We’ve asked our staff to help us unpack the complex justice issues that we’re working on. Using our General Synod pronouncements as the basis for these reflections, we hope to provide insights into the issues you care about that are rooted in our shared faith, and can inform your advocacy efforts. This month Elizabeth Leung, our Minister for Racial Justice, reflects on the Doctrine of Discovery - a theological document that originated in the early European church, and was (and is to this day) used as a legal basis for ignoring and invalidating claims to property by Native American Communities. Learn more about actions taken by General Synod 29 to address this injustice.
The Doctrine of Discovery: Why it Still Matters Today
“[T]he native people[s] were never lost and they are not lost now. They were exactly where the Creator put them; therefore, they cannot be discovered. They already know the Creator and the Creator knows them" - Adrian Maxey of the Dakota Association, speaking in his native language, reminded the delegates of General Synod.
Many Americans grow up learning that this continent was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus. The concept of discovery, as if the land was empty prior to arrival and its indigenous inhabitants were somehow “less than” the explorers is, at its heart, racism and cultural superiority.
The doctrine of discovery, a concept of public international law expounded by the United States Supreme Court in a series of decisions, originated from various church documents in Christian Europe in the mid-1400s to justify the pattern of domination and oppression by European monarchies as they invasively arrived in the Western hemisphere. It theologically asserted the right to claim the indigenous lands, territories, and resources on behalf of Christendom, and to subjugate native peoples around the world.
In 1823 U.S. Supreme Court case of Johnson v. M’Intosh, Chief Justice John Marshall used the doctrine to assert that the United States, as the successor of Great Britain, had inherited authority over all lands within our claimed boundaries. This decision allowed our government to legally ignore or invalidate any native claims to property. To this day courts continue to cite this legal precedent. It is still being used by courts to decide property rights cases brought by Native Americans against the U.S. and against non-Natives.
In the 21st century U.S., that legacy of domination is reflected in the undermined sovereignty of our indigenous communities and through Congressional and Federal assertions of power over the tribes. We see this lived out through injustices in water rights, oil and mineral extraction on native lands, border and immigration policies which negatively affect tribal communities, and the impact of sequestration budget cuts on native communities, to name a few.
The delegates of General Synod 29 decided to speak out about this historic and ongoing injustice last June. They voted overwhelmingly for a Resolution of Witness to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. The resolution declares and confesses the doctrine to be a shameful part of our church history and that of the U.S. We resolve to not only educate our congregations about it, but also take actions to repair the relationship with American Indians, Native Hawaiians and Alaskan Natives.
Thanksgiving is an important time for reflecting and remembering our history.
The town of Plymouth, Massachusetts has erected a plaque – erected by the Town of Plymouth on behalf of the United American Indians of New England which states: "NATIONAL DAY OF MOURNING.” To many Native Americans, Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their culture. It is a day of remembrance and a protest of the racism and oppression, which Native Americans continue to experience.
In 2008, Congress passed the House Joint Resolution 62 for the Friday after Thanksgiving to be designated as “National Native American Heritage Day.” It is a small step in our willingness to balance the misleading historical narrative of “discovery” and to recognize the true Native American history -- of thriving economies and sophisticated systems of government which existed long before many of our ancestors came to this land, something that is rarely taught to our children or mentioned in our schools.
We can struggle, heal and work together for justice for our Native American brothers and sisters.
As we learn about the doctrine of discovery: the genocide of native peoples, the dispossession that generations have sustained as their lands were stolen, their languages destroyed, and their culture appropriated by European settlers, it can trigger different emotional responses in those of us whose ancestors are immigrants, voluntary or enslaved, to this continent.
With God’s grace, may we move forward in compassion and resolve in our hearts and actions to stand in solidarity with our indigenous sisters and brothers and neighbors: learning about the histories and cultures of native peoples in the area we live and work, advocating for the public policies and social conditions that respect the sovereignty and self-determination of Native American.
Suddath® Relocation Systems
Contact: Rhonda Chaney
Stevens Worldwide Van Lines
Contact: Vicki Bierlein
Compassion in Action
Your service as a UCC Disaster Recovery Volunteer helps people rebuild their physical homes and is an act of presence that demonstrates the commitment to walk beside people as they seek to rebuild their lives. Together, we can be the body of Christ in the world. UCC Disaster Ministries has arranged the following opportunities for mission groups to help homeowners in the intermediate and long-term recovery process.
Serve as a group or as an individual for week-long periods.
Disaster Sites Accepting Volunteers
Puerto Rico (Hurricanes Irma and Maria)
Work may include repairing cement roofs, light carpentry, metal and wood roofing repair, and painting interior ceilings and walls. Most of the work will be done in the Humacao city area, the hardest hit area in Puerto Rico. Click here for more information and to volunteer.
Port Arthur, Texas (Hurricane Harvey)
Volunteers are helping to repair homes for low income renters who were displaced by the floods. Work may include but will not be limited to light carpentry, drywall, insulation, flooring, trim and painting. Click here for more information and to volunteer.
Volusia County, Florida (Hurricanes Irma & Matthew)
Repair/Rebuild homes. Roofing, gutting interiors, replacing insulation, siding, drywall repair and painting, flooring and other interior work as needed. Click here for more information and to volunteer.
BE INSPIRED – Create community. Practice discipleship. See God and other people and creation in new ways. Resources to help you prepare your group are available at UCC Mission Trip Opportunities.
LEARN – You are an important part of a larger system of response and recovery. Explore the networks in place for disaster response and recovery. Know your UCC Conference Disaster Coordinator. Follow UCC Disaster Ministries on Facebook at One Great Hour of Sharing (UCC).
SHARE – Your skills help rebuild and repair homes and lives. Construction skills: Framing, Plumbing, Roofing, Painting, Electrical, Landscaping
ADVOCATE – Use the authenticity gained by this experience to be a public voice for a just world for all in your local, state and national media and government bodies. Join Justice and Peace Action Network!
VIDEO RESOURCE - Houston pastors share the experience of going through Hurricane Harvey in this video, "Love Them Back to Life."
Disaster Ministries also has t-shirts available for sale in the UCC online store here.
The United Church of Christ’s mission statement on Health and Human Service calls us to demonstrate and convey the compassion of Christ. Our mission statement reminds us that the whole church is itself the creation of God’s compassionate mercy in Christ, and as such the instrument of God’s intention for all humankind. Where the Church is there are those engaged in diakonia – the ministry of healing service, care, compassion and hospitality.
Cancer is a significant issue nationally and in the lives of many faith communities. There are many ways that congregations are supporting people as they deal with a cancer diagnosis and its accompanying life changes. Cancer diagnosis presents a unique spectrum of needs, feelings, pastoral concerns, and phases, impacting individuals, families and indeed, the whole community of care.
The purpose of this resource is to orient you to some of the central questions and considerations that may emerge as you journey with those in your faith community affected by cancer. The PowerPoint slides and Handbook will guide you in leading group discussions. Depending on the time and circumstances, you may choose to divide it into modules. We recommend three sections: God’s Healing Touch (slides 1 through 13); Care Throughout the Seasons (slides 14 through 25); and Y(our) Congregation: What Can We Do? (slides 25-29).
This resource is geared to facilitators of faith community health ministries(both lay and nurse led), Deacons, Called to Care Ministries, grief ministries, Clergy or any group within your congregation that practices spiritual and/or physical care and healing.
This resource comes as the result of several collaborations. In its initial form, it was the product of an independent study at Yale Divinity School in which the authors (James DeBoer and Laura Fitzpatrick) explored ways in which clergy and congregations are responding to the needs of people affected by cancer, with the guidance of Drs. Elaine Ramshaw and Janet Ruffing, OSM. The project also benefitted greatly from the wisdom and guidance of Rev. Shelly Stackhouse (Church of the Redeemer), Dean of Students Dale Peterson, and Rev. Adele Crawford, interim Dean of Chapel. Barbara Baylor, UCC Minister for Health Care Justice, subsequently provided very helpful feedback and also brought in the UCC Faith Community Nurse Leadership Team to provide additional help with editing. Rebecca Anton, Wendy Merriman and Peggy Matteson (all members of the UCC Faith Community Nurse Leadership Team) provided valuable assistance and feedback by piloting the project in several congregations and hospital settings.
For more information, contact Barbara Baylor (216) 736-3708.
Resources on educating and organizing for health care justice and reform.
General Synod Resolutions
- An Urgent Call For Advocacy In Support Of Healthcare For All, As In H.R. 676
- Resolution Reaffirming Universal Health Care
- Reclaiming the church's ministry of health and healing
- UCC Mission Statement on Health and Human Service
- Health Effects and Impacts of Tobacco Use on Children and Youth
Health Information & Resources:
Partners for health care reform:
Acts of Kindness and Working for Justice
Based on Micah 6:8, "God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
When the North Carolina-based textile manufacturer named Pillowtex declared bankruptcy, it shut down five NC factories and laid off 5,500 people. Without notice, workers lost their incomes and health insurance. Some faced foreclosure on their homes. Many laid-off workers could not find comparable jobs in their area.
The ripple effects of the plant closures devastated local economies. But the effects did not stop there. Local churches were impacted as well. Congregations wanted to help. Prayer services, food, and emergency funds were generously offered. But everyone realized these efforts were inadequate. Congregations could not provide families with health insurance or on-going mortgage payments. Nor could they restore lost jobs to a hard-hit community.
Economic hardship is not a rare event. Around the country, millions of people are unemployed and millions more work part time when they need and prefer full-time work. One-quarter of all jobs pay a wage so low that a full-time worker cannot keep a family of four above poverty. Some 45 million people, predominantly low-wage workers and their families, lack health insurance.
What is the role of the church in the midst of unemployment and joblessness? When jobs pay too little? When housing, childcare, and health care are too expensive?
The church is called by God to act with kindness, to care for those in need. Congregations respond faithfully by feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and helping workers who lose their jobs.
But God’s people are also called to do justice. The Biblical vision of justice requires us to move beyond charity and works of mercy. We are called to create the economic conditions and institutions that will begin to put an end to the hardships God’s people face.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to care for the immediate needs of the unemployed and to lobby Congress for better international trade policies and an improved unemployment insurance system. We are called to give food to the food pantry and to ensure that every worker has a living wage. We are called to reconfigure social programs to provide a wholesome life to those who rely on them. We are called to care and to help. We are called to be informed, to demonstrate, to organize, to lobby, and to vote.
Workers need jobs with good wages and benefits. Everyone needs health insurance and affordable housing. The country needs a strong safety net to provide income, retraining, and other services for the unemployed. Let us be about the work of living into God’s reign. With God’s help, may we create a new, more just society within in the midst of the old one.
Jesus Was a Low-Wage Worker
Based on Luke 6:20: "Then he looked up at his disciples and said: 'Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God'"
Jesus and the disciples were low-wage workers, just like too many workers in the U.S. today. Nurses aides, hotel housekeepers, farm workers, early childcare specialists, retail sales clerks, and custodians are examples of workers who provide vitally needed services but who usually receive wages so low that they cannot keep a family out of poverty.
One-quarter of all jobs in the U.S. pay poverty-level wages. In addition, these jobs are more likely to require evening, night, weekend, or rotating shifts. They are less likely to provide health insurance, a pension, or even paid sick leave. They are more likely to be dangerous and unhealthy. They are more likely to be filled by women and people of color – marginal jobs for the already marginalized. Just like Jesus.
These jobs are seldom ladders to better opportunities. And while more education can improve the job prospects for individuals, education alone will not improve these jobs. Even if all workers were college graduates, we would still need people to sweep floors and flip burgers. These jobs would still be poverty jobs. The problem is not the worker but the job.
Poverty jobs can be changed into life-giving jobs if we actively seek to make this happen. We need to raise the minimum wage to make it a living wage. We need to strengthen the right of all workers to form and join unions. We need to more adequately enforce health and safety laws.
Jesus said, blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20b). Low-wage workers are high-value children of God. They must be able to support themselves and their families, and live with dignity the life of wholeness that God intends for all. God reign does not stop at the door to the workplace but includes all aspects of life, including our work lives. Let us ask God’s help as we seek to live into God’s reign – a reign that provides abundant life and decent wages to all workers.
To order buttons saying "Jesus was a low-wage worker" or "Jesus tambien trabajo por un salario minimo" contact JWM at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 216-736-3720.