cover image Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery

Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery

Mark Charles & Soong-Chan Rah. IVP, $17 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-0-8308-4525-5

In this trenchant analysis of the roots of white supremacy in American culture, blogger and preacher Charles (Reflections from the Hogan) and religion professor Rah (The Prophetic Lament) team up to examine the insidious legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery, a set of 15th-century legal principles based on Catholic papal decrees. Rooted in a Christian movement advocating compassion for all of humanity, the Doctrine of Discovery also contains elements of the early transformation of the church under Constantine, who accepted “just war theory” (which approved of violence against non-Christians) and went on to undergird the driving narrative of American exceptionalism. The authors challenge numerous American mythologies, beginning with the Puritans’ self-perception as “chosen people” of pure Anglo-Saxon lineage “ordained by God to tame the savage world of the Natives of North America.” Examining the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the concept of manifest destiny, and the reputation of Abraham Lincoln, the authors offer numerous historical examples demonstrating how the narrative of “white American Christian exceptionalism” continues to have devastating effects on African-American and Native American communities. For instance, he argues that Lincoln understood the that 13th Amendment “simply redefined and codified” slavery “under the jurisdiction of law enforcement officers,” and that he didn’t believe “black people should be judges, jurors, or even be allowed to vote.” This sobering critique presents a disturbing yet welcome analysis of how the Doctrine of Discovery has split American church and society along racial lines, and makes a powerful argument for engaging in national dialogue around issues of class, gender, and race. (Dec.)