For several years now, Native American activist Mark Charles has spoken at churches and campuses across the United States, decrying America as built on racism. Most recently, while speaking to Christian college students, he challenged millennials to pursue “decolonizing” the American Church.
Charles declared that the Church had “prostituted itself out to the empire.” He meanwhile lauded millennials for embracing “pluralism” and “decolonizing” American free market capitalism by using cryptocurrency, Airbnb, and telecommuting. He followed up by challenging Christian millennials to pursue social and racial justice by getting the Church “out of bed with the empire.”
Mark Charles presented this message to students at Houghton College in New York. He spoke during the Christian college’s chapel service on Wednesday, February 23, kicking off the institution’s 2018 Faith and Justice Symposium.
The 2018 Faith & Justice Symposium "Racial Justice: Called to Love" begins tomorrow: https://t.co/iOLRyZoeae feat. Mark Charles @wirelesshogan & Micky ScottBey Jones @iammickyjones Join us in person or listen to both chapel talks online (Weds & Fri, 11:05 a.m.). pic.twitter.com/lBe73ehhb1
— Houghton College (@HoughtonCollege) January 23, 2018
As usual, Charles repeated his attack on the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. He criticized the Declaration of Independence for its reference to “merciless savages” and called the Constitution as a “racist document rooted in white supremacy.”
He also called out the Church for its “complicity” in America’s racial sins. Charles bashed Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas for “theological gymnastics” in support of imperialism. He said these Christian thinkers had provided justification for secular governments pursuing warfare and colonization—specifically, through Just War Theory and the Doctrine of Discovery. Charles alleged that the Doctrine of Discovery in particular “has become embedded in the foundations of our country.” He said:
The fact that to this day our nation honors Columbus as the discoverer of America reveals the implicit racial bias of the nation, which is that native peoples, indigenous peoples, people of color are not fully human. This makes the Doctrine of Discovery a racist doctrine that is the direct fruit of a Church that has prostituted itself out to the empire.
Towards the end of his presentation at Houghton College, Charles turned to his reasons for hope. He praised millennials for “not buying into the colonial divisions of this nation” by not joining churches, denominations, and political parties. He said in contrast to their parents and grandparents, millennials were overwhelmingly embracing pluralism.
He also praised millennials for buying into the so-called “sharing economy” and thus bucking economic colonialism. He called them to likewise challenge colonialism in the church and culture:
Just like you’re decolonizing the economy with your cryptocurrency, just like you’re decolonizing the housing market with your Airbnb, just like you’re decolonizing everything else that you’re doing – the workforce by your working remote jobs and you have all these different gigs and hustles that you’re doing, and not working for one company – I think you have the opportunity to decolonize the Church and to help it get back to the root and the basic teachings of Jesus so that we can stop trying to make this nation a Christian nation. There’s no such thing as a Christian nation. It doesn’t exist.
Charles acknowledged before he began speaking that his comments about the Church and racial justice would likely make some students “very uncomfortable.” But he encouraged them not to walk out but remain engaged for the entirety of his presentation.
Houghton College President Shirley Mullen seemed aware that the remarks could prove provocative. At the beginning of the chapel service, Mullen defended focusing the school’s annual Faith and Justice Symposium. This year the symposium focused on racial justice with Mark Charles scheduled as the first speaker.
“Someone came to me yesterday and said that they’d heard that some of the aspects of the symposium might be controversial, and I think that they thought somehow I’d be worried about this,” Mullen said. “So my response was, ‘Well, that’s part of what it means to be an educational institution, and I would suggest especially a Christian educational institution, is to learn to think well, to confront new ideas and to seek God’s guidance in what we ought to be doing in the world.”