Everybody knows that in the late 15th century Christopher Columbus arrived at what is now known as the Americas and that he proceeded to take possession of such lands on behalf of the Spanish crown. What is not widely known, however, are the legal and theological rationale with which Europeans justified the often violent (at times genocidal) conquest and colonization of these lands which had already been “discovered” and populated. By the time the Spanish and English peoples arrived at Turtle Island and Avia Yala (the original names of these lands) Native American nations and empires had already been in place for thousands of years. (The current scientific consensus is that First Peoples began arriving some 14000 years ago.) So, what logic led the new arrivals to think that they had the right to take away the land from these nations?
Tinker provides an incredibly valuable history of the ways in which the doctrine of discovery was used during the colonization of what is now the United States. Though today this mindset is reinforced through U.S. culture, Tinker examines how part of its major impact has come from how it was used in government to “legally” allow native land to be stolen. As Christians, it is even more important for us to note the role that Christianity played in the process.
In 2016 the ELCA publicly repudiated the “doctrine of discovery”–the idea that Europeans “discovered” the Americas, when in fact they stole it from peoples who had discovered it thousands of years earlier. Blackfox reflects on what the ELCA has committed itself to do and the fruitful possibilities that could come from such actions, while also questioning if it will happen.
Though it was published three years ago (2014), the information, issues, and tenor of Human Dignity and the Future of Global Institutions contains a present day salience perhaps not foreseen by the editors and contributors at the time. We appear to be entering another time of intense debate over the nature and need of things global – globalization, globalism, global institutions, global narratives – versus a resurfacing of neo-nationalism through Brexits, the call to make America great (or first) again, and the public and foreign policies of states as diverse as Russia, China, Hungary, or the Philippines. Perhaps not another “paradigm shift” as occurred in November 1989, but questions have returned to the public discourse loudly and clearly about the vitality of NATO, or the relevance of regional organizations such as the European Union, or if the positive purpose of regional or hemispheric trade treaties like NAFTA is outweighed by their future impacts, risks, or constraints.
Tranvik believes one of the problems identified by Luther 500 years ago—that Christians too often regard Gospel faith and life in the world as separate realms of human endeavor, neither interacting with, nor informing one another—is still with us. He believes that the separation of faith from everyday life is harmful both to faith and to the world in which Christians live, and that Luther’s theology of vocation provides a vital alternative. Finally, Tranvik believes that telling the story of how Luther lived out his solution to this problem will be helpful to readers in the twenty-first century.