UUS of Cleveland votes to repudiate 'Doctrine of Discovery'

At its recent annual congregational meeting, the Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland joined a fast-growing number of other religious congregations and social activist groups and voted to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.

Why would so many groups and mainline churches want to repudiate a doctrine defined by the word "discovery," a process most liberal minds find exciting and widening?  The Doctrine of Discovery, first promulgated in the 15th century, has a dark side, being the historical justification for and root of indigenous hardship and discrimination. 

The doctrine is a Christian theological teaching developed in a series of 15th-century papal bulls and 16th-century charters by European monarchs to justify expropriation of native lands and indigenous populations by Europeans. Since the 19th century, the Doctrine has been used by U.S. courts to justify continued oppression of America's indigenous populations.

The Doctrine of Discovery gave European Christian explorers who “discovered” other lands the authority to claim those lands and subdue—even enslave—peoples of those lands if they were not already Christians. Of course, no Caribbean natives or indigenous Americans were Christians at that time. Given legal status in U.S. law via an 1823 Supreme Court decision, the Doctrine still carries significant legal weight and was last cited in a 2005 court decision, City of Sherrill vs. Oneida Indian Nation of New York.

At its recent annual congregational meeting, the Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland voted unanimously to repudiate the Doctrine, and convey the resolution to the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, of which the Society is a member.

Commenting on his congregation's vote, Colin Bossen, minister, said, "In our nation where separation of church and the state is constitutionally mandated, it is deeply disturbing when a specific theological doctrine continues to significantly influence the law.

"I am proud of the congregation for repudiating the doctrine. I see their vote as part of a process to re-examine America's religious roots, and our nation's often dark experience with colonialism. It is my hope that the General Assembly vote can be part of an ongoing dialogue concerning the United States government's oppression of America's indigenous peoples."

The UUS of Cleveland is a liberal religious community located in the Coventry neighborhood of Cleveland Heights. Services are 11 a.m. on Sundays. Visit www.uucleveland.org for more information about UUS of Cleveland, and visit www.uua.org for more information on Unitarian Universalism.

Walt Nicholes

Walt Nicholes is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland, and is active in Veterans for Peace and Cleveland Peace Action.

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Volume 5, Issue 7, Posted 10:22 AM, 07.02.2012