As the United States pauses to honor and celebrate the Indigenous people who first settled on the land thousands of years ago, the 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 ELCA 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.