A few years before the Reformation began in England the Pope blessed the colonization efforts of Portugal and Spain as those countries “discovered” the New World and claimed sovereignty over lands, peoples and civilizations hitherto unknown. After the Reformation, or its first stage, England muscled in on colonization and in 1607 established a permanent settlement in what was called Virginia. I have written a booklet on the Jamestown Settlement which may be obtained from Forward Movement Publications.
I have seen no evidence to suggest that this small beginning of establishing a “British Empire” relied on any “doctrine” promulgated by the Roman Pontiff. One doubts seriously whether Elizabethan and Jacobean settlers, Anglicans or Puritans invoked or would have dreamed of invoking such a “doctrine”. English settlers in Virginia were inspired by commerical interests: they wanted to make their fortunes. The Puritans sought a place to establish their Godly Commonwealth. Insofar that either group saw it their duty to evangelize the indigenous population, they were inspired by their reading of God’s Word and by a sense of cultural superiority which is not dead today, even in the thinking of “liberals” who believe that they have been uniquely singled out by God to spread their Gospel of inclusion.Settlers or some of them “demonized” the culture of the “natives”. Demonization of cultures and people who do not conform to our “doctrines” is alive and well in our own church and by both extremes.
The impulse to wish to convert others to a more “Godly” way is not an exclusive prerogative of “evangelicals” or colonists. The mixture of religious fervor and cultural imperialism is not merely found among 16t Century Jesuits and Franciscans, 17th Century mercantile Anglicans or Wordly Puritans.
Granted that colonization involved much which is shameful and frightful, it is merely eccentric to damn out of hand the results of colonization. For an assembly of Christians, whose ancestors took land from Indigenous Americans or who have recently arrived on these shores to pass a resolution disassociated themselves from the actions of a Pope and colonists in other places seems to be eccentric at best and self-congratulatory at worst. Lacking time machines, we have no way to go back in time and right wrongs. Blanket condemnation of colonialism handily omits credit to the positive contribution of missionaries and merchants who brought advances in medical care, education and the very elements in what is termed “progress” so lauded in other contexts.
The problems we can and should address today are the residual negative effects of the evil of slavery and the dispossession of Native Americans whose plight remains a condemnation on our civilization and remains where our church exercises mission at this very moment. Go to the “reservations” in South Dakota, where we are closing churches and failing to fund measures to alieviate the medical and economic plight of brave a proud people. We spend so much time concentrating on sex and so little time and money on championing and advancing the lives of Native Americans and Hispanics.
Renouncing a “doctrine” which did not apply to Anglicans or what we did in North America may make us feel better. It is in fact a gesture which does nothing for those who are heir to both the best and the worst of “colonization”. We are Episcopalians because Anglicans landed in Jamestown. Americans for the most part, in law, language, political system and religion are heirs of those settlers. heirs to their hopes and their evils. Should General Convention denounce Jamestown and the impulse which brought English people to these shores? How may they do so without denouncing their identity and their country? Doctrine of Discovery? Nonsense.
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