During the annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance in Stavanger, Norway, members of the body’s general council on Tuesday (July 4) unanimously passed a resolution repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery. With more than 200 people present from more than 40 nations, the resolution marked the first BWA resolution devoted to Indigenous issues.
The resolution starts by acknowledging the “the Sámi people of the Sápmi region, some of which overlaps with the modern nation in which we gather.” It also uses Indigenous terms for other land references, such as Turtle Island/North America and Aotearoa/New Zealand.
In addition to denouncing “the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ and any theological interpretation by Christians to justify the abuse, enslavement, and slaughter of Indigenous peoples,” the resolution condemns other injustices. This includes “centuries of mistreatment of Indigenous peoples around the world, especially the genocide and settler colonialism that decimated entire communities and cultures. Additionally, we denounce the seizure of land, treaty violations, forced migration, segregation, employment and religious discrimination, mistreatment by law officials, contamination of vital natural resources, and other injustices to which Indigenous peoples have been and are subjected.”
“Such efforts to bless the dehumanizing of people and the theft of their lands are fundamentally in opposition to the gospel of Jesus,” the resolution adds, while also pointing out that the Doctrine of Discovery continues to “remain embedded in some national laws, societal attitudes toward Indigenous peoples, and even in some Christian resources.”
As the resolution notes, “some Baptists and other Christians participated in the injustices against Indigenous peoples, including killing people, seizing land, kidnapping children, running residential schools or other institutions to eliminate cultures and languages, and restricting civil and religious rights.” But it also highlights some of the Baptists who advocated for Indigenous rights — like Roger Williams (Turtle Island/North America), John Saunders (Australia), and Silas Rand (Canada) — and some Indigenous Baptist leaders who served “even amid difficult circumstances, inadequate and inequitable support, and discrimination from other Baptists” — including Joseph Amos (U.S.), John Chilembwe (Malawi), Graham Paulson (Australia), and Truby Mihaere (Aotearoa/New Zealand).
Echoing language from last year’s resolution urging slavery reparations, the BWA in the resolution “calls on Baptist churches, colleges, unions, and other institutions to study their own historical and present complicity with discrimination against Indigenous peoples, and urges more work toward restorative justice efforts to end discrimination against Indigenous peoples and repair the damage from past wrongs.” The resolution commends Baptist groups who have led the way in this work, including Te Hāhi Iriiri o Aotearoa (The Baptist Churches of New Zealand) and Canadian Baptist Ministries.
Next year’s annual gathering will occur in Lagos, Nigeria. Then in 2025, the Baptist World Congress — a larger BWA gathering that occurs every five years — will be in Brisbane, Australia. As this year’s resolution notes, the logo for the Congress was “designed by Australian Indigenous artist Mariah Sweetman with an artistic style unique to Australian First Nations people.”
NOTE: Word&Way Editor-in-Chief Brian Kaylor is the chair of the BWA Resolutions Committee and was involved in the drafting of this resolution.