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Winter Talk 2014

December 3, 2013


Winter Talk 2014

February 3-5, 2014
Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, OK

Winter Talk is the first annual Talk to offer a time for Native Disciples of Christ and friends to gather, study, share accomplishments, explore new ways to minister and educate within the church and propose resolutions that impact the life and spiritual health of American Indian communities and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). This year’s activities are focused on the impact of the Christian Doctrine of Discovery on American Indian peoples of the North American continent (Mexico, United States, and Canada) and its impact on the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Our guest speakers are Lisa Dellinger, Chickasaw and Methodist, who is working toward a PhD in Theology and Ethics with a focus in Post-Colonial Theology. Lisa has written and lectured on, “The Christian Doctrine of Discovery: Illusions of Grandeur,” and “Re/Membering Indigenous Women: Ghost Stories and Imago Dei.” Lisa will talk about the development of the Christian Doctrine of Discovery (CDOD).  Ron Gurley is Cherokee and specializes in Native American programs, youth development, and community education.  Ron will talk on how to develop conversation between dominant culture and American Indians. David Bell is non-native and Director of the Disciples of Christ Yakama Christian Mission.  David has focused on Landscape Theology and the Pro-Reconciling/Anti-Racist movement. David will talk about how the CDOD has influenced the development of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) polity and theology.

Winter Talk is a time of conversation. A time to gather, to eat, and to talk. Our speakers are only a catalyst to conversation. The most important talk of Winter Talk is the conversations held between the participants! Please find more info and registration on the Winter Talk 2014 link above.

The shaping and development leading to Winter Talk has taken years. This includes the adoption of Resolution GA-1324 at the DOC 2013 General Assembly. If you would like to read the resolution and attain more background please explore this site.

Allow the Doorway to Decay?

November 17, 2013

Originally posted on Ridged Valley Reflections:


November 17, 2013

Martin Marty wrote an article for Sightings called Mormons and Native Americans.  He uses and article by Fernanda Santos, in The New York Times, where she talks about Navajo people reclaiming their roots thanks to the Mormon Church.  Marty concludes saying,

Non- or anti-Mormons, who regard the Book of Mormon as fiction, may question the validity of framing identities on the basis of stories which cannot be verified in conventional scientific or historical terms.  However:

It happens that most families and tribes and peoples live off stories that cannot be conventionally verified.  This is the case with most sacred scriptures, but there is a mythic dimension to the way other stories are received, e.g., those of America’s “Founding Fathers.”  Citizens find identity and motivations, good and bad, from such roots.

Welcome to the company of the Mormon-Navajo Smith family survivors!

Fair enough.  We all live…

View original 1,021 more words

The Conquest and Christianity

November 9, 2013

This post has been reblogged a few times.  You will need to click through a site or two to get to the original post, but I think you will find  it well worth reading, for it speaks to how paying simple attention and asking questions can change ones life.

Celebration or Conversation?

October 14, 2013


October 14, 2013

Columbus Day.  For some these words mean a day off.  For many though, Columbus Day is a day many folk seem to be racing away before anyone associates them with their heritage.

I imagine by the time most folk read this they will have come across Facebook posts, articles, twitters, and suggestions that Columbus Day should be given up in favor of something like Indigenous Peoples Day.  I think this is something of a miss.

It isn’t that Columbus should be honored.  Nor is it that Indigenous folk should not be honored (Native American Day-September 27 and Native American Month-November).  Instead, I find a simple change of name in favor of another is, well, simple.

We have become a people comfortable with the simple.  Simple does not require more of us.  We get to go about our everyday life without asking questions that might bog us down in moments of contemplation or fits of reflection.  Such is what it means to change Columbus Day into what we think the opposite.

Columbus Day can certainly fade away along with the Great Commission and the literal interpretation of Mathew 28: 18-20a,

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

The need to walk away from such celebrative days and conversion beliefs is readily evident in histories such as that of the United States and American indigenous peoples.  Clearly, the historical and ongoing deaths (physical, spiritual, cultural) of North American Indians is so massive, it is wrong (and can the term sinful be too strong?) for the North American community of the United States to take a day off, celebrate, and not talk about it.  But that isn’t the case, is it?  We really don’t talk about this do we?  Instead, society and the Christian church has found it more convenient, far less challenging, and much more simple to take actions like offering an apology now and then for historical misdeeds against Indian folk (one every decade or so since the seventies seems about right).  Changing Columbus Day into Indigenous Peoples Day has similar undertones.

Meaningful change calls for a collective conversation where folk not only grabble with historical atrocities, but also recognize the parents, the heritage, and the landscapes of every person has much more good than bad.  Yet there is fear that jumping into an honest conversation of our collective past will hurt—rightfully so, for it will.  For certainly in the midst of such conversation we are sure to find, both non-Indian and Indian, a lot of stuff we’d rather leave in the past.  Such conversation, with all its complexities, will certainly make some red-in-the-face and cause others to stutter.  However, in the midst of such fear and risk taking, arises richness, community, and friendship, and that seems well worth it.

So, no, I don’t favor dropping Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day.  But I do support dropping it in favor of a day where the community collectively honors the need to stop for a moment, sit down with their neighbor, Indian or non-Indian alike, and converse.  I support a day honoring the people of this landscape and their heritage—Narragansett or Puritan or insert your own, I support raising the ire of all today so tomorrow indignation may fade.  I support delving into the complicated so one day our children may simply accept one another as sister and brother.

© David B. Bell 2013

A Time To Talk

August 1, 2013


August 1, 2013
The following is a note penned by Bill Running Wolf after the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly.

Osiyo Ditsadanvtli a le Ditsadalvi,

This past week  in Orlando, Florida resolution GA-1324 Reflection on Christian Theology and Polity, the Christian Doctrine of Discovery, and the Indigenous Voice was brought before the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The purpose of the resolution was to encourage the members of the denomination to begin the process of examining how the Doctrine of Discovery has helped frame the theology and polity of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) both historically and in the contemporary church. Within the past four years only [ a few] other denominations and the World Council of Churches have addressed this vital issue and repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery. The Rev. David Bell states “The Christian Doctrine of Discovery (Doctrine) is a body of work beginning in the 15th century with a series of papal bulls and theological statements justifying the Age of Discovery and the colonization, conquest, subjugation of lands and peoples around the world. During the next 500 years, religio-political empires fashioned edicts, court decisions, treaties, and laws enhancing discovery efforts.” Today most Christian denominations and congregations actively and passively continue to treat Native Americans as second class and seek to fully assimilate Native Peoples into mainline Christian culture.

Last Wednesday, July 17, the General Assembly passed this resolution with a unanimous vote. This was an enormous step towards bringing the Native Voice into mainline Christianity and putting an end to over 500 years of religious abuse, oppression and exploitation. While there is still much to be done in order to bring the denomination to the place of repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery there is now great hope of that day arriving. This would not have been possible without the work of Rev. David Bell and his wife Belinda of White Swan, Washington as well as the support team who put the resolution together and the churches in the Northwest Region who sponsored it.

The next step proceeds now with the Christian Church (Diciples of Christ) committee that was formed at the General Assembly. It’s members include many volunteers from across the country and with the Rev. David Bell to help guide the journey. The Rev. Dr. Bill McCutchen and I currently represent the Native Voice on the committee and hope that other Native Americans within the denomination will join in as this matter progresses.

This work takes many years both in preparation and in making progress. Change comes slowly to many people, especially those who have been normalized into a certain way of thinking and are suddenly faced with the realization that they too may be part of an oppressive system. With prayer, compassion, patience and tolerance change can occur. Please join with us in honoring this important work. Your continued prayers and support are greatly appreciated.

Bill Running Wolf

In 1492 Columbus Sailed The Ocean Blue.

July 18, 2013


July 18, 2013

The folk of the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (DOC) passed the resolution, GA1324: Reflection on Christian Theology and Polity, the Christian Doctrine of Discovery, and the Indigenous Voice!  It has taken years to get to this point, but now, the people of the DOC have said, “perhaps we should take some time and wonder whether or not the Christian Doctrine of Discovery (DOD) influenced our Theology, our Polity and Structure, and most of all, our relationship with American Indians and First Nations People.”  The exploration may not be an easy one in the years to come, but one which is sure to expand our vision of Creator and Creation.

Much is to come, however, a beginning, on this day after adoption on GA1324, can be found in the reflections of Keith Watkins in his observation The Christian Doctrine of Discovery.  Additionally, the full text asking the body of the DOC to risk years, if not generations, exploring the DOD’s influence in their development—theology and polity—and actions is found below.


Many of us grew up with the phrase, “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”  Some of us honored it, some of us did not.  What we did not learn is Columbus’ return to Barcelona, Spain set of a series of papal bulls, edicts, court decisions, treaties, and laws that enhanced the age of discovery, which today we call the Christian Doctrine of Discovery.

Furthermore, what few of us learned was the ensuing European colonization of indigenous lands could not have occurred as it did, to the length it did, without the approval of and the theological underpinning of the Christian Church.

The bull Romanus Pontifex in 1455 and Pope Alexander VI’s 1493 bull Inter Caetera laid out a European structure of discovery which allowed any Christian king or prince to claim and subjugate indigenous landscapes and people not already under the purview and conquest of another Christian king or prince.  That underpinning lead to five hundred years of Christian theological development that supported the suppression of indigenous people of color throughout the world.

In the America’s, this Christian underpinning led to Supreme Court Justice John Marshal’s decision on the 1823 case Johnson vs. M’Intosh, in which he asserted, “Conquest gives a title which the Courts of the conqueror cannot deny.”  This decision created the basic legal framework of U.S. government and American indigenous nation’s relationships, which continue to this day.

Marshal’s decision enhanced the development of Christian thought which led to the development of the 1845 U.S. expansionist phrase, Manifest Destiny.  Embedded within Manifest Destiny is the Christian theological argument of The Great Commission, interpreted during this era as a Christian mandate to “overspread and to possess the whole of the continent.”

This matters to us, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), for the preference for European conquest, The Great Commission, and Manifest Destiny, was not lost on our early leaders.  Writing on, “The Destiny of Our Country,” in the August 1852 edition of the Millennial Harbinger, Alexander Campbell stated, “in our countries destiny is involved the destiny of Protestantism, and in its destiny the destiny of all the nations of the world.  God has given, in awful charge, to Protestant England and Protestant America—the Anglo-Saxon race—the fortunes, not of Christendom only, but of all the world.”

This matters to us, because, as Howard Thurman said when writing about segregation, “Most of the accepted social behavior-patterns assume segregation to be normal—if normal, then correct; if correct, then moral; if moral, then religious.”  Because our roots were planted in a time of U.S. expansionism and extreme racist conflict, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is called to wonder if our religious underpinnings, our theology and our polity, are grounded in the Christian Doctrine of Discovery.

This also matters to us because the Doctrine of Discovery continues to damage indigenous landscapes and people.

  • In 2005 Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the court on a case between the City of Sherrill and Oneida Indian Nation that because roughly 200 years had elapsed before the Oneida tried to reestablish ownership of ancestral lands, they could no longer assert tribal immunity.  The first footnote of the decision says, “Under the ‘doctrine of discovery’… lands occupied by Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign–first the discovering European nation and later the original States and the United States.”
  • In 2012 the Canadian Omnibus Budget Bill C-45 (Jobs and Growth Act) removed self-rule of First People Nations and their environmental protection of over nearly 5 million bodies of water, leaving only 97 lakes protected.

This also matters to us because we are a people of a welcoming and open table.  Yet, when we look around the people of the ancient people on which our table resides are not here with us.

The Yakama and Cherokee, the Crow and Laguna, the Cree and Mahove, the Chicasaw and Algonkin, the Kickapoo and Dakota, the Choctaw and Timucua (tee-moo-kwa) are not at our table.

We are called to, question why our sisters and brothers whose ancestry resides in the landscape of the Americas are not with us.  For without them we have no balance, our gait is uneven, our soil unstable.  Without them we are not whole and the wind is only the wind and the voice of the ancients, of the cloud of witness, is lost.  Without them, our children’s children will live in a landscape whose harmony is in discord.

For these reasons, the signers of this resolution ask the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to approve Resolution 1324: Reflection on Christian Theology and Polity, the Christian Doctrine of Discovery, and the Indigenous Voice and begin a generational walk of exploring these and the incurring questions that are sure to arise.

We ask this, because the writers and supporters of this resolution believe that if we commit to and develop a passion for the inclusion of America’s and the world’s indigenous people to our table, and if we become accountable to their voices, then our children’s children may one day experience the harmony and the shalom, that certainly is eternally theirs.

© David B. Bell 2013

The Doctrine of Discovery Trinity

April 6, 2013


April 06, 2013

Balancing Theology, Polity, and the Indigenous Voice is an “Item For Reflection And Research” document moving through the process that leads to its consideration at the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in July 2013.  The following is based on an argument I learned from Sarah Augustine about how Christendom (the Christian Church and European nations) justified the Doctrine of Discovery.

A century before the voyage of Columbus, Pope Nicholas V wrote the papal bull Romanus Pontifex (1455).  The bull followed-up his 1452 bull Dum Diversas which permitted Alfonso V of Portugal to place pagans, specifically Saracens (Muslims) into generational slavery.  In writing Romanus Pontifex Nicholas V enhanced his early bull by allowing the subjugation of non-Christian land and peoples by Catholic/Christian nations.  A century later, in 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued the bull Inter Caetera.  This bull fashioned the last bit of theology needed to endorse the colonization desires of Christian European nations, by asserting that once a Christian nation claimed and subjugated a land and people, no other Christian nation could occupy and claim that particular geographic landscape.  These three bulls, Romanus Pontifex, Dum Diversas, and Inter Caetera are the theological documents of the Christian Church that serve as the Doctrine of Discovery’s documents of origin.  In time, other theological and secular documents led to a political philosophy that cumulated in Emer de Vattel’s 1758 work The Law of Nations or the Principles of Natural Law Applied to the Conduct and to the Affairs of Nations and of Sovereigns, which influenced the development of United States law and legislation.

The Law of Nations is but one of many works making up the body of laws, edicts, bulls, pronouncements, and books that make up the body of work called the Doctrine of Discovery.  Long before Vattel’s work though, the Doctrine of Discovery created a systemic worldwide slavery trade, supported the genocide of indigenous people, and the robbery of non-European land resources.  There are many theological, political, and business oriented writings endorsing the subjugation of non-European land and peoples, however three concepts, two of which are Christian, led Pope Nicholas V, Alexander VI and their successors to believe worldwide European conquest and colonization appropriate: The Great Commission, Terra nullius, and Romans 13.

The Christian Testament’s gospel of Mathew speaks of what folk call The Great Commission.  After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus reappears to the eleven remaining disciples on a mountain in Galilee.  There Jesus says,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (MT 28:18-20)

The concept to make disciples of all nations became a foundational concept of the Christian religion.  As Christianity grew into a dominate religion of European empires after the Roman Emperor Constantine  legitimized it in 313 C.E., Christian leaders began to take advantage of power gained in a Religion/State relationship and soon the notion of Christianizing the world became embedded into national laws.

Terra nullius comes from the Roman legal concept of res nullius—things without owners.  Res nullius allowed nations to develop the idea of land without owner, leading to the concept of terra nullius.  By occupying and subjugating a terra nullius, a nation obtains sovereignty over that territory.  Such occupation meant indigenous peoples were not only not owners of the landscape they had lived within since ancient times, but because of their primitive-pagan state, they were also not fully human and because they were sub-people without political order they were a people not capable of negotiations.  Thus, all non-Christian lands were open to occupation and all non-Christian people open to perpetual slavery.

The last concept arises from Romans 13 of the Christian Testament.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority?  Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.  (vv. 1-4)

Christian European empires used Romans 13: 1-4 to argue they obtained their authority and dominion because God ordained it so.  Such a theological construct gave European empires the God given right to bear the sword and impose genocide upon any land and people whom they believed the wrongdoer.

Together these three concepts allowed Pope Nicholas V, Alexander VI, and successors to argue; the Great Commission imposes an order from God to convert the world to Christianity; Christians and Christian states have the right to occupy and subjugate non-Christian terra nullius; and should the people of terra nullius refuse to become Christian and recognize the States ordained authority, then as a servant of God the State must execute wrath and place the people into perpetual slavery at best, or to the sword at worst.

© David B. Bell 2013


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