Was This Land Really Made for You and Me?

At the inaugural ceremony for President Biden and Vice President Harris, Jennifer Lopez’s beautiful vocal tribute to America included the line: “This land was made for you and me.”

But was it? Really? Does anyone still believe that? Christian colonizers certainly believed that God made this land we now call America for them, specifically. Woody Guthrie’s song could have been their anthem, the anthem of Manifest Destiny.

Christian colonizers came to these shores with a declaration for the people who were here from time immemorial: “This land now belongs to us. God is giving this land to us.” Popes had said so, in bulls now called the Doctrine of Discovery. The colonizers could turn to each other and declare that this land belonged to “you and me.” That “you,” however, did not include the Native Americans. They were relegated to land the colonizers did not want.

The narrative that God made this land for the Christian colonizers remains deep and broad. The Episcopal Church, who in 2009 renounced the Doctrine of Discovery, still perpetuates the entitlement narrative in their Book of Common Prayer. Their prayer “For our Country,” begins with “Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage….” And, even more impactfully, those of us who are descendants of Christian colonizers continue to live as though we believe the land we legally own, that our ancestors participated in taking from the Native Americans, really does belong to us also in some moral sense. And so, also, with the wealth and opportunity that was derived from that land.

This may be changing, ever so slightly. There are some descendants of colonizers and some churches that are returning land or wealth derived from its sale to the Native Nations for whom it was their ancestral home.

Another sign of a shift in perspective is that statues glorifying colonizers are starting to look different to more descendants of colonizers. Statues and monuments that previously seemed innocuous are now seen as expressions of Christian domination. Statues of Junipero Serra are an example. While some of us may not have seen the superiority and domination those statues conveyed, the Native Americans always did.

Now we can see the moral blindness of our ancestors, Christian colonizers who followed the lead of their religion’s teaching of chosenness and laid claim to this beautiful land that was already inhabited by wonderful people. But even deeper in the Christian narrative is the belief that God created the world for us human beings. Of all creation, we are the chosen species. The world and all other living things are here for our benefit. This starting point, we can now see, leads to the doing of great harm to other living things and to the earth itself. Then you add to this the narrative that God chose certain people above others, a narrative that Christianity adopted for itself, and we can now see how Manifest Destiny would result. What these examples have in common is that whomever is dominant is so because of God’s choosing. This is the foundation of Christian Nationalism.

If Woody Guthrie were with us today, with his sensitivity to injustice, I don’t think he would write such a song laying such claims to ownership over a land that was already occupied. When he wrote it in 1940, he was tired of always hearing “God Bless America.” So he wrote something new, a song honoring America that even addressed its injustices in its later verses. But this he did not apparently see that he was perpetuating the colonizers’ claim that this land was made for them, from California to the New York Island. “God blessed America for me,” he even wrote.

This is how moral blinders work, and how moral progress is made. The blind spots of people from former times who we rightly respect are now revealed. May we all have the grace to willingly have our blind spots revealed to us as well. The sooner the better.

Related posts by Arden: Decommissioning JoshuaWas This Land Really Made for You and Me? The Serpent Constantine & The Fall of Christianity: A Myth, beyonddisavowing.org


A Christian Coup Attempt, 2021

Among the flags and symbols brandished in the recent attempted coup was the cross, with flags declaring “Jesus 2020” and “God wins.” While many faith groups are condemning the attempted coup and are calling for Trump’s removal from office, the long-term question for Christians is what they will do to excise the theme of supremacy and authority within Christianity’s narrative, theology and scripture.
            This strain of belief, which some call Christian Nationalism or Christian Supremacy, is authoritarian, not democratic. Senator Josh Hawley, a leader in the attempt to overturn the election, has publicly declared that his charge is to “Take the Lordship of Christ, that message, into the public realm, and to seek the obedience of the nations. Our nation.” (Katherine Stewart, NYTimes, Jan. 11, 2021) He does not take his charge to be to uphold the US Constitution or the integrity of elections. When he was sworn in to the US Senate, he must have been lying.
            When Pastor Brian Gibson declares that “The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ started America,” he has a strong point. In 1302, Pope Boniface VIII, in his bull, Unam Sanctam, (One God, One Faith, One Spiritual Authority) declared the authority of the church over political authorities, like Christian Nationalists do. As European nations acquired the wherewithal to travel to all parts of the earth, several popes blessed them in doing so, so long as they carried out Christ’s directive that his followers convert all nations of the earth. In doing so, Christ declared that all authority on heaven and earth had been given to him. He transferred that authority to his church. The popes were insistent on the requirement that the conquerors convert whomever they encountered who was not Christian. The mission of colonialism was the mission of the church. And the justification of the popes, referred to as the Doctrine of Discovery, was recognized as law in US jurisprudence with the 1823 U.S. Supreme Court case Johnson v. M’Intosh. This precedent of this decision holds sway even today.         
            Pastor Gibson is correct. The Christian church founded America. In 1510, the Council of Castille formulated a statement for Spanish conquerors to read to the native peoples they encountered. It was a declaration of Christian dominance.
            That declaration, Requieremiento(Requirement: To be Read by Spanish Conquerors to Defeated Indians) stated that what the conquerors were doing was ordained by God, and that the Church was “the Ruler and Superior of the Whole World.” The Native peoples were informed that they were invited to voluntarily convert to Christianity. When they did, they would lose their autonomy and become “the subjects and vassals” of the Spanish crown.  Belying the fact that this was not at all voluntary, if they did not convert, “with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their Highnesses; we shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their Highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him; and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their Highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us.”
Any wonder that some would now claim that “Christianity represents the worst of the history of colonialism among Indian peoples in North America.” (p. 72, A Native American Theology) When Christians came from Europe to occupy the land they call the Americas, they did so with the belief that they were God’s chosen people, and this was their promised land. The narrative of Manifest Destiny was unquestioned by ordinary Christians while it was the program of their church leaders. As Simone Weil observed, “Evil when we are in its power is not felt as evil but as a necessity, or even a duty.” 
            At this point, it is easy for liberal Christians to blame white supremacy or fascism for the danger of Trumpism. This ignores the growing realization that white supremacy had its roots in Christian supremacy. (See Hill Fletcher The Sin of White Supremacy). Liberal Christianity does not take ownership of this problem, rather treating Christian nationalists and not being true Christians. As we have seen in Germany with Nazism and in South Africa with apartheid, health and healing requires taking ownership of the problem by people who initially deny any role. Christian Nationalists and liberal Christians draw from the same source material. And, in many ways, liberal Christianity is the benefactor of the Christian domination that founded this nation and structures it yet today.
            In addition to addressing systemic racism, we would do well to address systemic Christian domination, which may be even more difficult to recognize and admit to. We can begin by identifying the authoritarian themes embedded in Christianity’s narrative of chosenness and its promise to what others have, the hierarchical nature of its theology, and the foundational threads in the Christian bible liberal Christianity shares in common with Christian Nationalism.