During a recent lecture, Native American activist Mark Charles managed to denounce his usual suspects—the Doctrine of Discovery, the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and U.S. exceptionalism—while adding to his list of systemic racism, Israel-U.S. relations, the idea of “Promised Land,” and of course, the American Church.
Charles accused the U.S. and Israel of having a “dysfunctional, co-dependent relationship that has almost nothing to do with equality, freedom, or justice,” blasted the narrative of Promised Land as “authority to commit genocide,” and considered calling the Church to “lament its sin of slavery, genocide, mass incarceration, and everything else.” And all within 40 minutes!
Charles made his provocative comments on March 20 before an audience of young divinity students during a lecture series, called Mosaic Gathering, and hosted by Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) in Deerfield, Illinois. The divinity school is part of Trinity International University and historically rooted in the Swedish Evangelical Free Church.
The Mosaic Gathering is a weekly on-campus event housed under the divinity school’s “diversity initiative”. Invited guest speakers explore issues of race and reconciliation “under the biblical vision of reconciliation with prayer, biblical reflections, and social analysis,” according to the TEDS web site.
Enter Charles and his Mosaic lecture titled, “Whose Blood Covers Systemic, Corporate Sin?”
IRD readers are likely familiar with Charles’ theory on the Doctrine of Discovery’s connection with what he calls “the buried history of the United States.” (If not, IRD contributor Derryck Green offers an excellent retort here.)
IRD President Mark Tooley addressed Charles’ claim that the U.S. Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution are “systemically racist” at the 2016 Justice Conference, where he also told his young Evangelical audience that “Everything you own is stolen” (You can read Tooley’s response here).
Most recently, IRD intern Joshua Arnold responded to Charles’ incendiary criticisms of Abraham Lincoln and Christian Europe here.
For this blog post, I’d like to focus on the comments Charles made regarding Israel and the narrative of Promised Land.
Charles begins by citing a speech Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu delivered before the U.S. Congress in March 2015, in which Netanyahu recognizes a shared “common destiny, the destiny of promised lands that cherish freedom and offer hope.”
Charles then charges both nations of co-opting Old Testament language to justify their past and present oppressive behavior. “It’s about justifying oppression,” Charles asserted. “Promised Land is authority to commit genocide.”
“We need Israel’s Old Testament legacy of Promised Land to justify what we did to Native Americans and Africans,” Charles declared. “The modern nation-state of Israel needs our flourishing as a nation with a manifest destiny to justify what they are doing to Palestinians and Bedouins.”
Interestingly, Charles was quick to paint Israel as an oppressor while failing to provide practical solutions for how the modern nation-state should protect its borders from terrorist regimes like Hamas in Gaza. He also failed to mention that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East committed to promoting religious freedom, freedom of speech, and women’s rights.
More importantly, he denounced the American Church for co-opting the language of Promised Land as an attempt to “cover its systemic multi-generational and corporate sin” through the “lie of American exceptionalism” which is “rooted in the lie of white supremacy and allows us to claim this false narrative of Promised Land.”
He then called on the American Church to reject the “heresy of Christian empire” because “we have a different barometer as followers of Jesus Christ.”
The challenge in responding to the disjointed comments made by Charles is that he cleverly pivots between mentions of the nation-state and the Church. In one moment, he denounces the United States’ foreign relations with Israel, but then in the next breath berates the American Church for seemingly the same flaws.
He is right that the Church has a different barometer than, say, the government. Agreed, the Church’s purpose is not land, nor prosperity. By no means do I mean to justify the sins of America’s past. But does the state not have a duty to protect its borders and citizens? He never mentions what the nation-state should commit itself, besides apologizing. I suspect he would answer “seek justice,” which is citing Micah chapter 6 verse 8. And what does that justice look like exactly?
This is where the conflation begins. If one listens to Charles, you would think that the state represents the Church and both have the same responsibilities and purposes instead of working in two different spheres of sovereignty. It is both confusing and frustrating, especially as his comments were made in front of an audience of young, earnest learners who are passionate about racial reconciliation and healing.
I suspect the constant conflation of Church and state is no accident.
You can watch Charles’ entire address below: