and work in the fields, on ships, and in orchards, and all others on whom our food supply depends.
People: Keep all of our farmers safe in your mercy.

Leader: May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works (Psalm 104:31).
People: Praise the Lord!

About April Fiet

April is a pastor, wife, mom, and lover of words. She finds inspiration under the big Nebraska skies, in the garden, in the yarn aisle, and in the kitchen. Learn more about April here, and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.