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Cultivating Compassion September 28th

Session 9: Unsettling Truths

“Columbus sailed the ocean blue; in fourteen hundredy ninety-two,” so says the song from 4th grade. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that in 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued a document titled “Inter Caetera” in which he grants possesion of everything west of the 39°W meridian to whichever European Christians get there first, ignoring the reality that these lands were already possessed by the people who lived there. This writing, along with Pope Nicholas V’s 1455 “Romanus Pontifex,” laid the foundation for what we now call the “Doctrine of Discovery.” In the process, these men invoke God’s name to encourage dehumanizing, enslaving, and dispossessing humans, behavior diametrically opposed to the way of Christ. It’s also true that Pope Paul III declared in 1537 that “Indians [sic] and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians ...should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved.” That didn’t keep US chief justice John Marshall from referencing “Inter Caetera” as part of the court’s 1823 decision in Johnson v. McIntosh, enshrining the Doctrine of Discovery in US law. In this month’s reading, we follow Christian pastors Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah through this complex maze to face “the ongoing, dehumanizing legacy of the doctrine of discovery.



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