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Publisher's Summary

You cannot discover lands already inhabited. 

Injustice has plagued American society for centuries. And we cannot move toward being a more just nation without understanding the root causes that have shaped our culture and institutions. 

In this prophetic blend of history, theology, and cultural commentary, Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah reveal the far-reaching, damaging effects of the "Doctrine of Discovery." In the 15th century, official church edicts gave Christian explorers the right to claim territories they "discovered." This was institutionalized as an implicit national framework that justifies American triumphalism, white supremacy, and ongoing injustices. The result is that the dominant culture idealizes a history of discovery, opportunity, expansion, and equality, while minority communities have been traumatized by colonization, slavery, segregation, and dehumanization. 

Healing begins when deeply entrenched beliefs are unsettled. Charles and Rah aim to recover a common memory and shared understanding of where we have been and where we are going. As other nations have instituted truth and reconciliation commissions, so do the authors call our nation and churches to a truth-telling that will expose past injustices and open the door to conciliation and true community.

©2019 Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah (P)2019 eChristian

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  • Adam Shields
  • 03-07-2020

Important history and discussion

Usually, I write about books reasonably quickly after I read them. I do this, not just because I like to discuss books and encourage others to read them, but as a type of public spiritual discipline where I try to write about thoughts so I can look back at them later and process books publicly as a means creating some open accountability for my Christian faith. So generally, I read a book, and within a few days, I have written at least something about it. But I first read Unsettling Truths just over six months ago, and I knew I was not yet ready to write about it. I needed to reread it. Unsettling Truths is about the papal bulls that are referred to as the Doctrines of Discovery. Briefly, the papal bull, Romanus Pontifex, in 1452 declared that Christians (King Alfonso of Portugal) could "capture, vanquish, and subdue the Saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ," to "put them into perpetual slavery," and "to take all their possessions and property." Inter Caetera, in 1493, said Spain could claim any populated land as their territory if the population were not Christian. There is context to those papal bulls, but the background is not relevant to how those have been used later to further colonialism, white supremacy, manifest destiny, and even US legal precedent for land ownership. I have primarily been addressing racial history and current reality through Black/White racial dichotomy and the history of slavery, Jim Crow, etc. It is not that I do not have an interest in other perspectives, but that I tend to follow the next trail on the path, and that has mostly been about issues of anti-Black racism. Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah are here to remind the church that, while those are important, they are not the only important issues in US racial history. Unsettling Truths is exactly the type of book that you need to read if you primarily or only see racial issues in the US through the Black/White dichotomy. Unsettling Truths is also an explicitly Christian book. Both authors are former pastors. Soong-Chan Rah is currently a professor primarily focusing on global Christianity, church planting/growth, and evangelism. Mark Charles is presently an independent presidential candidate. The entire book is about Christianity. Many of us are familiar with the rough outlines of slavery, Jim Crow, and the civil rights era. Many of us are less familiar with the history of Native American oppression. We can start with the early founding of the US: "While the Declaration of Independence may initially assert that “All men are created equal,” thirty lines below that assertion, indigenous people are referred to as “merciless Indian savages.” The Founding Fathers could use the seemingly inclusive term “all men” because they had a worldview informed by the Doctrine of Discovery that gave them a very narrow definition of who was actually human." But this is not just abstract ideals. John Marshall (Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) used Doctrine of Discovery to: "...established as a legal instrument that governed land acquisition and land ownership in nineteenth-century North America. The court acknowledged that a group of European colonizers created a governing doctrine that determined land title rights among the European nations. Native rights would not be taken into account because those rights would be superseded by the authority of the Christian European governments over against all other claims. The Doctrine of Discovery, steeped in the diseased social and theological imagination of Anglo-Saxon ethnic purity and European Christian supremacy, would become the rationale for the M’Intosh decision." The M'Intosh Decision invalidated Britsh Common Law rational, which biased current ownership. After M'Intosh, the US assumed a monopoly of Native American land. Once Native Americans could only sell the property to the US government, it undercut the price, and then the US primarily starting pushing Native American tribes off the property regardless of the sale (using the pretexts of a transaction that could not be rejected). The development of the United States is inextricably linked to the Doctrines of Discovery and the later (and related) understanding of Manifest Destiny. There is far more here than what I want to discuss now, but one more point that I think is worth mentioning and may be worth the price of the book by itself. The chapter on Abraham Lincoln is related to our current era's discussion about statues and commemorations of our leaders. Abraham Lincoln is often thought of as the US's greatest president, or at least in the top five. But if you are uncomfortable with the potential of removal of statues and monuments, I think you need to read this book for a helpful discussion about how historical memory works. (I also strongly recommend David Blight's book Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory as one of the best books I have read on historical memory.) Unsettling Truths is an unsettling book. We need to be disturbed by our history, and we also need to think about how history remembers differently depending on our positions in the world.

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  • Chris McFadden
  • 16-06-2020

An Eye-Opening and Uncomfortable Listen

This book provides critical information for white evangelicals like myself to engage in informed conversations on race. Hard to listen to but packed full of necessary critique and account. May God have mercy on our souls. May we start with lament that leads to education that sparks repentance, and may we do something about it.

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  • Vernon
  • 04-10-2020

Compelling analysis of Christendom Missussed

The authors have presented a convincing argument regarding the natural sovereignty of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, and the racist doctrine within Catholicism which nearly genocided them into extinction.

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  • Sunday Socks
  • 18-04-2020

Should be required reading

I JUST finished reading this book I woulD HIGHLY recommend it to anyone who grew up learning US History from American text books. It introduced so much history and information that I’ve never even heard an iota of. It left me heartbroken by the legacy of my ancestors—but also gave me practical ideas on how to move forward as an individual, and how I can encourage my community to move forward as well. Stick around for the appendix—and soak in the list of tribes.

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  • Sheryl Steinruck
  • 05-03-2020

Intelligent Analysis

This excellent work provided me with very important and critical information about why and how the Doctrine of Discovery, which is absolutely at the basis of American Christianity and the worldwide practice of Roman Catholism and Christendom, has historical and massive control of the ALL Peoples of Color, the Indigenous Tribal Groups around the world. Thank you so very much!

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  • Edward Bryant
  • 06-01-2020

Unsettled by Truths of America's Not-So Greatness

if you care about this nation's history, about justice, and about working effectively in conciliation work, then you have to read this book. The truths regarding the heresy of the "doctrine of discovery" and how the doctrine was the foundation of western (at-any - cost) expansionism are disturbing, but truths that must be learned and headed.

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  • Torin
  • 01-07-2020

Protestant Exceptionalism.

The book is a track why protestant missions are different from 15th Century Catholic Edicts. I wish they would have written this book on how the Doctrine of Discovery lead to the dehumanizing actions of the explorers of the new world without protestant apologetics. Both Protestant and Catholic doctrines have led to crimes against Humanity. You can simply read any history of the new world to find out how.

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  • Alfred Harrell More than a Poet
  • 06-03-2020

Extremely Enlightening

I really liked its historicity and relevance the current political landscape in the United States.

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  • Lanna
  • 28-11-2019

This is medicine the US didn't know it needed!

I cried through the appendix, people. The appendix! I'm going to force everyone I care about to read this book.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 15-11-2020

American Christians Must Read

I’ll be recommending this book to everyone I know. There’s a lot of history we don’t understand, possibly because we don’t want to, but Mark Charles does an excellent job of laying it all out in a way that gives you a clear understanding of how we can hope for and work toward a better tomorrow.

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