CHICAGO (Oct. 11, 2021) – As the United States pauses to honor and celebrate the Indigenous people who first settled on the land thousands of years ago, the Evangelical Church in America (ELCA) has released “A Declaration of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to American Indian and Alaska Native People.” The declaration is a direct result of the social policy resolution “Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery,” which was passed by the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.
In the declaration, the ECLA acknowledges the theological and Christian foundation of the Doctrine of Discovery, which has codified colonialism and religious intolerance as societal norms for more than 500 years.
“The Doctrine of Discovery created a theological framework that supported racism, colonialism, and the annihilation of Indigenous people,” the declaration states. “Today it continues to support these evils and injustices found in our church, U.S. law, and legal interpretation. The Doctrine of Discovery has been pervasive throughout the world and has benefited the Church and ELCA Lutherans in every way.”
Included in the statement is a confession to American Indian and Alaskan Native communities in the ELCA and in the United States. To those in the ELCA, the church declares, “We have devalued Indigenous religions and lifeways and have not challenged the invisibility of Indigenous people in American society.” Among other things, it confesses to treating these communities as a minority group rather than as sovereign nations and failing to do more to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery after the formal repudiation was passed in 2016.
To American Indian and Alaska Native communities in the church and in the United States, the church confesses its role in diminishing the importance of the land and acknowledges the complicity of the ECLA and its predecessors in accepting the benefits of the land stolen through numerous colonial measures and broken treaties. It further confesses to its failures in combating white supremacy and in treating Native peoples as equals, listing the many ways in which the church needs to learn more about its harmful roles.
To the non-Indigenous communities of the ELCA, the church confesses that it has benefited from, and not acted against, the Doctrine of Discovery and has failed to proactively support the church’s American Indian and Alaska Native Lutheran Association.
The declaration concludes with a pledge to all three groups — Indigenous ELCA communities, Indigenous communities in the U.S., and non-Indigenous ELCA communities. Each pledge focuses on doing more to understand the doctrine, the church’s role in perpetuating it and how to partner with Native organizations to end the harmful effects of the doctrine and become stronger advocates for Indigenous communities throughout the U.S. The declaration ends with an understanding that accomplishing its goal to actively and fully repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery will take more than words; it will take tangible action to undo the damage created since the late-15th century.
To read the full text of “A Declaration of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to American Indian and Alaska Native People,” click here.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with nearly 3.3 million members in more than 8,900 worshiping communities across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of “God’s work. Our hands.,” the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA’s roots are in the writings of the German church reformer Martin Luther.
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