World Council of Churches endorses resolution originating in Maine

Posted March 09, 2012, at 2:16 p.m.

The World Council of Churches has endorsed a resolution that began with the Episcopal Diocese of Maine.

The resolution calls for the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery, which was used to justify the subjugation of American Indians in the Americas and the dispossession of their lands by European sovereigns.

The executive committee of the council issued a statement following its February meeting in Bossey, Switzerland, that said the nature of the doctrine “fundamentally opposed the Gospel of Jesus.”

John Dieffenbacher-Krall, a member of St. James’ Episcopal Church and the executive director of the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission, originated the effort in 2006. The following year, a resolution similar to the one passed by the WCC was approved by the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine. The Episcopal Church of the United States approved a similar measure in 2009.

“I am hard pressed to imagine a greater perversion of Jesus’ message, to love God and our neighbor, than the Doctrine of Discovery that asserts we can take from indigenous peoples what is theirs, including their property, land, freedom, and their very lives, solely based on the fact that certain European people professed to be Christians and others were not,” Dieffenbacher-Krall said in a February statement.

“The Doctrine of Discovery at its core is a racist, evil worldview that must be expunged from the world,” he continued. “Christian churches perverted the word of God to justify conquest and domination. As a Christian living in the 21st century, I feel a duty to act on the knowledge I have about the Doctrine of Discovery to educate others and urge them to join in the effort to undo all the evil that the Doctrine of Discovery has caused in the world.”

The Doctrine of Discovery, set forth by King Henry VII in 1496, held that Christian sovereigns and their representative explorers could assert dominion and title over non-Christian lands with the full blessing and sanction of the church, Dieffenbacher-Krall said in 2007.

It has been cited in U.S. Supreme Court decisions to justify “treating indigenous nations and Native Americans as second-rate citizens,” he said when the Maine Episcopal diocese became the first in the nation to speak to the issue.

“I am gratified that the World Council of Churches, a worldwide fellowship of 349 churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service, opened their minds and hearts to issue its powerful statement repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery,” Dieffenbacher-Krall said last month. “I believe it is the most powerful of the rapidly increasing number of statements people of faith are issuing concerning the evil of the Doctrine and the need to expunge it from the world. I hope those Christian churches in Maine, the U.S., and the world that have not yet acted will speak out against the Doctrine of Discovery.”

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