Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Finding the Courage to Confront, Lament, & Heal: A Response to Mark Charles' "The Doctrine of Discovery and Truth and Conciliation"

On the afternoon of my first day as a summer fellow for the Office of Public Witness, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar being held by Navajo theologian Mark Charles entitled “The Doctrine of Discovery and Truth and Conciliation.” Mr. Charles began with a simple disclaimer: that his audience may not like, nor be comfortable, with what he was prepared to present. The presentation was on the history of human rights abuses against Native Americans, and as a Native American himself, Charles was visibly invested in the material at hand.

He told a counter-narrative of the “discovery” of the US and subsequent westward expansion. By his telling, the American people were not a valiant collective of righteous men and women seeking independence on both a religious and ultimately national scale. Rather, they were a band of thieves; justifying violence and genocide through twisted interpretations of Scripture, and marginalizing all those who dared contest the pursuit of an inherently racist and exclusive ‘American Dream.’

Midway through his presentation, Charles asked his audience to emote for him. He called on us to describe in a few words our emotional reaction to what he had delivered thus far, and in return was given responses ranging from ‘ashamed’ to ‘disturbed.’ When called on to respond, my first thought was to ask the very question which had racked my mind from the outset of the presentation:

How do we talk about ‘saving’ a stolen country?

It is the ongoing theme among American leaders, especially those vying for office in the current election cycle; American democracy needs saving from the corrupt figures, defective policy, and broken systems in which it is ensnared. We talk about saving our people from hunger and poverty, conflict and oppression. But how do we have that conversation, while also recognizing that the very system we wish to save is one which was originally built on injustice?

The Church faces similar challenges; our history as Christians is saturated with violence, colored with contempt for those by whom our doctrine and dogma is not shared. We have persecuted our fellow humans, committed acts of terror and violence against our fellow children of God. In which case:

How do we talk about maintaining the values of a Church which has historically wronged?

Charles’ recommendation regarding our nation’s approach to a violent history is one which I believe can be similarly applied to the Church, both within and outside of PC(USA): we need to start a dialogue. Moving on from our collective wrongdoing cannot involve the repression of the parts of our history for which we are not proud. If we are to grow and develop in our Truth, we must take ownership of the whole scope of our story. Mark Charles referred to this process as “confessing the sins of our nation” by undergoing a season of lamentation, asserting that this confrontation with Truth would serve as an outlet for healing.

One question therefore stands to be answered: will we have the courage to learn and discuss,
lament and heal?

For more information on Mark Charles' work, go to http://wirelesshogan.com/

This is a guest post from Summer Fellow Shannon Schmidt. This summer, Shannon is working on international policy under our associate for international issues, Catherine Gordon. Following her fellowship, Shannon will complete her undergraduate career as a senior at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida.