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A Faithful Response to the 500th Anniversary of the Arrival of Christopher Columbus
A Resolution of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA as adopted by the Governing Board May 17, 1990

As U.S. Christians approach public observances marking the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's first landing in the Western hemisphere, we are called to review our full history, reflect upon it, and act as people of faith mindful of the significance of 1492. The people in our churches and communities now look at the significance of the event in different ways. What represented newness of freedom, hope and opportunity for some was the occasion for oppression, degradation and genocide for others. For the Church this is not a time for celebration but a time for a committed plan of action insuring that this "kairos" moment in history not continue to cosmetically coat the painful aspects of the American history of racism.

1. In 1992, celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the "New World" will be held. For the descendants of the survivors of the subsequent invasion, genocide, slavery, "ecocide", and exploitation of the wealth of the land, a celebration is not an appropriate observation of this anniversary.

* For the indigenous people of the Caribbean islands, Christopher Columbus's invasion marked the beginning of slavery and their eventual genocide.

* For the indigenous people of Central America, the result was slavery, genocide and exploitation leading to the present struggle for liberation.

* For the indigenous people of South America, the result was slavery, genocide, and the exploitation of their mineral and natural resources, fostering the early accumulation of capital by the European countries.

* For the indigenous people of Mexico, the result was slavery, genocide, rape of mineral as well as natural resources and a decline of their civilization.

* For the peoples of modern Puerto Rico, Hawaii and the Philippines the result was the eventual grabbing of the land, genocide and the present economic captivity.

* For the indigenous peoples of North America, it brought slavery, genocide, and theft and exploitation of the land which has led to their descendants' impoverished lives.

* For the peoples of the African Diaspora, the result was slavery, an evil and immoral system steeped in racism, economic exploitation, rape of mineral as well as human resources and national divisiveness along the lines of the colonizing nations.

* For the peoples from Asia brought to work the land, torn from their families and culture by false promises of economic prosperity, the result was labor camps, discrimination and today's victimization of the descendants facing anti-Asian racism.

* For the descendants of the European conquerors the subsequent legacy has been the perpetuation of paternalism and racism into our cultures and times.

2. The Church, with few exceptions, accompanied and legitimized this conquest and exploitation. Theological justifications for destroying native religious beliefs while forcing conversion to European forms of Christianity demanded a submission from the newly converted that facilitated their total conquest and exploitation.

3. Therefore, it is appropriate for the church to reflect on its role in that historical tragedy and, in pursuing a healing process, to move forward in our witness for justice and peace.

Towards that end, we are called to:

a. reflect seriously on the complexities and complicities of the missionary efforts during this period of colonization and subjugation that resulted in the destruction of cultures and religions, the desecration of religious sites, and other crimes against the spirituality of indigenous peoples;

b. review and reflect on the degree to which current missiologies tend to promote lifestyles that perpetuate the exploitation of the descendants of the indigenous people, and that stand in the way of enabling their self-determination;

c. identify and celebrate the significant voices within the church that have consistently advocated the rights and dignities of indigenous peoples;

d. recognize that what some historians have termed a "discovery" in reality was an invasion and colonization with legalized occupation, genocide, economic exploitation and a deep level of institutional racism and moral decadence;

e. reflect seriously on how the Church should and might ac- complish its task of witness and service to and with those of other faiths, recognizing their integrity as children of God, and not contributing to new bondages.

4. Therefore, the Governing Board of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA:

a. Declares 1992 to be a year of reflection and repentance, and calls upon its member communions to enter into theological and missional reflection, study and prayer as a faithful obser- vance of that year;

b. Commits itself to be involved in activities that bring forward the silenced interpretation of the 1492 event including:

* taking action to influence how governments or other institutions plan to celebrate the "discovery" of America;

* using its TV, radio and print media resources to educate the Church and its constituency about the factual histories of indigenous people, the colonization of their lands and the effects today of colonization, including the loss of land, lives and cultures; and

* advocating the inclusion of the accurate factual history of indigenous people, including African Americans, in textbooks to be used in public and parochial education systems in the United States; and

* cooperating with other hemispheric interfaith bodies in a gathering in the Caribbean islands to analyze the effects of the European invasion and colonization of the Americas from the perspective of their descendants;

c. Calls upon its member communions to join in affirming and implementing this resolution in dialogue with indigenous people of the Americas;

d. Requests that the Division of Church and Society (or its legal successor) in cooperation with the Division of Overseas Ministries (or its legal successor) develop programmatic materials for the speedy implementation of this resolution;

e. Requests appropriate units to explore convening a gathering of representatives of traditional tribes, urban Indian and tribal governments to discuss ways to strengthen Indian ministries;

f. Supports the endeavors of theological schools and seminaries to help open alternative understandings of 1492/1992;

g. Declares this resolution to be our humble and faithful first step contribution towards a deep understanding among peoples of our country. It is our hope that in a new spirit of reconciliation, we move forward together into a shared future as God's creatures honoring the plurality of our cultural heritage. 

This document also quotes, in its footnotes, documents from other church bodies such as the Final Document of the European Ecumenical Assembly "Peace With Justice for the Whole Creation", May 1989, Basel, Switzerland, issued by the Conference of European Churches and the Council of European Bishops' Conference, June 2, 1989, which states that "1992 will moreover mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of a period of European expansion to the detriment of other peoples." In the Basel document, European churchpersons acknowledge having "failed to challenge with sufficient consistency political and economic systems which misuse power and wealth, exploit resources for their self-interest and perpetuate poverty and marginalisation...We commit ourselves to struggle against all violations of human rights and the social structures which favor them."

Another footnote quotes "A Public Declaration to the Tribal Councils and Traditional Spiritual Leaders of the Indian and Eskimo Peoples of the Pacific Northwest", Bishop Thomas L. Blevins, Pacific Northwest Synod, Lutheran Church in America, and eight Bishops and leaders of other denominations, August, 1987. This statement speaks of "unconscious and insensitive" attitudes and actions by the church which reflect "the rampant racism and prejudice of the dominant culture with which we too willingly identified." The footnote also mentions a speech to the Indian Leaders of the Northwest Territories by Pope John Paul II in September 1987, in which the Pope assured the Native people that the Roman Catholic Church "extols the equal human dignity of all peoples and defends their right to uphold their own cultural character, with its distinct traditions and customs."

Finally, the U.S. Council of Churches document includes a biblio- graphy of materials which it recommends be used in education. Some of these entries may surprise you, especially if you've read any of them:

1. Bartolome de las Casas, "Historia de los indios (ca. 1550), "Tears of the Indians (ca. 1550), "In Defense of the Indians" (ca. 1550)

2. Deloria, Vine, Jr., "Custer Died For Your Sins", 1970; "God Is Red", 1983

3. Galeano, Eduardo, "Memory of Fire: Genesis", NY:Pantheon, 1985

4. Jackson, Helen Hunt, "A Century of Dishonor", 1881

5. Jennings, Francis, "The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism and the Cant of Conquest", Chapel Hill, 1975

6. Jordan, Winthrop, "White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro 1550-1812", Baltimore: Penguin, 1968

7. Limerick, Patricia Nelson, "The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West", New York: W.W. Norton, 1987

Clearly, it is no longer the "official" position of the Church to convert Native Americans. A quick look at the Vatican II Documents' "Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions" (1965) also plainly states that the Catholic Church supposedly now recognizes that there can be salvation outside the Church, and rejects the oppression of other religions as "foreign to the mind of Christ". Any missionary who says otherwise is guilty of ignorance at best and hypocrisy at worst; I offer the above documents in order to educate the former group! As for the latter, there's not much we can do for them other than point out that they can hardly call themselves Christians.

Originally published at


2004 Transform Columbus Day Alliance