Mark Charles delivered the first of four lectures on “The Doctrine of Discovery, Racial Justice, and the Mission of the Church” at Peace Fellowship Church on Monday, June 5. Speaking to a largely white, millennial audience, he focused on the systemic racism of white America and on the repercussions of the Doctrine of Discovery initiated by Pope Nicholas V’s papal bull Dum Diversas, which states in part:
…invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit.
He argued this Doctrine of Discovery is contrary to the teachings of Christ. Referencing Jesus’ instruction to reject earthly empires and to forsake violence, Charles said he believed that this doctrinal formalization fundamentally transformed the relationship between Church and State. Detailing Constantine’s Christianization of Rome and Augustine’s just war theory, he illustrated the evolution of salvation from a voluntary choice to an automatic guarantee as a citizen of the Empire, justifying war on theological grounds.
He further extended the Doctrine of Discovery to the United States by recounting the theft and barbarism towards Native Americans that is the underlying basis for the founding of this nation:
What this demonstrates is that at the heart of our Constitution, and in the world view of the original framers, there is not a comprehensive value for life or equality. There is a practice of marginalization and dehumanization. And the value tends towards exploitation of the marginalized and profit for the dominant. Since its origins, the Constitution of the United States has been an extremely racist and sexist document that assumes the white, land-owning male has the authority to determine who is and who is not human.
Charles argued that this endemic horror continues to oppress all facets of society. Vast and inclusive language such as “We the People” and “All Persons” only applied to white men. Native-Americans, women, and African-Americans did not meet these qualifications and were therefore excluded from political engagement.
Charles supported his primary claim with over two hours of extensive political documents, court cases, and historical events which he said show how America deliberately suppressed Native Americans. This extensive list of incidences of racism and injustice seem to portray our entire legal view of property rights as grounded on the subjugation of Natives. We should view incarceration statistics that show, in Charles’ view, disproportionate numbers of minority offenders, as evidence that “the Constitution is working” because “the practice of the Constitution is dehumanization; it does not value life.” Therefore, “to this day, the Constitution is a systemically racist, sexist document.”
Charles ardently criticized the American Church for being complicit in this coercive tyranny. He cited a multitude of causes – from John Winthrop’s City on a Hill manifesto in 1630 to the Manifest Destiny doctrine allegedly propagated by the early Church in America to the culture of the modern U.S. Church – for perpetuating ignorance about Native-American history, culture, and oppression. White Americans’ patriotism and liberty are Native-American’s decimation and despair, Charles asserted: “When a church believes in its own exceptionalism, then there’s no space to lament.”
While recounting tragic narratives of massacres against Native Americans and abusive boarding schools, he also relayed his personal story of living on a reservation and of feeling the rejection and isolation of many neighbors and friends. He lamented the insincere apology of the government and the supposedly deliberately buried and insincere postures towards Native-American communities. Most passionately, he expressed anger about the ignorance and apathy of many whites to the plight of Natives. “We teach a mythology of the U.S. and not a history,” he said.
Charles then ventured into the psychology of trauma. The individual PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) of many Native Americans results in a collective historical trauma, which he likens to a group form of PTSD. On the other side of the trauma spectrum, PITS (Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress) is the PTSD of the oppressor and not the victim. Charles then stated that if PTSD correlates with historical trauma, then there must exist a psychological phenomenon he terms “the trauma of white America” that correlates with PITS. Symptoms of this trauma include the phrase and theory of “American Exceptionalism” and the buried apology of the government mentioned above. Triggers of trauma include eight years of a black president, gun control, and ISIS.
He also made the shocking claim that “ISIS sounds like white America.” He compared the barbarism of ISIS to the alleged barbarism of white America and claimed that we do not know how to handle reincarnations of our founding histories. Further, in his view, whites are incapable of formulating solutions to this problem because of the origins of our perspective. “We don’t know what justice looks like when everything we have is stolen property,” he said.
For an intense, intricate, and emotional teaching, there was little discussion of biblical themes such as sin or redemption. Charles specifically instructed listeners not to repent. “Before we repent, we have to sit in brokenness and guilt and shame,” he said. Before we repent, we must understand that, in the words of Georges Erasmus, “where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created.”
Charles advocated beginning our awakenings to this common memory in the cesspool of trauma caused and exacerbated by white Americans and white Christians. In his view, it is not until we understand the full magnitude of our sins that God will meet us in our shame.Google+