You may know that I have just returned from Australia, where I was attending the decision-making gathering of the Lutheran Church of Australia (which also includes New Zealand.) At the meeting, they re-elected Presiding Bishop John Henderson, failed to get enough votes to authorize the ordination of women, and accepted a reconciliation initiative with Aboriginal people. In addition to attending the Australian equivalent of our Churchwide Assembly, I was able to spend a few days in the back country, where the LCA works with Aboriginal people.
Europeans came to Australia later than to North and South America. Germans came to a place they named Hermannsburg, in the center of the country, deep in the country of the Aboriginals, in 1877. Unlike some other Europeans, these German Lutherans considered the people they encountered to be fully human, and they even learned one of the local languages. They set up a church and a school and a tannery, as a job training facility. Hermannsburg today continues to be a center for outreach to Aboriginals, with several dozen Aboriginal pastors serving dozens of remote Aboriginal communities on behalf of the Lutheran Church of Australia. Recently an Aboriginal choir went on a world tour, and when they got to Hermannsburg, Germany, they called it the "Boomerang Tour." They wanted to thank the Germans of Hermannsburg, Germany, for coming to Hermannsburg, Australia to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
On Monday of this week it was Columbus Day for some people, and Indigenous People's Day for others. In this last month I have spent time with indigenous people in Bolivia (our whole church there is indigenous), and again in Australia. And, of course, the Montana Synod has 2 ministries on reservations, focusing on indigenous people. In each of these continents-North America, South America and Australia--there were people there before the European colonizers came. In each of these continents--and Africa as well--the original inhabitants were treated brutally by the invaders, and we all live with the consequences. History moves on, but we all live with the consequences.
At the same time that Europeans were exploring the unknown world, the Pope sent forth a papal bull that is the basis for the doctrine of discovery. In that doctrine, the Pope authorized, even obligated, explorers to take possession on any land not populated by Christians. The explorers from Catholic countries followed his orders, making the natives convert or die. So, did the non-Catholic explorers. They at least followed the "take possession of any land" part of the edict, even if they did not perform such violent conversions. We are still living with the aftermath of the doctrine of discovery, and in 2016 the ELCA voted to repudiate it, following the lead of a number of other denominations.
So what does it mean for Christians in 2018 to repudiate the doctrine of discovery? Clearly we cannot undo history. And nobody is asking us to. But what we can do, as a first step, is to learn history, to hear the voices who have not been heard, and to understand the impact of colonization upon indigenous people all over the globe. It is not enough to say, "I didn't do anything wrong." It is not about individuals, but rather the whole culture. Those of us in the majority culture benefit from the many ways that the indigenous culture was shortchanged by the European-Americans. The least we can do is learn the history.
As Christians we believe that we are one in Christ. All of us. That doesn't erase history. But it reminds us that as family, we are equal in God's eyes. And we should strive to do likewise--to see the value in every person, beloved children of God, who made us all in the divine image, who created all that there is and all that there will be.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA