Mark Charles was back at Peace Fellowship Church for his lecture series on the Doctrine of Discovery. He followed his first and second talks by offering some more diverse reflections on white Christian racism and his notions of racial reconciliation.
He prefaced his comments with highlighting national holidays our society views as holy. These “civic religious holidays” are nearly impossible to celebrate because of their racist, bigoted roots. Challenging the audience to lament these celebrations, he began his reflections with criticizing the “mythological potluck” of what some Americans think of as Thanksgiving and lamented the celebration of Columbus Day. “When you believe in your own exceptionalism, the only thing you can do is celebrate,” Charles said.
Further, the allegedly “deeply racist tendencies” of President Lincoln, specifically his controversial involvement with the Dakota 38, should lead us to ask the question, “What are so great about these presidents?” He sustained this disapproval by portraying Americans’ skewed perspective because “we’ve never lost a war that matters.”
Continuing this criticism, Charles movingly described a traumatic personal accident that reveals his perspective of Veterans’ day. He was the driver in a horrific car accident that killed his brother, but Charles’ life was spared due to doctors on the scene. Despite many assuring him of his innocence, he powerfully claimed, “I didn’t find any peace until I came to terms with the fact that it was my fault.” In his mind, the challenge with Veterans’ Day is “we have these people coming home from war, and we treat them as heroes…Because of our mythology as a nation that all of our wars are good, all of our wars are holy, we’re always the good guys.” He also suggested that “churches begin to hold services of lament on the Third of July” so that we do not overlook the consequences of white Christian racism.
Charles further described the American cultivation of a dominant culture and a “community that by and large sucks in our nation.” He proposed a Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRC) similar to the ones held in South Africa and Canada, where victims of white Christian racism and American oppression could publicly share heartbreaking stories of traumatic abuse. Churches and community members would respond to these tragedies by offering statements of reconciliation. However, Charles “knew that our nation was nowhere near ready to have a TRC…because you can’t reconcile if the offending party doesn’t want to admit they’ve done anything wrong.”
Because we aren’t ready for this fantasy, Charles posited the formation of a comprehensive national dialogue centered around the “human construct” of race that “was constructed for the purpose of oppressing and dividing.” He specifically cited the Native American blood quantum laws as evidence that “the American Indian was race was constructed in a way that allowed us to be bred out of existence.” This demonstrates the inadequacy of framing racial tensions as black versus white. Until Americans are forced to reckon with the devastating legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery propelled by white American racism, effective reconciliation will never occur.
Charles expanded on this conciliation by illustrating the four primary groups he targets to prepare the masses for the possibility of a Truth and Conciliation Conference. The primary recipient of rebuke is, once again, the white Church. This institution wrote the Doctrine of Discovery, is complicit in it, and is perpetually in bed with the evil empire. Therefore, in order to prepare for conciliation and to atone for the grievous errors of the past, white Christians need to enter into an indefinite season of lament.
The second community is Native Americans. He passionately claimed that they “are not the helpless victims of an oppressive colonial government. We are the host people of the land, and we need to be acting like the hosts.” Expanding the victims of the trauma of the white Christian racism, he instructed communities of color to view and interact with white American racism as a symptom of “another group of traumatized people.” America is “looking for legitimacy in its land.” He repeatedly hypothesized that this subconscious insecurity is rooted in the violent origins of the American Church. Thus, fostering reconciliation with an institution supposedly rooted in unending terror is seemingly impossible.
His final target was the millennial generation. Charles argued that millennials “haven’t drunk the cool-aid yet. They’re much less likely to buy cars; they’re much less likely to join a traditional church.” In other words, they are not buying into American colonialism and have a “much more inherent value for pluralism.” Interracial marriages are happening at unprecedented rates, and “sexual identity and gay marriage are completely open and on the table.” The lack of a “constrictive and restrictive view of marriages as just between a man and a woman” is evidence of what Charles’ theorizes as “a huge foundation for decolonization.”
Charles urged the white Church-at-large learn from millennials. He claimed that American Christians believe that, whatever the cost, “our job is to make someone believe.” As white Christians, we need to follow the millennials who “value pluralism and allow people to have their own belief…Our values are for assimilation and colonialism, and Millennials value pluralism and allow people to have their own belief.” As Christians from a dominant and oppressive culture, when we have “a colonialist faith, a pluralistic environment is very scary.” Charles passionately affirmed these beautiful values for pluralism. Referencing societal perceptions of Islam, Charles described his struggle to “find a way to live side by side with people from this religion that my nation tells me to hate.”
Bringing his talk full-circle, he reintroduced his imaginary Truth and Conciliation Commission. He wants to model this after models of disruption that have supposedly succeeded in some form of reconciliation, such as the movements of Black Lives Matter (BLM), Standing Rock, and Occupy Wall Street. He believes that “the strength of this disruption model is the act of disrupting.” But even these do not “bring about the depth of dialogue that we need.”
To illustrate his point, he discussed the Civil Rights Movement. The power of this movement lay in its embrace of the moral authorities of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. However, this approach is deeply blemished because of white America’s racist foundations. Implying that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision was somewhat inadequate and defective, he turned to Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign as a more appealing and persuasive model of conducting a national dialogue. Just like Sanders ran on a platform almost exclusively devoted to idealized economic equality, Charles desires to conduct a national conversation that solely critiques “the racist foundations of America.”
However, he realized that recruiting a presidential candidate with this unpopular message will be virtually impossible due to the political costs of confronting racism. So he hypothetically volunteered by asking the audience, “Do I have to become that candidate?…That’s one of the things that I’ve been looking at very closely.” Ironically, his excoriation of political participation as perpetually oppressing victims of color does not seem to apply to himself. Indeed, for Charles, it is time to ask this nation plagued by white Christian racism, “Do we want to be a nation where ‘we the people’ means ‘all the people’”?