THE REPENTANCE PROJECT / AN AMERICAN LENT
Doctrine of Discovery
WEEK IV / DAY I
Monday, March 5, 2018
Scripture / Read Genesis 1:26-28, 2:15, 19-20
In Genesis, God gives a mandate to humanity to be fruitful, multiply, and subdue the earth. It’s a mandate to seek the flourishing of the world that God gave us. This command from God is reflecting the creative cultivating nature of God. The first instruction that God gives Adam after the mandate was to cultivate and maintain the Garden of Eden. Then God gave Adam the responsibility to create culture by naming the animals. Cultivating, painting, and creating is something to which God has called all of humanity and not just a few.
Our History and Its Legacy
The Doctrine of Discovery interpreted the mandate to subdue the earth as for Europeans exclusively — only they could exercise the God-given authority to exercise dominion over the earth. First articulated in a Papal Bull, issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493, the Doctrine of Discovery stated that any land not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered,” claimed, and exploited by Christian rulers. This doctrine also became the basis of all European claims in the Americas including the United States’ western expansion. In the US, the Supreme Court held in the 1823 case, Johnson v. McIntosh, “that the principle of discovery gave European nations an absolute right to New World lands.” Most significantly, under this doctrine, Europeans had rights over the land they “discovered” even when there were other people occupying the land, who “lost their rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations.”
The practice of this doctrine is the primary reason for wealth accumulation by European descendants in America and other Western nations. As Sir Walter Raleigh said in 1615, “whosoever commands the sea commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself” and he was right! (See Sir Walter Raleigh, The Works of Sir Walter Raleigh, 1829:325).
Slavery ended in the United States in 1865; but shortly after slavery, what we know as Jim Crow Laws became the mechanism that limited the African-American community in their ability to engage fully in the God-given right to seek the flourishing of their own community.
Home and land ownership is one of the primary ways that wealth is accumulated in the United States and it wasn’t until the 1969 Fair Housing Laws were passed that African-Americans were technically able to purchase a home wherever they desired. But during the 1970s the practice of “Redlining” was common in the house appraisal and mortgaging practice. Redlining was the practice of rating the house values according to a racial hierarchy that gave higher house values to White neighborhoods over Black or immigrant neighborhoods. These practices were not enforced as illegal until the passing of the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act of 1975 and the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977.
Although Black people have been in the United States since 1619, it wasn’t until close to the 1980s that Black people could equally purchase a home or land and have the potential of fully reaping the economic benefits of ownership like their White brothers and sisters.
Reflection and Response
In Leviticus 19:9-10, the people of God are instructed that when they harvest the land they own they shouldn’t consume all of it, but leave a portion of the harvest of their land for the poor and foreigner. This Levitical law is called gleaning. If you own real estate or are engaged in any kind of investing, spend some time journaling, asking God what it would look like if you were to practice “gleaning.” If you don’t own a home or invest, spend some time journaling and ask yourself the question, “How can I live in a way that the poor and foreigner can benefit from the fruit of my labor?"
Written by David Bailey